Sunday, September 24, 2017

BROTHERS OF THE GUN by B. S. Dunn


Brothers of the Gun is an entertaining traditional western written by B. S. Dunn and published by Robert Hale’s Black Horse Western line. B. S. Dunn is a pseudonym for the prolific and very talented Australian scribe Brent Towns. 
A war is brewing in the Cottonwood Creek range between the largest cattle outfit, B-L connected ranch, and the incoming homesteaders. The B-L is owned by Buford Lance who first settled the area “at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo range,” decades earlier with nothing more than a dream and the determination to build an empire. He fought outlaws, Indians and anyone else who came wanting what he righteously believed to be his. 
Now, the homesteaders are coming in waves, fencing and planting the grasslands. To stop the interloping farmers, Buford hires two gunmen. The estranged brothers known as The Gun King, Lucas Kane, and The Prince, Jordan Kane. Lucas has the biggest reputation in the territory, and his younger brother, Jordan, has plans to unseat The King. When the brothers arrive, Lucas turns down Buford’s offer and rides away, but Jordan happily takes Lance’s money. A simple job, it seems, to run off a few dirt farmers, but when Lucas joins the homesteaders it becomes both more difficult and the opportunity Jordan has been waiting for.
Brothers of the Gun is as fast as it is entertaining. The action is brisk, and believable. A traditional range war western with a cast of both good and bad. Buford Lance is the angry, unscrupulous rancher with more money and power than sense. Jordan is a badman with seething rage and something more, while Lucas is a nice take on the moral gunfighter. It reads similar to many of the books packaged as Ace Doubles back in the day—a good thing—and it is both appealing and entertaining.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Mystery Scene: Issue No. 151


The latest issue of Mystery Scene Magazine—No. 151—is at a newsstand near you. As usual, it is packed. It features interviews with Attica Locke and Paul Cleave, a Jake Hinkson article about the Robert Mitchum film “Out of the Past” and many others.
It also features my short story review column, “Short & Sweet: Short Stories Considered.” Two of the four books / magazine covered are available at MS’s website. In the column I discuss:

Bibliomysteries, edited by Otto Penzler, collects 15 mystery tales featuring books and most are very surprising.
Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, July / August 2017, includes stories by James Lincoln Warren, Loren D. Estleman, and Susan Koefod. This is exclusive to the print magazine.
New Haven Noir, edited by Amy Bloom, is a tepid on noir, but long on good storytelling. It features terrific stories from Stephen L. Carter, and Chris Knopf.
Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, July / August 2017, features excellent stories from Steve Liskow, Robert Mageot, and O’Neil De Noux. This is exclusive to the print magazine.
It also includes two of my book reviews. The titles: Path Into Darkness by Lisa Alber, and Fast Falls the Night by Julia Keller. The book reviews are all available at MS’s website:
Path Into Darkness by Lisa Alber is a whodunit set in County Clare, Ireland.
Fast Falls the Night by Julia Keller is a slow paced procedural featuring dozens of heroin overdoses in a 24-hour period.
The reviews are available online at Mystery Scene’s website—click the titles above.
Mystery Scene is available at many newsstands, including Barnes & Noble, and available for order at MS’s website.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

"Merrick" by Ben Boulden



My story “Merrick” is live and ready for consumption. It’s a 25-page action Western short story that I’m fond of, and one that I think most readers will enjoy. It is exclusive to Amazon Kindle; available to purchase for a measly $0.99, or, for the lucky readers with Kindle Unlimited, it can be borrowed for free.
If you read and enjoy “Merrick” please consider leaving a brief review at Amazon or Goodreads, or even better, tell your friends about it. Your enemies, too, if you have any.
Here is the description:
Merrick is hard, tough, and when he needs to be, mean as hell.
When Merrick is called in as a late-replacement for a payroll heist his first inclination is greed. His second is hesitation, since anyone who says a job will be easy is a liar, but this job has been planned by an old partner, Clarence Tilley, who has masterminded more than a few successful heists.
It’s a four man job with a payout worth $15,000 and Merrick’s share would keep him in whiskey and satin for a year. But it may also get him killed.
And if you've read this far, keep reading for an itty bitty preview. You can also get a preview at Amazon.

Sweat beaded on Merrick’s brow. 
Slow moving horses beat a tepid rhythm on the road above. A wagon squeaked, its wheels rumbling across dry clay and shale.
A man laughed. 
Another clicked his tongue at the laboring beasts before saying, “You should have seen it, me and Janie Frain as naked as God made us…”
Merrick drew a breath, held it. He listened to the sound his heart made. The Remington cool and steady in his right hand.
“…and in comes Janie’s—”
A crash and thud bounced on the road above as the armored wagon slammed into the four-foot rectangular trench dug for the purpose. The double tree hitch busted with an ear-shattering crack.
Merrick moved up the incline. His boots slippery on the shoulder’s pale rocks and paler dirt. The road’s flat surface a comfort beneath his Texas boots. The Remington raised to shoulder height, its barrel pointed at the rear of the wagon.


