Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Review: "Three Strikes—You're Dead!" edited by Donna Andrews, Barb Goffman & Marcia Talley


Three Strikes—You’re Dead!

edited by Donna Andrews,
Barb Goffman & Marcia Talley

Wildside Press, 2024


Three Strikes—You’re Dead! is an enjoyable collection of fourteen sports-themed tales with an impressive variety—the stories range from baseball to ultimate frisbee to bull riding and from whodunit to hardboiled—with nary a dud. Alan S. Orloff’s wonderful “Murder at Home” is an almost impossible crime about a murder during a televised baseball playoff game. The victim, P.J. “Bulldog” Johnson, is universally disliked, which means everyone has a motive, but (fortunately for Rick Baines, an assistant hitting coach tapped by the team’s General Manager to crack the case) the suspects are limited to the players celebrating Bulldog’s ninth inning game winning run at home plate.

“The Ultimate Bounty Hunter,” by Sherry Harris, is a clever and humorous tale about a bounty hunter, Elspeth Mead—“El to my friends. Ellie to my frenemies”—tracking a financial fraudster for failing to appear at his bond hearing. El’s only qualifications for the gig is a high-powered defense attorney mother and an unquenchable love for Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum mysteries. El gets her man, but it’s not as easy as Ms. Plum makes it look. “Punch-Drunk,” by William Ade, is a hardboiled pleasure about a near-retirement detective trying to clear a boxer who killed his opponent in the ring. The conclusion is surprising and just right.

Adam Meyer’s “Double Fault” is a different kind of mystery—one where the reader gets to watch the crime unfold—about an unemployed tennis pro getting his due. “Of Mice and (Murdered) Men,” by Rosalie Spielman, is as much fantasy as mystery since the main player is a girl with the ability to shapeshift into anything she wants to be. But when she witnesses a murder, without ever seeing the perp, she is in a hard place because she was a mouse trying to steal the answers to a test when it happened.

Barb Goffman’s “A Matter of Trust,” is a tasty treat about jelly donuts, bicycling, and lies. Oh, and there is a murder and a bunch of clear-eyed irony, too. My favorite story in the collection, “And Now, an Inspiring Story of Tragedy Overcome,” by Joseph S. Walker, has a hardboiled attitude and a wholesome take on family obligation and love. It is about competitive figure skating and organized crime. Also included are terrific stories by Smita Harish Jain, Kathryn Prater Bomey, Robin Templeton, and Maddi Davidson.

Click here to purchase the Kindle edition or here for the paperback at Amazon.

Monday, June 17, 2024

From Ed Gorman's Desk: "Erle Stanley Gardner"


from ED GORMAN’S Desk

Erle Stanley Gardner

from Dec. 25, 2006


I’ve never been able to figure out why Raymond Chandler felt he owed such a literary debt to Erle Stanley Gardner. He told Gardner that he’d once copied a Gardner story so closely that he couldn’t submit it for publication. I guess he felt it would look like plagiarism. But what did he learn from Gardner? Certainly not style. Certainly not dialogue. Certainly not structure. Writers learn from unlikely sources, true enough. But Chandler seemed to lavish so much praise on Gardner you have to wonder what inspired him exactly.
     But Chandler was a snob and when you examine the nature of his praise, you get a sense he was being condescending. He said that only when you wrote at great speed (as Gardner did) could you make such unbelievable plot turns palatable to otherwise sensible readers. I’ve always wondered what Gardner made of that. He was no fool.
     All this comes to mind because I had several doctor appointments in the past few weeks and I’m always careful to bring fast and uncomplicated reads along with me. For the last few doc visits I brought along Perry Mason novels. Early Perry Mason novels, I should note, when Mason was still a creature of Black Mask rather than The Saturday Evening Post. Throughout his career he was wise enough to recognize one of the great true American boogeymen, big business. His social conscience came from his days as a lawyer when he represented Native Americans, black Americans, and Latino Americans in towns that did not want them.
     I still find the Masons good reads. True, Gardner worked with stereotypes—The Bad Wife, The Crooked Cop, The Loyal Servant—and he told his stories largely through (sometimes interminable) dialogue but while I’m reading them I’m almost always caught up in the puzzle he’s given us. Nobody is what they claim to be. Everybody has a secret, usually a nasty one, the exception being the tortured person Mason has agreed to take on as a client, usually while shunning much more lucrative work.
     The early Masons were written before Gardner decided to make his work “timeless.” There is little place description in the later books. He didn’t want to “date” them. I like the history I get from the first dozen Masons, from all of the Doug Selbys and even from the A. A. Fairs written during the war years. I enjoy sitting in the tea rooms, bars, mansions, hotels, and trains of the Thirties and early-Forties. His work became far less interesting when it was shorn of any physical specificity.
     The Masons owe much more to the Golden Age than most critics seem to have noticed. Their plot pieces are no less unlikely, the clues no less exotic and the conclusions no less bombastic. But I’m not complaining. Most Golden Age stuff except for John Dickson Carr is difficult for me to gak down. But somehow Perry, Della, and Paul make it all fun again.

