Wednesday, June 02, 2010

The Leo Guild Novels

It has been twenty-three years since a slim novel published by M. Evans and Company introduced a half-broken former lawman turned bounty hunter named Leo Guild. He appeared in four titles. The first, Guild, appeared in 1987 and the last, Dark Trail, was published in 1990. Guild was Ed Gorman’s first published western, and it is different than much of what the genre has to offer, but it can still be planted, somewhat askew and off-balance, into the definition of a traditional western. There is a hero, a damsel, and villain. 

Click HERE for the rest...

Saturday, May 29, 2010

A Moving Tide...

This is the last post here at Gravetapping, but it is certainly not the last post I will make because there is a new blog where I will share my shameless rambles. A blog titled Dark City Underground. A blog that will feature the same eclectic content as Gravetapping.

Click HERE to go there now.

Monday, April 12, 2010

DARK MOUNTAIN by Richard Laymon

Scott and Flash are old Air Force buddies. They served together in Vietnam, and while they have grown apart over the years since the war they are still friends. The two men decide it’s time to renew acquaintances and plan a joint backpacking trip into the backcountry of central California. It is a trip that both families are looking forward too, with the exception of the usual grousing from Scott’s teenage daughter Julie, and Flash’s twin girls. It doesn’t help Julie’s mood that Scott’s new girlfriend, Karen, is along.

The troupe sets off on a weeklong pack trip in good spirits. Their route is set, and the terrain is rugged and more than a little beautiful. The two older children—Julie and Flash’s teenage son Nick—take an instant liking to each other. The families congeal nicely, and Mr Laymon deftly creates their interpersonal discourse and squabbles with his usual light and charming touch. The dialogue and patter have the flair of both likability and believability. 
The trip takes a downward turn when one the Flash’s twin girls sprains her ankle and the group has to make an unplanned stop for the day at an ugly treeless lake called Lower Mesquite. The park ranger told them to steer clear of the lake because there are several lakes with much more to offer. The group, however, makes the best of the unplanned stop and settles in for the night. Unfortunately their trip takes another unpleasant turn when Karen is brutally attacked in the short hours of the night.
Dark Mountain is an example of what Richard Laymon did well—its characters are likable, in that foreshadowed horror manner that keeps the audience a touch uneasy about getting too close because they know that the character will likely not make it to the end. The story is tight and controlled. It is dialogue rich, and the action is well placed to build both suspense and unease. 
There are also glimpses of Laymon’s weaknesses, or, more aptly, his excesses. The dialogue is rich and, at times, humorous, but at moments it is overdone and annoying. The characters have a habit of over talking the situation and curbing its potential suspense. There are also brief, much more brief than usual, graphic sex scenes, including a rape scene, that tend to be less pivotal to the story and more ludicrous. Although the graphic sex has a teenage boy wholesomeness to it that only Richard Laymon could accomplish.
Dark Mountain is not in the top echelon of Richard Laymon’s work—The Traveling Vampire Show, In the Dark, Night in the Lonesome October—but it is a solid horror-suspense novel. It opens as the standard wilderness horror story, but Laymon takes it to unexpected places. It twists from the backwoods of California to the streets of Los Angeles. There is witchcraft, murder, violence, and even redemption. It is a novel that will appeal to fans of Richard Laymon, horror, particularly horror films, and even those with a taste for suspense.
Dark Mountain was originally published in the United States under the title Tread Softly as by Richard Kelly. It was published in 1987 and, under its original title, is nearly impossible to find. It was published in the United Kingdom with the title Dark Mountain, and has since been republished in the States, by Leisure, under the same title.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

NECESSITY by Brian Garfield

It has been nonstop busy at my house the past few months and yesterday as I was browsing the stacks of a used bookshop I found myself thinking about the terrific books I read in 2009, and there were many. I rediscovered the work of several classic suspense, crime, and western novelists. The best of the bunch was probably the work of Brian Garfield.He hasn't published a new work of fiction since the late-1980s, which is a shame since he really redefined the suspense novel with his novel Death Wish and then kept getting better and better. And then simply stopped writing, or at least publishing, fiction.
The following is a review of Brian Garfield's
Necessity. It was the first of several Garfield novels I read last year, and when I think about it I can't help but smile. It is a terrific suspense novel with as much flair and style as you will find in the genre. It originally went live July 6, 2009.

It’s been several years since I’ve read a Brian Garfield novel—maybe Death Sentence in '04 or '05. I made amends recently and jumped into his 1984 novel Necessity and wondered how I waited so long.

“It’s the sixth day after the theft. She pulls off the Interstate in Tucson, a city she has never seen before. According to the atlas it is a county seat and the second largest city in Arizona—population half a million people.”

Matty LaCasse is a former model and now the wife of a wealthy New York construction magnate. She is the recent mother of a beautiful and healthy baby girl. She is on the run, alone, scared and hell-bent to get her daughter back.
Matty tracks across the American West, a briefcase full of cash with her and a plan; she needs a home away from her pursuers, but to do so she needs to become someone else. An entirely new person that no one from her old life will recognize or even associate with the person she was.

