Monday, December 31, 2018

My Favorite Short Mystery Stories of 2018

Since taking the reins of Mystery Scene Magazine’s “Short & Sweet: Short Stories Considered” column a few years ago my reading of short mystery fiction has increased significantly. During 2018, I read—and this is a less than scientific estimate—somewhere greater than 500 crime and mystery short stories. The stories were published in magazines—Alfred Hitchcock, Ellery Queen, Black Cat, Down & Out—anthologies and collections. The individual stories have a tendency to slip from my awareness shortly after the final words have been read, but there are those stories that stick to me. Often becoming something better and more real in the weeks and months after I’ve read the tale. 
This year, for something a little different, I decided to sit down and compile a list, from memory rather than going back into the books and magazines or the reviews I wrote, of my five favorite mystery short stories. And, no matter how hard I tried, I was unable to settle on less than six stories. So, without further ado, here are my five six favorite short stories (in no particular order) published during 2018*.
“An Elderly Lady Seeks Peace at Christmastime” by Helene Tursten, featuring the homicidal octogenarian Maude, who will do anything for peace and quiet. [An Elderly Lady is Up To No Good, Soho, November 2018] 
“The Little Men” by Megan Abbott, is a Hollywood story with an ironic and very twisted ending. [Bibliomysteries Volume Two, edited by Otto Penzler, Pegasus, August 2018]
“Fair Game” by Max Gersh, is a carnival tale reminding us that the house always wins. [Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, March / April 2018]

“Backfire” by Floyd Mahannah, is a vintage crime novella that is hardboiled, and perfectly plotted. [The Broken Angel / Backfire and Other Stories, by Floyd Mahannah, Stark House, May 2018]
“Phantomwise: 1972” by Joyce Carol Oates, is a long story about sexual harassment and murder. [The Best American Mystery Stories 2018, edited by Louise Penny & Otto Penzler, Mariner, October 2018]
“The Wild Side of Life” by James Lee Burke, is an old school paperback era story about men and women and trouble. [The Best American Mystery Stories 2018, edited by Louise Penny & Otto Penzler, Mariner, October 2018]

*A few of the stories were originally published prior to 2018, but reappeared in author collections or best of the year anthologies.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Thrift Shop Book Covers (Christmas Edition): "A Present for Santa"

A Present for Santa, by James Burke, is a crime novel published in hardcover by St. Martin’s Press in 1986, but the edition that caught my eye is the mass market paperback published by Avon in 1989. The artist: Unknown (to me at least)

The first paragraph:

It was raining hard, but the brunt of the rush hour traffic was off the streets, so the dark coupe was making good time up the Drive. The blond man, driving alone, was handling the car mechanically, his mind far from Chicago’s glistening streets.
James Burke wrote three novels in the mid- and late-1980s; two, including A Present for Santa, featured retired CIA operative Patrick Morley. And, you've probably already guessed, so far as I know, there is no relation between this James Burke and James Lee Burke.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "Christmas Stars"

Christmas Stars, edited by David G. Hartwell, is a Christmas-themed anthology published as a paperback original by Tor in 1992, which is the very edition that caught my eye. The cover is Santa Claus perfect with its spacesuit clad St. Nick and reindeer. The artist: Nick Jainschigg

The first sentence from Frederik Pohl’s “Adeste Fideles”:
   A Christmas was only an abstraction on Mars, even for Henry Steegman.
Included in the anthology are 25 stories from Ray Bradbury, William Gibson, Ben Bova, Arthur C. Clarke, Jack McDevitt, Brian W. Aldiss, and many others.

