Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Review: "Homicide: Saigon" by Stephen Mertz

Homicide: Saigon
by Stephen Mertz
Wolfpack Publishing, 2021


Homicide: Saigon, by action maestro Stephen Mertz, is as fast as a bullet and as much fun as a summer afternoon. It is 1970. The United States’ war in Vietnam is near its height and more unpopular than ever. As a public relations gimmick, the Army brass embeds journalists with select “in-country” units hoping for positive publicity. Maj. Cord McGavin is a hot-shot U.S. Army CID investigator stationed in Saigon. Cord is unhappy with the idea of a photojournalist following him around. He is even more so when he discovers the photographer is his wife, Kelly. An assignment Kelly had to go undercover to get and it could threaten McGavin’s career.
     But McGavin’s career worries disappear when he is confronted with a drug trafficking operation that began as street rumors and then escalated into a dockside firefight. On one side are a handful of American servicemen and on the other side is an ARVN (Army of the Republic of Vietnam) cop and McGavin. The ARVN cop doesn’t trust any of his American counterparts, including McGavin, because the drug ring appears to have deep roots within the U.S. Army. McGavin’s instincts tell him something big is going down, but Kelly’s presence is disturbing in two ways: she’s beautiful; and she’s in danger every second she spends in Vietnam.
     Homicide: Saigon is a sharply plotted and laconic action thriller with a rich setting and just enough characterization to make it interesting. It is less police procedural, or mystery, than it is an arrow-straight action tale. McGavin is a big and tough hero without many visible flaws—other than the distracting presence of Kelly—with a knight errant-like passion for justice. A step above most of it’s competitors, Homicide: Saigon, will appeal to anyone who enjoys those old-school masculine thrillers so popular in the 1970s and 1980s.

Check out Homicide: Saigon at Amazon in paperback here and in Kindle here.

Monday, November 27, 2023

Tales of the Macabre by Jim Kjelgaard & Robert Bloch


Introduction to Tales of the Macabre by Jim Kjelgaard

[now available from Vintage Lists in the Tales of the Macabre / The Black Fawn collection]

 Jim Kjelgaard was a regular contributor of short stories to pulp magazines in the late-1930s and throughout the 1940s. His first known published fictional tale, “River Man,” appeared in the November 5, 1938 issue of Argosy, and his byline regularly popped-up in diverse magazines like Street & Smith’s Western Story Magazine, Black Mask, 10 Story Western, The Phantom Detective, Thrilling Adventure, Argosy, Adventure, and others. It wasn’t unusual for 20 or more of Kjelgaard’s stories to reach print each year; his best annual output was in 1946, which saw an astonishing 36 of his tales hit newsstands across the country.
     While the genre Kjelgaard was writing for changed—Western, romance, mystery, adventure—his stories were charmingly consistent and familiar to his regular readers. They often featured animals and thoughtful protagonists living in wild places. A genre Kjelgaard rarely visited was horror, but that changed when a tale of the supernatural, “The Thing from the Barrens,” appeared in the September 1945 issue of Weird Tales. This story, and the three others published by Weird Tales over the next ten months—“The Fangs of Tsan-Lo” (Nov. 1945), “Chanu” (Mar. 1946), and “The Man Who Told the Truth” (July 1946) —had Kjelgaard’s traditional hallmarks, but were also dependent on their supernatural elements: a stalking creature from the wastelands of the Arctic, an ancient dog, a sinister hybrid ape-man, and…
While the stories all appeared under Jim Kjelgaard’s name, a young Robert Bloch—the writer that gave us Psycho (1963)—revised the stories for publication. Both Bloch and Kjelgaard belonged to a writing group, the Milwaukee Fictioneers, which included the Western writer Lawrence A. Keating, the golden age science fiction writer, Ralph Milne Farley, and the cult-favorite science fiction writer Stanley G. Weinbaum. In Bloch’s 1994 autobiography, Once Around the Bloch, he mentioned his work with Kjelgaard and another of the group’s members: “I rewrote and sold stories which appeared under the bylines of Ralph Milne Farley and another member, Jim Kjelgaard.”
     Robert Bloch was a supernatural horror specialist and his participation in the stories can be seen from the eerie descriptions— “I seemed to hear the rustle of leaves, to see snarling, man-beast faces” —but the concepts and plotting are in the classical vein of Jim Kjelgaard. Things changed a bit for the fourth tale, “The Man Who Told the Truth,” which is less Kjelgaard and more Robert Bloch. In fact, this story was included in Bloch’s posthumous collection, Flowers from the Moon and Other Lunacies (1998). These collaborations often appeared alongside stories under Bloch’s own name. “The Thing from the Barrens” appeared with Bloch’s “The Skull of the Marquis de Sade”; “The Fangs of Tsan-Lo” with “Soul Proprietor”; and “Chanu” with “Bogy Man Will Get You.”
     For the first time in more than 70 years, Jim Kjelgaard’s first three tales of the macabre are back in print. And we’re betting you’ll enjoy them as much today as their original readers did so long ago.




