Friday, March 30, 2018

"Postcard from Cambodia" by Andrew Nette

“Postcard from Cambodia” is a stark, hard-nosed, crime tale from Australian writer Andrew Nette. When Moss’ 1990 Commodore, purchased for $350 and probably worth less, develops engine trouble outside Riviera, a small Australian town, he finds the trouble he’s been hunting for years. A trouble—which I’m not going to spoil for you here—Moss is willing to do anything to beat.
“Postcard from Cambodia” is a near-perfect hardboiled crime story. Moss plays a mysterious stranger, whose backstory and secrets are revealed expertly as the story develops. He is both uncomfortable and sympathetic to the reader. The prose is razor sharp, characterization nicely rendered, the descriptions vivid—
The man licked his pale lips, smiled at the prospect of a fellow conspirator.
The plot slam-bang. The ending satisfying and complete with enough wonder to make it interesting. 
I read “Postcard from Cambodia” in the excellent anthology Crime Scenes, edited by Zane Lovitt, and published by Spineless Wonders in 2016.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "A World the Color of Salt"

A World the Color of Salt, by Noreen Ayres, was published as a hardcover by William Morrow and Company in 1992. The edition that caught my eye is the mass market paperback published by Avon in 1993. The cover illustration is a superb aerial view of a mountainous coastline that shifts into something else entirely. A cover that is both vivid and alluring. The artist: Unknown (to me at least).

The first sentence: 
First they shot him in the mouth. His tongue split down the middle like a barbecued hot dog.
A World the Color of Salt is Noreen Ayres first novel. It introduced forensic specialist Samantha “Smokey” Brandon, with “time served as a stripper and a cop,” and her hardboiled world.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Mystery Scene: Issue No. 153

The latest issue of Mystery Scene Magazine—No. 153—is at a newsstand near you. As usual, it is packed, featuring interviews with Jane Harper and John Hart, an article celebrating Mickey Spillane’s 100th birthday, another celebrating the life and work of Sue Grafton and many others.
It also features my short story review column, “Short & Sweet: Short Stories Considered”. In the column I discuss:

The Realm of the Impossible, edited by John Pugmire and Brian Skupin, is an anthology featuring a brilliant cast of reprinted locked-room mysteries by writers from around the world.
Black Cat Mystery Magazine, Vol. 1, Issue 1. A welcome addition to the criminal short story market with stories by Michael Bracken, Alan Orloff and others. 
Alive in Shape and Color, edited by Lawrence Block, is the follow up to Block’s 2016 anthology In Sunlight or in Shadow, and like its predecessor the tales are inspired by works of art. It includes stories by David Morrell, Lee Child, Joe R. Lansdale and many others.
The Big Book of the Continental Op by Dashiell Hammett, edited by Richard Layman and Julie M. Rivett, is the first time Dashiell Hammett’s serialized Continental Op stories—the way they appeared in Black Mask Magazine—are together in a single volume.
This issue also includes a single book review by yours truly.
Splintered Silence, by Susan Furlong, is the beginning of a new mystery series starring traveller—more commonly thought of as gypsies by outsiders—and former military police woman Brynn Callahan and her cadaver dog, Wilco, as they try to start over in Bone Gap, Tennessee.
The reviews, except for Black Cat Mystery Magazine, are available online at Mystery Scene’s website—click the titles above.
Mystery Scene is available at many newsstands, including Barnes & Noble, and available for order at MS’s website.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "The James Dean Story"

The James Dean Story, by Ronald Martinetti, was published as a paperback original by Pinnacle in 1975, which is the very edition that caught my eye. The cover illustration is nicely realized with a soft sky blue background. Not to mention, its titillating blurb—“The myth-shattering biography of a legend!”—promises the reader an appealing journey. The artist: Gil Cohen.

The first sentence:
James Byron Dean was born in Marion, Indiana on February 8, 1931.
Gil Cohen illustrated many of the early Don Pendleton’s The Executioner books published first by Pinnacle and then Gold Eagle. He later gained fame as an Aviation artist. The Men’s Adventure Magazines website has adetailed and interesting interview with Gil Cohen.

Friday, March 16, 2018

SOME DIE HARD by Stephen Mertz

Some Die Hard is Stephen Mertz’s first published novel. It appeared as a paperback original in 1979 from the low-rent New York publisher Manor Books, as by Stephen Brett. A pseudonym, at least the surname—according to an informative and interesting Afterword in the recent Rough Edges Press edition—that was a hat-tip to Brett Halliday. The same Brett Halliday behind the fictional private eye Michael Shayne. 

Rock Dugan, a former stuntman who gave up Hollywood for private detective work and Denver, is returning home—after tying up an employee theft investigation—from the fictional Langdon Springs, Colorado. Sitting next to Dugan on the bus ride home is a nervous man who, once they arrive at the depot, panics and bolts, stumbling into Dugan before dashing into traffic where he’s hit and killed by a taxi. The police think the man’s death is an accident, an opinion Dugan doesn’t share because the man expertly passed an envelope to him in the confusion. The envelope’s contents are for Susan Court who, with a dying millionaire father changing his will at the last minute and a no-good brother, hired the nervous man, also a P.I., to uncover a few secrets.
Some Die Hard is a hardboiled locked-room murder mystery—those impossible crimes where the whodunit is less important than the howdunit (and Im not even going to tell you who the victim is). Its prose is smooth, although not as crystal as Stephen Mertz’s latest work, and the story is enjoyable and easy. Easy to read, rather than easy to guess. Dugan is likable and hardboiled. He is big-fisted, clever and carries that sacred Private Eye code. A knight-errand more concerned with justice than law. 