Monday, December 17, 2018


I have a particular fondness for Shadow Games. It is not only a terrific novel, but it was my introduction to the work of Ed Gorman. The year was 2000. I made a habit of studying and writing in a library not far from where I worked as a pizza delivery driver; a job I won’t recommend, but a job that treated me well as I navigated the college scene. My usual table was tucked at the back of the fiction stacks. I sat, my back to the wall, facing a bookshelf packed with the latest genre titles making study nearly impossible since the stories beckoned me. 
There was one title that, day after day, caught my attention. It was a mass market paperback, black background with orange-red print and the large white Leisure Books’ logo—a publisher I miss badly—at the top of its spine. Its title, Shadow Games. When I finally relented and read Shadow Games, sitting right there in the library, its tale of Hollywood ambition, perversion, and lost potential, all told in a darkly humorous tone, made me a lifetime fan of Ed Gorman’s work. 
It is the story of Cobey Daniels, a child television star, musician and, as the novel opens, the playwright and star of his own one man show. The play is autobiographical and humorously recalls Cobey’s life as a fallen Hollywood superstar. A life that has had more than a few public scandals. The most serious involved a sixteen-year-old girl in a Miami, Florida mall causing Cobey’s three-year stay in a Missouri mental hospital. But Cobey is better now, the addictions and mood swings are behind him. Or so Cobey thinks until he awakens in a Chicago apartment, difficulty remembering his name, a headless woman lying in a pool of her own blood on the kitchen floor. 
Shadow Games is a dark ride across American pop culture—hero worship, sex, vanity, dizzying unreality, hypocrisy, cynicism and downright craziness. It is a crime novel at its center, but its view of Hollywood and its fandom illuminates modern culture in a manner both convincing and familiar. It is dark, possibly one of the three or four darkest tales I’ve read, but its humor—
“‘I know a lot of people think I’m a goody-goody because of my role on the show. Well, what’s wrong with being a clean-cut, all-American teenager?’ 
“Cobey Daniels, interviewed in Teen Scene, August, 1984”
“(Reporter)   The police are saying that you pulled a knife on the waitress because she wouldn’t serve you liquor. Any comments?
“(Cobey)   Yeah, just one. Why don’t you go f*ck off, you asshole? 
“Cobey Daniels responding to KABC-TV reporter, May, 1985”
—lifts it from what, in lesser hands, could have been a deeply depressing story to a very readable and damn good novel.
Shadow Games, as it should be, is back in print with a high quality trade paperback from Short, Scary Tales. It has been, from what I can tell, lightly edited by the author and is titled Shadow Games and Other Sinister Stories of Show Business. It includes four of Ed Gorman’s finest short stories, “Scream Queen,” “Riff,” “Such a Good Girl,” and “Pards.” Do yourself a favor and buy it right now.
This review originally went live May 11, 2016. Unfortunately, the Short, Scary Tales edition has left print, but Shadow Games is still available as an ebook.

Wednesday, December 05, 2018

"The Santa Claus Murders" by Ed Gorman

A Christmas novella featuring Ed Gorman’s Sam McCain, originally published in Crooks, Crimes and Christmas (Worldwide, 2003) and, as far as I know, currently out-of-print.
Sam McCain’s only reason to attend a high school reunion / Christmas party is a hope there will be attractive, available, attentive former female classmates. The party is at the home of the wildly wealthy Don Lillis, who inherited the house and a steel mill from his father. On his arrival, Sam finds the usual clustering of people. The wealthy and upwardly mobile, the weirdoes, the blue-collar-types, all congregating in their respective groups. Sam has the uncanny ability to move from group to group, but he doesn’t quite belong to any of them. 
The party turns bad when Bob Nugent, the class drunk, is found in the guest room with a knife in his throat. Bob Nugent was the kid everyone expected to succeed. In school, Bob worked hard, was kind, friendly and the teachers loved him. He was, to Sam’s thinking, a brownnose of the first order. But something went wrong for Bob during his college years and he started drinking. The party screeches to a halt when Bob’s body is found and the unlikable and incompetent Sheriff Cliff Sykes, Jr is called to investigate. Cliffie, as he is called behind his back, makes all the wrong assumptions and McCain decides to solve the mystery on his own for two reasons: to make Sykes look the clown, and to make sure the right person is brought to justice.
“The Santa Claus Murders” is Sam McCain at his best. He is young, endowed with the wisdom of a much older man, intelligent and savvy at why people do what they do, and cynical with a perfectly complimented amount of optimism. He is a kid that doesn’t quite fit a category—he grew up in the poor section of town, but he is a college graduate with his own small law practice. He is an ideal Ed Gorman character: intelligent, cynical, tough, realistic, and yet hopeful and wistful at the same time.
The mystery is perfectly executed. The killer is revealed only moments after the reader figures it out. The supporting cast is top-notch. Cliffie Sykes is his usual gruff and annoying self. The Judge is kind and vindictive in a swift, judgmental and condescending manner. And everyone else plays their parts perfectly.