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

PROJECT JAEL by Aaron Fletcher


Aaron Fletcher is a writer I know nothing about. My internet searching determined he is an unknown quantity in the ether-sphere, too. I know his name is on the cover of the successful Outback historical series and he wrote a few suspense novels in the 1960s and 1970s, but otherwise…nothing.
Frank Keeler is a British MI-6 agent, cast in a broken mold of James Bond, with a history of getting the job done. Fresh on the heels of a successful mission in Cairo, Keeler is tasked with disposing of a Nazi plot to kill Franklin Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Josef Stalin at a secret summit set for Tehran in 1943. An assignment that is anything but easy since Keeler has to deal with the German spy apparatus, Abwehr, the Soviets, a German Brandenburg detachment led by a hate-filled and industrious Polish officer, and at least two beautiful women. One married, the other a former prisoner in a Russian gulag. It isn’t easy, but Keeler makes it look like another day at the office.
Project Jael is an enjoyable, overly long World War Two thriller, with a smoothly executed and easy to read style without many surprises or anything to raise it above the standard. An original paperback published by Leisure Books in 1985, it is a comfortable yarn that blends Jack Higgins’ The Eagle Has Landed and Ken Follett’s The Key to Rebecca without the originality of either. The Tehran setting is nicely rendered and the competitive nature of the intelligence services, especially between the British / American and the Soviets, is neatly detailed. An entertaining diversion, but not one that you should spend much effort seeking out.

Monday, September 04, 2017

"It Happened Tomorrow" by Robert Bloch


I’m a sucker for two things: 1) apocalyptic stories; and 2) Robert Bloch. When I find something that marries both, a Robert Bloch written apocalyptic story, I drop everything and read it immediately. A situation I found earlier this week when I turned to the table of contents of an old anthology, Futures Unlimited, edited by Alden Norton, and saw the Robert Bloch novelette, “It Happened Tomorrow”.
Dick Sheldon’s morning started in the usual way. Daylight. His alarm’s tattooing brutality. But then things go bad. The alarm won’t stop its ringing until he smashes it to pieces. The lights in his apartment won’t turn off. His bathroom water tap is stuck on. The street car door won’t open, and then the entire car refuses to stop. As does the elevator in his office building. The world’s machines have gone mad. Everything is running, out-of-control, and their human creators are scared, looking for somewhere to hide.

“It Happened Tomorrow” is vintage science fiction. It has big ideas presented in a simple, entertaining package. Originally published in Super Science Stories in June 1951, it is as prescient today—think about the recent talk of artificial intelligence’s peril to humanity from such luminaries as Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk—as when it first appeared. It’s as entertaining today, as it must have been seventy years ago, too. 
A small story about a big subject. It follows the human world’s destruction as it happens from the viewpoint of Dick Sheldon, in a single city over a short period of time. A top-notch example of both classic science fiction and Robert Bloch. A writer who is unjustly forgotten and whose work seems ripe for a revival.

Futures Unlimited was published by Pyramid books as a mass market paperback in June 1969. It features an impressive list of contributors, including A. Merrit, Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Arthur Conan Doyle and others.

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "The Potsdam Bluff"

The Potsdam Bluff was published as a hardcover by Tor in 1991, but the edition that caught my eye is the mass market published in 1992 (also by Tor). The cover is a nice montage that fits its release era perfectly and reminds me a little of Pocket’s Jack Higgins novels with the two main characters pictured across a background of war and destruction. The artist: Don Gonzalez


The first sentence:
“The American news correspondents had been authorized to visit one of the fighter squadrons that were supposed to protect Moscow from Nazi bombers, which, as everybody knew, no longer represented any kind of threat to anybody anywhere, especially here in Russia.”
Jack D. Hunter made a career of the news business, working as a reporter and columnist, and wrote fifteen novels centered around World War Two and the spy game. His 1964 novel, The Blue Max, was made into the 1966 film starring George Peppard and James Mason, and directed by John Guillerman. His writing tends to be descriptive and detailed, but at times, can be bogged down by those same qualities.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

CHAIN OF EVIDENCE by Garry Disher


Chain of Evidence is Australian crime writer Garry Disher’s fourth novel to feature Inspector Hal Challis and Sergeant Ellen Destry. A police procedural set in the rural, but booming Mornington Peninsula area south of Melbourne in Victoria, Australia. A place where poverty and wealth live side-by-side and crime is as deadly and ugly as it is in any large city. 

