Monday, April 27, 2009

IN THE DARK by Richard Laymon

I've been pinched with work, the end of a semester and moving, and the blog has suffered the last weeks, but the good news is that the light at the end of the tunnel is visible. So, this is probably the last reprint you will be forced to endure. I hope.

It originally went live 9-August-2007.

Richard Laymon is one of my favorite horror writers, and of the novels he wrote, two stand out as my favorites. The first is his Bram Stoker winning novel The Traveling Vampire Show and the second is his novel In The Dark. I recently reread In the Dark, and it was as good as I remembered, and my memory had built it pretty high, because it is the first straight horror novel I had read since I was a teenager. Sure I read the stray Stephen King and Dean Koontz, but I hadn’t ever really been much of a regular horror reader.

Then one autumn evening I stumbled across In the Dark at my local bookstore. It was the Dean Koontz blurb on the spine that caught my attention, but when I flipped to the first page and began to read I was hooked. In fact I spent the better part of the next year or so “catching up” on the horror field. I read Jack Ketchum, Graham Masterton, Edward Lee, Douglas Clegg, Tom Piccirilli, Al Sarrantonio, and so many others I couldn’t possibly list them here—at least not list them and keep you reading.

Jane Kerry is the head librarian at the Donnerville Public Library. She is young, not too far out of college, and she only recently moved to Donnerville, so she hasn’t made many friends around town. Her existence is lonely, a little sad, and not very exciting. That all changes one evening just before closing time when she discovers a plain white envelope on her chair; it is addressed to JANE. Inside she finds a fifty-dollar bill and a note. The note reads:

Come and play with me. For further instructions, look homeward, angel. You’ll be glad you did.

The note is signed MOG (Master of Games), and it is the first of many notes that will lead Jane into increasingly dangerous situations with the promise of larger and larger monetary rewards. It will test not only Jane’s courage and perseverance, but also her ethics and morality.

In the Dark is a suspenseful, enjoyable, and all-around fun novel. Richard Laymon’s plotting is perfect—there are no questions left unanswered and he builds the suspense slowly, ratcheting it up until the climax, where he throws everything he can think of at the protagonist. The characters are likable—particularly Jane and her friend Brace—and he avoids, for the most part, the gratuitous sex and violence he is known for. The narrative does, at times, feel juvenile: towards the beginning Jane is searching an old cemetery for her reward from Mog, and her thoughts are less like an adult woman and more like an adolescent boy, but it works to create tension, and also endear the character to the reader.

In the Dark is one of the few Richard Laymon novels I would recommend to nearly anyone. If you enjoy suspense, horror, or simply well-crafted storytelling, In the Dark will be a good fit. But be warned, if you upset easily, or can’t handle much violence, tension, or a few graphic scenes, you should look elsewhere

Monday, April 20, 2009

Five Philip Marlowe Trailers

I was in the mood for old P.I. movies yesterday and what better private eye to track than Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe. I found five trailers on YouTube. I listed them from the most recent to the earliest. I had a good time watching these, and I hope you do also.

Philip Marlowe, Private Eye -- "Nevada Gas"

Farewell. My Lovely -- Robert Mitchum, 1975

The Long Goodbye -- Elliott Gould, 1973

Lady in the Lake --Robert Montgomery, 1947

The Big Sleep -- Humphrey Bogart, 1946

Saturday, April 18, 2009

NO DOMINION by Charlie Huston

No Dominion is Charlie Huston's second novel to feature vampire tough guy Joe Pitt, and in it we find Pitt a little down on his luck. He got on the wrong side of the largest Vampyre Clan on Manhattan—The Coalition—when he shut down one of their most profitable operations, and without them giving him the odd job Pitt has a difficult time making a living. He’s down to three pints of blood—well below his desired minimum—and he doesn’t have the money to pay his rent this month.

That's when Pitt gets a call from an old buddy. Terry is the leader of The Society, and the vampire who took Joe under his wing shortly after he had been turned, and they have a long history. Pitt was Terry’s strong-arm man for several years, and now Joe lives on Society territory at Terry's goodwill.

Terry wants Joe to look into something troubling in vampire land—the younger vampires are using a new drug that may have dire implications on not only The Society, but also the entire vampire population of Manhattan. This is where the story begins, but it doesn’t end until Joe travels the length of the Island through enemy territory, risks his life more than once and finds betrayal behind every helpful hand.

No Dominion is not your mother's vampire story. Joe Pitt is more Mike Hammer than Lestat, and it works very, very well. The underbelly of Manhattan is painted in broad, vibrant strokes and seemingly comes alive with stark description and hard action. Charlie Huston is a crime writer, and he writes with an old style—it feels like an old noir story filled with grimy streets and dives and working stiffs who can’t catch a break. It is all this, but No Dominion is also a vampire story, and a damn good one.

