Monday, May 20, 2024

Available for Pre-Order: "Casinos, Motels, Gators" by Ben Boulden


Available For Pre-Order

Casinos, Motels, Gators

by Ben Boulden

3 Play, 2024


Big news at Maison Boulden. Casinos, Motels, Gators, which is a collection of four of my crime stories—three Jimmy Ford tales and a standalone—is available for pre-order now and scheduled for release in a week and a day: May 28, 2024.

The Author’s Note tells it better than I could, so…

The four short stories in Casinos, Motels, Gators were written between 2017 and 2020 in a broom closet-sized office in my former home in Salt Lake City, Utah. I worked fulltime and wrote in the early mornings and late at night. I conjured the character Jimmy Ford, appearing in the first three stories, during a long ago visit to the casinos of the Utah-Nevada border town of Wendover.
     Wendover is a desert town nestled in a desolate valley about 120 miles west of Salt Lake City on I-80. It started life as a railroad town in the early-20th Century and boomed during World War Two when an Army Air Corps training base was built. The Enola Gay and the rest of the 509th Composite Group, which were responsible for dropping Fat Man and Little Boy on Japan, trained there. After the war, the old Air Corps base was largely left to rot and Las Vegas-style casinos came in, luring both the respectable and seamier residents of the City of Saints into their gambling pits.
     These three Jimmy Ford stories—“121,” “No Chips, No Bonus,” and “Junkyard”—were all published in 2019. I think they work well as modern updates on the hardboiled detective genre, something like the old pulp Manhunt would publish if it was still around. Jimmy Ford as a character isn’t exactly likable—he is too violent, a bit smug, too easily manipulated by his unsavory boss, Jenkins—but he usually ends up doing the right thing even if it’s done the wrong way. These three stories are all of the Jimmy Ford’s misadventures, but who knows, Jimmy may rise from the page again. I should also tell you, the Wendover of my imagination and the real thing are different places. The Desert Diamond casino, where Jimmy is a security consultant, doesn’t exist, and as far as I know, no one like Jimmy Ford or his unscrupulous boss, Jenkins, exist, either.
     The fourth and final story in the collection, “Asia Divine,” was written for a tribute anthology honoring the late-writer and all-around good guy, Bill Crider. It was published in 2021 with a table of contents filled with writers outside my weight class. There were stories by Joe R. Lansdale, William Kent Krueger, Charlaine Harris, Bill Pronzini, and Sara Paretsky. But—and I say this with all humility—I think “Asia Divine” held its own. “Asia Divine,” like the Jimmy Ford stories, is set in Utah’s West Desert but none of the action is as far west as Jimmy Ford’s Wendover.
     Now, let’s get to the stories…

*           *           *

Oh, I should add. The New York Times bestselling author, James Reasoner, called “121” a “Manhunt story for the 21st Century.” A high accolade indeed!

Casinos, Motels, Gators is available here for pre-order as an ebook at Amazon. A paperback edition will drop either May 27 or 28 everywhere and the Kindle edition will be available on Kindle Unlimited with a subscription.

Wednesday, May 15, 2024

Review: "Journey" by Catherine Arnold (Harrison Arnston?)



by Catherine Arnold (Harrison Arnston?)

iUniverse, 2003



In the early-1990s my parents sprang for a subscription to the bulletin board service Prodigy. Prodigy was a predecessor to AOL and (ultimately) to the commercialized internet we have today. Basically, Prodigy was a bunch of bulletin boards where people with similar interests gathered to chat about what made them excited. I tended to spend my time—or perhaps misspend my time—on boards about books and baseball. One of the boards I frequented was called Harry’s Bar & Grill. Its operator was a thriller writer named Harrison Arnston. He went by Harry in both the real and digital worlds, but his novels were published as “Harrison”.

Harry was a renaissance man—cool, successful, and kind. His board was about writing and he knew what he was talking about. When I first met Harry—the digital version anyway—he had published four novels; all paperback originals released by Zebra. In 1984, Harry had sold his successful California “auto-accessory company,” moved to Palm Harbor, Florida, and set out to write thrillers. It didn’t come easy, either. After reading his first thriller, which was never published, one agent told him to find another hobby. But Harry wrote another and then another before he found print with Zebra.

