Saturday, July 11, 2020

THE TENTH VIRGIN by Gary Stewart

The Tenth Virgin, by Gary Stewart (St. Martin’s Press, 1983), is the best mystery novel set in Utah I have read. It is a private eye novel starring Gabe Utley. Gabe was raised on the east-side of Salt Lake City. He is a big city private eye, New York City, back in Utah as a favor to his high school sweetheart, Linda Peterson. Linda’s teenage daughter ran away, leaving a note that she joined a violent polygamist sect. Gabe is doubtful he can track the girl down, but his sense of obligation keeps him on her trail. The investigation takes Gabe into the wealthy and powerful Mormon hierarchy in Salt Lake City and then into the depths of the poverty-ridden polygamist clans of Southern Utah.

The Salt Lake City setting details a town that no longer exists—it is so much bigger now, less homogeneous—but it is done with a vivid and accurate hand. The narrative is crisp. The characters, from newspaper reporters to mean-spirited bigamist husbands, are nicely drawn with enough depth to make them familiar to the reader. The plot is nicely executed and the cultural examination of Mormonism (the culture, and not the religious doctrines) is spot-on. 

The Tenth Virgin is truly something special.  

Monday, May 04, 2020

TIEBREAKER by Jack M. Bickham


In 1989 a midlist writer named Jack Bickham published the slim suspense novel Tiebreaker. It was the first of six novels featuring aging professional tennis player, current teaching pro, sometime magazine writer, and former CIA asset Brad Smith. Brad is a step beyond the tail of his career and, after investing his prime years’ winnings unwisely, earns a living as a teaching pro at a club in Richardson, Texas. The novel’s opening is too good not to share—

“The last thing I had on my mind was somebody breaking into my condominium and dragging me into the past.”

It wasn’t on his mind because he was playing the finals of his tennis club’s first annual Richardson Charity Tournament against a hotshot college player acting like John McEnroe and threatening to clean the court with Brad. A battle between age and arrogance. When Brad makes it home, so both he and the reader can discover who and what is going to drag him into the past, he finds his old agency contact, Collie Davis, watching a western on television with a beer in his hand.

The agency has an assignment requiring Brad’s specialized credentials; a young Yugoslavian tennis star named Danisa Lechova wants to defect to the west, but her passport has been confiscated, and the UDBA (Yugoslavia’s version of the KGB) is openly watching her. Brad agrees, reluctantly, to act as Danisa’s go-between for the defection, using his cover as a tennis writer. 

The Brad Smith novels rank as my favorite featuring a serial character. Brad is uniquely American. He does odd jobs for the agency due to a perceived debt he owes—

“ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”

—but he often doesn’t like the assignments, or the agency’s work overall. In a sense he is supporting the lesser of two evils—meaning the CIA against the KGB and the Soviet Union. He is a patriot, but it stops somewhere short of murder, coups, criminality, and E. Howard Hunt. He has a conscience and a well-defined ethical awareness that is unique to spy thrillers. He is also likable, admirable, mostly, and has more trouble with women than imaginable.

The novels, and Tiebreaker is no exception, are written in both first and third person. Brad’s perspective is in first, and an assortment of characters, including good guys and bad, are in third. The alternating perspectives give the novel a hybrid feel—Brad’s narration is more closely related to a private eye novel with social commentary making it more personal, and the third person expands it into a broader and larger suspense-spy story.

The tennis is an integral element to the story, and it is described so well it becomes a secondary character—

“Somehow I got my Prince composite on the yellow blur and bounced it down the line, hitting the back corner, close. He glided over to get it and I thought I saw the angle and guessed, chuffing up toward the net.”

The suspense is expertly designed around the story questions—a clue is identified, but its impact and relevance is not revealed for several pages. It is done without any annoying tricks or contrivance. The characters—both Brad Smith and the secondary folks—are well defined without any doubts about motivation or outcome. There are no crazy monsters, or unexplained actions. Everything is logical and smooth.

