Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015: The Year in Reading

2015 was a great year for reading in both quantity and quality. I finished 61 titles, and will likely finish one more—the forthcoming Out of the Blues by Trudy Nan Boyce—which is three short of last year’s mark. The majority of the titles were fiction, but the total includes a tolerable number of nonfiction works, too. The nonfiction tended towards history and true crime, which included a number of interesting titles including Night by Elie Wiesel and Mind Over Matter by Ranulph Fiennes.

I entered 2015 with my two ever recurring goals—1. Increase the number of “new” authors (in 2014 I read only eight authors new to me); and 2. Increase the number of female authors on my reading list. I successfully increased the number of new writers, and also managed to add a few—only three—female authors to my list (all are included in the “new to me” category).

I became acquainted with the work of ten authors in 2015: David Lippincott (Salt Mine), James W. Hall (Bones of Coral), Sandra Block (The Girl Without a Name), Rick Ollerman (Truth Always Kills), Trace Conger (The Shadow Broker), Andrew Coburn (The Babysitter), Tony Park (Ivory), Christine Matthews (Beating the Bushes), Carolyn Hart (High Stakes), and John Saul (Nathaniel). The best of the “new”—and it was actually published in 2015—was Park’s Ivory. The number of new authors, and female authors, was due, mostly, to writing reviews for Ed Gorman’s blog and Mystery Scene Magazine.  

As is my habit, I returned to old favorites many, many times. In fact, four authors accounted for 17 titles, which is approximately 28 percent of the total for 2015. I read five by Jack M. Bickham, and four each by Jack Higgins, Dean Koontz, and Ed Gorman.

Now all that is left is my top five favorite novels of—at least that I read in—2015. No rules, except no repeats. If I previously read it, it is not eligible for the top five. It was difficult to pare the list to five, and there were two or three that were cut from the list that I wish hadn’t been. With that said, my five favorite novels of 2015 are—

5. Ivory by Tony Park. Mr. Park is an Australian thriller writer who writes vividly about Africa. This one is set in Mozambique, South Africa, and the Indian Ocean. The protagonist is an ex-SAS officer turned pirate to finance the rehabilitation of his family’s hotel on the Island of Dreams. The pacing is fast, and the locales are exotic and it actually lives up to the term “thriller.”  

4. The King of Horror and Other Stories by Stephen Mertz. If the title didn’t give it away, this is a collection of short stories by crime and adventure writer extraordinaire Stephen Mertz. It includes all of Mr. Mertz’s short stories over the past several decades, and each is very entertaining. Read the Gravetapping review.

3.  Split Image by Ron Faust. This is an old school noirish treasure. It is dark, riveting, and curious; as much literature as commercial. It weaves an enticing mixture of Edgar Allan Poe—think “The Tell-Tale Heart”—Alfred Hitchcock, and a 1950’s Gold Medal novel. It is one of Mr. Faust’s finest novels. Read the Gravetapping review.   

2.  The Husband by Dean Koontz. This is a mesmerizing, well written, and extraordinarily entertaining thriller. It is smooth with the beat of poetry in its prose—not in a complicated manner, but rather the meter and rhythm. It opens in a rush, and keeps the steady pace from beginning to end without falling into the trap of overwrought doldrums or meaningless melodrama. Read the Gavetapping review.       

1. Snowbound by Richard S. Wheeler. This title won a Spur Award when it was published in 2010; an honor it surely deserved. It is the story of John C. Fremont’s ill-fated fourth expedition, which was ostensibly to find a railroad route across the Rocky Mountains at the 38th Parallel between St. Louis and San Francisco. A fool’s dreams at best. It is a powerful novel of survival and calamity, and deserving of a much larger audience than it has so far reached. Read the Gravetapping review.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

My Reviews Elsewhere: "The Sundown Speech"

My review of Loren D. Estleman’s most recent Amos Walker novel, The Sundown Speech, is live and online at Ed Gorman’s blog. The setting is post 9/11; twelve or so years ago. And, as Mr. Estleman explains in the Afterword, it is an expansion of a novella he wrote as a serial for the Ann Arbor News. It is also pretty terrific.

