Thursday, November 29, 2007

BROKEN TRUST by William P. Wood

Timothy Nash is a prosecuting attorney turned Superior Court judge in the Northern California city of Santa Maria. He is a successful man, but he has never been able to escape the long shadow of his father, the respected and honorable judge Jack Nash. When a federal corruption task force asks Tim to help smoke out a few Santa Maria judges who are allegedly corrupt, Nash readily agrees. He does it for a few reasons, the most significant: He thinks his undercover work in the operation will finally separate him from his father’s reputation.

It doesn’t hurt that Tim is at a crossroads in his life. His wife left him, and took their young son to Los Angeles. He is lonely, discouraged, and the prospect of doing something different, maybe even important pushes Nash into action. He quickly jumps into the investigation and agrees to approach a few judges with offers of money to make a court case disappear. It doesn’t seem to bother him that the targets are his friends—he has known many of the judges he approaches since he was a child.

Broken Trust was a pleasant surprise. The plotting was swift—it kept me turning the pages long after bedtime more than once. The characters, while not developed much beyond cardboard, served the plot. I found myself wondering how the protagonist could so easily betray his friends, but I never doubted his motivations. The main storyline was complemented nicely by three nifty side-plots—two undercover Santa Maria detectives, a murder trial in Nash’s courtroom, and Nash’s personal life. They added to the overall storyline and its suspense, and helped build tension between the personal Nash and the public Nash.

I enjoyed Broken Trust more than I had expected, and if you enjoy a good legal thriller—anything from Scott Turow to Steve Martini to John Grisham—you’ll have a good time with it to.

Broken Trust was originally published in 1991 under the title Court of Honor. It was re-released by Leisure Books in February 2006; Leisure has republished several of William P. Wood’s early novels, and a couple originals over the last few years. It was adapted into a made-for-cable movie—for TNT, I think—in 1995 starring Tom Selleck, Elizabeth McGovern, and William Atherton; and directed by Geoffrey Sax. I remember watching the film adaptation on VHS in the late-90s, but my only memory of its quality is: I enjoyed it. I wouldn’t mind finding this title on DVD and watching it again—heck, it couldn’t be too bad. It has Tom Selleck in it.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Book Trailer: Moonwalker by Rick Hautala

I found something pretty cool this evening—a book trailer for Rick Hautala’s novel Moonwalker. I haven’t seen many book trailers, but of those I have seen, this is the best. It has terrific music, great artwork, and really made me want to read the novel. Enjoy.

And if you want to read about it, the synopsis on follows:

In the potato fields of Dyer, Maine, lumbering, expressionless figures toil in the hot sun. They are relentless in the pursuit of their task, working without pause. As though mindless, they never slow, never stop...and never breathe. The potatoes must be picked. The small-town people of Dyer, happy with the way things are, never question the existence of the tireless workforce. They never discuss the horrid screams that rip through the night or the odd disappearances around town. Nor have they considered why the lights in the funeral parlor blaze like a beacon throughout each night. They simply look the other way. But for Dale Harmon, looking the other way is not an option. As a visitor to Dyer, the freakish events that plague the town are impossible to ignore...and he begins asking questions. Harmon and four others soon come face to face with a gruesome, unstoppable evil sent to consume them all. For the dead are living...and the harvest has begun.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

"Tunnels" by Rick Hautala

Rick Hautala was one of the better selling horror writers in the 1980s—a decade of horror that I mostly missed. I was still a wee lad, and most of my reading reflected my age—The Hardy Boys, Encyclopedia Brown, Wilson Rawls, and others that I can’t seem to recall just now.

The point? I haven’t read much of Rick Hautala’s work, and when I stumbled across Bedbugs, a collection of his short stories, I was curious. The first story I flipped to—I almost always read anthologies and collections out of order—was “Tunnels. It is the story of a young graffiti artist named Ace. The story opens with Ace making a run down into a subway station trying to elude the police. He doesn’t stop until he’s actually in the subway tunnels—he dodges trains, stumbles around in the dark, and as he’s scouting for a good location to tag Ace meets a stranger who seems to know more than he should, and Ace’s world quickly changes forever.