Click here to check out Erle Stanly Gardner’s Perry Mason books at Amazon.

This article originally appeared on Ed Gorman’s blog, New Improved Gorman, on Dec. 25, 2006. It is reprinted here by permission. Ed wrote dozens of novels in a variety of genres, but his most popular work (and my favorite of his work) was in the crime and western genres. His ten Sam McCain mysteries—set in the fictional Iowa town of Black River Falls during the 1950s, ’60, and ’70s—are suspenseful, mysterious, and often funny excursions into small town America. The New York Times called Sam McCain, “The kind of hero any small town could take to its heart” and The Seattle Times called McCain “an intriguing mix of knight errant and realist…”

     But Ed was also a tireless reader and promoter of other writers’ work. His blogs—there were three, none of them operating at the same time—are treasure troves for readers of crime, horror, and western fiction both old and new. Ed died Oct. 14, 2016.


Click here to check out Ed Gorman’s Sam McCain novels on Amazon. As of today, June 17, 2024, the Kindle editions of Breaking Up is Hard to Do and Fools Rush In—Sam McCain books 6 and 7—are on sale for $0.50 and $0.75, respectively. 

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

If only I’d seen THIS on my parents’ 19” Magnavox (with the broken tuner knob)


If only I’d seen THIS on my parents’ 19” Magnavox

(with the broken power knob)


Lucan turned out to be the pilot for a 12-episode series on ABC. It aired May 22, 1977, and starred Kevin Brophy as the wolf boy. The pilot has a stunningly high rating of 7.7 on IMDb and I can only imagine how good it would have looked on that box.

Good Against Evil hasn’t aged as well—its 3.8 IMDb rating from a whopping 599 people is probably generous—but it stars a guy named Dack Rambo, and how can you go wrong with a Rambo in the house? But hey, it was written by Jimmy “Touchfeather” Sangster so how bad could it be? It aired on ABC right after Lucan.


Skag. Karl Malden waited his entire career for this role, but no one else had since it lasted only 6 episodes. But 51 people on IMDb gave the pilot episode a smashing 7.3 rating. It aired on January 6, 1980, on NBC.


Amber Waves. That shirtless hunk’a man isn’t Pooty-poot without his horse. Nope, it’s the post-Disney Kurt Russell with a pre-Brat Pack Mare Winningham. And frankly, you can’t go wrong with Dennis Weaver in any role. It aired on March 9, 1980, on ABC and its rating a 7.3 on IMDb, which means it is likely easier to watch than Good Against Evil.


Deadly Encounter. This CBS Sunday Night movie—staring Major Nelson from Bewitched—has everything: a helicopter, a suitcase, and a dashing damsel. Well, everything except Genie and a good IMDb rating since it clocked in at only 5.7. But I’m betting it would have been a slam dunk on my parents’ Magnavox when it aired on December 18, 1982, on CBS.