I like Tiebreaker and its five sequels so well that I re-read the entire series every few years, and if I was any more weak-willed I would probably read them more often.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "Never Live Twice"

Never Live Twice, by Dan J. Marlowe, was published as a paperback original by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1964. The edition that caught my eye is Black Lizard Press’s 1988 reprint. A disappearing sun, palm trees, a cool car, what appears to be a dead guy, and a woman in distress, or perhaps a femme fatale, grabs with a promise and a curse. The artist: Kirwan


 


The first paragraph:

The white Cadillac rolled up the curving pebbled driveway, passed the brightly lighted clubhouse, and went around to the parking lot in the rear of the country club. The car’s windows were up and its airconditioning purred quietly against the humidity of the south Florida night. Low clouds drifted across the face of a quarter moon, and a few drops of rain fell on the windshield. The Cadillac came to a stop with its headlights beamed out over a practice putting green; the driver leaned forward, cut the lights, then turned to his companion. “You sure you know what to say afterward?” he asked urgently.

Monday, April 06, 2020

TROUBLE MAN by Ed Gorman


Ed Gorman’s work is reliably good. At its best it is clear, concise, meaningful, entertaining. The people he creates are melancholy with a bitter hopefulness; a hope that mostly goes unfulfilled, but a hope that is as steady and resolute as a winter storm. His stories are most often set in the towns and cities of Iowa. A place that can be as welcoming or forbidding as Mr. Gorman wants it to be. A place he knows well. A place, including its people, he understands with the clarity of a surveyor and the sorrow of a poet.

He has successfully written in many genres, mystery, crime, science fiction, horror, western. He is, on a foundational level, a crime writer. No matter the genre he is writing, and while still honoring the tropes and expectations of that genre, his stories are structured and executed with the deft plotting of the crime story. This style and story structure is especially appealing in the western genre where he has written many of his best novels. I was reminded how well his style translates itself to the western genre when I recently read his novel, Trouble Man

Ray Coyle is a faded gunfighter. He gave up the violence for a sharpshooter job in a traveling Wild West show. When word comes that his only child, Mike, was killed in a gunfight in Coopersville he blames himself. He taught his boy the trade and now Mike’s dead. Ray travels to Coopersville to claim Mike’s body and get the details of the fight that killed him. When the town’s doctor, who doubles as undertaker, shows him the body he notices a deep gash on Mike’s forehead. His suspicions are raised further when he meets the man who killed Mike; Bob Trevor. Bob is the town bully and the son of the most powerful man in the region and, to Ray’s educated eyes, incapable of beating Mike in a fair fight. And Ray decides, no matter how much pressure the town’s Sheriff applies, he isn’t leaving Coopersville until he knows how his son was killed.

Trouble Man is a multilayered novel that is, at its core, a study of two fathers losing sons – Ray and Bob Trevor’s father, Ralph – and their struggle to deal with the loss. Ray is a sad, regretful man, and Ralph is, on the self he projects to outsiders at least, the opposite. Ray blames himself for his son’s demise and Ralph has protected Bob from the consequences of his bad behavior for decades. The story, deftly and without being overbearing, is a character study of these two men, but it is also a well-plotted, entertaining genre vehicle.

It begins in violence and ends the same way. The story transforms more than just the primary protagonist, Ray, and it effectively communicates the turmoil of the human experience. But it does this without devolving into despair and, as the story ends, a bright anticipation of a better future is revealed. In a phrase, it is classic Ed Gorman and its appeal should be wide as both entertainment and the depth of humanity – both good and bad – it displays.


Monday, March 30, 2020

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "The Burning Sky"

The Burning Sky, by Ron Faust, was published in hardcover by Playboy Press in 1978, which is the very edition that caught my eye. The cover has a hardcover simplicity that pulls the me into a wild place with towering pines and an orange and red sky. The artist: Unknown (to me at least)

 
 The first paragraph:

Ben was telling the Texan about the cats.

There were four cats left, he said: two fine adult mountain lions, a male and a female, that he had trapped near Chama; an immature jaguar that he had smuggled across the Mexican border—“tranquilized so deep with Sucostrin I thought I’d killed her”—and a big, amber-eyed god-damned leopard that he’d bought from a small roadside zoo east of Gallup. He’d read in an Albuquerque newspaper about the outfit going bankrupt and had driven down to see if he could buy any of their cats at a good price. They had a mangy old lion, a living rug; a diseased mountain lion; an ocelot—“all apathetic, not paranoid like real cats”—and the leopard. The leopard was half starved then, wormy and diarrheic, but even so you could see that it was a magnificent animal, a cat of cats, a god of cats.