“Tunnels” isn’t a story that slams you with a surprise ending. It doesn’t give you chills long into the night. “Tunnels” is, however, the kind of story that keeps the reader thinking about it long after it’s been read. It is also the kind of story that is written well, involving, and difficult to put down—it doesn’t hurt that it’s only fifteen pages. The plotting is snappy, the characters are developed well within the confines of the story, and the ending, while not surprising, fits the story perfectly. I liked this one a lot, and I bet I find a few more just as good in this collection.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A World Without Used Bookstores

A few days ago Ed Gorman wrote a blog post about used bookstores and the writers who hate them. Apparently, and there is very probably some truth to this, many writers feel they are losing large amounts of royalty monies because used bookstores—both Internet, and brick-and-mortar—makes it easy for readers to purchase used books at discount prices. It got me to thinking, what would the world be like without used bookstores? I spent most of my youth, and, heck, most of my current adult life skulking through the dusty confines of used bookstores.

First I want to make it clear that I purchase new books, and probably too damn many of them—I won’t be able to retire until I’m 93. I can’t walk past a bookstore without going in, and most of the time I find myself pining for a bookshop I’ve never been in. I’m always certain if I found the right shop I’d discover a treasure that would change my expectations of reading forever. So the thought of a world without used bookstores is desolate, stark, and shameful. Especially when you consider that something like 99% of books that have been published are currently out-of-print, and I bet that’s a conservative number. It’s probably more like 99.9999%.

I usually don’t buy many books that are currently in print at used shops, but it has happened. I recently picked up Lost Echoes by Joe R. Lansdale at a Friends of the Library book sale, but that is the exception rather than the rule. At this particular sale I purchased a dozen novels—The Emerald Illusion by Ronald Bass, (Signet, 1984), The Red Fox by Anthony Hyde (Ballantine, 1986), One-Shot Deal by Gerald Petievich (Pinnacle, 1983), several old Alistair MacLean novels published by Fawcett Gold Medal in the 1970s—cover art so cool I want to hang them on the wall—and a couple old thrillers from the 1970s that haven’t seen print in thirty years.

I absolutely support writers of all stripes—fiction, non-fiction, etc.—to be able to make a living from their work. But get real. Can you imagine a world without used bookstores? Maybe Ray Bradbury had something when he wrote Fahrenheit-451. Or is that too harsh?

To read the Gorman post click Here.

Monday, November 19, 2007

HOLMES ON THE RANGE by Steve Hockensmith

I received a terrific email from a writer I wasn't familiar with, Steve Hockensmith, a few months ago about reviewing a mystery novel he had written titled Holmes on the Range. It took me far too long to review this title, but I finally did, and I enjoyed it a lot. It is a mystery-western hybrid that is not only entertianing and well-written, but is also humorous, wry, and very original.

The review is over at Saddlebums, and I urge you to not only take a look at my review of Holmes on the Range, but also take a look at the novel. It is well worth reading, and in my mind is a good representation of the future of mainstream western genre writing.

Click Here to read the review.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

FOOLS RUSH IN by Ed Gorman

It was the winter of 2002 that I discovered Ed Gorman’s Sam McCain series—I found a copy of Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?, the third novel in the series, at Borders one afternoon. I read it, loved it, and quickly went on an expedition to find the first two novels in the series. Since then there have been four additional Sam McCain novels and one novella. I’ve read each of them at least once, and I just read the most recent addition to the series: Fools Rush In.

It’s 1963. The civil rights movement is charging across the country. The townspeople of Black River Falls, Iowa are concerned about the tumultuous changes that are happening across the country, but their town has been insulated from the turmoil until a young black man is murdered. His name is David Leeds, and he is a motivated, attractive, and well-liked young man who is attending University in Cedar Rapids, and scandalously dating the daughter of a local Senator.