Purchase a copy of The Sundown Speech at Amazon.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Now Available: "Anything Goes" by Richard S. Wheeler

Richard Wheeler’s latest novel, Anything Goes, is now available in hardcover from Forge. It is Mr. Wheeler’s “first print novel…published in three years,” and it, like all of Forge’s Westerns, is handsomely designed.

Richard Wheeler’s fiction has won an astounding six Spur Awards and the Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Western Writers of America. I have been a longtime fan of his work, and he, at least by email, is one of the kindest, polite, and knowledgeable people I have corresponded with. Earlier this year I conducted an interview with Mr. Wheeler—one I’m particularly proud of—you should read.

I am also planning to review Anything Goes in the next few weeks, but until then here is the publisher’s description

Anything Goes: the enchanting story of a vaudeville troupe that makes its way to Western mining towns, from renowned master of the Western novel, Richard S. Wheeler.

“The cowboys, gold miners, outlaws, gunmen, prostitutes, and marshals who populate the Wild West never see much big-city entertainment. Most towns are too wild and rowdy for entertainers to enter, let alone perform in. All that is about to change.

“August Beausoleil and his colleague, Charles Pomerantz, have taken the Beausoleil Brothers Follies to the remote mining towns of Montana, far from the powerful impresarios who own the talent and control the theaters on the big vaudeville circuits. Their cast includes a collection of has-beens and second-tier performers: Mary Mabel Markey, the shopworn singer now a little out of breath; Wayne Windsor, "The Profile," who favors his audiences with just one side of his face while needling them with acerbic dialogue; Harry the Juggler, who went from tossing teacups to tossing scimitars; Mrs. McGivers and her capuchin monkey band; and the Wildroot Sisters, born to show business and managed by a stage mother who drives August mad.

“Though the towns are starved for entertainment, the Follies struggles to fill seats as the show grinds from town to town. Just when the company is desperate for fresh talent, a mysterious young woman astonishes everyone with her exquisite voice.
“The Wild West will never be the same. They've seen comics, gorgeous singers, and scimitar-tossing jugglers. Now if the troupers can only make it back East . . . alive!”

Friday, December 18, 2015

My Reviews Elsewhere: "High Stakes"

My review of Carolyn Hart’s enjoyable novel High Stakes is live and online at Ed Gorman’s blog. It is cold war romantic suspense with a nicely executed plot, likable characters, and a satisfying twist.

Purchase a copy of High Stakes at Amazon.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

DEATH OF A CITIZEN by Donald Hamilton

Matt Helm is a solid citizen.  He is married with three children.  He makes a living writing popular novels (western’s mostly), and lives with his family in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  His picture perfect American dream is mangled when Tina, an operative he briefly worked with in Europe during World War II, walks through the front entrance of a cocktail party.  She passes an old signal to Matt—“I’ll get in touch with you later. Stand by”—and in an instant (and without much fuss) Matt’s idyllic existence shatters.

Death of a Citizen is the first (of 27) Matt Helm novels, and it is absolutely terrific.  In the opening sequence Helm is an everyman; likable and stable with a pretty wife and a family, but it only takes a few hours for his old habits to take over.  It starts with a dead woman in his writing room, and then a confrontation with Tina who, after some convincing from Matt, weaves a fantastic story about a Soviet agent hunting a nuclear scientist working for the Atomic Energy Commission at Los Alamos.

The action is convincing, the prose is smooth and cool—

“Suddenly I was feeling fine.  You can stay tense only so long.  I was over the hump.  I was driving ten miles out of the way, with a corpse in the bed of the truck, just to take a worthless alley cat home.”

And the plot is as tight and smooth as a guy wire.  There is more than the usual backstory about Helm’s World War II exploits, and post war life, but it is done without interrupting the forward momentum of the plot.  Even better, Mac—the leader of the “organization” Matt worked for, and is once again working for—makes an appearance in the field, and Helm’s doubt and operational rust give him an element of believability. 

