Sunday, January 22, 2017

MIA HUNTER: L. A. GANG WAR by Stephen Mertz (Jack Buchanan)

A three-man strike force accustomed to rescuing prisoners of war in the jungles of Vietnam is stateside on a rogue mission in Los Angeles. Mark Stone, known as the MIA Hunter, is asked by an old war buddy, now a deputy chief with LAPD, to help rescue Rick Chavez from a Colombian drug cartel. Chavez is a Pulitzer award winning journalist who has been writing a series of hard and insightful articles about the drug trade in L. A. The articles have enough detail that the LAPD and the drug gangs—Crips, Bloods and their Colombian suppliers—want to know where his information is coming from.

When Stone and his team arrive on scene, Chavez is being held prisoner in a palatial home in San Clemente; a few doors down from Richard Nixon's house. It takes the team only a few minutes, several hundred rounds of 9mm lead slung by MAC 10s, some smart one liners, and a close call or three, to pull Chavez out of the house. But this is the beginning for the MIA team because as the team is exfiltrating from the firefight, Stone sees a familiar face. A face that belongs to a man who tried to kill Mark Stone in Vietnam.

MIA Hunter: L. A. Gang War—the thirteenth entry in the series—is an entertaining example of the men’s adventure mania of the 1980s. Originally published in 1990 (an honorary member of the 1980s), it is a time capsule of the era, capturing society’s anxiety with an escalating war on drugs, violent street gangs spreading the poison and in the process claiming entire neighborhoods, all in the shadow of America's defeat in Vietnam. It is non-stop action, accented with betrayal, revenge, and the MIA team’s seeming endless supply of bravado and super hero combat skills. There is also a touch of humor, if you look closely, and even a big idea or two. L. A. Gang War is a top-notch example of both the series and the genre.          

Friday, January 20, 2017

Interview: Ed Gorman (from 2007, annotated and updated)

Ed Gorman was an underappreciated writer of commercial fiction. His novels are thoughtful, complicated and often illuminated with a bleak melancholy that never fully overtook the story due to an understated humor and a grudging admiration of humanity. Grudging because it was the humanity—weakness, ambition, sorrow, perseverance, strength—of his characters that both betrayed and buoyed them.

Mr. Gorman died in October 2016 leaving behind a legacy of more than 150 published novels in a career spanning more than thirty years. He wrote in multiple literary genres, including crime and mystery, suspense, western, horror and science fiction. What is likely his last novel, Backshot (1902), was published in 2015. The following interview was conducted and appeared at Saddlebums in October 2007. It is annotated with additional detail about the books and stories that are discussed. The additional material is identified with brackets. The questions are in italics.

I’m impressed with your works overall diversity. You have successfully written in the western, mystery, horror and science fiction genres. Is there a specific genre you most prefer to work in?

Mystery and suspense, I suppose. But I’ve worked in horror and science fiction with great pleasure.

I want to talk a little about your publishing history, what is the first novel you published? Was it a long time coming, or did you hit print pretty quickly once you decided to write it?

I wrote a lot of stuff for men’s magazines in the Sixties and Seventies. I could never come close to finishing a novel until I met Max Allan Collins who gave me two great pieces of advice—look at each chapter as a story and never look back until you’ve finished the book. Then worry about revisions. I finished Rough Cut and shopped it around. Agents felt that the narrator was more psychotic than the villain. I sent it to St. Martin’s Press where it was fished out of slush and bought. This was 1983.

When did you realize you wanted to be a writer?

Probably around age eight. The nuns fed me Jack London and I discovered Ray Bradbury on my own. After reading those guys I never faltered in wanting to be a published writer.

Most of your western fiction is non-traditional. You seem to use many of the same elements as one would find in a crime novel. Is this an effort to move away from the traditional western, or simply expand the definition of what a western is? Do you think these novels would be more popular if they were marketed as a western mystery rather than a traditional western?

I think you have to find a special angle to sell crossover books. Steve Hockensmith with Holmes on the Range brought something fresh and exciting to the crossover and has been very successful for doing so.

Is there a book, or a few books, that you have written and are particularly proud of?

My favorites are The Autumn Dead, Blood Moon, The Night Remembers, and Cage of Night in suspense; Wolf Moon and Ghost Town in westerns.

[Editor’s note: The Autumn Dead (1987) is the fourth (of five) novels featuring part time security guard, actor, and private eye Jack Dwyer. An omnibus edition of The Autumn Dead and The Night Remembers (1991) was published by Stark House Press in 2015, which included an Introduction I wrote.