My only gripe, and it really isn't much of one, is it took Huston about 50-pages to really get the story moving. The opening was spent setting up the action to come, and a few times, I wanted just a little less explanation about Vampyre politics, and a little more action. But once Huston let the engine off idle, No Dominion jammed and I was sorry to find the last page

This is another reprint. It went live at SFReader 27-June-2007.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Breaking Bad

My wife and I finished the first season of the television series Breaking Bad last night; all seven episodes. Not nearly enough. Breaking Bad is the best episodic program I've seen on television in the last few years. It is the story of Walt White, a father, husband, and public school science teacher. In the opening episode he is diagnosed with lung cancer and the rest of the story--the season--chronicles Walt's attempts to leave his family something.

Walt's wife is pregnant and his son is handicapped. He left a successful career as a research scientist to teach and he doesn't have much except a crummy old Pontiac Aztec and an unfulfilling job. He doesn't have money, respect, or any other damn thing. He doesn't care what happens to him, but he is terrified at what will happen to his family after he dies.

Breaking Bad is a wonderful mix of comedy and drama. Walt is perfectly portrayed as the aggrieved protagonist by Bryan Cranston. He unveils a character who is much more than a victim. He is a man who has played by the rules his entire life and now, when the unfairness of everything crashes down, he chooses to do something about it.

What really makes Walt and the show work is that Walt discovers he likes taking control of his destiny. He finds it empowering and very fulfilling, which creates an interesting tension between law and order and survival. A tension that tightens with each act and episode.

The journey is painful, embarrassing and voyeuristic. The audience is part of the family and the often uncomfortable scenes of a family dealing with death are chilling and dry, but the death and depression are accompanied by a desperate and dark humor that soften the edges just enough. Breaking Bad is simply awesome, and it very nearly makes me want to order cable.

Monday, April 13, 2009

THE POKER CLUB: Official Trailer

I posted a link to the official trailer of the film The Poker Club a few weeks ago, but I found it on YouTube and I can embed it. I like that for a few reasons, but the single best reason is because it looks cool on my blog. Shallow, but true.

The Poker Club is based on the novel of the same title by Ed Gorman. It is scheduled to be released on DVD April 21, 2009 and it looks pretty great.

New Rat Pack Cover Art

Good news. The latest Rat Pack novel by Bob Randisi is scheduled for release and the cover art is drifting around the Internet. The title: You're Nobody 'Til Somebody Kills You. The release date: September 15, 2009. Nobody is Randisi's fourth Rat Pack novel and if it is as good as its predecessors it will be pretty damn good.

The Rat Pack novels feature Sands pit boss Ed G--he made friends with Frank, Dino and the boys in the first novel and he stays busy keeping trouble away from the pack. These are Randisi's best novels since the Joe Keough books and they are very much worth tracking down.

Now if a paperback house would pick them up.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

AFTERLIFE by Douglas Clegg

Douglas Clegg is, one book at a time, proving himself one of the best horror writers working today, and he is in top form with his latest novel Afterlife. Julie Hutchinson is a suburban housewife, the mother of a young girl and wife of a successful Doctor. Her life seems perfect, a large house, a beautiful family, but everything is not as it seems. Her husband is brutally murdered. The police think him the victim of a serial killer who carves tattoos across the back and shoulders of his victims. Julie isn’t so certain. Her mentally unstable step-son, the product of her husband's first marriage, cuts similar designs into his own arm on the very day his father is killed. Their daughter claims her father, Hut, is visiting her in the dark hours of night, and perhaps more disturbing are the erotic dreams Julie begins having shortly after the murder.

Mr Clegg has an ability to create believable, realistic characters—they have the feel and quality of a neighbor, or even a sibling, a parent—and tighten the suspense and terror as they slowly descend into their own private nightmare. Julie slowly isolates herself from her family and friends as she investigates the strange events that surround her life. She makes arrangements to catch the ghost that visits her daughter on video, and when she finally catches a glimpse it is much more than she bargained for.

She enlists the help of a television psychic, and together they uncover pieces of her husbands past. Things Julie never knew, things she never wanted to know. The key to the mystery is a defunct psychic research center called Daylight. It is located in an old warehouse. Hut, her husband, died with the door key in his pocket. The mystery builds until Julie no longer knows what, or who to believe. She is either mad, or everything she has discovered is real. The novel weaves a spell of the occult, the supernatural and death. It is violent, real, and truly frightening.