Monday, June 10, 2024

Review: "The Stark House Anthology" edited by Rick Ollerman & Gregory Shepard


The Stark House Anthology

edited by Rick Ollerman
& Gregory Shepard

Stark House, 2024


The Stark House Anthology, edited by Rick Ollerman and Gregory Shepard, celebrates Stark House Press’s silver jubilee. And oh boy is it a worthy gift to readers! Its 30 stories, all from authors previously published by Stark House except for Gregory Shepard—but he’s the publisher so some leeway is easily given here—are exceptional.

The most interesting work is Jada M. Davis’s not-quite-noir “So Curse the Day” because it is a previously unpublished novel with a Gold Medal vibe, a rotten protagonist hitting a new town with big dreams—dreams the reader knows from the first page will fall to ruin. All because no matter the breaks Dun Lattner gets, a kind and generous old landlady, a beautiful girlfriend, a good job, a business of his own, he will make the wrong choices and mess everything up. Every time…but the book’s ending makes “So Curse the Day” a little different than the general noir fare. It works, too, and it is worth the entry fee all by itself.

Charles Runyon’s “Hangover” is a dark and disturbing look at marital misery, cheating spouses, alcohol, and bad behavior. “Art for Money’s Sake,” by Dan J. Marlowe, is a clever and surprising tale about art forgery—with a forger too smart for his own good. Sleaze king Orrie Hitt’s “Nothing in My Way,” is a tricky and surprising riff on the old fake-my-death-for-the-insurance gag. The climactic twist, dripping with irony, made me smile because, in a phrase, it was perfect.

“Angie,” by Ed Gorman—another story loaded with irony—is a literate and dark tale about a woman dreaming of a sugar daddy, but somewhere along the way she hooked-up with a sleazy and poor bank robber named Roy. Worse, Roy talked her into having his named tattooed on her perfect breasts. And wow does it end with a beautiful surprise. Fredric Brown’s short and wicked “Beware the Dog,” is an ironic cautionary tale about murder and making friends. “Hit Me”—by the co-editor of the anthology, Rick Ollerman—is a pitch-perfect murder-for-hire story told from the perspective of a greedy husband. The climactic twist is smile-inducing and just right.

“Axe,” by the other co-editor and owner of Stark House, Gregory Shepard, is a smart and troubling tale about a guy with a legal problem. The narrator is unreliable, but by the end it is clear to everyone, including the reader, what happened. There are other excellent stories by Wade Miller, Lionel White, Stephen Marlowe—a Chester Drum tale no less—Frank Kane, Harry Whittington, Day Keene, Helen Nielsen, Bill Pronzini, Fredric Brown, Robert Silverberg, Bruno Fischer and many, many others.

The Stark House Anthology is as close to a perfect hardboiled story collection as I have read. Every tale is a smash, every writer is worth reading. My only gripe: its 30 stories and 458 pages just whetted my appetite. I want more.

Click here to purchase the Kindle edition or here for the paperback at Amazon.

Click here to purchase this book at Stark House’s website—to celebrate its 25th anniversary, every book at Stark House’s website is 25% off during the month of June.

Wednesday, June 05, 2024

Booked (and Printed): May 2024

Reading was a struggle in May. I read four books and two short stories: three mystery novels and a terrific single author story collection, Mixology: Science Fiction Stories, by William Campbell Gault. My reading tends to decline during the summer months but part of the reduction in May came from sore eyes—it was a struggle some days to keep my eyes on the page and it was nearly impossible to read a mass market paperback with small or even smallish print. I have an appointment with an ophthalmologist in July; with a little luck we’ll get that taken care of. So, now to what I did read…

Man in the Water, David Housewright’s 21st Rushmore McKenzie mystery, clocked in as my favorite of the month. It is a laid-back tale about murder, fraud, and a drowning man. McKenzie is his usual funny, tough, knight-errant self, which, along with the vivid Minnesota settings, is what makes these books special. You’ll be seeing my review on Mystery Scene’s website later in June. The other two novels—Snowjob, by Ted Wood, and The Territory, by Tricia Fields—were disappointing. Although it is possible my blistering eyes made me grumpy and both are actually top-notch genre pieces. Since these were both first time authors for me, I’ll likely try another of their books because one never knows.