Death of a Citizen is the first of the Matt Helm novels, but it is as convincing, urgent, and well written as any.  In a sense it is the primer.  It introduces Helm, the organization, and everything it is, which is essentially a kind of counter intelligence wet work squad.  It is the cold war on a small field.  The best part, the citizen who lost his life (from the title) is Helm himself, and what he gains is a certain freedom, his code name Eric, and an outlet for his violent nature.

Death of a Citizen was originally published by Gold Medal in 1960, and it was recently reissued as a paperback by Titan Bookspurchase a copy at Amazon.

This is another reprint of a Matt Helm novel I enjoyed. It was originally posted March 30, 2014. I’ve been desperately busy the last several weeks, but there will be new content coming very soon.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "The Mexico Run"

The Mexico Run was a paperback original published by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1974, which is the very edition that caught my eye. The cover features a racing car—Jaguar, it appears—with a starred bullet hole in the windshield, billowing dust in its wake, a stone church in the background, and another car in pursuit. It is beautifully 1970’s Gold Medal. The artist: Unknown (to me).

The opening sentence:

“I picked up the XKE in San Francisco. It cost me twenty-six hundred dollars, and I bought it from an instructor at the University over at Berkley, who I figured had probably used it mostly for girl-bait on weekend trips down to the Monterey Peninsula.”

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

MURDERERS' ROW by Donald Hamilton

Murderers’ Row is the fifth Matt Helm novel.  It was originally published by Gold Medal in 1962, and it is the best of the ten or so Matt Helm titles I’ve read.  Helm is anxious for a long awaited vacation to visit a new lady friend in Texas when Mac calls him on assignment; Mac is the chief of the counter spy agency referred to as “the organization”.  He is directed to help an agent with her bone fides, and play her second chair, to infiltrate a Soviet ring that kidnapped an American scientist.  Her orders.  Extract the scientist, or close his eyes permanently.

Helm’s cover is a low level mob enforcer named Jimmy (the Lash) Petroni.  His mission: “plausibly,” and effectively beat up the female agent tasked with infiltrating the Soviet kidnap ring to buttress her cover as a breaking down alcoholic agent.  Helm reluctantly accepts the task, but everything goes wrong in short order.  The female agent dies at Helm’s hand.  Helm is arrested for murder by the local police, and Mac wants him back in Washington with no further action. 
Murderers’ Row is to thrillers as the 100 yard dash is to track and field; fast, hard, and entertaining as hell.  The opening sequences deftly alternate between Helm’s botched assignment and Mac’s orders.  The tone of the narrative in the opening scenes is clinical and professional; very much like a briefing of events without emotion or introspection.  When the female agent dies at his hands, he explains:

“It wasn’t the worst moment of my life.  After all, I’ve been responsible for the deaths of people I knew and liked: it happens in the business.”
But as the novel moves forward the narrative wobbles from the clinical to the personal.  Helm begins to doubt his motives and even, at least regarding the death of his fellow agent, his reality.   His concern: his “hand slipped” during the assault intentionally rather than accidently, which brings to mind a comment Mac made about the psychology of men who kill for a living —

“After a while…their judgment becomes impaired, since human life has ceased to have much value for them.”
Helm doesn’t spend more than a few passages worrying it, but he spends just enough time to give him credibility with the reader.  A credibility that removes him from the classless sociopath to a workman doing a dirty, nasty, but very necessary job. 

Murderers’ Row has everything the Matt Helm novels are known for—action, a vivid cast of characters, a tight and lean plot, and a touch of humor.  As an example of the humor, in the opening scenes Mac explains why Helm needs to perform the assault rather than a young agent previously assigned—
“Not one of them would kill a fly, I sometimes think, to save an entire nation from dying of yellow fever.”
Helm responds—“‘Yes, sir’….’Yellow fever isn’t carried by flies, sir.  It’s transmitted by mosquitoes.’”        
Mac—“‘Indeed?’...‘That’s very interesting.  I could have made it an order, but the young fool…’”
The best part, if you read closely Mr Hamilton always explains the title, which is usually far from intuitive.  In this case, “murderers’ row” is a euphemism for the organization’s headquarters in Washington, D. C.  