This novel is something beyond the normal everyday horror fare. The characters are fresh, the plot is original and the story is damn good. Be warned, there is a fair amount of graphic sex, but it really is essential to the plot. It heightens the suspense and moves the story forward. This novel is not for the timid, but it is definitely for anyone who loves a good story, a good scare, and great writing. Afterlife is as good as the modern horror novel gets.

A NOTE. This review originally went live on SFReader September 3, 2005. I've hit a busy stretch at work over the past week or so, and I'm also in the final weeks of the semester so things may be a little quiet around here. Although I'm still going to try to get two to three posts up a week. I hope. I do have a few reviews planned: The Secret Keeper by Paul Harris, No Exit from Brooklyn by Robert J. Randisi, and Cage of Night by Ed Gorman.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Meme: Chapter 11

A unique idea came from Central Crime Zone's Jon Jordan (I learned about it from a post by The Rap Sheet's J. Kingston Pierce) for a meme. The idea? Post the first line of chapter 11 from the book you are currently reading. If you haven't guessed already, it is an homage--is that the right word?--to the financiers that are "too big to fail."

How do you get too big to fail? I need that in my next employment contract.

Without further ado...

The current novel sitting on my nightstand is the quiet and literate thriller The Secret Keeper by first-time novelist Paul Harris. The line fits nicely into the style and mood of the story: regretful, moody, and just a little nostalgic.

"Danny awoke as dawn slipped in through the open curtains."

The only problem? That line is too short--not for the novel, but for this post--so I decided I would punish you a little more. Just a little, and rest assured the only real punishment is my writing and not that of the authors.

I just finished an early Robert J. Randisi novel, which was terrific and with a little luck and work ethic may actually get reviewed here one day, titled No Exit From Brooklyn. It features P.I. Nick Delvecchio in a very Brooklyn story. The first line of the eleventh chapter stars a name many of you will be familiar with.

"Ed Gorman had had his nose broken so many times that it seemed to have ceased to exist."

One more. This one really is for the big boys--the AIGs, Citigroups, and Merrill Lynchs of the world. It is the final chapter--chapter 11--in a textbook I'm reading for my graduate program. The title? Managing Business Ethics. Ethics? Well, here it is...

"With the increasing globalization of business, more managers are finding themselves in an international environment full of ethical challenges."


Monday, April 06, 2009

"The Plunge" by David Goodis

Spoiler Alert. This review is basically one big spoiler, so read with care.

David Goodis is a writer that every hardboiled reader should know. His work is dark—about as dark as you will ever read—heavy and literate. It is often difficult to differentiate between the good and the bad, and the tales are drenched with a self-loathing that gives the stories a deep and sinister glimpse into the darkness of the human condition.

His short story “The Plunge” is one of his best, and a perfect example of what Goodis did well—create men who are, for the most part, good and then twist their world just enough to push them out of bounds into waiting darkness.

Roy Childers is a clean cop in a corrupt department. He has risen through the ranks quickly; he is a homicide lieutenant with a bright future. He has four children and another on the way. His wife loves him and he seemingly loves his wife, but that isn’t enough for Roy. He doesn’t consciously understand that he wants more, but he does.

His world begins its slow descent when a warehouse is taken down for $15,000. The robber killed one security guard and blinded the other. It is a trademark Dice Nolan score. Dice is a man whom Childers has a special connection; they grew up on the same street and Roy has put him behind bars more than once. Now Childers wants to take Nolan down one last time, but he isn’t ready for what happens. Nolan has something Roy wants and it will be his undoing.

“The Plunge” is a brutal story. It chronicles the unwinding of a man. A man who seemingly has everything. A man who is better than his end. And a man who should know better. It is literate and the prose is pitch-perfect:

“Seven out of ten are slobs; he was thinking. There was no malice or disdain in the thought. It was more a mixture of pity and regret. And that made it somewhat sickening, for he was referring specifically to the other men who wore badges, he fellow-policemen. More specifically he was thinking of the nine plainclothesmen attached to the Vice Squad. Only yesterday they’d been caught with their palms out, hauled in before the Commissioner, and called all sorts of names before they were suspended.”

The story opens in normal enough fashion. The protagonist is a cop who wants to find a murderer. There is even something special and personal about this particular criminal, but Mr Goodis takes the premise and smudges it with his own recipe. He marks it with weakness and greed. He takes a good and strong man and chops him down with life, fear, and hunger.

The best part is, he does it all without ever losing his grip on the story or its impact on the reader. He makes it interesting and entertaining from beginning to end. He builds a path into darkness and then shows the reader the way out—a cleansing, but a rather messy and permanent one.

“The Plunge” originally appeared in Mike Shayne’s Mystery Magazine October 1958. I read it in A Century of Noir edited by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins.