Monday, November 26, 2018

SPLIT IMAGE by Ron Faust

Split Image is best read cold, and this review is loaded with spoilers. Read ahead at your own peril and rest assured it is fantastic. But if you insist…
“It occurred to me—and this was my first conscious thought upon ‘awakening’—that the crows did not object to the carnage. Of course not. They were scavengers and were impatiently waiting their opportunity. Even so, I could not entirely dispel the notion that they were judging me—small black magistrates, feathery clerics.”
The idea is Andrew Neville’s; a failed playwright, three early critical successes and nothing since, making his living as an editor of a corporate newsletter. On a whim he travels to the woods of northern Wisconsin to the primitive hunting cabin of a friend. It is autumn, and deer are in season. He takes an old bow and its matching arrows from the cabin. He doesn’t expect a kill, but when a buck cuts his trail a lusty greed overtakes him. The deer is wounded, and while tracking it Andrew comes to a man cleaning a buck.  
Andrew believes the deer is his, but the man calmly and reasonably claims it. The two have a cold exchange of words; at the end Andrew kills the other. He doesn’t remember the actual killing, but Andrew knows he did. He cleans up the cabin, disposes of the clothing and other evidence and returns to Chicago. A few days later he learns the man’s identity, and realizes, for the first time, he once knew the man. They were in the same theater company, and while Andrew failed as a writer his victim found significant success in Hollywood.
Andrew, after meeting his victim’s widow at the funeral, calculatingly insinuates himself into the dead man’s life. He moves into the boat house on his wooded estate, wears his clothes, befriends his only child, and smoothly woos his wife. The only hold up is a despicable man named Roland Scheiss—
“‘Scheiss means ‘shit’ in German, doesn’t it?’”
—hired by the murdered man’s parents to prove his widow, and by extension, Andrew Neville killed him. Scheiss is loathsome. He is filthy, crude, and corrupt. His game is blackmail, and he begins calling Andrew at odd moments of the night threatening, cajoling, taunting. Andrew remains calm, but his sanity begins to unravel; he converses with his victim in the dark hours, and small meaningless events begin to weigh heavily, and finally his narrative turns suspect; is the tale truly as it is being told, or is the reader being deceived?
Split Image is a fine novel. It is dark, riveting, and curious. It is 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. Andrew Neville is a cold, almost empty narrator, who is as interesting, and enigmatic as any character in popular literature. The prose is sparse, poetic and meaningful. It is also satisfying, thought-provoking, and damn good.
Split Image is Ron Faust’s tenth published novel. It was published in 1997 by Forge as a hardcover. It is currently available as a trade paperback and ebook from Turner Publishing.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "The Warsaw Document"

The Warsaw Document, by Adam Hall, was published as a hardcover by William Heineman Ltd in 1971, but the edition that caught my eye was the paperback edition published by Fontana in 1978. The cover is cold war perfect with a Mercedes—the choice of every good spy—running a barricade. The artist: Tony Roberts

The first paragraph:
There would be no warning, I knew that.
The Warsaw Document, is the fourth (of 19) novels featuring British spy Quiller. The Quiller books were published as by Adam Hall, which was a pseudonym for Elleston Trevor.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