Harry was the first “real” writer that took an interest in me, or at least made me feel like he did, and I loved every piece of advice he gave me and anyone else that wandered into Harry’s Bar & Grill. In the early-1990s, HarperPaperbacks became Harry’s publisher and the quality if his work noticeably improved. Jon L. Breen noted that Harry’s legal thriller, Act of Passion (1991), was “unusually well plotted” and every book Harry wrote was better than the last. Harry’s journey ended prematurely in 1996, he was 59, after a brief battle with lung cancer, but I’ve always wondered what he would have produced if he hadn’t died.

My point? I think I found Harrison Arnston’s final novel. It was self-published by Arnston’s widow, Theresa Sandford-Arnston, using her pseudonym, Catherine Arnold, with the title, Journey. Unfortunately, Ms. Arnston died in 2016 and so I can’t ask her. I haven’t been able to make contact with any of his or her family, either. And I’ve tried. But after reading Journey—which is a cool take on an X-Files theme—I’m convinced it was written by Harry Arnston because it is stylistically similar to his last few published novels. Another clue, and it is a big one, comes from Harry’s St. Petersburg Times obituary (Feb. 4, 1996) stating his agent was peddling a novel titled Journey.

My only hesitation about Journey belonging to Harry Arnston is, back in 2008 I exchanged emails—at least three or four—with Theresa Arnston about Harry and she said his only unpublished book was a thriller titled American Terrorist. Journey had been published five years earlier, but I’m puzzled why she wouldn’t have told me about Journey.

Now, a little about Journey. It was obviously written in the mid-1990s because it mentions the first World Trade Center bombing and the Waco siege (both in 1993), and the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, but nothing significant after that. There are a few add-ins, a line here or there that feel like they were dropped in by another writer and don’t exactly fit the overall context. One such add-in is a mention of the 2002 film, The Hours. Journey has that big 1990s thriller feel, too—weighty problems, significant background detail, lightweight characterization, but still richer than most current genre thrillers, and a quality of we can do it hopefulness that we seemed to lose after 9/11.

Everything begins when a 747 disappears from an air traffic controller’s radar screen. There is no evidence the airliner crashed, changed course, or exploded. It simply disappeared. The investigation is handed to the FBI, but—against all protocols—the Pentagon assumes control with the blessing of the Department of Justice’s top suits. A development that irks the FBI’s top investigator, Jack Kalman, enough that he takes leave and starts his own investigation.

There is a bunch of detail about how air traffic control worked in the 1990s, including the ramifications of when Ronald Reagan broke the union in the 1980s. The action is swift and—especially the first two-thirds while the happening is a still a mystery—intriguing. There are several repetitive passages, but none are overly long, and I bet if this had been published in Arnston’s lifetime they would have been fixed. A strange prologue—strange because it was obviously written by another writer—is attached with little relevance to the narrative and there are a few odd typos in the text. Odd, because it seems like the wrong word was used. But overall, Journey, is an attractive, high-speed, flight that would have been even better if it had been published when it Harry Arnston wrote it.

Click here for the Kindle edition or here for the paperback at Amazon.

I wrote a biographical article about Harrison Arnston a few years ago—which you can read here.

Monday, May 13, 2024

"Noah Beery: More than an Actor" — The Rockford Files, 1979



This profile of Noah Beery Jr., which appeared in the June 24, 1979 issue of the Salt Lake Tribune, is a pleasure to read. I love that Beery and his family lived in an old motel and gas station at their 1,800 acre ranch and in Malibu while he was plying his acting trade.

[Click the image for a larger view]

Wednesday, May 08, 2024

Review: "Lynching in Mixville" by L. J. Washburn


“Lynching in Mixville”

by L. J. Washburn

Carroll & Graf, 1997


“Lynching in Mixville”—which was originally published in Lethal Ladies, edited by Barbara Collins & Robert J. Randisi (1996)—is a terrific historical mystery set in early-Hollywood. Lucas Hallam, along with a bunch of other Old West cowboys, is making a living as a stunt rider and extra for silent film star, Tom Mix. Mix was the most popular of all the silver screen cowboys and he was never shy of enlivening his biography with exaggeration and even a few lies. While on lunch break during filming, Mix is regaling a pretty young reporter with the tale of how he led the posse that captured, and hanged, the famous Ghost River Gang. His tale is interrupted by an aging cowpoke, Hank Daniels, that had been with the posse that had apprehended the gang—and he was adamant Mix hadn’t been there at all:

“I’m callin’ you a damn liar, Mix! I don’t care how big a star you are, boy!”