Murderers’ Row was recently republished in mass market by Titan Books.  Purchase a copy at Amazon.

This review originally went live November 22, 2013 and since there has been some talk about the Matt Helm novels on a few other blogs I decided it was a good time to kick some new life into this one.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Black Gat Books: Two New Titles

There are two new titles now available from the Stark House imprint Black Gat Books. If you’re not familiar with Black Gat, you’re in for a treat. It is a mass market line dedicated to reprinting great crime novels of the past. Stark House’s website identifies Black Gat’s mission statement— 

“This is a single-title line of books, uniformly priced at $9.99, offering additional reprint titles from past masters of mystery fiction. Each book will be numbered. Some will have new introductions, some will not.”

The two new titles available now are:

No. 4.  The Persian Cat by John Flagg. This is one of the earliest Gold Medal titles. It features agent Gil Denby, and is set in Tehran.

Publisher’s Description: “A post-World War II thriller set in Teheran featuring cynical agent Gil Denby. His mission: bring a beautiful traitor to justice. His odds: slim.”

No. 5.  Only the Wicked by Gary Phillips. This is an Ivan Monk mystery set in Los Angeles. 

Publisher’s Description: “The fourth Ivan Monk mystery, never before published in paperback. A tense Los Angeles thriller with roots in the Deep South.

The Black Gat titles are available directly through the publisher, and most online bookstores. If you click on the titles above you will be whisked to the Amazon page for each.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

No Comment: "The November Man"

“It must be the same as deprogramming a Jesus freak: The intellectual argument never counted because there was no intelligence involved.”

—Bill Granger, The November Man (There are No Spies). Grand Central Publishing PB, 2014 (© 1986). Page 157. Lydia Neumann speaking to Margot Kieker.

[No Comment is a series of posts featuring passages that caught my attention. It may be the idea, the texture, or the presence that grabbed my eye. There is no analysis provided, and it invariably is out of context]

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

My Reviews Elsewhere: "Fate of the Union"

My review of Fate of the Union—the second Reeder and Rogers thriller—by Max Allan Collins and Matthew Clemens is live and online at Ed Gorman’s blog. FU—I couldn’t resist—is an entertaining, fast paced political thriller with a crowd of shady characters and a bunch of action.

Purchase a copy of Fate of the Union at Amazon.

Thursday, November 12, 2015


I’ve been knowingly reading the work of Stephen Mertz for nearly a decade; unknowingly since I was a teenager—all the way back in the late-1980s and early-1990s—devouring men’s adventure series novels like The Executioner and M. I. A. Hunter. He wrote some of the better non-Don Pendleton titles of the former, and created, writing many of the books, in the latter. In recent years he has broken away from series work and produced several high quality novels in a variety of genres—The Korean Intercept, Dragon Games, The Castro Directive, Fade to Tomorrow, Hank & Muddy, and others.

Mr. Mertz is primarily a novelist, but his career began with the sale of his short story, “The Busy Corpse,” in 1975 to the short-lived The Executioner Mystery Magazine. In the forty years since, and including that first sale, he has published “a mere twelve stories”—his words, not mine—and each is included in his collection, The King of Horror & Other Stories. The stories are as varied as his novels. There is an action story, “Fragged,” three featuring a P. I. named O’Dair, and an old-school pulp adventure yarn, “The Lizard Men of Blood River,” which is aptly dedicated to Lester Dent.

The best story in the collection, and they are all very good, is the title story, “The King of Horror.” In the Afterword Mr. Mertz describes it as “[a] cautionary tale for writers.” It features one Rigby Balbo, an aging writer angry at his irrelevance. Rig believes he is blacklisted by the industry and his fellow writers intentionally ignore the influence of his early work. But he has a plan to get even. A plan that turns blackly ironic for him, and darkly satisfying for the reader. I reviewed this story back in 2009.

