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.

Friday, April 20, 2018

SLAMMER by Allan Guthrie

Nick Glass is a rookie guard in a Scottish prison. He’s been on the job six weeks with bad results. The other guards make trouble for him and he’s not respected by the inmates. At home he has a five year old daughter and a wife. A wife who’s at the tail end of an affair and drinks more than she should. 
To make things worse Nick is approached by one of the inmates and asked to mule drugs inside the prison. The inmate gives Nick a couple options: mule the drugs and make an easy buck, or don’t mule the drugs and his little family gets hurt. Nick is in big trouble because neither choice is worth having, and ultimately both his life and his families lives are in danger. 
Slammer is the sort of novel that creeps up on you in a hurry. It starts hard and strong and never lets go. Glass is a regular guy caught in a nasty and impossible situation. He doesn’t belong in the prison, as a guard or anything else, because he’s a nice guy; weak and fear-filled. Nick, like his surname, is prone to fracture and Guthrie makes sure he does.
Reminiscent of Guthrie’s first novel Two-Way Split, but Slammer displays a higher skill set with a sharper execution. The prose is hardboiled, lean and smart. The dialogue crisp. The atmosphere weighty and oppressive. A fine example of the new noir: a hopeless, distraught and shameless (in a good way) vision of the human condition. 

Monday, April 16, 2018

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "Monocolo"

Monocolo, by Theodore Taylor, was published as a hardcover in 1989 by Donald I. Fine. The edition that caught my eye is the mass market paperback published by St. Martin’s Press in 1991. The cover art has a television movie quality to it with those great early-1990s colors and the showgirl trapped inside a kitchen knifes blade. The artist: Edwin Herder

The first sentence:
Sunday night, January 28, 1979—Epperson “Fingers” Watts, Jr., wide receiver for the Oakland Raiders, was saying, “Now, here’s a good-looking piece of thigh,” as he inserted it into the full-color erotic jigsaw puzzle.
Theodore Taylor is best known for his young adult novels, including The Cay and The Bomb, but he also wrote twelve adult novels, including two mystery novels: The Stalker, and Monocolo.

Friday, April 13, 2018

SAY IT WAS MURDER by Stephen Mertz

Say It Was Murder, by Stephen Mertz, is an innovative and modern vision of the old fashioned private eye novel. McShan—no first name offered—is an operative for a large detective agency. His boss requires daily status reports, gets grumpy when she doesn’t get those reports, and enforces a strict policy to include local law enforcement with any criminal activities uncovered during an investigation. McShan doesn’t wear a fedora and he works globally, rather than being centralized to a specific city or state. But beneath the new-world corporate trappings McShan is an old fashioned, authority shirking knight-errant with more loyalty to his clients than to the law or his employer. 
A loyalty on full display when McShan is sent to Bisbee, a small rural city in deep southeastern Arizona, on what appears to be a simple case. Marna Richards, recently divorced from a tough guy film producer and all around jerk, wants McShan to make sure her daughter, Janine, is safe. Janine has been making time with a local commune-style cult and the relationship worries her mother. A simple case until it skews sideways and becomes something else.
Say It Was Murder is an example of what Stephen Mertz does so well. Take the ordinary—in this case a private eye investigating a cult—and make it original by shaking and twisting until it becomes new and interesting. McShan is likable and honorable. He’s tough enough to get things done and smart enough to keep himself out of trouble. The Arizona setting is painted with stark colors to reveal a vibrant rural landscape and culture. The prose is perfectly simple, its smooth as glass style has the strength of an Arizona thunderstorm. This is Stephen Mertz’s first private eye novel in four decades, and Say It Was Murder marks a fine return to a genre he never should have left.

Monday, April 09, 2018

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "The Man Who Made the Devil Glad"

The Man Who Made the Devil Glad, by Donald McCaig, was published as a hardcover by Crown Publishers in 1986. The edition that caught my eye is the mass market paperback published by St. Martin’s Press in 1987. The cover illustration is—well, take a look. It’s something special with a montage of secret love, car chases, and a tough looking cop who sees everything. The artist: Unknown (to me at least).

The first lines:

When he woke, it was dark except for a dim red light down the corridor. H ached like he’d been run through with a hammer mill.

Wednesday, April 04, 2018

Interview: Jo Walpole

Jo Walpole published her first novel in 2005—a well-received Western romance she would “prefer to keep…in the past”—and since then Jo has written another eight novels and a short story collection. Her recent work has been in the Western genre, both traditional—“standard [and] non-offensive”—written as by Terry James, and a more violent and graphic variety with her tough-as-nails Maggie O’Bannen series, written as by Joe Slade.

