Sunday, February 18, 2018

.45 Caliber: Cuno Massey, Gun on the Run by Peter Brandvold

This wonderful hardcover features two novels, .45 Caliber Town Under Siege and .45 Caliber Left to Die. The first book I read by Peter Brandvold was .45 Caliber Revenge (the first Cuno Massey story) and my initial impression remains unchanged after reading dozens of his books. Here’s a writer with the hot, fast violence of the early Mickey Spillane novels, the talent of Hemingway and the guts to write what he wants. Sometimes he gets a little saucy with the ladies, and all of his books are lively, action-packed gems. A few years ago he went all digital on us, but now he’s back publishing hardcover, paperbacks and e-books. That’s a good thing. Brandvold is the best Western writer out there, so clean your spurs, put your boots on, and go order some of his books. .45 Caliber Town Under Siege finds Cuno attempting to live a quiet life as a mule skinner, and of course a local gal has caught his fancy. But when he learns that their frolicking meant more to him than to her, well Cuno is actually heartbroken. Brandvold is underrated for the depth he gives his characters and Cuno’s plight is fully realized. He’s actually a lonely figure, but Brandvold doesn’t allow the sentiment to linger. While the action propels the story, it’s the characters and their predicaments that endear us to figures like Cuno Massey. By the time you blink the town of Nopal is under siege by the killer Cecil Craig and his gang. Cuno “intended on blowing them all to hell in a fine blood vapor. Eventually, each and every one.” Brandvold delivers a rollicking no-holds barred action-adventure that’s not to be missed. The second tale, .45 Caliber Revenge, has Cuno ambushed and left to die, except he doesn’t die, and more blazing action ensues. Peter Brandvold is a pulp writer at heart, with stories featuring lovely ladies, and the red-hot ferocity of a gunfight. Peter Brandvold’s adventure novels are an absolute joy to read. Book Collector’s please note – this Five Star/Gale hardback features a case-hardened embossed cover protected by a dust jacket. The stitching is tight and clean and the boards solid. The paper quality is moderate but bright. This is a high-quality hardcover that is meant to last, and will. The hard case makes it desirable as a collector’s item for Western fans. I was so impressed that I immediately ordered two more of Brandvold’s Five Star hardcovers on amazon, and added two more to my wish list. I intend on replacing the e-books with the hardcovers. If Five Star/Gale is going to produce such a fine volume, and one that features great writing by Peter Brandvold, then I’m buying them all. Highly recommended!

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Sword of Casanova by James Kendricks

This post is for all of you who remember how much fun it was finding a good paperback on a spinning rack. This 1959 Monarch paperback has as much tingle and zest on every page as anything else I’ve read lately. It’s not great literature, and it doesn’t pretend to be, but it’s as entertaining as a Saturday morning B-movie. The historical backdrop, flawed though it may be, adds texture to the sauciness, wanton women, court intrigue and idyllic Italian setting. Sword of Casanova is one of those well-written throwaway paperbacks that you’ll be glad you read. Originally selling for thirty-five cents, it was worth every penny. I have no doubt that the author had Errol Flynn or Robert Taylor in mind when he penned this melodramatic swashbuckling tale. In fact, there are numerous scenes reminiscent of Errol Flynn’s classic Adventures of Don Juan that I’m convinced the author was influenced directly by that film. The story is about Captain Firebrand, Michele di Cadogna, close friend and confidant of Giacomo Casanova. Michele is skilled with a rapier and as famous as Casanova when it comes to romance. Early on a woman asks him, “Am I beautiful?’ and Michele replies: “Whoever invented the word must have had you in mind.” While being kissed he quips: “Your lips are sweeter than the wine you fed me.” There is also plenty of sword fighting – or fencing, if you will. There are enough clashes of steel, slashing rapiers and parry and riposte to remind me of the forgotten swashbucklers of Louis Hayward. The basic plot is a tale of vengeance. Captain Firebrand will seek revenge against Ludovico da Tulleschi, the evil landowner who murdered his father and brother. Michele’s primary love interest is Tea del Andriola. Together, Michele and Casanova fight and romance their way through 12 chapters and 159 pages. It’s all epic, manly stuff, B-movie style, and a treat for fans of pulp paperback fiction. You won’t believe you’re in Italy in 1750, but you’ll believe you’re on a Hollywood backlot reading a story synopsis set in Italy. I’ve been told that James Kendricks was yet another pseudonym for Gardner Fox. Other titles by “James Kendricks” include The Wicked, Wicked Women and The Adulterers