“The Basics of Murder” is a straight P. I. story. O’Dair—no first name—is on vacation visiting an old friend who made the Army a career after Vietnam. O’Dair’s leisure time is cut short when an officer is killed on the firing range, and his friend asks him to look into it. What he finds is something altogether unexpected for both O’Dair and the reader.   

The Afterword is worth the price of admission alone. It details Mr. Mertz’s thoughts on each of the stories, and illuminates a little of the personal Stephen Mertz. A few of my favorites:

“The King of Horror” was written as “an open letter to” Michael Avallone; a popular writer of the paperback era, and close personal friend of Mr. Mertz, whose markets were gone and who felt some bitterness about it.

Stephen Mertz worked as a touring musician for seven years playing “the beer bar circuit.”  He played the harp—“blues lingo for amplified harmonica”—and vocals.

The King of Horror & Other Stories is pure entertainment. It showcases the work of an underappreciated writer whose talent and excitement is present in each tale. The style is quietly smooth, and the plotting is sharp and surprising. Mr. Mertz may not be a prolific writer of short stories, but what he does write is damn good.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "The Stars Like Dust"

The Stars Like Dust was originally published by Doubleday & Company as a hardcover in 1951. The edition that caught my attention was a mass market reprint published by Lancer 1968. The cover features what appears to be a happy star maker—shimmering red and blue stars cascading from his hands and a smile on his face. A horsehead nebula in the background. The artists: Kelly Freas.

The opening sentence:

“The bedroom murmured to itself gently. It was almost below the limits of hearing—an irregular little sound, yet quite unmistakable, and quite deadly.”

The Stars Like Dust was serialized as “Tyrann” by Galaxy. I’ve read Galaxy’s editor, H. L. Gold, who was notorious for changing story titles, changed the title to “Tyrann”, Mr. Asimov’s preferred title was used on its first book appearance. 

Sunday, November 08, 2015

My Reviews Elsewhere: "Beating the Bushes"

My review of Christine Matthews’ fine novel Beating the Bushes is available at Ed Gorman’s blog. Beating the Bushes is a smoothly written and entertaining thriller.

Monday, November 02, 2015

My Reviews Elsewhere: "The Girl Without a Name"

For some reason Mystery Scene Magazine is allowing me to do a few book reviews for its print and online editions. The first is for Sandra Block’s entertaining novel The Girl Without a Name. It is available in Mystery Scene No. 141, and on its website. It is the first, but it won't be the last (with any luck).

Thursday, October 22, 2015

JOYLAND by Stephen King

Hard Case Crime recently released a new Stephen King novel—straight to trade paperback—titled Joyland.  It is a short novel, probably not much more than 50,000 words, but it is Mr King’s best work in several years.  Joyland is a difficult novel to categorize.  It is part supernatural ghost story and mystery, but it doesn’t easily fit into either, or even both categories.  It is something approaching a working class soliloquy.  It is narrated as though the protagonist is speaking to himself attempting to find the truth hidden in the story’s events.

Devin Jones is an early-twenties college student with an unfaithful girlfriend, a mourning father, and a dead mother.  In the summer of 1973 Devin takes a job at an amusement park in the small resort town of Heaven’s Bay, North Carolina, called Joyland.  The summer changes Devin; he meets two life-long friends, a murderer, a dying boy, and in the process discovers adulthood.
The story is centered on two primary events.  The first is a murder in the funhouse of Joyland, which occurred a few years before the story begins, and the second is Devin’s introduction to a dying boy named Mike.  The two story lines run parallel, but neatly and satisfactorily collide in the final climax.     