Sam is again heralded into action by Judge Whitney—the last of the gentrified Whitney family who came to Black River Falls in the 1860s after a disagreement with the Treasury department sent them running from the East coast. He is ordered to find out who killed David Leeds and stop Cliff Sykes, the incompetent local Sheriff, from fouling the investigation. Sam quickly finds himself in a mystery that goes beyond mere racism—he does discover plenty of hate, but he also finds corruption, blackmail, fear, and even a little love.

Fools Rush In is darker than the previous entries in the series. We find Sam in a new world—the beautiful Pamela Forrest is gone, Mary has returned to her husband and Sam feels himself getting a little older. His father is ill and his world is changing. He is still a wiseacre, philosopher, pulp reader, part-time lawyer, and part-time private eye, but the world is changing around him. Or maybe better said, he is losing his youth and his vision of the world is changing.

The mystery is top-notch. Mr. Gorman gives enough false leads to keep the reader guessing at what is happening, and when the climax arrived I was surprised by who did what, and why. I enjoyed Fools Rush In a whole lot. It is a worthy addition to one of the better private eye series still being produced, and I hope—oh how I hope!—there is another story or two still waiting to see print. But if there isn’t, Fools Rush In isn’t a bad title to go out with.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

New Hard Case Crime: Baby Moll by John Farris

I have great news. I was snooping over at the Hard Case Crime website this evening and stumbled across a title that has just been announced. The title: Baby Moll. The author: John Farris. I have never read this title, but John Farris is a favorite author of mine, particularly his thrillers.

I vividly remember reading his novel Solar Eclipse one hot August. I spent an exorbitant amount of time that summer on trains, waiting for trains, and generally cursing trains, but Solar Eclipse took my worries away for some 500 pages, and the scary thing is I wasn't ready for it to end. I have since read several of his titles, and I can't wait to get a copy of one of his early novels.

The cover art is terrific, and if you didn't know just by looking it is a Robert McGinnis.

Unfortunately it won't hit bookstores until August 2008. I can wait that long. I'm sure I can.

The description for Baby Moll at the HCC website reads:

Six years after quitting the Florida Mob, Peter Mallory is about to be dragged back in.

Stalked by a vicious killer and losing his hold on power, Mallory’s old boss needs help—the kind of help only a man like Mallory can provide. But behind the walls of the fenced-in island compound he once called home, Mallory is about to find himself surrounded by beautiful women, by temptation, and by danger—and one wrong step could trigger a bloodbath...

Treasure Hunt: Cheap Book Style

Earlier this year—I’m thinking March—I stumbled across a batch of bargain books at a local department store. They primarily consisted of mass market paperbacks published by Leisure. I searched through the stacks like it was Christmas and went away with several new titles. Since then, every time I go to this particular store, I have to make a pass by the rack to see if there are any new titles—a search that has proven fruitless until a few weeks ago.

It was Sunday, three weeks ago, my girl and I were headed to the movie house when we stopped at this particular store for something or other. I made my usual rounds, and to my surprise there was an even larger rack filled to near bursting with new titles. Each priced at $2.99. Needless to say we missed our movie as I frantically rummaged through the stacks of books and I found a few treasures—well, at least a few pretty cool titles.

I found a couple Hard Case Crime titles I’m missing: Straight Cut by Madison Smartt Bell and The Vengeful Virgin by Gil Brewer, an HCC title none of my local bookstores ever ordered. I also found a title I nearly purchased when it was in my local B&N, but since it was out around the holidays last year I was strapped for personal book spending monies—damn holidays! The title: Causes Unknown by Leslie Horvitz. I’ve actually already read this one, and posted a review for it—go Here to read it.

I had to limit myself to three titles, which was not an easy proposition because there were so many. They had thrillers—including David Morrell’s Creepers. A title I already have, but can you have too many copies of anything Morrell wrote? They had horror—Douglas Clegg, Jack Ketchum, Graham Masterton. They had Westerns, mysteries—Andrew Coburn, Brian Pinkerton, Jeff Buick, and so many more.