Mix takes offense and tells Hallam to get Daniels off the set. Hallam agrees, but before Daniels gets clear of Mixville he winds dangling from the end of a rope. Tom Mix is the only suspect in the lynching, but Hallam, who earlier in life had been a sheriff, a Texas Ranger, and even a Pinkerton detective, had different ideas about the murder.

“Lynching in Mixville” is a strong mystery with a vivid setting. The reader can smell the dust and horses, feel the sweet California sun on their faces. The prose is muscular with a western lilt and the solution is surprising and fun. Best of all, Hallam is the kind of hero it’s fun to ride with, which makes “Lynching in Mixville” a straight-up winner.

Lucas Hallam appeared in three novels—Wild Night (1987), Dead Stick (1988), and Dog Heavies (1990)—which have be released as a bundle on Kindle by Rough Edges Press. The recent Hallam, collects six Lucas Hallam shorts, but it doesn’t appear to include “Lynching at Mixville.”


Click here to look at the Lucas Hallam Kindle bundle on Amazon and here for Hallam.   

Monday, May 06, 2024

Review: "The Captive" by Carter Travis Young (Louis Charbonneau)


The Captive
as by
Carter Travis Young
(Louis Charbonneau)
Manor Books


reviewed by Mike Baker

Louis Charbonneau wrote one of my favorite action novels Night of Violence (aka The Trapped Ones) about a motel and its occupants trapped with a desperate criminal fleeing his boss’s wrath and the two hard cases sent to kill him. I cannot sing this book’s praises enough. It’s a slim taut thriller.

Most people know Charbonneau for his science fiction, which I’m sure is great but I wouldn’t know because I don’t read science fiction. I found out though, in early April, that he also wrote westerns under the pseudonym Carter Travis Young. I immediately bought five of them.

The Captive is about freshly married Ter and Jaine Bryant as they optimistically sojourn west from Natchez, Louisiana on their way to recently opened California. Their wagon train stops at Bent’s Fort where they lose their escort of Dragoons and shortly thereafter, Jaine is kidnapped when their train gets attacked by the Iron Nose band of Comanches somewhere out on the trail.

Ter teams up with the father of another white girl stolen by the Comanches and Tom Brock, a black scout Ter befriended on the wagon train, and the trio head out to get their kin or get their vengeance. Jaine gets raped a lot and then stolen by a Cheyenne and raped some more.

Meanwhile, mountain man Angus Haws loses his Apache squaw Wo-man to a bear attack and, having seen the ethereal Jaine Bryant at Bent’s Fort, obsesses about her as he wanders into the wilderness pining for a white woman of his very own. Shenanigans ensue.

The first act is in real time up through the abduction. The second act is a Rocky style montage of events over the course of about a year: Ter and Tom became a scout team for the Cavalry, Angus buys Jaine from the Cheyenne who murdered Iron Nose and Jaine gets raped some more. The third act is in real time as Tom and Ter close in on the increasingly more insane Angus and the beleaguered and aggrieved Jaine.

The writing is crisp and the suspense, where the story calls for suspense, is tight. The rapes are low key if there’s such a thing as a low-key rape and there’s a lot of them. The gun-play and violence is sparce but explosive and effective.

The Captive was originally published as a hardcover in 1973 by Doubleday & Co. The edition our intrepid reviewer, Mike Baker, read was the mass market edition published by Manor Books.

Come back the first Monday of each month for Mike Baker’s latest journey into 20th Century paperback fiction.    

Wednesday, May 01, 2024

Reading Roundup: April 2024

My April 2024 reading was a more varied affair than last month’s. I read seven books—every one a novel or a story collection with not a whiff of non-fiction anywhere in the mix. All seven of the books were written by different writers. Four were by authors I had never read before: A Hostile State, by Adrian Magson (2021), What Have You Done?, by Shari Lapena (2024)—which I’m reviewing for Mystery SceneFlamingo Road, by Sasscer Hill (2017), and Bleed a River Deep, by Brian McGilloway (2010). Flamingo Road, while it was an imperfect mystery, was my favorite of April’s books simply because I enjoyed the company of its heroine, Fia McKee, so much. I reviewed it here. Another of my favorites for the month is, Bleed a River Deep, which is McGilloway’s third Inspector Devlin mystery. It is a thoughtful and well-plotted Irish police procedural that has stayed in my mind since reading it.