Friday, February 16, 2018

Hunters of the Dark Sea by Mel Odom

The literary world would be a dark place indeed without great adventure novels like Hunters of the Dark Sea by Mel Odom. Published in hardcover by TOR in 2003, I’ve never seen a paperback for this one, although it is available on Kindle. Hunters of the Dark Sea is a literary ancestor of Herman Melville’s and Robert Louis Stevenson’s tales, with a smidgen of H. P. Lovecraft. A tale of the 19th century whaling industry, but with some ominous twists as only the great Mel Odom can create. Ethan Swain is a man with a secret past that comes back to haunt him at the most inappropriate of times. While whale hunting is his stock and trade, Swain and his shipmates come face to face with a puzzling and lethal menace that taxes their ability to survive on the dark sea they call home. With shipboard tensions building, Swain is hard-pressed to forge an alliance with a crew that dislikes Captain Folger, and ship-mate Swain is forced to make some critical decisions as they are tracked by a man that knows too much about Swain’s past. Meanwhile, something evil lurks beneath the waves, something otherworldly. As you might expect, there’s some romance, too, but just enough to add another layer to this complex but fascinating story. Hunters of the Dark Sea is one of many great novels that Odom has published. You can download it to Kindle or Nook. Hunters of the Dark Sea is recommended for lovers of sea stories, along with Odom’s “Forgotten Realms” omnibus, Threat From the Sea which reprints the fantasy novels Rising Tide, Under Fallen Stars and The Sea Devil’s Eye. I think Hunters of the Dark Sea is probably my favorite of Odom’s books, but all of them are a reader’s delight.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Wolf Moon by Ed Gorman

Wolf Moon is my favorite Ed Gorman novel. I was saddened to learn of his passing. Gorman wrote a great many books and I always enjoyed them. I specifically recommend this book to anyone interested in that category we call “Creative Writing.” Wolf Moon defines creative writing for me. Gorman takes a simple plot and weaves a unique and exciting story by populating his narrative with strong characters, fully realized scenes, stunning action and a wild ending. Nothing that I just wrote does the book justice. I’ve talked to other people who feel the same way about this book that I do. It’s a Western, of course, but Gorman does something different here, and I’m not sure I can put my finger on it. Let’s just say that Ed Gorman knew how to write a great story. After ten years in prison, the man called Chase can’t forget his murdered brothers or Reeves, the man who double-crossed him after a bank robbery. Chase is a haunted man, with a face scarred by the wolf that had attacked him and left him for dead. Chase wants vengeance. Told in a predominantly first person narrative, nothing that happens in this story was unexpected, but I was invested in finding out how it all ends anyway. A skillfully handled plot twist isn’t unusual for Gorman, and that’s why I like his books. He doesn’t telegraph the twist, and the twist isn’t always a profound thing in his stories. They just happen, and when you read the last page of Wolf Moon you’ll see how a great writer can drop a little something different in the mix and make it work. Again, nothing profound, but the story flows to a logical conclusion With Wolf Moon Ed Gorman has crafted a mesmerizing tale. This paperback was published by Fawcett Gold Medal in April, 1993. 