Jo’s work has been well-received by critics and readers alike. The first Maggie O’Bannen novel, Days of Evil, was called “absorbing” with “smooth writing, real characters, and a great story” by novelist Paul Bishop. Her writing has also been hailed as “fun”, “fast moving, hard hitting”, and “unputdownable”.
Jo was kind enough to take a break from her writing and answer a few questions. The questions are italicized, and as always, the answers are so much more important. 
What’s your latest novel?
It’s called Wanted - Dead and is the second in the Maggie O’Bannen series, which I write as Joe Slade for Piccadilly Publishing. It’s available now. The first book was debuted in November 2017 and introduced the reader to Maggie and her band of misfits. It was hard hitting and graphic in its violence, a diversion for me from my other alter ego Terry James who writes more standard, non-offensive westerns. However, the Maggie O’Bannen series is very organic in that Maggie and her relationships with those friends grows and changes to create a stronger story so that in the second book means the graphic descriptions of violence, to quote Western Fiction Review, have been toned down a little. However, there is still plenty of hard hitting bloody action, which will hopefully satisfy readers along with an interesting plot.

I’m always intrigued by the origin of pseudonyms used by writers. Do your pseudonyms—Terry James and Joe Slade—have any special meaning to you?
Terry James is a nod to my husband. Joe Slade happened because I wanted to separate my two writing identities, being that the Maggie O’Bannen books are much grittier than anything I’ve written before. Joe has always been my preferred short version of Joanne and Slade was completely random.
Without breaking any of your personal taboos, would you give us an idea of what you’re working on now?
I’m now working on book 3 in the Maggie O’Bannen series. I love writing the characters and, as I mentioned above, their experiences and circumstances are shaping them, as would happen in life, so I never truly know what’s in store except for the outline of the main plot. It certainly makes life interesting for me.
What was your first published novel? 
Wow, that was a while ago, back in 2005. I published a romance western with Whiskey Creek Press called Raven Dove (very arty). It was a story I’d always wanted to write and I was lucky enough to get it accepted on its first outing. When I look back on it now, it’s very wordy and emotional, something I have tried hard to limit as I have become a more experienced writer and found my genre. It was for a different market and it was well received at the time but I’d prefer to keep it in the past now.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
I always wanted to be a writer, even if only in the back of my mind. Until I was about 13 years old, I was focused on becoming a journalist but my circumstances and the resources available to me at that time didn’t fit. I wrote fiction for friends and family until I was about sixteen at which time I met my husband and got distracted. Also, I decided at that time that I didn’t have enough life experience to write what I wanted to, which was bodice rippers. I didn’t start writing anything again until I was thirty-three and that took the form of short stories, poems, haikus, absolutely anything. It was when I stopped working full time and also joined a supportive romance forum that I really dug in.

How do you go about writing?
I think about it a lot. I can’t put two words together until I have a full technicolour picture of the main story elements in my mind. Once that’s set, I sit and write as the mood takes me. Sometimes I write big chunks and other times I write a few sentences. It can be days or weeks between sessions. That I actually finish a book at all is a miracle. I don’t have a specific time for writing but I do prefer first thing in the morning before the day starts to drain my creativity.
Do you have any specific pleasures, or displeasures, that come from writing? 
I love living vicariously through my characters. I hate not being disciplined about the process. However, I feel that if it becomes something I attach rules and timeframes to then the pleasure I get from writing and creating will be spoiled. I’m very lucky to have found a publisher in Piccadilly Publishing who are happy to support me in that. 
Are there any writers that inspired—or continue to inspire—your own writing?
Louis L’Amour, obviously. I grew up reading his books which were always available at the library. Early on I was very influenced by Rosemary Rogers and Kathleen Woodiwiss, both of whom write historical romance novels. The attraction for me there was the depth of characterisation as well as a full story. Thinking about the western genre, I’d include TT Flynn definitely and Ed Gorman, who I read a lot when I wanted to start writing westerns seriously. More recently, I have been influenced by the writings of John Benteen (Sundance and Fargo), Neil Hunter, Ben Bridges and Brent Towns. Brent will laugh at that but I find him very inspirational because I sometimes find it tricky to move characters around locationally and he has a natural way of propelling a story along at a fast pace without neglecting the character, the action or the background.
As a writer and reader, what draws you to the Western genre?
I like the scope of possibilities the Old West offers. It’s a good escape from modern life. As long I get a good fast paced read with no unnecessary padding, a believable plot and characters I can root for, I’m happy.