Joyland is a carnival novel—every horror writer should have one—but it is much more.  It is a coming of age story where the protagonist is dragged into adulthood by circumstance; a truer understanding is achieved, and the naiveté and brilliance of youth is forever lost.  It is a sad and wistful tale, but it doesn’t dwell on sorrow; rather it is more about hope than anything.  The opening lines frame the mood and pacing of the novel perfectly:
“I had a car, but on most days in that fall of 1973 I walked to Joyland from Mrs. Shoplaw’s Beachside Accommodations in the town of Heaven’s Bay.  It seemed the right thing to do.  The only thing, actually.” 

Joyland is a small masterpiece.  It is smoothly readable, and while it tells a story of meaning it does so with a strong and interesting story.  It is anything but HCC’s usual fare, but it is an appealing novel, which should be well liked by Mr King’s usual suspects, HCCs readers, and a bunch more.  You should try this one.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Publicity Push: Richard Laymon's Horror

Richard Laymon was unique voice in the horror genre. His work was always entertaining, but never for the faint of heart. It contained large doses of violence and sex often wrapped in a hard to define adolescent naiveté. He won the Bram Stoker for his excellent novel The Traveling Vampire Show, and his work brought me back to the horror genre fifteen years ago. My favorite of his novels are In the Dark, Night in the Lonesome October, Island, and One Rainy Night.  

“Laymon always takes it to the max. No one writes like him and you’re going to have a good time with anything he writes.” —Dean Koontz    

“If you’ve missed Laymon, you’ve missed a treat.” —Stephen King

“Laymon is Stephen King without a conscience.” – Dan J. Marlowe

Amazon is running a Halloween sale on several of Mr. Laymons ebooks through the month of October: $1.99 each. Below below are three of my favorite titles included in the sale. If you click the title of each novel you will be whisked to its Amazon page.

Publisher’s description: At 2:32 in the morning, a Jaguar roars along a lonely road high in the California mountains. Behind the wheel sits a beautiful woman wearing only a skimpy, revealing nightgown. She's left her husband behind. She's after a different kind of man—someone as wild, daring, and passionate as herself. The man she wants is waiting for her...with wild plans of his own.

First paragraph: When he heard the car, the man stood up. He brushed pine needles off the seat of his jeans, then hurried out of the forest and trotted down to the roadside. As he neared the moonlit pavement, headlights swept around a corner to the south. They were very low and very close together.

Publisher’s description: Neal has been carrying a gun in his car lately—just to be safe. And it looks like it's a good thing he has. When he spots a woman tied naked to a tree and a man ready to kill her, he has no choice but to shoot the attacker. As a reward, the woman gives Neal something unimaginable.

Neal's reward is a bracelet. A very special bracelet. It enables its wearer to step inside other people, to see through their eyes, to feel whatever they feel. To take "body rides." But Neal has a big problem. The man he shot isn't dead. And he wants revenge. First he's going to finish what he started with the woman. Then he's going after Neal...

First paragraph: Neal Darden, alone in his car, took back roads to stay away from Robertson Boulevard. He wasn’t worried about too much traffic on Robertson; he was worried about getting shot for no good reason.

Publisher’s description: Vicki was the only one to stand up for Melvin, but even she had to admit he'd gone too far when he dug up a body and then tried to bring it back to life with the aid of a car battery. Years later, and now released from a mental institution, Melvin is back and after Vicki - or rather her body.

First paragraph: That had to be Steve Kraft. It was Kraft’s blue Trans Am, the one his dad gave him when he threw six touchdown passes against the Bay last fall. So that had to be 

Monday, October 05, 2015

COME OUT TONIGHT by Richard Laymon

Richard Laymon is a legend in the horror genre. His work is brutal, violent and, at times, almost pornographic. His novel Come Out Tonight is no exception. It is the story of Sherry Gates and her scrape with a demented underage serial killer.

The novel opens with Sherry sending her boyfriend, Duane, to a local convenience store for condoms. When he doesn’t return she gets nervous and goes out looking for him. She finds Duane’s van, but she doesn’t find him. This sparks an all-night search, a chance meeting with a helpful older man and an encounter with two charmingly innocent teenage boys. And, somewhere in between, she is kidnapped, beaten, and raped. The plot takes a number of surprising turns. And in the end, it becomes difficult to tell the good guys from the bad.