I started and didn’t finish one title, Cape Rage, by Ron Corbett, for the simple reason it was darker than my mood wanted. If I were a betting man—and I’m not because gambling is for suckers or perhaps people smarter than me—I’d bet I’ll get back to Cape Rage later in the year.  

Both of the short stories I read were excellent. L. J. Washburn’s historical mystery, “Lynching in Mixville,” is a hardboiled Lucas Hallam tale with a special appearance by silent-era film star Tom Mix. I wrote more about this one here. “This Gun for Hire,” by Jack Ritchie—which I read in the July 1989 issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine—is a clever and surprising take on the hitman story. Mixology: Science Fiction Stories, by William Campbell Gault, collects three stories; two novelettes and a short. These tales showcase what Gault is known for—mixing genres, tight plotting, and tossing ethical dilemmas around like it’s easy. Take a look at what I wrote about Gault and this collection here.


Now on to next month.

Monday, June 03, 2024

Review: "Merkabah Rider: High Planes Drifter" by Edward M. Erdelac


Merkabah Rider:
High Planes Drifter

by Edward M. Erdelac


reviewed by Mike Baker 


We don’t know Merkabah Rider’s real name because knowing a person’s name gives you the power to control them. The Rider, as he calls himself, is a former student of the Sons of Essenes, a Hassidic mystical order, where the Rider’s teacher, Adon, murdered everyone in the sect. The Rider escaped only because he was away fighting in the American Civil War. To say the Rider is an outcast—and for more reasons than just because his mystical order is gone—is an understatement.

The High Planes Drifter, by Elderac, is composed of five independent but intertwined stories. The first is Blood Libel where the Rider walks into the western town of Delirium Tremens hunting for his heretical teacher Adon, but ends-up protecting the last of a Jewish settlement from the worshippers of Molech. In The Dust Devils, the Rider battles Mexican banditos, a voudon sorcerer, and a small army of zombies. Hells Hired Gun, the Rider goes up against Medgar Tooms who slaughters everything in his path, avenging the death of his wife and unborn son. The Rider visits a whorehouse in the mining town of Tik Tok where he meets The Nightjar Women who hold the secret to his former master’s location. The last story, The Schomer Express, is about a midnight train being stalked through the desert by a flesh-eating monster. A monster that will destroy every soul on the train if the Rider fails to destroy it.

The High Planes Drifter is definitely a cowboy book, but of the weird variety. His Volcanic pistol is deadly in this world and the next.... The stories are episodic but they also thematically link around the Rider’s hunt for his teacher Adon, the murderer of babies, and a thing called the Time of the Inclusion with some foreshadowing of future stories.

It took me a while to get the rhythm of the stories as the human bad guys aren’t the point. I don’t read fantasy so I kept expecting tension to ratchet up sooner than Erdelac planned as he moves the reader towards a darkness beyond the veil. I confess I’m just not use to working in two planes of existence simultaneously.

The Rider is complex and not invulnerable plus he has a philosophical backstory which infuses each of the stories with more meaning then a usual western. He’s an anti-hero but not like Edge or Fargo. He’s more of a crankier, more literate Buchanan. He just wants to be left alone to brood, but civilians inhabited by demons keep messing with him.

Also, there’s a lot of yiddish and hebrew which meant extensive use of the glossary which, in retrospect, I would have read a few times before tackling the book. I still don’t enjoy science fiction and/or fantasy much but I enjoyed this book enough to buy the next book before I’d finished it.

Click here for the Kindle version or here for the paperback of The High Planes Drifter at Amazon.