Ron Faust published 15 novels across four decades. He died in 2011 with little fanfare. What his work lacked in quantity was made-up for by its high level of quality. He was compared to Ernest Hemingway, Peter Matthiessen, and even Hunter S. Thompson.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Bargain Friday: Three Freebies!

It’s bargain Friday, and this time around I’ve collected a few free ebooks for your consideration.

The first is W. Glenn Duncan’s Rafferty’s Rules:

Rafferty ain’t in the revenge business.

So when he gets told to gun down the low-lifes who kidnapped Vivian Mollison and put her into a drug-induced twilight zone, it’s no can do.

No matter how much money Vivian’s mother is willing to throw at him.

But stirring up trouble amongst five outlaw bikers who picked on the wrong girl?

Now that’s more like it.



Next is Three on a Light, by Victor Gischler:

Detective Dean Murphy isnt your normal shamus. Because of a cursed Zippo lighter, Dean finds himself taking cases involving werewolves, witches, vampires and other things that go bump in the night. A fun, pulpy mashup of the detective and dark fantasy genres. A novel of linked short stories, all of Dean Murphys supernatural adventures. A good selection for those who enjoyed Gischlers VAMPIRE A GO-GO.

A NOTE FROM THE AUTHOR: Three On A Light represents my first efforts as a student in creative writing at the University of West Florida. Its being offered to readers as an example of my early work and to tide readers over until my next novel comes out. Id like to dedicate it to my former professors Dr. Carlos Dews and the late Laurie O'Brien.



The final is Jonathan Janz’s Witching Hour Theatre:

On a cool October night at the Starlight Cinema, an all-night horror movie triple feature is about to begin: Witching Hour Theatre. Its the one exciting thing in Larry Wilsons life, not counting the lovely brunette who works the concession stand. Settling in, he loses himself in the atmosphere of the old place: the crowd, the screams, the popcorn and the blood.

But when the second feature ends, only thirteen moviegoers remain. Among them, a woman of nineteen with a fondness for piercings and the macabre, a cop and his wife, a trio of bad-tempered bullies, and a solitary figure sitting silently in the shadows of the back row.

On this endless October night, Witching Hour Theatre will become Larrys worst nightmare. For the movie on the screen is growing stranger by the minute. His fellow theatergoers are disappearing one by one.

And the figure from the shadows is advancing.


Monday, March 16, 2020

NIGHT CALLER by Daniel Ransom (Ed Gorman)


Ed Gorman is best remembered as a crime and western writer, but he wrote eight horror novels between 1986 (Toys in the Attic) and 1996 (Night Screams) using the pseudonym Daniel Ransom. The results were mixed; most are entertaining, but Gorman thought one of the books was so bad he wouldn’t allow a copy to cross the threshold of his home. The second Daniel Ransom novel, Night Caller (1987), is my favorite of Gorman’s Ransom novels for its perfectly cheesy 1980’s setting and its sharp plotting.

While vacationing in the Midwest with her teenage daughter, Jamie, Sally Baines’ car breaks down on a rural highway. A gentleman farmer gives them a ride into a nowhere town called Haversham. Their rescuer treats them well, but Sally is unsettled by the way he looks at Jamie, and later her unease grows when she sees the farmer pointing Jamie out to another townsperson. The two women check in to The Royal—Haversham’s only hotel—after the mechanic tells them the car won’t be ready until the next day. And when the sun goes down, things really get weird.

Night Caller is a small town horror with a smattering of Psycho and a dash of Stephen King. The characters are strange and amusing, especially a local doctor and a disgraced national television news reporter. The mother-daughter team of Sally and Jamie are easy to root for, and become more likable as the story unfolds. Ed Gorman, as he did with everything he wrote, adds a layer of mystery and ratchets the suspense with admirable craft. Night Caller is a hokey and fun light horror novel. It would make a perfect television movie—something similar to the campy-Stephen King television films made in the 1990s—but until an enterprising producer makes that happen, at least we have this appealing novel.

Night Caller was revised and reissued under the title The Girl in the Attic. I’ve never read the revised edition, but it’s available as an ebook and as an audio book.