Necessity is an absolute firecracker. It opens with a white hot flash and never lets up—the action is tight and it is expertly used as a tool to ratchet the suspense from vague dread to outright terror. The characters are perfectly molded into dimensional people who are likable, terrifying and, most importantly, believable. The storyline is linear and sharp with enough false leads and psychology—mostly Matty’s—to keep the reader off balance and avidly turning the pages—which is all terrific, but Mr Garfield also flavors the story with technical information about creating new identities and, more importantly, erasing an original identity. He creates a world that is real and absorbing without slowing the story with too much detail and information.

The narrative is smooth and inviting. It is told in a matter-of-fact fashion, and with the seldom-used present tense—“She lets herself in and double-locks the door and slumps into the threadbare easy chair. Strength flows away as if a drainplug has been pulled.
Necessity is an example of what a thriller should be--quick, hard, intense, and thrilling. It is a story that was published twenty-five years ago, but it still has a freshness and originality that makes it compelling and entertaining reading. In short, it is a novel that should not only be read, but that should be savored.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Tom Selleck on the New Rockford Files

The Internet, at least the few sites I visit regularly, has been abuzz with the remake of the 1970's television series "The Rockford Files." I haven't read a positive spin about the new series remake yet. I was too young to remember "The Rockford Files" when it originally aired. Instead I was introduced as a teenager in the late-1980s in syndication, and then the eight or so television movies made in the 1990s.

Now Tom Selleck, who guest-starred in two episodes, weighs in about the difficultly of recreating the series without James Garner in a brief interview with Zap2It. In a sense it would be tantamount to remaking "Magnum, P.I." without Tom Selleck, a difficult chore at best.

Mr Selleck said, in part:

"They ought to cast Jim Garner," Selleck tells Zap2it. "I'm a little prejudiced because he was really a formative influence on me, even a mentor in so many ways, even though he probably wouldn't admit to it if he was aware of it.

"Dermot Mulroney seems like a fine actor in the work I've seen him do, and this has nothing to do with him -- but when you think of 'Rockford,' you don't remember 'that episode about the bank robbery,' you remember [Garner] making you laugh."

Click Here to read the rest of the article.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


It has been shamefully quiet around here the past few months. The world--my world--has been a little tipsy-turvy, and not necessarily in a bad way. In fact it has been more good than bad, but I have been really busy. And reading is a form of relaxation that I constantly use as a source of calm. Unfortunately my time demands have made it difficult to write reviews recently, so here are a few titles that I have enjoyed over the past month or so without the benefit of a review.

I have been enjoying the work of the late-Robert Ludlum. I hadn't read any of his novels since the mid-1990s, but I picked up his first published novel The Scarlatti Inheritance and really enjoyed it. I also read, and liked, The Holcroft Covenant, although it would have benefited from a sharper pencil during the editing process. Ludlum's work is interesting because he has a very unique style, and while his writing can be verbose he keeps the story moving quickly with plots that are tricky without too man--what the hell!--twists.

I have also read several non-fiction titles, mostly history, both military and American history. A favorite was a little volume titled Inside the Green Berets. It takes a brief glimpse at the formation of Army Special Forces, the key personnel involved, and the major conflicts up through the early-1980s. The writer is Charles M. Simpson, III.

I also tend to listen to about one audiobook per week at work. My favorites have been full cast performances of David Morrell's spy thrillers The Brotherhood of the Rose and The Fraternity of the Stone. I have read both of these novels before, and the audio productions were very well done and captured my attention and imagination.

That's it for now, but I have a few reviews planned, and even an interview. Come back. I promise that I will.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Deja Vu

I was cruising Dorchester's website looking at the new batch of Westerns being released in March, and was hit with a powerful sense of deja vu--see below.

It is a great cover.

The Ed Gorman title--Shoot First--is a terrific novel. It is out of print, but shouldn't be hard to find. It is one of my favorite Gorman Westerns.

I haven't read any of Cameron Judd's work, but I might start with this one. The description at the Dorchester website reads:

Deputy Luke Cable’s job has gotten a whole lot harder lately. He’s been acting marshal since Marshal Ben Keely left on a trip east—and disappeared. It’s up to Luke to keep the peace, and that’s hard to do since the arrival of the Outlaw Train, a traveling collection of curiosities, including the remains of notorious outlaws. But not all the outlaws in town are dead. Scar Nolan is very much alive. He came to town right after the train pulled in. He’s killed before and unless Luke can stop him he’s aiming to do it again aboard the...OUTLAW TRAIN

Friday, February 12, 2010

Dead Lines

I stumbled across an interesting webzine a few days ago. It is called Dead Lines, and it features both fiction and non-fiction in the dark fantasy / suspense genres. It is new. The third issue is fresh on the ether, and it features stories by Jeff Strand, Tim Waggoner, Wrath James White, Gord Rollo, and W. D. Gagliani. A who's who of Leisure's latest lineup of horror authors.