One of the titles I put back was Broken Trust by William P. Wood. I’ve never read Wood, but as the weeks passed, far to quickly, I kept thinking about that title and wishing I had purchased it. So this past Sunday afternoon—a delightfully rainy day—we went back, under the guise of seeing a movie in the theater next door, and I picked up a copy of Broken Trust. It better be good, because we ended up skipping out on the movie again. And if it is, they also had a copy of Wood's Rampage that I can pick up next week. If it's still there.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Do Blurbs Sell Books?

I’m a blurb guy—I love to read them, especially the cut-up kind that have been mined from, very likely, a poor a review—Mr. X is…a…writer…[who is]…unforgettable. Or even better a blurb that someone thought was terrific, but when I see it on the cover I wonder why it is supposed to make me want to read the book—this book is almost readable!

I’ve been pondering blurbs for several days. I interviewed an editor over at Leisure Books—Leah Hultenschmidt, who said one of the deciding factors on taking a chance with a new author is whether the author has “quotes or awards to help readers decide to take a chance on an author they might not have heard of.”

My question: Do blurbs from reviewers or other authors actually sell books? I can only speak from my own experience—I have no empirical data, nor do I have a deep desire to collect said data. With that said, I’m not sure. I rarely purchase a book because of a blurb listed inside or out, especially a blurb from another writer. I assume the two are either buddies, or hell, maybe the same person. Don’t laugh. I’ve seen it.

I can be swayed by a blurb from a starred review from one of the larger review factories—Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, etc. And I’ve also been known to pick up a novel on the advice of a blurb—I actually discovered Richard Laymon’s In the Dark from a Dean Koontz blurb on the spine—but it isn’t the blurb that sells me the book. It’s the first few pages. If it catches my attention I’ll buy it, but otherwise it goes straight back on the shelf and I make a mental note never to believe Writer X again. I’m an untrusting sort.

If blurbs do sell books, what are the best to have? The blurbs fetched from other writers at conventions, or those that can be wrangled from genuine reviewers? Is it better to have Stephen King say your book—nowhere else other than the front cover—is great? Or is it better to have the same words delivered from a Publishers Weekly review? Or does it matter?

I’m not convinced either way.

Friday, November 09, 2007

The Mist -- Trailer

I haven't heard much--anything!--about the new film The Mist based on the novella by Stephen King. So I went into the cold darkness of the Internet and found the trailer on YouTube. It looks like it follows the King story fairly faithfully, and while it didn't reach out and grab me, I'll go see it. It stars Thomas Jane, Marcia Gay Harden, and Andre Braugher. It is directed by Frank Darabont.

The synopsis at Yahoo! reads:

"Following a violent thunderstorm, artist David Drayton and a small town community come under vicious attack from creatures prowling in a thick and unnatural mist. Local rumors point to an experiment called the 'The Arrowhead Project' conducted at a nearby top-secret military base, but questions as to the origins of the deadly vapor are secondary to the group's overall chances for survival. Retreating to a local supermarket, Drayton and the survivors must face-off against each other before taking a united stand against an enemy they cannot even see."

Sunday, November 04, 2007

THE MIST by Stephen King

I came to Stephen King a little later than most—I read a few of his novels in my early teens, and then pretty much forgot about him until seven years ago when I read The Stand. Since then I have been an avid reader of his work. I usually read two or three Stephen King novels a year, and at this pace I still have years and years of enjoyment to look forward to.

One of the books I read as a kid was King’s collection Skeleton Crew. It was filled with a more than twenty stories, a few of them novella size. The stories have faded with the passing years, but I remember I enjoyed them immensely—I can remember reading Skeleton Crew more than what I actually read. Silly, but that sort of things happens to me a lot. I see a book title I read years ago and it’s like a postcard from the past. I can see myself sitting in the school library, the park, my childhood bedroom, or anywhere else I read the novel, and what’s more I can feel the emotional vibrations of the time. If I was happy, sad, angry, scared—whatever was happening in my life at that moment is caught in what I read.