Got to Amazon for the paperback version (here) or Kindle version (here).

Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Reviews: "Best American Mystery and Suspense, 2023" and "Fire-Hunter"

There are a couple new reviews of mine out in the world. Unfortunately, none of them are here, so I figured I’d point them out anyone interested enough to jump to a few websites.
     The first is a review of the terrific The Best American Mystery and Suspense, 2023, edited by Lisa Unger. It can be found at the Mystery Scene website.
     The second is a review of a cult classic (and still enjoyable) young adult title from long ago: Jim Kjegaard’s 1951 novel, Fire-Hunter. It is available at the new Jim Kjelgaard blog.
     For my U.S. readers, have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday! For everyone else, have a great week!

Monday, November 20, 2023

Frankie: A Street Cat's Journey Home

Something a little different at the blog this evening—and forgive my shameless familial promotion—but…

      My sweet and kind and beautiful wife has a children’s picture book live and on the streets. Frankie: A Street Cat’s Journey Home is the true story of our little housemate and family-member, Frankie. It is lovely, the artwork is beautiful. And it is perfect for every kid, especially those between 2 and 6!

Here is what the publisher had to say about Frankie: A Street Cat’s Journey Home:

Meet Frankie! She was born a stray kitten. She hurt her eye early in life and lived in fear. One day, Frankie was taken to the animal shelter— Scared, in pain, and alone. What would happen next? Could a new home, happiness, and love be just around the corner for one small kitten?

Written and illustrated by professional artist and graphic designer, Kara Boulden, Frankie: A Street Cat’s Journey Home is a full-color picture book perfect for every child. Parents and grandparents, too! Vintage Lists called it “a heart-warming tale about friendship, love, and acceptance that will appeal to every child” and “an absolute winner!”

Share Frankie: A Street Cat’s Journey Home with a child you love today!

Kara Boulden has been a professional artist for more than 25 years. She has worked on projects for major Hollywood studios, Fortune 500 companies, New York publishing houses, and many other clients. She lives in Vermont’s Green Mountains with her husband, daughter, a dog, and, of course, Frankie.

      Of course I’m biased, but I think Kara’s book is marvelous! It can be purchased at Amazon, by clicking here or by clicking the fancier link below. 

Thursday, November 16, 2023

"Introducing the Author... Philip K. Dick" — from Imagination


A marvelously self-effacing biographical essay from Philip K. Dick. It appeared in the February 1953 issue of Imagination alongside his short story, “Piper in the Woods.”


Tuesday, November 07, 2023

Review: "Crown Vic" by Lee Goldberg


Crown Vic
by Lee Goldberg
Cutting Edge Books, 2023

Crown Vic is different from what novelist and screenwriter Lee Goldberg is known for writing – easy going, well-plotted, and general audience mysteries like his brilliant Eve Ronin series – but the two villain-as-hero tales included in this collection are hardboiled and naughty fun. In the novelette length, “Ray Boyd Isn’t Stupid,” we find the eponymous character rolling into a lakeshore resort, Granite Point Park Resort, in Washington, fresh out of prison for stealing cars in his used police cruiser Crown Vic Interceptor. He takes a liking to the place (after some persuasion) and accepts a job: $10 an hour, along with room and board. The local Sheriff’s Deputy takes an immediate dislike to Ray, but the women all love Ray, including his boss’s wife, which is where all the trouble starts.
     The second, and the shorter of the two stories, “Occasional Risk” begins where the first left off. Ray is back in his Crown Vic moseying around Arizona’s southern desert and killing time at a seedy roadside motel in a nothing town. Ray Boyd isn’t stupid, and so when a glossy big-moneyed woman seduces him in the motel’s swimming pool he knows she wants something more than sex from him, but he’ll take the sex just the same…
     Crown Vic’s stories are a marvelous mash-up of Dan J. Marlowe’s early Earl Drake novels – The Name of the Game is Death, Endless Hour – and the erotic thrillers so popular in video stores during the 1990s. But Ray, even with all his failings, is a Lee Goldberg character: observant, witty, at times downright funny – for the reader at least – and a heck of a good escape for all of us drab work-a-day slobs.