Blood Moon (1994) is the first (of four) novels featuring consultant and former FBI profiler Robert Payne. These novels are a mixture of suspense and crime and are some of Mr. Gorman’s most entertaining novels.

The Night Remembers is the first and only novel featuring aging private eye Jack Walsh. Heavy—wonderfully so—on working class angst, it is one of Mr. Gorman’s most melancholy stories, which is saying something. It is included in the Stark House omnibus mentioned above.

Cage of Night (1996) is Mr. Gorman’s best horror novel. An expansion of his 1995 short story, “The Brasher Girl,” it is a tightly developed masterpiece of psychological suspense.

Wolf Moon (1993) was a paperback original published by Fawcett Gold Medal that had elements of the western, horror and crime genres. Ghost Town (2001) is one of ten novels Mr. Gorman wrote for Berkley between 1999 and 2006, and one I haven’t read.]

Most writers are voracious readers, and I’m wondering what you read for pleasure?

On my nightstand presently I have the Collected Short Stories of William Faulkner, Ten Stories from Detective Aces pulp magazine, a history of the Homefront during World War Two and a huge volume of the original Jonah Hex comic book stories by Michael Fleischer.

Now I want to turn to the western genre specifically. What first led you to the genre?

Mine is the last generation that really grew up on westerns. I saw them in the theaters and on television and I read them in comic books and paperbacks. Writing them came naturally. I owe Bob Randisi a lot for first getting me published as a writer.

What are a few of the western writers who have most influenced your work?

Max Brand, Elmore Leonard, Loren D. Estleman, Clifton Adams, Dorothy Johnson would be a few of them.

If you could bring back the work of one western writer who would it be? Is there a specific title?

I’d bring back six or seven of the best Clifton Adams novels.

You also write mysteries, and it seems there has been—both historically as well as today—a significant number of authors who do good work in both genres. Do you think there is a relationship between the mystery and the western that promotes this crossover, or is it simply the economics of professional writing?

Again, I think it’s generational. You don’t find many—or any that I can think of—of the Thirty-somethings writing westerns and mysteries today. Loren is the last of the breed. He’s in his Forties I think. And he’s one of the all-time best, too.

[Editor’s note: Loren D. Estleman continues to write and publish Western novels. His latest is the fine The Long High Noon (2015).]

The mystery genre is thriving, but many believe the western is in decline. What do you think about the western genre today, and what do you think the future holds for the western story?

I’ve been asked this a couple of times. I wish I had some wisdom on the subject. But I don’t. To me cops replaced cowboys.

Okay, now let’s get down to your current work. What is your latest novel?

My current novel is Fools Rush In. This is my take on how small town Iowa responded to the Civil Rights movement of the early Sixties. I have another novel called Doom Weapon, the last in my Cavalry Man series coming in paperback from HarperCollins. It’s probably out now though I haven’t seen a copy. In the Spring I have a St. Martin’s novel called Sleeping Dogs, a political whodunit. I used to write speeches for [a] congressman. Lots of anger in this book.

[Editor’s note: Fools Rush In (2007) is the seventh (of ten) novels featuring small town lawyer and private investigator Sam McCain. Mr. Gorman told me he planned to write another title in the series, but due to illness and then his death in 2016 it is unlikely we will ever see the planned title.

Doom Weapon (2007) is the third (of three) novels in the Cavalry Man series featuring Federal Agent Noah Ford. These novels are westerns, but the stories and character always reminded me a little of Sam McCain, which is a great thing.

Sleeping Dogs (2008) is the first (of four) novels featuring political consultant Dev Conrad. Mr. Gorman mentioned it is laced with “[l]ots of anger,” which is true, but there is also humor and a very nicely rendered traditional mystery. Similar to the Sam McCain series, Mr. Gorman planned to write another Dev Conrad title, but likely never finished it due to illness in the final few years of his life.]     

Can you tell us about the novel—or any other projects—you are working on now?

My next novel will be in the suspense realm. I never talk about work in progress.

[Editor’s note: This novel was the paperback original, The Midnight Room, published by Leisure in 2009. A serial killer story that departed from the standard—blackmail, revenge, class struggle—featuring a vividly rendered dark cast of victims and demented but uncomfortably human villains.
It is Ed Gorman’s final suspense novel capping a successful body of work in the genre that includes Run to Midnight (1992) and Now You See Her (1993) as by Chris Shea McCarrick, Shadow Games (1993) Cold Blue Midnight (1996), Black River Falls (1996), Runner in the Dark (1997), The Silver Scream (1998), The Poker Club (2000).]