Friday, March 13, 2020

Bargain Friday: "The Book of Skulls"

A bargain on Robert Silverberg’s dark masterpiece, The Book of Skulls, and it’s in time for the socially distanced weekend. For a limited time it’s available for Kindle for $1.99.

Here is the publisher’s description and further down is a handy link to Amazon:

After Eli, a scholarly college student, finds and translates an ancient manuscript called The Book of Skulls, he and his friends embark on a cross-country trip to Arizona in search of a legendary monastery where they hope to find the secret of immortality. On the journey with Eli, there’s Timothy, an upper-class WASP with a trust fund and a solid sense of entitlement; Ned, a cynical poet and alienated gay man; and Oliver, a Kansas farm boy who escaped his rural origins and now wants to escape death.

If they can find the House of Skulls where immortal monks allegedly reside, they’ll undergo a rigorous initiation. But do those eight grinning skulls mean the joke will be on them? For a sacrifice will be required. Two must die so that two may live forever . . .

Stretching the boundary between science fiction and horror, Robert Silverberg masterfully probes deeper existential questions of morality, brotherhood, and self-determined destiny in what Harlan Ellison refers to as “one of my favorite nightmare novels.”


Friday, March 06, 2020

Bargain Friday: "In the Dark"


A bargain on the Richard Laymon’s In the Dark in time for the weekend. This was my introduction to Laymon’s work and I have fond memories reading the Leisure paperback edition some 18 or so years ago. Even better (than me reminiscing), it’s only $1.49 for your Kindle.

Here is the publisher’s description and further down is a handy link to Amazon:

Donnerville librarian Jane Kerry receives an envelope containing a 50-dollar bill and a note instructing her to "look homeward, angel" and signed “MOG (Master of Games).” So begins The Game—pushing Jane into crazy, immoral, and criminal actions. When she tries to quit, MOG has other ideas.


Monday, March 02, 2020

Vintage Book Advertising: September, 1986

A good friend sent me an old issue of Mystery Scene from September, 1986. The content is fascinating for readers with an interest in pretty much anything being published in popular fiction in the mid-1980s: mystery, horror, suspense.

There are interviews with authors—including John D. MacDonald, Stephen J. Cannell, Graham Masterton, John Lutz (and others)—book and movie reviews, publishing news—Is PaperJacks making an offer to buy Pinnacle?—a column by Warren Murphy and a bunch of other cool stuff. 

There are full page book advertisements, too. And for a book junkie like me, these ads are almost  as good as the magazine’s actual content. In fact, I liked them so much I decided to share a few of the advertisments for horror novels here.

Now, if I could the address for the magical bookstore where I can purchase these books brand new.






Friday, February 28, 2020

Bargain Friday: "Flynn"

A bargain on the first book in Gregory Mcdonald’s Flynn. The first novel (of four) in, wait for it, the Flynn series. It’s a great weekend read, and it’s only 99-cents for your Kindle.

Here is the publisher’s description and further down is a handy link to Amazon:

Infusing elements of dark reality into this richly detailed, comical series, Mcdonald’s first volume, Flynn, delves deeper into the curious character first introduced in Confess, Fletch—Francis Xavier Flynn.

Early one morning as Boston’s only investigator is returning home from solving another peculiar case, he has the displeasure of witnessing a spectacularly horrible show outside his front door: a massive aircraft, carrying over one hundred souls, exploding in midair over the harbor. Almost immediately, the Human Surplus League takes credit for the heinous act of terrorism. But “Reluctant Flynn” isn’t so easily convinced, unlike his partner and governmental counterparts.

Now finding himself at the whim of the tedious and ill-mannered FBI agents as they follow bunk leads and question all the wrong suspects, he decides to do his own digging, employing family and encountering new friends and old acquaintances along the way. As the truth begins to trickle forth, Flynn finds himself staring down a much bigger—and much deadlier—problem.


Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Black Gat - The Latest Titles!


Stark House Press and its imprint Black Gat Books are my favorite classic crime publishers. Black Gat publishes beautiful mass market paperback editions, usually featuring the art from the original paperback. A new title comes out about every three months. Here are a few of Black Gats latest titles are:

Tears Are for Angels, by Paul Connolly (originally published in 1952 by Fawcett Gold Medal).