One book, Journey, by Catherine Arnold (2003), is interesting because, while it was self-published as by Catherine Arnold—a pseudonym Theresa Sandberg-Arnston used for a quartet of legal thrillers in the late-1990s—I believe it was written by Theresa’s husband, Harrison Arnston, in the mid-1990s shortly before his death in 1996. It is an X-Files-type UFO thriller with a cool ’90s vibe and a fluid style that matches that of Arnston’s final few novels. Plus, in a newspaper interview after Arnston’s death, Theresa mentioned she was marketing a book of his titled Journey, but with little success. I wrote more about this here

I read a couple individual short stories, one was a solid science fiction tale—“The Great Secret,” by George H. Smith, in the Oct. 1959 issue of Super-Science Fiction—and the other was a so-so mystery by the usually dependable Jack Ritchie: “The Ghost of Claudia McKenny” (EQMM, May 1984).

There were also two excellent science fiction single author collections: The Celestial Blueprint & Other Stories, by Philip José Farmer (2024), and The Fittest & Other Stories, by the incomparable Katherine MacLean (2024). The collections are both filled with stories from the 1950s and ’60s. Farmer, as usual, is marvelous for no other reason than his work was, and still is, edgy for its distrust of authority and criticism of organized religion. You can read a little more about this collection, retitled to Heretic: Stories, here. And MacLean. She was, simply put, a brilliant stylist and a keen extrapolator of the near-future.


I wonder what I’ll read next month?


Monday, April 29, 2024

"Mrs. Homicide / Naked Fury / Murder on the Side" by Day Keene


Mrs. Homicide / Naked Fury /
Murder on the Side
by Day Keene
Stark House Press, 2024

Stark House’s latest Day Keene compilation is available in bookstores everywhere. It is a good one, too. Even better—for me, not for the readers since Keene’s novels are the draw—it includes my essay, “The Name is Day Keene,” as an Introduction. My name is even on the cover. How about that? I highly recommend Day Keene’s writing, and if you like mid-century hardboiled crime fiction you will love Mrs. Homicide / Naked Fury / Murder on the Side.
   Retreats from Oblivion reviewed Mrs. Homicide / Naked Fury / Murder on the Side here. I’m even mentioned!
      Here is the publisher’s description:

Mrs. Homicide

Everyone in the homicide squad knows that Herman Stone’s wife Connie is cheating on him. They’d all seen her with Lyle Cary. So when she is arrested in Cary’s apartment, drunk and nude, with his murdered body on the bed they had obviously just shared, they all assume she’s guilty. Except, of course for Stone. The husband may be the last to know, but Connie claims she is innocent. She’s never even met Cary, much less killed him. It’s almost more than Stone can believe. But in trying to prove her innocence, he soon finds himself up against not only the witnesses, but the entire police force!

Naked Fury

There’s been a fatal hit-and-run in the poor part of town. And now the only witness has been beaten to death as well. Big Dan Malloy runs this part of town and makes it his business to take care of his people. So he starts to investigate the deaths. It all points to a man in a large, dark blue car. But the official police report is now saying it was a red coupe driven by a woman—which can only mean that someone has fingered Katie, Malloy’s girl. Meanwhile, Malloy is working hard on an election that should bring some real change to his part of town. But with so much on the line, who can he really trust?

Murder On The Side

Larry Hanson should have been a successful engineer instead of the glorified accountant he is. Now in his mid-40s, he has grown bored with his job, his wife. Then his secretary Wanda calls one evening and asks for his help. Her ex-boyfriend, just released from prison, had been trying to drunkenly rape her. She hit him with a lamp, and thinks she killed him. Hanson finds the young man unconscious and takes him away, dropping him at a nearby park. Grateful, Wanda offers herself to Hanson. The next morning, he feels like a new man. Then he reads the morning paper—Wanda’s boyfriend was found dead in the park… murdered. And Holden is the most likely suspect!

Click here to purchase the Kindle edition or here for the paperback.
Click here to purchase this book at Stark House’s website.