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Famous Investigators by Richard Deming

This 1963 compilation from Whitman Publications was of special interest to me as a kid. Not only was I a fan of Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes, I was soon to become infatuated with The Hardy Boys series of books. Just a few short years after receiving this book as a gift from my parents, I was heavily into Arthur Conan Doyle, and even Rex Stout. At that time, I favored mysteries, and I rather fancied myself as a young sleuth. Author Richard Deming highlights the real-life biography (in short form, and written for juveniles) of eight historical investigators. They are Robert Fabian, Alan Pinkerton, Raymond Schindler, Francois-Eugéne Vidocq, J. Edgar Hoover, Francis Phillips, William Tilghman, and William Campbell. I recently re-read it, and found it dry, but it was an important book in my childhood. Famous Investigators introduced me to non-fiction, and through this book I became acquainted with Old West lawman Bill Tilghman. The others, except Hoover, whom I had heard of, were less interesting. Alan Pinkerton was familiar to me as well. Author Richard Deming wrote the sections in a storybook style interspersed with historical facts. This is simplistic writing. Whitman books out of Racine Wisconsin once held the juvenile market in the palm of its hand. Their many titles capitalized on cultural trends, and the 1960s titles are collector’s items today, sometimes fetching as much as $25.00 or $30.00 dollars for a solid copy. The books were cheaply produced, and didn’t hold up well. The covers were coated with a cheap plastic protective sheath that became brittle over the decades, and the paper was low grade. Still, these books are fun to collect. 

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

People of the Wolf by W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O’Neal Gear

People of the Wolf is the premier novel in a series called “The First North Americans Series” published by TOR and written by the husband and wife team of W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O’Neal Gear. I don’t believe it is necessary to read the series in order, but it helps for readers interested in expanding their consciousness beyond the basic entertainment value of reading historical adventure fiction. The authors require no introduction from me because their reputations are secure and they have at least millions of devoted readers. If by chance you are unfamiliar with their work, be aware that Kathleen O’Neal Gear is a respected historian, archeologist and anthropologist, as is her husband W. Michael Gear. Their books are noted for their historical accuracy, well-developed characters, and thrilling narratives. I chose People of the Wolf because I read it recently and it serves as good a debut for this blog as anything they’ve written. I have the utmost respect and admiration for W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O’Neal Gear. People of the Wolf was published in 1990. There are at least 18 novels in the series to date. People of the Wolf concerns the migration of Siberian hunters into Alaska. The primary characters are Run in Light who later becomes Wolf Dreamer, and Heron, a medicine woman. Heron is one of my favorite characters in the novel, but I also liked Dancing Fox. Runs in Light is leading is family south toward the Yukon River. They are seeking a better life, but Raven Hunter, the evil brother of Runs in Light, has other plans. In People of the Wolf and in all of the titles that followed, the plot ingredients are sufficient to drive the narrative, but the true appeal of these books are the characters themselves. It is also not uncommon that certain mystic elements relating to visions and other shaman activities will play a strong role in the characters and their motivation.
This post is dedicated to the memory of my sister
Who loved the novels of W. Michael Gear and Kathleen O’Neal Gear

Monday, February 12, 2018

Batman # 224, August, 1970

It was the Neal Adams cover that got me. What was going on here? The chubby cowled crusader of the 60s had slipped away, and suddenly Batman comics were scary. There was a touch more realism involved, and Batman had become a lean, mean fighting machine. The stand-alone story beneath the cover was written by Denny O’Neil and the artwork was by Irv Novick and Dick Giordano. Novick’s contribution to Batman in the 70s is underrated. He is equally as important as Neal Adams and Dick Giordano. O’Neil wrote a great many stories, and I wonder what he recalls of this one, which remains a favorite of mine. I liked it because it was different. When Batman learns that Blind Buddy, a jazz pioneer, had been murdered in New Orleans, he sets out to find the killer. Batman had been a fan, and felt that he owed Blind Buddy something. At Blind Buddy’s funeral, he encounters a beast man named Moloch, who nearly defeats the caped crusader. Moloch escapes, and Batman dives deeper into mystery and mayhem. They key is Blind Buddy’s horn, which apparently has a crude map scratched onto it and revealing the location of a potential oil drilling site worth millions. This 24-page story is dripping with mood, and artists and colorists today would do themselves a service by studying the panels and color palette to see how talented artists can convey a nighttime scene and rain swept streets without the murky darkness and digital manipulation. This is a damn good, memorable tale of The Batman, as he was meant to be, and handled superbly by real pros.