I have one last question, and I must warn it is a little vague. If you could choose any project to work on, what would it be?

That’s a good question and you know, I have no idea. My best stuff seems to have just happened without much planning on my part. I wrote three or four novels that were part of a Big Plan to increase the size of my audience. I think they were adequate, one of them I like, but somehow they weren’t as much fun to do as the work that somehow seems to get done on its own.

[Editor’s note: The “Big Plan” books were The Marilyn Tapes (1995), The First Lady (1995), and Senatorial Privilege (1997). All three were published by Forge. Each of the novels, except Senatorial Privilege, have been released in ebook form, which makes me think Mr. Gorman thought very little of it.]

A few of my favorite Ed Gorman novels:

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The first review is in...

The first review for my novel Blaze! Red Rock Rampage is in and I am very pleased. It comes from the terrific writer and critic Bill Crider—he writes the Sheriff Dan Rhodes novels among many others. 

Thank you for the kind review, Bill.

Read the review.

Click the image to be magically transported to Amazon

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "The Deep"

The Deep is Peter Benchley’s second novel, published as a hardcover by Doubleday in 1976. The Bantam paperback, published a year later, is the edition that caught my eye. A tie-in to the film, the cover art is reminiscent of the movie poster, but very much original to the book. A female scuba diver stretching towards the water’s surface where a boat awaits. Below, what appears to be the ribbing of a sunken ship. The artist: Unknown (to me, at least).  

The opening paragraph:

“It was ten o’clock in the morning when the captain noticed that the wind had begun to die.”

The Deep, following the success of the film of Benchley’s novel Jaws, was filmed almost immediately by director Peter Yates with a screenplay by Peter Benchley and Tracy Keenan Wynn. Nick Nolte, Jacqueline Bisset and the reliable Robert Shaw were the major on screen players.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017


I have hinted a few times, here and at Facebook, that I was working on an exciting—exciting to me, at least—writing project. Well, today is the day I feel comfortable enough to make an official announcement. My first novel, the fifteenth entry in Rough Edges Press’ Blaze! adult Western series, Red Rock Rampage is available for pre-order.

The official release date is February 6, 2017. It will be available as both an ebook (exclusive to Kindle and also available through Kindle Unlimited) and a trade paperback available everywhere. Right now, the Kindle version is available for pre-order with the paperback edition to follow.

The description:

“J.D. and Kate Blaze ride into the settlement of Small Basin, Utah, on the trail of train robbers but soon discover that the town and the surrounding area are ruled by the iron fist of a renegade Mormon patriarch—and he has his eye on two beautiful young women he intends to make unwilling brides. Hired killers, corrupt lawmen, and brutal kidnappers mean a heap of trouble for the Old West's only husband-and-wife gunfighters. Forced to split up, Kate and J.D. have to battle their way back to each other to survive!”

Click image to ride over to Amazon 
The Blaze! series was created by the talented and all-around nice guy Stephen Mertz and I am proud to be part of it. And my guess, as we get closer to February 6, 2017, I will have more to say about Red Rock Rampage and I hope you wont mind. And if you read it, I sure hope you enjoy the adventure because I had a really good time doing the writing.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

2016: The Year in Reading

2016 was a great year for reading. I finished 56 titles, which is four short of last year’s mark. The majority of the titles were fiction and my nonfiction reading tumbled to only a few books; something I will need to correct next year.

I started 2016 with my two almost always recurring goals:

1. Increase the number of “new” authors (in 2015 I read ten authors new to me); and

2. Increase the number of female authors on my reading list (in 2015 I read a scant three female authors).

I doubled the number of new authors, twenty, and more than doubled the number of female authors from three to seven. The increase of both is due, almost entirely, to a full year of reviewing for Mystery Scene Magazine.