If you could write anything, without commercial considerations, what would it be?
Happy to say, I already am. The Maggie O’Bannen series is the fulfilment of a desire to get down and dirty and write outside my comfort zone. Luckily for me, Ben Bridges and Mike Stotter of Piccadilly Publishing were willing to take a chance that I could pull it off. So far, I don’t think they’ve been disappointed.
If you were stranded on an island and you had only one book, what would it be?
Easy. It would be Louis L’Amour’s To Tame A Land. I love everything about it. It’s the book I’d like to write. In fact, I’d like to step inside the pages and live it.
If you were allowed only to recommend one of your own novels, or stories, which one would you want people to read?
That depends. If it’s something mainstream (like a John Wayne movie) they’re after, then I’d recommend The Badman’s Daughter under my Terry James pseudonym. If it’s something with teeth then definitely Maggie O’Bannen book 1 Days Of Evil by Joe Slade. I’d hope that either would be a good read.


Monday, April 02, 2018

Thrift Shop Book Covers: Allen & Unwin's Wyatt Novels

In the 1990s the Australian publisher Allen & Unwin published Garry Disher’s first six Wyatt novels in a seven year period: Kickback (1991), The Fallout (1997). The covers are elegantly simple, especially the first four with the solid white background offset by a darker color, the title split between the two, and a nicely detailed illustration above the title. The final two books—Port Vila Blues and The Fallout—have a similar layout, but without the white background and a photograph instead of an illustration. Less effective, but still nice.

The artist for the first four titles: Russell Jeffery. The photographer for the final two titles: Michael Killalea.
Kickback was originally published as a trade paperback by Allen & Unwin in 1991, but the edition that caught my eye is Allen & Unwin’s mass market edition published in 1993.

The first paragraph:
Wyatt tensed. A silver BMW had emerged from the driveway of the Frome place. The headlights plunged, then levelled, as the car entered Lansell Road. Wyatt counted heads: Frome driving, wife next to him, kids in the back. He checked the time—8 pm—and watched the BMW disappear in the direction of Toorak Road.
Paydirt was originally published as a trade paperback by Allen & Unwin in 1992, but the edition that caught my eye is Allen & Unwin’s mass market edition published in 1993.

The first paragraph:
The work was dirty, the little town a joke, but Wyatt was interested only in the advantages—they didn’t know who he was, there were no cops, and no one was expecting a payroll snatch.
Deathdeal was originally published as a mass market paperback by Allen & Unwin in 1993, which is the very edition that caught my eye.

The first lines:
There were two of them and they came in hard and fast. They knew where the bed was and flanked it as Wyatt rolled onto his shoulder and grabbed at the backpack on the dusty carpet. He had his mind on the .38 in the side pocket and was swinging it up, finger tightening, when the cosh smacked across the back of his wrist.
Crosskill was originally published as a mass market paperback by Allen & Unwin in 1994, which is the very edition that caught my eye.

The first lines:
The stranger appeared just after lunch on day one of Wyatt’s operation against the Mesics. He was driving a red Capri, soft top down, and Wyatt watched him park it against the kerb, unfold from the car, stride to the compound gates and bend his face to the intercom grille in the brick pillar.
Port Vila Blues was originally published as a mass market paperback by Allen & Unwin in 1995, which is the very edition that caught my eye.

The first lines:
Carlyle Street, Double Bay, 7 a.m. on a Tuesday morning, the air clean and cool. Behind closed doors in the big houses set back far from the street, people were beginning to stir, brewing coffee or standing dazed under showers.
The Fallout was originally published as a mass market paperback by Allen & Unwin in 1997, which is the very edition that caught my eye.
The first paragraph:
By the fifth hold-up the papers are calling him the bush bandit. An inspector of police, flat, inexpressive, resistant to the pull of cameras, is less colourful: “We are looking for a male person who is armed and should be considered dangerous. His method of operation is essentially the same in every case. 
The Allen & Unwin mass market paperbacks had brief distribution in the United States. The first four titles were available in my local Barnes & Noble for about three months in the mid-1990s. I purchased the first, Kickback, read it in a single evening and rushed back to the bookstore and purchased the other three. Since then, I’ve been an enthusiastic Garry Disher reader. His work has gotten easier to find in the United States over the years, but those original four Wyatt novels are harder to find than ever, at least in print. They are available as ebooks on all the major platforms.