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 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


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…”