In the past I have listed each new author, along with the title I read, but this year the list is unwieldy; so, I decided instead to list the best reads by authors new to me (in the order read):

Reed Farrell Coleman (Where it Hurts). Read the Mystery Scene review;

Carla Buckley (The Good Goodbye). Read the Mystery Scene review;

Warren C. Easley (Not Dead Enough). Read the Mystery Scene review;

Elly Grifftihs (Smoke and Mirrors). Read the Mystery Scene review;

P. D. James (The Mistletoe Murder). Read the Mystery Scene review;

Marvin H. Albert (Operation Lila); and

J. Sydney Jones (The Edit). 

I returned to old favorites fewer times than I have in the past, but three authors accounted for 11 titles, which is approximately 20 percent of the total for 2016. I read five by Ed Gorman, four by Stephen Mertz, and two by Garry Disher. 

Now all that is left is my top five favorite novels of—at least that I read in—2016. No rules, except no repeats. If I previously read the book (which happens many, many times at my house), it is not eligible for the top five. It was difficult to pare the list to five, and there were two or three that were cut from the list that I wish hadn’t been. With that said, my five favorite novels of 2016:

5. Sherlock Holmes: Zombies Over London by Stephen Mertz. A Sherlock Holmes action yarn with zombies, flying machines and an evil plan for world domination. It is a solid, well-told, original tale that is both faithful—specifically in its tone and language—to the original stories and wholly new and unique. Read the Gravetapping review.

4. Backshot (2012) by Tom Piccirilli. A hybrid crime-western that is a touch Richard Stark, but wholly Tom Piccirilli. The plotline is Stark—the protagonist is betrayed by his partner and spends the rest of the story getting even—but it is stylistically and thematically Piccirilli. It is related to Ed Gorman’s short western novel, Backshot (1902). Read the Gravetapping review.

3. Dreadful Tales by Richard Laymon. A collection of twenty-five short stories that showcase Mr. Laymon’s talent as a writer. There are early crime stories, including “A Good Cigar is a Smoke” and “Roadside Pickup” with its clever and surprising ending, and horror stories, mostly the gruesome (and fun) type he is known for, like “The Grab” with a small-town bar setting and a deadly game played nightly and “Into the Pit”.   

2.  The Mistletoe Murder by P. D. James. This is an unusual title to see here, but it is an old school Agatha Christie-style collection of four superior stories by Ms. James. The plotting is tight, the puzzles exquisite with a playful and witty style. Read the Mystery Scene review.     

1.  Backshot (1902) by Ed Gorman. This is a brilliantly rendered noir western, by the best writer to ever write in the genre, and it reads 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 and it is entertaining as hell. Read the Gravetapping review.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

"The Santa Claus Murders" by Ed Gorman

I was intending to review a few Christmas stories on the blog this year, but time and other commitments got the better of me so I decided to dust off this review from December 2008. It is a little-known Sam McCain novella published in Crooks, Crimes and Christmas (Worldwide, 2003) titled “The Santa Claus Murders” and written by Ed Gorman.   

Sam McCain’s only reason to attend a high school reunion / Christmas party is a hope there will be attractive, available, attentive former female classmates. The party is at the home of the wildly wealthy Don Lillis, who inherited the house and a steel mill from his father. On his arrival, Sam finds the usual clustering of people. The wealthy and upwardly mobile, the weirdoes, the blue-collar-types, all congregating in their respective groups. Sam has the uncanny ability to move from group to group, but he doesn’t quite belong to any of them.

The party turns bad when Bob Nugent, the class drunk, is found in the guest room with a knife in his throat. Bob Nugent was the kid everyone expected to succeed. In school, Bob worked hard, was kind, friendly and the teachers loved him. He was, to Sam’s thinking, a brownnose of the first order. But something went wrong for Bob during his college years and he started drinking. The party screeches to a halt when Bob’s body is found and the unlikable and incompetent Sheriff Cliff Sykes, Jr is called to investigate. Cliffie, as he is called behind his back, makes all the wrong assumptions and McCain decides to solve the mystery on his own for two reasons: to make Sykes look the clown, and make sure the right person is brought to justice.

“The Santa Claus Murders” is Sam McCain at his best. He is young, endowed with the wisdom of much older man, intelligent and savvy at why people do what they do, and cynical with a perfectly complimented amount of optimism. He is a kid that doesn’t quite fit a category—he grew up in the poor section of town, but he is a college graduate with his own small law practice. He is an ideal Ed Gorman character: intelligent, cynical, tough, realistic, and yet hopeful and wistful at the same time.

The mystery is perfectly executed. The killer is revealed only moments after the reader figures it out. The supporting cast is top-notch. Cliffie Sykes is his usual gruff and annoying self. The Judge is kind and vindictive in a swift, judgmental and condescending manner. And everyone else plays their parts perfectly.