Thursday, May 19, 2016

THE WOLF IN THE CLOUDS by Ron Faust

The Wolf in the Clouds is Ron Faust’s second published novel. It was originally published as a hardcover by Bobbs-Merrill’s Black Bat Mystery imprint, then as a paperback by Popular Library, and recently as a trade paperback and ebook. It is, like much of Mr. Faust’s early work, a relatively simple adventure yarn with a poetic lilt that makes it a little more.   

A small town in rural Colorado is under siege from a slow moving blizzard and a rampage killer. A killer who shot several people at a nearby ski resort and is now hiding in the rugged Wolf Mountain Wilderness Area. The storm trapped three college students skiing in the shadow of the Wolf—a high, unforgiving mountain peak—and two forest rangers brave the freezing temperatures to mount a rescue. The rangers, Jack and Frank, find the skiers safely holed up in a small cabin, but they also find the killer; a man named Ralph Brace whom Jack once considered a friend, but now realizes he never knew at all.

The Wolf in the Clouds is an entertaining, smoothly written adventure novel. It is written in first person from Jack’s perspective and the narrative includes ideas larger than the story. The complexity of public land use is only one and it is as relevant today as it was forty years ago. The prose is both complex and simple; easy to read, but with a texture and feel of something almost beautiful—

“Roof timbers creaked, the last light faded from the windows, the stone walls exhaled a new, acid cold. The long winter night was here; we had fourteen or fifteen hours until dawn.”

The story lacks the complexity of Mr. Faust’s later novels and the protagonist, Jack, is shaded nearly cold. He is aloof, even in an early scene with his wife, and something of an outsider with both the Forest Service and the townsfolk, which is forgivable since everything works so well—setting, plotting, character. The Wolf in the Clouds isn’t in the top-tier of Mr. Faust’s body of work, which is reserved for his final six or seven novels, but it is still pretty damn good.

Purchase a copy of The Wolf in the Clouds at Amazon.

Monday, May 16, 2016

And the winner is...

…just a second while I thank everyone for entering the giveaway for the Ace Double F-143, liking Gravetapping’s Facebook page and following the posts here at the blog. I’m pleased with the results and I may do another book giveaway again soon.

Drum roll, please…and the winner is—

Glen D., Yuba City, California

I hope you enjoy the book Glen!

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Gravetapping at 10 - An Anniversary Thing

Pete, the once and always mascot of Gravetapping
This post has been a long time coming. Every year when it gets close to Gravetapping’s anniversary – May 14, if you care – I go through the following thought process:

I should write an anniversary post extolling the virtues of Gravetapping and all my hard work to keep it going, which is immediately followed by—

That sounds like work and my 1.57 regular readers will think I’m a pompous jackass with nothing better to do than talk about myself, which is followed shortly by—

Maybe next year.  

Well, this is the year. Why this year and not last year, or next year? The reason is because this is Gravetapping’s tenth year of operation and if I’m going to tell you how awesome I am it seems more forgivable on a big anniversary than a small one.

When I started Gravetapping, a poorly devised Sunday afternoon activity in 2006, it was going to be a place where I reviewed mostly horror fiction, which explains the blog’s creepy name. But as it turned out my fancy for horror faded, without disappearing, and I started reviewing nearly everything genre—crime, mystery, suspense, western, horror, science fiction. At the time I thought it was a passing fancy with a built in excuse to read and study other writers’ work to improve my own. As it turned out I’ve kept at it pretty consistently over the years with only one significant hiatus—okay, it was all of 2011—and an ill-advised move from Gravetapping to a blog no one, not even my 1.57 regular readers, visited called Dark City Underground in 2010.

My blogging experience has been a good one. Sure, there have been moments when I wondered what I was doing, and others when I felt pretty good about what I was doing. I’ve kept blogging because I want to blog, write reviews, think about books, and in my own small way help the literary community as best I can. And believe me, any help I’ve provided has been immeasurably tiny. The emails I’ve received from readers and writers over the years, every one of them positive, have helped me gear up for one more post more times than I can count.

My first post was published May 14, 2006—titled simply “Grave Tapping”—and the most recent, this one, May 14, 2016. Ten years that have been good to me, my family, and I hope yours. Ten years that have seen an unknown number of posts at Gravetapping; unknown because I have a habit of deleting older posts I don’t like, or have been replaced by newer better posts, or are no longer relevant.
I do have a count of the reviews I’ve written expressly for Gravetapping, which is 240 and counting. It has also led me to new opportunities and venues for my writing. I regularly write reviews for Mystery Scene Magazine. I have written a couple introductions for Stark House Press, and I have a project brewing that I dare not speak of since it may jinx the whole deal. And it is all due to Gravetapping.

Happy birthday Gravetapping! Thanks for the good times and, while I can’t guarantee another ten years, here is to the future.

Thanks for reading.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

SHADOW GAMES by Ed Gorman

I have a particular fondness for Shadow Games. It is not only a terrific novel, but it was my introduction to the work of Ed Gorman. The year was 2000. I made a habit of studying and writing in a library not far from where I worked as a pizza delivery driver; a job I won’t recommend, but a job that treated me well just the same. My usual table was tucked at the back of the fiction stacks. I sat, my back to the wall, facing a bookshelf packed with the latest genre titles making study nearly impossible since the stories beckoned me.

There was one title that, day after day, caught my attention. It was a mass market paperback, black background with orange-red print and the large white Leisure Books logo—a publisher I miss badly—at the top of its spine. Its title, Shadow Games. When I finally relented and read Shadow Games, sitting right there in the library, its tale of Hollywood ambition, perversion, and lost potential, all told in a darkly humorous tone, made me a lifetime fan of Ed Gorman’s work.