While visiting his dying father in his childhood home in the dusty, hardscrabble South Australia town of Mawson’s Bluff, Challis unofficially investigates the mysterious disappearance of his sister’s husband, Gavin Hurst, from eight years earlier. Hurst is a man not readily missed by many of Mawson’s Bluff’s residents and his disappearance is truly a mystery. His truck abandoned at the desert’s edge, his body never found.

Back home at the Waterloo Station, Ellen Destry is filling in for Challis during his absence, a girl is kidnapped on her way home from school. She is found imprisoned in an uninhabited house. Abused by what Destry believes is a pedophile ring operating in the Peninsula. Her investigation hits roadblocks from within the police service and the only person she can trust is Hal Challis, more than 1,000 kilometers away.

Chain of Evidence is a powerful and disturbing procedural. The two major mysteries are intriguing and executed with the sure hand of an absolute professional. It is Ellen Destry’s coming out as an equal partner with Challis. The setting, both the Peninsula and Mawson’s Bluff, is rendered with a muted artistry and adds immeasurably to the novel’s power. There is nothing gory or exploitative about either storyline and Mr. Disher has a way of mixing character stereotypes to develop tension between the characters, the plot, and the reader. It may be the best book in the series. If you are new to Garry Disher, Chain of Evidence is a very good place to get acquainted.

Monday, August 07, 2017

A Trio of Mack Bolan


A few months ago I read the trilogy that killed Colonel John Phoenix and brought Mack Bolan back to the world. I had meant to write a detailed review when I read these, but time (a lack of it) conspired against me. The trilogy includes two Executioner novels, 62, Day of Mourning and 64, Dead Man Running, both written by Stephen Mertz and the Super Bolan title, Terminal Velocity written by Alan Bomack. Alan Bomack is a pseudonym and a snazzy anagram (with a little cheating) of Mack Bolan. The books were published between February and April 1984.
Day of Mourning is the best non-Don Pendleton Mack Bolan books I’ve read. It is a straight ahead thriller with a terse, hard-boiled style, matching the originals very well. It chronicles the murder of April Rose and a grave threat to Stony Man Farm.
The story continues with Terminal Velocity, which has the feeling of two separate novels smashed together. Its purpose in the story arc is to introduce Greb Strakhov, and the reason for Strakhov's grudge against Bolan. Its style is less hard-boiled than DOM, but in its own right an entertaining and very readable thriller. 
The trilogy finds its conclusion with Dead Man Running, which is a fine finale. It is a slight step down from DOM, but it admirably chronicles Mack’s journey from Colonel Phoenix back to Mack Bolan. All done while hunting the mole who gave up Stony Man to the Soviets and indirectly caused the death of April Rose.
These, especially the two written by Stephen Mertz, are really terrific action thrillers.

This review, in slightly different form, originally appeared on Gravetapping’s Facebook page. If you don’t follow Gravetapping on FB, you should, and here is the link.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

The Covers of Travis McGee

I’ve been running a series of posts at Gravetapping’s Facebook page featuring four covers, from the first to the latest, of John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee novels. And since I have the cover scans, meaning the hardest part is done, I decided to do an all-inclusive blog post. Here they are, from the first novel, Deep Blue Good-by, to the last, The Lonely Silver Rain.

The Deep Blue Good-by (1964).

“Home is where the privacy is. Draw all the opaque curtains, button the hatches, and with the whispering drone of the air conditioning masking all the sounds of the outside world, you are no longer cheek to jowl with the random activities aboard the neighbor craft. You could be in a rocket beyond Venus, or under the icecap.”





Nightmare in Pink (1964).

“She worked on the twentieth floor, for one of those self-important little companies which design packages for things. I arrived at five, as arranged, and sent my name in, and she came out into the little reception area, wearing a smock to prove that she did her stint at the old drawing board.”


A Purple Place for Dying (1964).

“She took the corner too fast, and it was definitely not much of a road. She drifted it through the corner on the gravel, with one hell of a drop at our left, and then there was a big rock slide where the road should have been. She stomped hard and the drift turned into a rough sideways skid, and I hunched low expecting the white Alpine to trip and roll. But we skidded all the way to the rock and stopped with inches to spare and a great big three feet between the rear end and the drop-off. The skid had killed the engine.

The Quick Red Fox (1964).

“A big noisy wind out of the northeast, full of a February chill, herded the tourists off the afternoon beach, driving them to cover, complaining bitterly. It picked up gray slabs of the Atlantic and smacked them down on the public beach across the windshields of the traffic, came into the cramped acres of docks and boat basin, snapped the burgees and hoooo in the spider-webs of rigging and tuna towers. Fort Lauderdale was a dead loss for the tourists that Saturday afternoon. They would have been more comfortable back in Scranton.”