Monday, March 12, 2018

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "Westworld"

Westworld, by Michael Crichton, was published as a paperback original by Bantam in 1974, which is the very edition that caught my eye. The cover is dominated by Yul Brynner shedding his humanity to reveal the robot beneath. The artist: Unknown (to me at least).

The first sentences:

A desert landscape at dawn, all muted grays. The desert stretches for miles with no sign of life.
Westworld is a film written and directed by Michael Crichton. This book features a Foreword by Saul David—Hollywood screen writer, producer and man behind the film adaptation of Logan’s Runa very interesting essay, “Shooting Westworld”, by Michael Crichton, and the original screenplay.

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

A Trio of Reviews: Misfits and Oddballs

On occasion I write brief book reviews to post at Goodreads or Amazon with no intention of featuring the books here at Gravetapping. Over the past few months I’ve done just that with a trio of books that don’t quite fit the formula around here, but each was so good I decided to dust the capsule reviews off and post them here.

IN COLD BLOOD, by Truman Capote (1966)
A classic is a piece of literature that catches its audience by surprise and exceeds the reader’s expectations (no matter how high those expectations are). In Cold Blood, by Truman Capote, is a true and very human classic. Shocking, beautiful and ugly at once. The story of the 1959 Clutter family murders in the rural town of Holcomb, Kansas—two men broke into the Clutter’s home in the early hours with robbery on their minds and murdered every person in the house. While relating this morbid tale, In Cold Blood, captures a humanity that makes it larger than this single crime, or any of the individuals involved, and creates something deeper and more universal.
RAPE: A LOVE STORY, by Joyce Carol Oates (2003)
Rape: A Love Story, is vengeance tale worthy of Joyce Carol Oates’ talent, and its serious subject matter. When a single mother is raped in front of her young daughter, left for dead, and the judicial system falters—the victim’s character is smeared and the rapists are seen as victims—an uninterested party takes an interest to ensure a kind of justice is done. Told from the young girl’s perspective, it concentrates less on the physical aspects of revenge and more on the psychological. The fear, hate, and finally a compromised recovery. A serious and dark story about a serious and dark subject.
WORD OF HONOR by Nelson DeMille (1985)

Word of Honor reads like The Caine Mutiny as a Vietnam story. Ben Tyson is accused of murder for a massacre occurring in a hospital during the Tet offensive, February 1968, eighteen years after it happened. At this late date, as the lone officer involved, Tyson is the only member of the platoon—Alpha Company of the 7th Cavalry—that can be tried for the crime and the US Army opens a court-martial for murder. DeMille reveals the massacre’s details slowly, ratcheting the tension tighter and tighter. The outcome is little surprise, but it ends exactly how it should and even more importantly the novel says something about humanity and war, and America’s Vietnam experience.

Monday, March 05, 2018

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "Flight Into Fear"

Flight Into Fear, by Duncan Kyle, was published as a hardcover by William Collins in 1972. The edition that caught my eye is the Fontana paperback published in 1980. The cover has everything that makes my inner-book-buying-dork stammer, “Must buy, must buy.” Which is to say, an orange airplane with a cool split tail design and a bi-plane with something suspicious happening. The artist: Chris Foss.

The first line:
I suppose it’s been going since Ur of the Chaldees and I’ve no more right to complain than anybody else who has fallen for the old tale of glory in the last five thousand years.
Duncan Kyle is the pen-name for British newspaperman John Franklin Broxholme, born in Bradford, England June 11, 1930. Under the name Duncan Kyle he wrote 14 adventure novels, favorably compared by critics and readers (including me) to the best in the genre, between 1970 and 1993. He died in June 2000.

Friday, March 02, 2018

THE BLOODY SPUR by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins

The Bloody Spur is Mickey Spillane’s and Max Allan Collins’ third Western novel featuring former Wells Fargo detective and current Trinidad, New Mexico Sheriff Caleb York. Max Allan Collins wrote this smooth tale based on characters created by Spillane, for John Waynes Batjac Productions, in an unproduced screenplay.
The Santa Fe Railroad wants a spur between Trinidad and the nearby Las Vegas, New Mexico, but it needs a right-of-way across George Cullen’s Bar-O ranch. The new rail line would increase commerce, population, make Trinidad’s cattle ranchers more competitive, and enrich the town’s business owners. But George Cullen is a tough and stubborn old man, now blind, with no intention of allowing the tracks on Bar-O property. His opinion is unpopular with most everyone, including the Trinidad Citizens Committee, and creates an unusual hostility in town. Alver Hollis’ arrival—a gunfighter known as Preacherman—adds more tension since York thinks the gunman has come to Trinidad to kill. But Hollis’ target, or why anyone would want a Trinidad resident murdered, is a mystery.
The Bloody Spur is an enjoyable and entertaining western tale. Its traditional storyline—Sheriffs, gunfighters, ranchers, railroads—is comfortable and, in all the right places, surprising. There is a nifty mystery included, which York handles with flair and style. A romantic twist, murder, betrayal, a satisfying amount of action, and humor—provided by York’s deputy, the former town drunk—making The Bloody Spur a rewarding journey into the Old West and New Mexico’s high country.