Thursday, September 20, 2018

THE AUTHENTIC WILLIAM JAMES by Stephen Gallagher


The Authentic William James is British writer Stephen Gallagher’s third novel featuring Sebastian Becker. Becker is a former Pinkerton detective and current Special Investigator for the Lord Chancellor’s Visitor in Lunacy. His purview is to investigate and apprehend wealthy and dangerous lunatics whose “resources might otherwise make [them] untouchable.”

It is 1913 and Becker is baffled when he is sent to interview William James—the owner of a Wild West Show touring small venues around England. James has been arrested for the arson of an English seaside theatre that caused the death of more than fifty people. A crime without an obvious motive, a criminal, William James, without wealth, and instructions opposite from Becker’s usual. He is to collect information that insures William James cannot be labeled insane during the trial. When James escapes custody Becker is tasked to find him and the manhunt, taking him from London to Philadelphia to a young Hollywood, is more personal and mysterious than anything Becker could have imagined.

The Authentic William James is a brilliant early-twentieth century crime novel brimming with a macabre atmosphere and, as the story shifts to America, a vibrant late-Western setting. Sebastian Becker is a likable character with wit, an admirable sense of right and wrong, and a conscientious view of humanity. A character similar to what the late-Ed Gorman populated his stories with, and his working class demeanor is ideal for both the novel and the reader. The plot is tricky, but precise and believable, with a climactic twist that is both perfect and surprising.

Monday, June 04, 2018

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "A Good Place to Hide" and "A Bad Day in the Bahamas"

A Good Place to Hide, by Alan Cullimore, was published as a paperback original by Tor in 1988, which is the very edition that caught my eye. The cover is a coolly 1980s art deco riff with both an inviting and frightening appeal. The artist: Unknown (to me at least).

The opening paragraph:

For the past five weeks Harry Foster had been living in an efficiency apartment in the Sea Drift Motel
A Bad Day in the Bahamas, by Alan Cullimore, was published as a paperback original by Tor in 1989, which is the very edition that caught my eye. The cover, while not nearly as good as that adorning A Good Place to Hide, is vivid in that 1980’s manner with flashing blues, greens and oranges. The artist: Unknown (to me at least).
The opening paragraph:

Harry Foster sat on the most deserted beach, idly pitching pebbles into the clear, calm waters.
As far as I can tell, Alan Cullimore’s oevre is represented by the two novels above. Both were published within a four month period: September 1988 to January 1989. I read the second, A Bad Day in the Bahamas as a teenager and have fond memories reading it across a few summer afternoons.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

KILLING TOWN by Mickey Spillane & Max Allan Collins


Killing Town is the tenth Mike Hammer novel started by Mickey Spillane and completed by Max Allan Collins. In Collins’ Introduction, “Meet Mike Hammer”, Killing Town’s genesis is explained. It’s an early, perhaps the earliest, Mike Hammer story Spillane started—the incomplete manuscript clocked in at 30 typed and single-spaced pages. The story takes place before I, The Jury, making it the first Mike Hammer novel, and a few elements we take for granted when reading a Hammer story are missing. Velda is nowhere in the tale, Manhattan is in Hammer’s rearview mirror, and Pat Chambers is nothing more than a voice on the telephone.
When Hammer arrives in Killington, Rhode Island, undercover and riding the rails as a hobo, he’s greeted with a strip tease and a murder rap. The frame is for the rape and murder of a young woman. The local constabulary, as foul smelling as the city’s fish cannery, is pushing Hammer to the electric chair before he’s even seen a judge. But when an alluring blonde, and the daughter of the fish cannery king, springs him with a false alibi and a marriage proposal he’s left wondering what happened and why.
Killing Town opens, in solid Spillane style, with a flash and a bang and barely wavers from beginning to end. Its trajectory fast and straight as a bullet, rifling Hammer from jailbird and murderer to knight-errant, friend and protector. The mystery is nicely controlled and the reader is as confused about what’s happening, and more importantly why it’s happening, as Hammer. The foul and corrupt setting is as beautifully hardboiled as the prose is stark and lively. An excellent addition to the Hammer canon, and my favorite, of those Ive read, completed posthumously by Max Allan Collins.


Monday, May 21, 2018

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "Twister"

Twister, by David Hagberg, was published as a paperback original by Dell in 1975, which is the very edition that caught my eye. The cover is everything I want a cover to be; a burning station wagon—an old-school Ford?—frenzied movement as a tornado curves on to Main Street, and an oddly still man, debating whether he should pick up a shiny new quarter, holding a woman in an orange dress and high heels. The artist: Unknown (to me at least)


The first sentence:
Peter Geiger was fifty-three years old and every bone in his body told him something was drastically wrong.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

THE PEACEMAKER by Andrew McBride


The Peacemaker is a wonderfully written, entertaining, and thought-provoking novel. Calvin Taylor, also known by his unwanted nickname Choctaw, is a teenager--six weeks past his eighteenth birthday--with experience, if not wisdom, far past his years. While moving eastward across the Arizona Territory towards Texas, Taylor is ambushed by a small group of Apache Indians. 
Choctaw escapes with his life when he happens across a small U. S. Army troop escorting a white man, Brennan, and his adopted Apache daughter, Nahlin, on a peace mission from the American President, U. S. Grant, to the great Apache chief, Cochise. Against Taylor's better judgment, sweetened with the prospect of a $300 fee, he agrees to accompany Brennan and Nahlin to the Apache stronghold where Brennan will present Cochise with the peace offering.
The Peacemaker has the feel and pacing, and wonderfully so, of a classic Western film. The story, as the author explains in his Author's Note, is inspired by a 1968 screenplay written by John Starr Niendorff for the television series "High Chaparral". The desert setting has a technicolor vibrancy that captures the landscape's desolation and beauty, heat and dust. The characters, including the Apaches, are believable with recognizable strengths and flaws. Chactow is, at times less than likable, but always understandable. Beautifully written and vivid, The Peacemaker, is a big novel with big ideas that should please both traditional Western and historical readers alike.

I interviewed Andrew a few months ago, and if you’re interested you can read the interview here.

Friday, May 04, 2018

Blissful Silence



I’m in an busy period right now, outrageously so, and as a result the blog has suffered over the past couple weeks. This suffering, in the form of blissful silence, is going continue for another week or so, but once everything has settled down everything will be back to business as normal.
Until then, take it easy and keep reading.

Ben Boulden  

Monday, April 23, 2018

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "Listening Woman"

Listening Woman, by Tony Hillerman, was published as a hardcover in 1978 by Harper & Row. The edition that caught my eye is the mass market paperback published by Avon. The cover art has an appealing desert feel, which is appropriate to the novel’s setting. And who can resist a a helicopter and bundles of greenbacks? The artist: Unknown (to me at least)





















The first sentence:
The southwest wind picked up turbulence around the San Francisco Peaks, howled across the emptiness of the Moenkopi plateau, and made a thousand strange sounds in windows of the old Hopi villages at Shongopovi and Second Mesa.