A Deadly Shade of Gold (1965).

“A smear of fresh blood has a metallic smell. It smells like freshly sheared copper. It is a clean and impersonal smell, quite astonishing the first time you smell it. It changes quickly, to a fetid, fudgier smell, as the cells die and thicken.”

Bright Orange for the Shroud (1965).

“Another season was ending. The mid-May sun had a tropic sting against my bare shoulders. Sweat ran into my eyes. I had discovered an ugly little pocket of dry rot in the windshield corner of the panel of the topside controls on my houseboat, and after trying not to think about it for a week, I had dug out the tools, picked up some pieces of prime mahogany, and excised the area of infection with a saber saw.”






Darker than Amber (1966).

“We were about to give up and call it a night when somebody dropped the girl off the bridge.”

One Fearful Yellow Eye (1966).

“Around and around we went, like circling through wads of lint in a dirty pocket. We’d been in that high blue up yonder where it was a bright cold clear December afternoon, and then we had to go down into that guck, as it was the intention of the airline and the airplane driver to put down at O’Hare.”

Pale Gray for Guilt (1968).

“The next to last time I saw Tush Bannon alive was the very same day I had that new little boat running the way I wanted it to run, after about six weeks of fitzing around with it.”


The Girl in the Plain Brown Wrapper (1968).

“After I heard that Helena Pearson had died on Thursday, the third day of October, I had no trouble reconstructing the immediate past.”

Dress Her in Indigo (1969).

“On that early afternoon in late August, Meyer and I walked through the canvas tunnel at Miami International and boarded a big bird belonging to Aeronaves de Mexico for the straight shot to Mexico City. We were going first class because it was all a private and personal and saddening mission at the behest of a very sick and fairly rich man.”

The Long Lavender Look (1970).

“Late April. Ten o’clock at night. Hustling south on Florida 112 through the eastern section of Cypress County, about twenty miles from the intersection of 112 and the Tamiami Trail.”

A Tan and Sandy Silence (1971).

“The socket wrench slipped, and I skinned yet another knuckle. Meyer stood blocking out a sizable piece of the deep blue sky. He stared down into the bilge and said, ‘Very inventive and very fluent. Nice mental images, Travis. Imagine one frail little bilge pump performing such an extraordinary act upon itself! But you began to repeat yourself toward the end.’”

The Scarlet Ruse (1972).


“After seven years of bickering and fussing, the Fort Lauderdamndale city fathers, on a hot Tuesday in late August, killed off a life style and turned me into a vagrant.”




The Turquoise Lament (1973).


“The place Pidge had borrowed was a studio apartment on the eleventh floor of the Kaiulani Towers on Hobron Lane, about a hundred yards to the left off Ala Moana Boulevard on the way toward downtown Honolulu.



The Dreadful Lemon Sky (1974).

“I was in deep sleep, alone aboard my houseboat, alone in the half acre of bed, alone in a sweaty dream chase, fear, and monstrous predators. A shot rang off steel bars. Another. I came bursting up out of sleep to hear the secretive sound of the little bell which rings at my bedside when anyone steps aboard the Busted Flush. It was almost four in the morning.”

The Empty Copper Sea (1978).

“Suddenly everything starts to snap, rip, and fall out, to leak and squeal and give final gasps. Then you bend to it, or you go live ashore like a sane person.”

The Green Ripper (1979).


“Meyer came aboard the Busted Flush on a dark, wet, windy Friday afternoon in early December. I had not seen him in nearly two months. He looked worn and tired, and he had faded to an indoor pallor. He shucked his rain jacket and sat heavily in the biggest chair and said he wouldn’t mind at all if I offered him maybe a little bourbon, one rock, a dollop of water.”





Free Fall in Crimson (1981).

“We talked past midnight, sat in the deck chairs on the sun deck of the Busted Flush with the starry April sky overhead, talked quietly, and listened to the night. Creak and sigh of hulls, slap of small waves against pilings, muted motor noises of the fans and generators and pumps aboard the work boats and the play toys.”



Cinnamon Skin (1982).
“Every man can be broken when things happen to him in a certain order, with a momentum and an intensity that awaken ancient fears in the back of his mind. He knows what he must do, but suddenly the body will not obey the mind. Panic becomes like and unbearably shrill sound.”

The Lonely Silver Rain (1984).
“Once upon a time I was very lucky and located a sixty-five-foot hijacked motor sailer in a matter of days, after the authorities had been looking for months. When I heard through the grapevine that Billy Ingraham wanted to see me, it was easy to guess he hoped I could work the same miracle with his stolen Sundowner, a custom cruiser he’d had built in a Jacksonville yard. It had been missing for three months.”