Go here for the Kindle version and here for the paperback edition at Amazon.

Saturday, November 04, 2023

Story Tellers' Circle: "Jim Kjelgaard" (Short Stories, Nov. 10, 1945)

An interview, of a sort mostly about fishing and outdoor fun, with Jim Kjelgaard that appeared in the Nov. 10, 1945 issue of the pulp magazine Short Stories with Kjelgaard’s short-short, “Cheena”; a clever story about a Filipino accused of collaborating with the Japanese. 

The Story Tellers’ Circle

From Milwaukee come these words from Jim Kjelgaard. Jim has something to say on ‘‘Cheena” and a good deal more to talk about on northern pike and ducks:

“I really haven’t very much to say about ‘Cheena’ except that I met and talked with a Filipino, and he impressed me as being a great little guy. He told me one thing and another, and ‘Cheena’ grew out of the mass of information. That’s the way it is with stories, you hear something you just can’t forget and by and by—you write the yarn. I will say, though, that I wouldn’t want any Filipinos mad at me. The one I met was tough as whalebone and strong as an ox as well as being a great little guy. And he himself told me that he was just a blushing daisy compared to some of the other fellows he knew!

“ ‘Cheena’; except for that, is a wholly imaginative story and I used the character as is just because I thought he’d fit in better than any other. He’s strictly my own invention.”

So much for business. Now about pleasure—the fishin’ and huntin’ kind.

“The weather’s already turned cold out in this neck of the woods—on the 14th of September a fire doesn’t feel bad and we’ve kept one for the past four days. But, from one angle, that’s exactly the right way to bring in this time of year. ‘There ain’t no gas rationin’ no mo’,’ and you can really get around to all the places that you thought you’d like to get around to while you couldn’t. Well, maybe not all of ’em. The old jaloppy distinctly is not what she used to be and maybe she never was. But she still rolls when you want her to, and next week I expect to start for one of the nicest places I ever saw.

“It’s a stretch of river, and probably there isn’t another one exactly like it in the whole world. I never measured it, but at a guess it’s three hundred feet wide. Cattails and rushes, a thick mat that you couldn’t even pole a skiff through, extend about forty feet out from the east bank. Then you run into weeds, all sorts of water weeds, everything from lily pads to those long, mossy streamers that catch on the oars and keep your speed down almost to nothing an hour. But there’s a knack to rowing through ’em, and after floundering around in the darn’ things for two hours one day a fourteen-year-old kid told me how to work the oars. You take a long stroke, stop your oars a second on the back stroke, and the weeds roll off. But the center of the river— Ah and double ah!

“Theres an open channel there about twenty feet wide, and the last time I was there I saw at least a hundred and fifty pounds of great northern pike and wall-eyes come out of that channel. Some of those fish weren’t any babies either. One fellow snagged a wall-eye on a four-ounce fly rod, and fought it around for forty-five minutes before he got it even close to the boat. Then he made a stab, missed with the gaff, and the fish went away from there as though nothing was holding him. Anyhow, the cold weather should inspire those pike to strike soon—and thus my remark about ideal weather. You do a lot of shivering, but you have a lot of fun. Some day some smart bird will invent a lure with which you can fish those weeds—and that day you’d better be along.

“Besides, its handy to have a shotgun when you go up there. Possibly there won’t be any flight ducks down, but a lot of natives nest around there. All this—and mallards too!”


Jim Kjelgaard


“Cheena” is included in the Jim Kjelgaard collection, The Spell of the White Sturgeon / Dusky & Other Tales.


Story Tellers Circle © 1945 Short Stories, Inc. / No renewal