There is also a rundown of the best horror novels of the decade: 2000 - 2009. It features 51 titles; I have read a whopping nine of them. Although the nine I have read I agree with. A few examples are, The Night Class by Tom Piccirilli, The Traveling Vampire Show by Richard Laymon, The Lost by Jack Ketchum, The Missing by Sarah Langan, three by Stephen King and two by Peter Straub. Its biggest weakness: It's just a list. Click Here to read it.

Dead Lines is worth a look. I haven't read all of the stories, but so far so good.

To visit click Here

Saturday, January 23, 2010

THE MASTER SNIPER by Stephen Hunter

You may have noticed, or maybe not, that it has been overly quiet around here the past few weeks. It's been a busy first few weeks of the year, but everything seems to be calming down and we--my wife and I--are getting back into the natural rhythm of life so, with a little luck, I should be back to getting two or three posts up per week shortly. Until then, here is a review I wrote a few years ago for an older Stephen Hunter novel.
I’ve been in a thriller mood recently, but most of what the current crop of thriller writers puts out doesn’t do much for me. Their writing seems flat, uninteresting, and their plots are full of holes and so unbelievable that I usually can’t get through the first fifty pages. It doesn’t help that many of them are 500 pages long or more. That’s why I recently read an older novel written by a thriller writer who has never disappointed me. The novel: The Master Sniper. The writer: Stephen Hunter.

The Master Sniper is an early novel by Stephen Hunter; it was originally published in 1980. It is a thriller of the Second World War—a sub-genre I love—and it reminded me just a little of Jack Higgins’ bestselling The Eagle Has Landed.

Captain Leets is an officer with the Office of Strategic Services, a paper-pusher really, who specializes in Nazi firearms. He, as everyone else, is waiting out the war. It is January 1945, and the Nazis are against the ropes. They still have enough muscle to do some damage, but the end of the war is in sight, and no one wants to take too many chances, and Captain Leets is no different.

That all changes when a strange report crosses his desk: a small shipment of Stermgewehr-44s—an assault rifle that was produced and requisitioned in the thousands—was sent from the factory to a place called Anlage Elf. Leets isn’t sure why, but something bothers him about this shipment of rifles. It’s not just the number of rifles being shipped, but no one has heard of the requesting agency, and why would the Germans risk shipping such a small amount of rifles across the country when the war is lost?

This sets up a mystery that Captain Leets will struggle to solve throughout the rest of the novel. He will go against his superiors, participate in a parachute raid of an enemy camp, discover things about himself that he doesn't like, alienate friends, and slowly, ever so slowly discover what the Germans are up to.

The Master Sniper is a rewarding read. The prose is quick and spry, while the plot is rich enough to keep you guessing until shortly before the end. Mr. Hunter ratchets the tension and suspense perfectly, and the characters are enjoyable and likable—Mr. Hunter does an excellent job of creating a likable hero, while also creating a villain who doesn’t seem terribly bad until the novel begins to unwind, and then he is unmasked as a truly despicable and dangerous person.

Saturday, January 09, 2010


Duel was an ABC movie of the week originally aired in November 1971. It was Steven Spielberg’s first crack at directing a movie, and he really delivered. It was filmed on location in thirteen days and the final product feels more like a feature film than a made-for-television movie. The camera work is impressive. There are several beautiful low-angle moving shots on the highway and an impressive freehand, documentary-style, scene shot in a truck stop.

The story is relatively simple—a salesman traveling a California highway passes a slow moving tanker truck. The driver of the tanker takes exception, and the rest of the story unfolds as the truck chases David Mann (the salesman) along the narrow two-lane highway. The driver of the truck is never revealed, which creates a sense of broad-based terror as the antagonist actually becomes the truck.

Richard Matheson wrote the screenplay, based on his novelette, and it is a taut and linear tale of a normal man trapped in a situation where only he can save himself. It is a little Alfred Hitchcock, and a whole lot Richard Matheson. The film is faithful to the novelette, but there are a few additional scenes and an extension of one—the truck stop scene was lengthened and improved over the story. Dennis Weaver—playing David Mann—creates an anxiety that is realistic; I saw a whole lot of myself in his reactions and behavior.

The original television version was released in a 90-minute time slot. The actual film clocked in at around 73-minutes, but it was lengthened to 90-minutes and released as a feature film in Europe. The current DVD is the 90-minute version, and my understanding is that Spielberg extended a couple scenes and added one. I haven’t seen the original version, but I really can’t imagine that it was any better than the longer theatrical version.

Duel is worth seeking out. The DVD is priced at around $10, and it is worth every penny. It also includes two lengthy interviews with Spielberg, and one with Richard Matheson. The original novelette should also be read. In fact, read it and then watch the film. It is available in two current editions: Duel: Terror Stories and Richard Matheson: Collected Stories, Vol. 3.