It is the story of Cobey Daniels, a child television star, musician and, as the novel opens, the playwright and star of his own one man show. The play is autobiographical and humorously recalls Cobey’s life as a fallen Hollywood superstar. A life that has had more than a few public scandals. The most serious involved a sixteen-year-old girl in a Miami, Florida mall causing Cobey’s three-year stay in a Missouri mental hospital. But Cobey is better now, the addictions and mood swings are behind him. Or so Cobey thinks until he awakens in a Chicago apartment, difficulty remembering his name, a headless woman lying in a pool of her own blood on the kitchen floor.

Shadow Games is a dark ride across American pop culture—hero worship, sex, vanity, dizzying unreality, hypocrisy, cynicism and downright craziness. It is a crime novel at its center, but its view of Hollywood and its fandom illuminates modern culture in a manner both convincing and familiar. It is dark, possibly one of the three or four darkest tales I’ve read, but its humor—

“‘I know a lot of people think I’m a goody-goody because of my role on the show. Well, what’s wrong with being a clean-cut, all-American teenager?’

“Cobey Daniels, interviewed in Teen Scene, August, 1984”

“(Reporter)   The police are saying that you pulled a knife on the waitress because she wouldn’t serve you liquor. Any comments?

“(Cobey)   Yeah, just one. Why don’t you go f*ck off, you asshole?

“Cobey Daniels responding to KABC-TV reporter, May, 1985”

—lifts it from what, in lesser hands, could have been a deeply depressing story to a very readable and damn good novel.

Shadow Games, as it should be, is back in print with a high quality trade paperback from Short, Scary Tales. It has been, from what I can tell, lightly edited by the author and is titled Shadow Games and Other Sinister Stories of Show Business. It includes four of Ed Gorman’s finest short stories, “Scream Queen,” “Riff,” “Such a Good Girl,” and “Pards.” Do yourself a favor and buy it right now.

Purchase a copy of Shadow Games and Other Sinister Stories of Show Business at Amazon.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

No Comment: "Overhead"

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.

—Jack M. Bickham, Overhead. Tor, 1993 (© 1991) page 279. 

Thursday, May 05, 2016

Book Giveaway: Ace Double F-143

I’m giving away an Ace Double, F-143, A Stone Around Her Neck by Bob McKnight / End of a Big Wheel by Clayton Fox. It was published in 1962 and both titles were originals to this edition.

The only catch, or maybe requirement, is to do one of two things:

1. Like Gravetapping’s Facebook page [Click Here]; and / or

2. Subscribe to Gravetapping’s posts [see “Subscribe to Gravetapping” in the right column].





















If you do both, your name will be entered in the contest twice, which effectively doubles your chances to win. I have no way to determine who likes Gravetapping’s Facebook page, or follows its blog posts and so there is an element of an “honor contest,” which means you will also need to send an email to zulu1611@yahoo.com, with “Ace Double Contest” in the subject, and your name and mailing address in the body of the email. If you both like the Facebook page, and follow the blog posts include “2” in the email’s subject line.  

The contest is open until 11:59 PM, Mountain Daylight, Sunday May 15, 2016.

Unfortunately, since international shipping rates are quite high, the contest is limited to United States mailing addresses. 

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

THE DARKNESS ROLLING by Win Blevins and Meredith Blevins

1946. The war is over, and Yazzie Goldman—a Navajo with both a Jewish name and Jewish blood—is going home. He spent six years in the Navy, and the entire war in San Diego as Shore Patrol. His home is a trading post in Oljato near Monument Valley on the Utah-Arizona border. A place immortalized by John Ford’s film Stagecoach before the war, and now that the war is over, Mr. Ford, or as Yazzie calls him, Mr. John, is back with crew and cast to film My Darling Clementine.
Yazzie, who worked for Mr. John as a Navajo translator on Stagecoach, is hired to escort a troubled star—

“‘Big star, bigger ego. Linda Darnell.’”

—from Winslow, Arizona to Monument Valley. She has a habit of showing favor to men and then dropping them cold; and a few take it personally. Yazzie and Ms. Darnell hit it off, and the escort job turns into Ms. Darnell’s onsite fulltime security. It’s a perfect job until Linda Darnell is attacked in her cabin, and Yazzie is blamed. The attack is more personal than Yazzie realizes; much more than simply that of suspect.

The Darkness Rolling is a nicely executed period piece with sterling setting, plausible cast, and sharply developed mystery. Its setting, Monument Valley, is described with the tender and light touch of a knowing hand. It is the backdrop of John Wayne’s, and John Ford’s, greatest picture, The Searchers, and is no less integral to this story. Its painted rock shimmers in the narrative, and it is as much the story as the characters and plot. The cast is rich with the real; John Ford, Linda Darnell, are major characters believably developed in the story, and the descriptions of the film crew feel authentic. It is often difficult to determine reality from fiction.      

The narrative alternates between first and third person. Yazzie is the center, and his perspective is first person. The antagonist is revealed in brief snippets of third person. It is similar to the development of the antagonist in a serial killer novel, but its brevity shrewdly creates an unease that is buttressed by a creeping dark Navajo tale; a story that intermingles a sense of horror with the mystery.

The Darkness Rolling is also a study of contradiction. Yazzie is part of two cultures—his grandfather is Jewish, and his mother is Navajo. His childhood home and the Navajo culture whisper to him, but his experience in the Navy and his cultural inheritance from his grandfather pull him away. It is similar to Monument Valley’s endless appeal to John Ford. The old, the timeless unchanging cathedral of the desert’s painted rocks, and the undeniable appeal of the new, almost celluloid, American dream with its changing perspectives and sensibilities.