When Jean finds Harry London, there isn’t much left of the man. He lives alone in a shack, spends all his time drunk on moonshine. He’s forgotten about shaving, washing. All he does is shoot at empty cans of beans…and pretends he’s shooting Dick Stewart…Jean is there to find out what happened to her friend, Lucy. The last letter she received from her, she was happily married to Harry, living on his farm, settling into her new life. Now she’s dead, a suicide. What happened to Lucy? And what has turned her loving husband into this brooding wreck of a man, whose sole reason for living is to take revenge against a man who once did him wrong…


The Living End, by Frank Kane (originally published in 1957 by Dell).

Eddie Marlon is just a kid with a song he wants published, another city kid with dreams of being in the music business. His song is nothing special, but Eddie gets a tip that a local radio station needs help on the early morning shift. Marty Allen hires him to line up the records for his show. But the way Eddie sees it, Marty is a square—he doesn’t go for the bucks that are to be had charging A&R guys to get their tunes on the air. Eddie must have been born lucky because one night Marty needs Eddie to help him get the station boss out of a jam. Then they owe him. And when it’s time to collect, Eddie is right there with a plan. He wants his own time slot and he wants to put on free shows with all the big talent, who will naturally play for free to get the air time. Eddie’s got big plans alright. Because now it’s his shot at the top—and if you want to be on Eddie’s show, you’re going to pay for it!



Stool Pigeon, by Louis Malley (originally published in 1953 by Avon).

It’s Christmas Eve in Little Italy, and Vince Milazzo is called in to investigate the murder of Tony Statella, shot in the head outside of Rocky Tosco’s restaurant. Milazzo has got a personal grudge against Tosco that goes back to their childhood. He knows that somehow Rocky is involved, and is determined this time to bring him down. Even though the murderer turns out to be a kid who was avenging the honor of his sister, Milazzo keeps pushing the Chief for more time. He knows that Rocky is guilty of something, if only he can find someone to rat on him. But every stool pigeon Milazzo talks to tells him the same thing—they don’t know from nothing. Now Milazzo has until midnight to find the connection … or this case might very well be his last.


Monday, February 24, 2020

THE WOLF IN THE CLOUDS by Ron Faust


The Wolf in the Clouds is Ron Faust’s second published novel. It was originally published as a hardcover by Bobbs-Merrill’s Black Bat Mystery imprint, then as a paperback by Popular Library, and recently as a trade paperback and ebook. It is, like much of Mr. Faust’s early work, a relatively simple adventure yarn with a poetic lilt that makes it a little more.

A small town in rural Colorado is under siege from a slow moving blizzard and a rampage killer. A killer who shot several people at a nearby ski resort and is now hiding in the rugged Wolf Mountain Wilderness Area. The storm trapped three college students skiing in the shadow of the Wolf—a high, unforgiving mountain peak—and two forest rangers brave the freezing temperatures to mount a rescue. The rangers, Jack and Frank, find the skiers safely holed up in a small cabin, but they also find the killer; a man named Ralph Brace whom Jack once considered a friend, but now realizes he never knew at all.

The Wolf in the Clouds is an entertaining, smoothly written adventure novel. It is written in first person from Jack’s perspective and the narrative includes ideas larger than the story. The complexity of public land use is only one and it is as relevant today as it was forty years ago. The prose is both complex and simple; easy to read, but with a texture and feel of something almost beautiful—

“Roof timbers creaked, the last light faded from the windows, the stone walls exhaled a new, acid cold. The long winter night was here; we had fourteen or fifteen hours until dawn.”

The story lacks the complexity of Mr. Faust’s later novels and the protagonist, Jack, is shaded nearly cold. He is aloof, even in an early scene with his wife, and something of an outsider with both the Forest Service and the townsfolk, which is forgivable since everything works so well—setting, plotting, character. The Wolf in the Clouds isn’t in the top-tier of Mr. Faust’s body of work, which is reserved for his final six or seven novels, but it is still pretty damn go


Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "To Live and Die in Beverly Hills"

To Die in Beverly Hills, by Gerald Petievich, was published in hardcover by Arbor House in 1983. The edition that caught my eye was Pinnacle Books’ mass market edition published in 1984. The cover has a cool Florida / Caribbean vibe to it—even if the tale is set in Southern California—with palm trees, and orange sky, a Rolls, and bullet holes. The artist: Paul Stinson






















The first paragraph:

The Bulletin board in the  Detective Bureau was covered with a clear-plastic burglary occurrence chart dotted with red stickpins. Because Beverly Hills was a rich man’s city, burglary was the only crime with enough weekly activity to be charted.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

Stark House's February Newsletter

The February Stark House Press newsletter is live at their website:

“The lead title—the book that Crime Club members will receive automatically—is another double volume from one of our favorite authors, Jean Potts. The two books are Home is the Prisoner and The Little Lie.