Come Out Tonight opens with a bang. The prose is quick and sharp. The story is interesting and the characters are fun, even if a little familiar to anyone who has read Richard Laymon’s work. It is dialogue rich, and a very quick read. Unfortunately, like many of Laymon’s novels, it lacks a certain amount of believability. It is difficult to ignore the glaring fact that all of this pain, fear and horror could be escaped by simply picking up the telephone and dialing three numbers: 9-1-1.

While the characters motives are suspect, and not adequately explained, this is still a fun novel. The reader just has to ignore the obvious holes in the plot, and the fact that Laymon’s characters never make the right decision. They always run down the wrong corridor, or choose the wrong road, or alley. They are innocent, or ignorant, of their true situations, and they always think they can handle it. They never, when it is available, ask for help. And, of course, their actions always lead them into deeper, darker and more frightening places.

Fortunately, it isn’t very difficult to ignore the novel’s weaknesses. Richard Laymon can weave a damn good story and make you want to ignore the blemishes. He does it with a sturdy understanding of the tale and its impact on the audience. He tightens the suspense like a noose around the reader’s neck. He makes you want to believe the tale. It is very much like a campfire story. You know it is not real, and could never be real, but somehow it still enthralls and even scares you.

The action is violent and stuffed with sex—most of the novel is filled with sexual torture, but somehow, as written by Laymon it is less disturbing and nasty than it could be; perhaps because it is seemingly written through the eyes of a thirteen year-old boy. It is more fantasy than reality. And that fantasy is somehow innocent and almost coy.

Come Out Tonight is not for everyone. If you are offended by violence, sex, or just about anything else, avoid this book. If, on the other hand, you like a little heady action and quick-shot violence you just might like this offering. Be careful and don’t take it too seriously, or we all may have to question both our sensibilities and our sanity.

This review originally went live April 5, 2007, and since it is October I dusted it off and made it new again.

Thursday, October 01, 2015

GRANDMASTER by Warren Murphy and Molly Cochran

Grandmaster was published in 1984. It won an Edgar Award for best paperback original in 1985, and it is the first, by my count, of seven novels co-written and published as by Warren Murphy and Molly Cochran. It is both familiar and fresh to readers of Mr. Murphy’s long running series, The Destroyer. The familiarity is its Eastern mysticism, and the fresh is its less satirical and more hard-bitten tone.
Justin Gilead is nearly an orphan. His mother died before he was three, and his father—

“a novelist known worldwide by the single name Leviathan, which graced a stream of flashy if embarrassingly illiterate best-sellers”

—promptly unloaded the child to a succession of aunts, uncles, and anyone else who would look after him. An uncle encouraged Justin to play chess, which he did, and very well, but he is more than just a chess prodigy. He is mystical; the reincarnated Patanjali of Rashimpur; The Wearer of the Blue Hat. The fantasy element is remarkably complicated, in a good way, and important to the novel. It is played out in a straight forward cold war espionage with a slash of good an evil.              

Grandmaster, when it was released, was a wholly original novel, and still is. It is a mixture of the heroic and cold war machinations. It is larger than life, but reasonable with its grandiosity; Justin Gilead is greater than a simple man, but less than an outright hero. He has failed his destiny and is motivated by revenge. The espionage element is the playground for the story, and while a cold war novel, its focus, and what makes it work, is the thematic good versus evil. The good isn’t the United States, and the evil isn’t the Soviet Union. It is much more personal, and much more interesting for it.

Wonderfully (because it made me laugh), Justin Gilead’s father—at least in name—resembles the bestselling author Trevanian. A man Warren Murphy likely knew since he wrote the screenplay for Clint Eastwood’s adaptation of Trevanian’s novel The Eiger Sanction. And Mr. Murphy’s assessment is less than fawning—see the quote above.