Friday, April 03, 2009

NORTH STAR by Richard S. Wheeler

The Skye novels are unique. They are a blend of the historical literary with the tall-tale dime novel. The characters—Skye particularly—are larger than life, but the beauty of the west and the context of the novels is pure literature. North Star is the 17th title and it is no exception. It is well-written, beautifully detailed, and a touch melancholy as, what feels like the final Barnaby Skye story, is told.

Mister Skye is breaking down with age. He is sixty-five. His eyesight is blurring, and his body aches from too many cold nights on the hard ground beneath his lodge. He yearns for a home: A white man’s home with a wood floor, windows, a soft bed, furniture and rocking chair on the front porch. He has witnessed the west from the early days of the fur trade to the current westward expansion of the white man. It is the end an era—the west is opening up for the homesteader and rancher, but it is closing around the Indian tribes like a noose.

Skye is not a wealthy man. The fur is long since gone and there is little need for guide work in these modern times. He and his two Indian wives—Victoria and Mary—live with Victoria’s Absaroka People. Skye knows money will be a problem, but he also knows he needs a home to grow old in. He also has a place in mind in the Yellowstone Valley. It is a place where the old trappers would often meet in the old days and share stories and trade goods. It is near water, there are warm springs, game and enough beauty to last forever. Unfortunately—as is usually the case—everything that can go wrong, does.

North Star is a melancholy story. It is a story about age and change, but it is also a story about returns—Skye has stayed clear of his own people. He has lived with the Indians for years, but as age captures him he has the need to return to the life his people—the white man—live: a house, a warm stove, furniture, a bed.

The story is told expertly with a weaving and sundry plotline—it isn’t straight and clean, but rather it curls around Skye and his family with destiny’s own uncaring and callous style. It is told in third person and the perspective changes between Skye, his wives and his son Dirk. The prose is vibrant, melancholy and often beautiful with its subtle textures and understated style:

“They reached the riverbank during a spring squall, and continued westward along a worn trail, while wrapped in good blankets. That cold night they raised the lodge and found warmth and peace within.”

North Star is a tale that truly captures the spirit of the west. It is beautiful, harsh, and always dependent on the whimsy of nature. If you think the western is dead, you should read this book. Hell, everyone should read this book.

UPDATE: I received a kind email from Richard Wheeler. Apparently North Star isn't the last of Barnaby Skye. He has a two book contract with Forge to continue the series. The next novel is complete and is titled The Owl Hunt. He said about the next two books, "
The next Skye novels will feature Skye's half-blood son North Star, or Dirk, and will be about early reservation life, and how Indians desperately tried to survive on a piece of land handed to them by white governments."

He also had more good news. He has another biographical novel scheduled for release later this year titled Snowbound. It "
is about John Charles Fremont's disastrous Fourth Expedition, in which he lost a third of his men and all 130 of his mules in the San Juan mountains in winter--for no good reason at all."

Wednesday, April 01, 2009


I learned something interesting a few weeks ago—Alistair MacLean’s Navarone series (The Guns of Navarone and its somewhat less successful sequel Force 10 from Navarone) has been continued by British author Sam Llewellyn. Llewellyn is best known, at least at my house, as the author of eight sea adventure / mystery novels published by Pocket Books; beginning with Dead Reckoning (1987) and ending with Maelstrom (1994).

Mr Llewellyn wrote two Navarone novels in the 1990s. The titles were never published in the United States and the reviews over at Amazon are less than glowing, but damn, two new novels featuring the boys from Navarone; two novels written by a writer whom I haven’t read in a decade or more, but a writer who could spin a terrific mystery / adventure story.

The titles are: Storm Force from Navarone (1996) and Thunderbolt from Navarone (1998).

The description of Storm Force:

“Alistair MacLean's gritty heroes from Navarone are not dead, and definitely not forgotten. Mallory, Miller and Andrea, the surviving commandos of Force 10 from Navarone, are sent on operation Storm Force a perilous mission through the Pyrenees to disable the greatest threat to the success of the D-Day landings, the Werewolf U-boats. They have less than six days to locate the subs and destroy them, operating outside of normal channels, without any backup . . . a true mission impossible, and a worthy modern successor to the original novels.”

The description for Thunderbolt:

“Fresh from their mission against Werewolf U-Boats, Mallory, Miller and Andrea are summoned to Naval HQ and given their mission: to reconnoiter Kynthos and determine the German development of the lethal V3 rocket, and destroy any facilities. A rocket expert accompanies them but can they trust him.”

My only hesitation? I was burned more than once by those disappointing “Alistair MacLean” novels written by Alastair MacNeill (Death Train, Red Alert, Code Breaker, etc) a decade or so ago.

Although, to be fair, Alistair MacLean couldn’t write Alistair MacLean past about 1970. Wow, that sounds snarky.