“Booklist has already posted a thumbs-up review that perfectly describes the two plots: ‘In 1960’s Home Is the Prisoner, a man convicted of manslaughter returns to the scene of the crime years later, determined to clear his name, no matter the cost; in 1968’s The Little Lie, a woman lies about her boyfriend because she’s embarrassed that he broke up with her, only to find that one little lie leads to a bigger one, and then an even bigger one, until there is no end to the deceptions.’”

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "Murder by Gemini"

Cannon: Murder by Gemini, by Richard Gallagher was published as a paperback original by Magnum Books in 1971, which is the very edition that caught my eye. What’s not to like? Cannon trying to run in blue and pink and something resembling full-tilt color. The artist: Unknown (to me at least)

 
The opening paragraph:

The northwest corner of Wyoming, land once called “end of the plains” by Crow and Sioux. … The Grand Teton Range … Peaks topped by rock spires tall and slender as needles. … High valleys … Clear icy lakes … Fir, spruce and pine greening the earth. …

Richard Gallagher, if the internet is to be believed, is a pen name used by paperback pulpster Len Levinson.

Tuesday, February 04, 2020

NOWHERE TO RUN by Ron Faust


Ron Faust published 15 novels in a career that spanned nearly 40 years. The first, Tombs of Blue Ice, appeared in 1974 and the last, Jackstraw, was published posthumously in 2013. His work never gained the commercial success it deserved; maybe it was too atmospheric and literary for the genre crowd, and too plot-driven for the literati. Or maybe he didn’t put enough titles on the shelves, or maybe it was pure blind bad luck. Whatever the reason, his work is deserving of a revival.

Faust’s work appeared in three distinct bursts. The first, and his most productive as far as number of titles published, was between 1974 and 1981. This period saw the publication of six novels, which tended to adventure with exotic locations and solitary heroes. Lean, beautiful, descriptive prose, linear storylines, and violence.

The final novel of this early writing period is titled Nowhere to Run, and its publication in 1981 would be Ron Faust’s last for 12 years. It is also one of a few Ron Faust novels I hadn’t read, until very recently, and while it isn’t as mature and ambitious as much of Faust’s later work—In the Forest of the Night, When She Was Bad, etc.—it is an excellent adventure story with a strong sense of place, character, and a beautifully nuanced awareness of humanity.

David Rhodes is something of a bum. He was a professional tennis player, ranked as high as 147 in the world, living illegally in the Mexican coastal town of El Jardin de los Reyes, Garden of the Kings. He makes a meager living teaching tennis and raiding lobster traps. In the beginning, he meets an American girl who calls herself Strawberry Lassitude—

“Her eyes seemed illuminated from within. They were bright and metallic with craziness.”

—who is later found strangled at the bottom of a rocky cliff. The local police, in the form of one Captain Vigil, are desperate to solve the murder in a manner to reassure the town’s primary economic driver: tourism. Specifically, American tourists. The simplest solution. One American killing another, and, better, the killer an illegal guest of the seaside town, which makes David the ideal suspect.

Nowhere to Run is stylistically flashy, thematically subtle, and plotted for surprise. The natural, smooth flow of language is beautiful in its sparse and rich tones. It equally defines the characters, the landscape, and the story.

“Vigil half turned in his chair, raised a hand, and when the waiter arrived he ordered two more bottles of the mineral water. He smiled at David. He was not an ugly man until he smiled.”

“Brown pelicans folded their wings and made clumsy crosswind landings in the troughs between waves. The tops of the coconut palms were greenly incandescent in the sunlight but it was cool and dim in the shade below. Here, there was a soothing opacity, a rippling underwater sheen, while beyond the grove of trees the morning sun glazed the air and slowly devoured the shadows it had created.”