JIMI AFTER DARK by Stephen Mertz

Jimi After Dark is the second novel in what I think of as Stephen Mertz’s musical mystery series, which isn’t an accurate moniker since the books are as much about the time and place of the tales’ setting as they are about the music and musicians. The first, Hank & Muddy (2011), was set in the 1950s and featured Hank Williams and Muddy Waters. Jimi After Dark is a 1960s novel set in 1970 London, near the end of Jimi Hendrix’s too-short life. Its genesis, as Mr. Mertz explains in his Afterword, is Jimi’s mostly disbelieved kidnapping claim by armed thugs and his ultimate rescue by other armed men.
From the start, Jimi is in trouble, legal trouble with his former manager Mike Jeffrey and another, more violent, trouble with more than one unknown source that may, or may not be related to the Kray Brothers—the East End crime syndicate brothers in prison when the story begins—and the Central Intelligence Agency. Jimi calls on his old Army buddy, unnamed in the story and simply called Soldier, for help. Soldier is fresh from his second tour in Vietnam with a tendency towards violence and a strong sense of duty and loyalty, which acts as an effective literary foil for Jimi’s hippie and gangster filled world.  
Jimi After Dark is an action crime novel with nicely executed action scenes, a few twists, and big ideas: friendship, loyalty, betrayal—the unexpected betrayal of friends and lovers and the more expected betrayal from governments—duty, honor, and the relationship between music and culture. The 1960’s culture war is dissected, Jimi on one side and Soldier on the other, wrapped inside a well-told, exciting story with the cleanest, strongest prose in the business. Jimi After Dark is Stephen Mertz’s best novel, and it should be on everyone’s reading list.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

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.

Friday, October 26, 2018

MIA HUNTER: L.A. GANG WAR by Stephen Mertz

A three-man strike force accustomed to rescuing prisoners of war in the jungles of Vietnam is stateside on a rogue mission in Los Angeles. Mark Stone, known as the MIA Hunter, is asked by an old war buddy, now a deputy chief with LAPD, to help rescue Rick Chavez from a Colombian drug cartel. Chavez is a Pulitzer award winning journalist who has been writing a series of hard and insightful articles about the drug trade in L. A. The articles have enough detail that the LAPD and the drug gangs—Crips, Bloods and their Colombian suppliers—want to know where his information is coming from.
When Stone and his team arrive on scene, Chavez is being held prisoner in a palatial home in San Clemente; a few doors down from Richard Nixon's house. It takes the team only a few minutes, several hundred rounds of 9mm lead slung by MAC 10s, some smart one liners, and a close call or three, to pull Chavez out of the house. But this is the beginning for the MIA team because as the team is exfiltrating from the firefight, Stone sees a familiar face. A face that belongs to a man who tried to kill Mark Stone in Vietnam.
MIA Hunter: L. A. Gang War—the thirteenth entry in the series—is an entertaining example of the men’s adventure mania of the 1980s. Originally published in 1990 (an honorary member of the 1980s), it is a time capsule of the era, capturing society’s anxiety with an escalating war on drugs, violent street gangs spreading the poison and in the process claiming entire neighborhoods, all in the shadow of America's defeat in Vietnam. It is non-stop action, accented with betrayal, revenge, and the MIA team’s seeming endless supply of bravado and super hero combat skills. There is also a touch of humor, if you look closely, and even a big idea or two. L. A. Gang War is a top-notch example of both the series and the genre.

Monday, October 22, 2018

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 Books.

Monday, October 01, 2018

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "Terror in the Town"

Terror in the Town, by Edward S. Aarons, was published as by Edward Ronns as a hardcover by Armchair Mystery in 1947. The edition that caught my eye was the paperback edition, with Aarons’ own name on the cover, published by Manor Books. The cover is, simply put, cool and I love how the bikini top melts into a dust trail. The artist: Unknown (to me at least).

The opening paragraph:
A pale moon shone on the water, and cold stars danced in the sky. Under the full moon, the tide along the Pelican River raced wide and deep, tumbling toward the sea.
Edward S. Aarons wrote somewhere around 30 novels as by “Edward Ronns”.

Thursday, September 20, 2018


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

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

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

Monday, June 04, 2018

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

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

The opening paragraph:

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

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

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

KILLING TOWN by Mickey Spillane & Max Allan Collins

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

Monday, May 21, 2018

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "Twister"

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

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

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

THE PEACEMAKER by Andrew McBride

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

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

Friday, May 04, 2018

Blissful Silence

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

Ben Boulden  

Monday, April 23, 2018

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "Listening Woman"

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

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