I’m getting side tracked here, because what I really want to talk about is Stephen King’s novella The Mist. The Mist was one of the stories published in Skeleton Crew, and it has been republished—in anticipation of the release of a new film version—as a standalone. I read it last week, and I enjoyed it more than I remembered. Heck I didn’t remember the story much at all.

David Drayton is a commercial artist who lives with his wife and young son on Long Lake in Maine. The story is written in first person with David as the narrator, and it opens with a brutal thunderstorm ravaging the community. The storm knocks down trees, and pummels its way across the area leaving a wake of destruction. When the storm clears the small town begins the slow process of cleaning up, and an odd fog bank slowly makes its way across Long Lake and quickly overcomes the town itself.

David and his son Billy are in town at the local grocery market when the fog reaches them, and it is unsettling because it is unlike any fog David has ever seen. It’s unreal—thicker than normal yet devoid of moisture. That’s when things start to happen. The people in the grocery begin to see strange things: large octopus-like tentacles snatch a bag boy out the back loading door, and large spiders and bugs are seen outside the front windows. The people begin to panic, and David has to do anything he can to protect his son.

The Mist is vintage Stephen King. It is a post-apocalyptic story that has as much philosophical tension as it does forward energy. Drayton is the son a famous painter, and he has trouble measuring up to his father’s legacy. A comparison can be made between Drayton and King—the townspeople constantly wonder when Drayton will create a serious work of art, which is the same notion that haunted King’s early career. Yeah, he writes a good scary tale, but when will the guy write something worthwhile?

The Mist is also a terrific read. It is part horror story, part philosophical melodrama, and very much in the tradition of truly great pulp literature. It speaks on multiple levels, and overall it is a nice reintroduction to Stephen King’s early work. It is different from what he writes today, which is to be expected because great writers are not static. Their work change as they progress and evolve as people. The funny thing is I’m not sure if I like King’s current output, or his early stuff better. It’s just different.

I do know I enjoyed The Mist very much.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

CAUSES UNKNOWN by Leslie Horvitz

Michael Friedlander is a prodigal son-type—he dropped out of medical school in the 1960s, and has been on the move since. He has lived on both coasts, and a few places in the middle. His younger brother Alan is a successful businessman in New York City. Alan earns enough to live comfortably, and it isn’t rare for Michael to find an envelope with a few hundred dollars in his mailbox.

Causes Unknown opens with Michael traveling from his current home in New Hampshire back to the City. His brother Alan is dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound. Michael hasn’t been back to New York—his childhood home—in fifteen years, and he is feeling more than a little guilt as he recollects his brother, and contemplates meeting his parents for the first time in as many years.

His brother’s suicide is unexpected and difficult for Michael to comprehend. Alan’s life was seemingly perfect—he was successful, engaged to a beautiful woman, and had a deep pool of friends. And when Michael cleans out his brother’s apartment he notices a few things missing: specifically a computer and a VCR. This is where the mystery of Alan’s death takes on a slightly more sinister turn, and Michael isn’t satisfied until he uncovers what happened to his brother.

Causes Unknown was originally published in 1989—it was re-released by Leisure Books in November 2006—and it has the feel of an early Patricia Cornwell; including several grueling autopsy scenes. It is a unique blend of medical thriller, private eye novel, police procedural, and strangely enough serial killer drama. It opens with a flash—the story is interesting, entertaining, and runs along quickly. Unfortunately it hits a slow patch around two-thirds of the way through—the action fizzles a bit, and the author gets more interested in high-level cover-ups and shadowy figures than showing us a great story.

That doesn’t mean I didn’t enjoy Causes Unknown. It lost some of its early promise, and damn how I wish it hadn’t, but the pace was sharp enough and the mystery was deep enough to keep me interested until the end. If you enjoy Patricia Cornwell, or any of the late-Eighties and early-Nineties medical thrillers, you will probably like Causes Unknown.