Nowhere to Run is simple, or appears so at its surface. The tale is straightforward—murder, man accused, and, after much turmoil, killer exposed—but its simplicity is misleading. The story is dependent less on plot than character. The actions of the characters, and the motive for those actions, are dominant and the plot becomes a rational extension to that dominance rather than the characters a prisoner of the plot. Its language is sharp, almost poetic in its descriptive prowess, and its building blocks are human morality, psychology, and frailty. The psychology, and morality, and frailty, are summarized quite nicely in the closing pages—

“He had spent most of that evening in the lounge of the Hotel El Presidente, drinking and playing liar’s poker with a couple of his pals. They had gambled with one-hundred-peso notes and Harry had lost about forty dollars. Not much money, but enough to sour his mood a little; he had never learned how to accept losing, hated it, regarded it as a little death—every time you lost, whether a dime or an argument or what the Asians call face, a chip was taken out of your self-esteem and you entered the next contest with that much less confidence. Losing was an accumulative poison like lead or arsenic; small doses did not appear to cause much harm, but they collected and in time…”


Thursday, January 30, 2020

Thrift Shop Book Covers: "Water Hole"

Water Hole, by Julian Jay Savarin, is a Gordon Gallagher thriller. There were at least five in the series and Water Hole is either the first or second. It was published as a hardcover by St. Martin’s Press in 1982. The edition that caught my eye is the Harper paperback published in 1993. A lizard, a Mac-10, binoculars, a broken camera, sand, and what looks like pink Fun Dip makes the cover work. The artist: Unknown (to me at least), but the photographer is Herman Estevez.


 
The first paragraph:

The end of the gangway rested on a pier in Taormina, Sicily. A man left a gleaming ocean-going yacht, walked down unhurriedly. He looked at peace with the world. The yacht belonged to him.

Julian Jay Savarin wrote, by my count, 35 novels between 1979 and 2007. He is a musician, fronting the band Julian’s Treatment. According to his entry in Guide to Literary Masters & Their Works, by Diana M. Casey:

“Very little is known about author Julian Jay Savarin’s life. He was born in Dominica, moved with his family to the United Kingdom in 1962, earned a degree in history, and settled in England.”

Monday, January 27, 2020

No Comment: "The Tribe"


“‘Because my mother married a communist who wouldn’t kiss the rebbe’s ass. The rebbe, by the way, was Jacob Levy’s father. So, one man won’t kiss, pretty soon somebody else won’t, and before you know it you can’t get anyone to pucker up.’”

—Bari Wood, The Tribe. Valancourt Books, 2019 (© 1981); page 183

[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]

Thursday, January 23, 2020

THE TRIBE by Bari Wood

The Tribe, by Bari Wood (NAL, 1981), is a slow burning and suspenseful horror novel with a genuine Jewish golem at its core. It begins with the liberation of the Nazi extermination camp Belzec at the end of World War 2. Major Bianco, an American officer, becomes curious about the inmates living in barracks 554 because, unlike the camps other survivors, they are skinny but not emaciated. Bianco searches the barracks and inconceivably discovers boxes full of food, which should have been impossible since the Nazis were starving any Jews that werent sent to the gas chambers. But before Bianco can question the men of barracks 554, they disappear from a military transport.

The Tribe’s roots are in Nazi Germany’s extermination camps, but the story is set in New York City and Long Island in 1980. The murder of a young Jewish academic by a ragtag Brooklyn street gang starts things off, but the police investigation is cut short when the killers—all of them are still boys, really—are beat to death in the basement of an abandoned house. The only clue, and it’s not helpful to anyone, is the clay-like mud covering the crime scene.

The Tribe is a good example of 1980s horror. It is smart. The characters are well-drawn. The suspense is built scene-by-scene, and while the reader knows what the monster is, the mystery about the how and the why of the beast is intriguing and surprising. A richness of detail about the Jewish communities in New York City and Long Island, and the experiences of these men and women during the Holocaust, adds texture. The story says something about racism and hate, too. Its only real flaw, and this can be said of so many popular novels of a certain length, is that the story’s pacing slows to a crawl in the few dozen pages it takes for the characters to come together for the big and satisfying climactic showdown.