Friday, January 20, 2017

The Long Night of Winchell Dear by Robert James Waller

My friend David DeWitt gave me this book in Los Angeles in 2009 where we had come to celebrate Errol Flynn’s centenary at filmmaker Jack Marino’s home. I began reading it on the flight back to Chicago. The Long Night of Winchell Dear is both a novella and a Modern Western, two categories that generally don’t elicit excitement. Waller’s blockbuster best-seller, The Bridges of Madison County, quickly made him a fan favorite of the literati, but the mainstream critics too often dismiss him. Waller has been criticized for being sentimental and romantic. Yes, he is, but why is that bad? Waller is a superb storyteller. His stories are compelling, the characters believable, and the prose is alive with the sights and sounds of the world around us. My only complaint about Robert James Waller is that he doesn’t publish enough which is a purely selfish criticism on my part. The Long Night of Winchell Dear is a really fine story. I know it sounds cliché, but I couldn’t put it down. A tale of the past, the desert and the intersecting lives of several people, I found myself captivated by Winchell Dear, a Texas gambler living in the desert. His life is suddenly connected to that of the Indian Peter Long Grass and a Mexican woman named Sonia Dominguez. Hurtling in their direction in a Lincoln Continental are two killers intent on their special mission. Something evil is blowing in on the night wind and Winchell Dear senses it. The prose is lush, charged with a foreboding sense of terror, and readers will be challenged to read this one slowly. I’ve read The Long Night of Winchell Dear twice now. Obviously I’m quite fond of this book. I recommend you check out some of Waller’s other books including Slow Waltz in Cedar Bend, Puerto Vallarta Squeeze and High Plains Tango. A tip of the Stetson to David DeWitt who traveled a long way himself to give me this book.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Death is My Shadow by Edward S. Aarons

I’m a fan of the Sam Durrell thrillers that made Edward S. Aarons a best-selling author, but he also wrote the occasional stand-alone mystery. Death is My Shadow is one of those, published in hardcover in 1957 and reprinted in paperback by McFadden in 1965. I don’t think it’s his best book by any stretch, but Aarons was good at his craft in so many different ways that I’ll still recommend this one. Peter Byrum, a Navy man released from service after an accident that haunts him, returns home to New Orleans to pick up the pieces of his life. His girl, Clemi, is waiting for him, and his pal, Steve Dulaney. Byrum learns that his pal Steve has been accused of murder, and his involvement with the blonde giant of a man named Rudge and Serena Thayer lead Byrum down a road of deceit, seduction and death. The plot is complex, at least in its presentation, but once you peel back the layers the true level of skill employed in crafting this nifty thriller will be apparent to all. The New Orleans mob will not be happy with Byrum by the end of this one, but he’s a man with confidence and inner strength. While the action sometimes feels rushed, I still enjoyed it. Aarons is infinitely enjoyable. What he does with fourteen chapters and 128 pages should be a lesson for suspense writers who these days take way too long to tell their story. I gave up on the padded and overlong novels flaunted as “best-sellers” specifically for that reason. Aarons gets right to it, and when its over you’ll feel like one of his heroes – a little worn out but tough-as-nails and happy to have survived the thrill ride.

Friday, January 13, 2017

I Spy: Message from Moscow by Brandon Keith

This 1966 Whitman hardback was a vital book for a generation that came of age watching the television show. It has since become one of Whitman’s highly sought after 1960s TV tie-in titles that collector’s love. I Spy: Message from Moscow is a pedestrian book, of interest today only because the television program it was based on has become a cult classic. What’s lacking in this story by author Brandon Keith is any of the pizazz and charm that actors Robert Culp and Bill Cosby instilled into their performances. It reads like the flat, exploitative product that it is, and even the artwork by Al Andersen, Ernie Kollar and John Miller fails to evoke any nostalgia associated with the famed TV show. I was thrilled to own this book in 1966 even though it failed to charm me. It is a collector’s item solely based on its appeal as a cultural artifact from the 1960s. Nostalgia is a part of its appeal, and that alone may account for some high prices I’ve see tagged onto this book. This book was written for young readers. I’m not saying the writing is bad, but it’s flat and uninteresting. This is a book that I’ve always wished was better than it is. The book’s physical merits lie in its cover design and endpapers which emulate the TV show’s opening montage. Later, I’ll post something about the I Spy paperback series, written for adults by Walter Wagner under the pseudonym John Tiger, and which are much better. I Spy: Message from Moscow is a must-have book for the I Spy fan and collector only.

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Gonji: Red Blade from the East by T.C. Rypel

I can’t think of a better reading experience than to open a book, start the first chapter, and find myself immersed in another world. T.C. Rypel’s prose crackles with imagery and energy and most readers will be hooked by the opening chapter. That opening chapter is what hooked me on this book. I am now officially a T.C. Rypel fan. Gonji: Red Blade from the East is fast, fun, bloody and exciting from start to finish. This is the first of a trilogy which has also been expanded with these new editions from Borgo Press. Gonji Sabatake is a Samurai-Viking who pursues his quest across a wild, sixteenth century landscape. There are demons and monsters and villains and intense battles. Gonji is fighting an ancient sorcery, and Gonji will be put to the test unlike any hero since, well, Conan the barbarian. Author Rypel has created a refreshing, mythological world that sparkles with heroic grand fantasy combined with gothic elements and other-worldly elements. The book is layered with stark images, at times disturbing, always exciting, and feverishly fun. The complex supporting players come and go in rapid scenes. The book includes a character index which will help you keep track of the players. The pace is fast. T.C. Rypel’s action scenes kept me on the edge of my seat. Gonji: Red Blade from the East by T.C. Rypel is tremendously entertaining. He is seeking the “Deathwind” and the occupiers of Vedun set the stage for a smack down. Fusing multiple elements into a palpable pulp fiction style adventure is no easy task, but Rypel pulls it off beautifully. Now I need to gets books 2 and 3 to find out what happens next. Kudos!

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Discovery by Louis Kraft and Robert S. Goodman

Authors Louis Kraft and Robert S. Goodman have created an intelligent and compelling novel that easily held my attention. This is a complex, carefully constructed drama that touches upon numerous themes while offering a suspenseful and fascinating tale. Writing with knowledge and authority, Kraft and Goodman present a stage populated by diverse characters, each fascinating in their own way, and the suspense builds with each section. At its heart is Harry Chapman, an OB/GYN physician on the verge of retirement who is suddenly hit by a malpractice claim 21 years after the fact. Kraft and Goodman establish the framework immediately. A wave of blindness in premature infants since the 1940s is linked to excessive oxygen in the incubators for preemies. This disorder is called “retrolental fibroplasia,” an actual condition that once plagued preemies. With the historical background explained, The Discovery delves into the many players who will have an effect on Harry Chapman’s life. The drama includes the legal proceedings and fact that a malpractice suit could be filed only because the medical records had been altered, thus negating the time limit for filing.  The novel’s opening sections expertly recount the tribulations of Laura Smith, who becomes pregnant and subsequently seeks medical assistance for her child’s birth. These early chapters are vital to the story’s scope. The Discovery is a novel that offers multiple character studies. Laura’s life, and the difficulties she experiences leading to the birth of her son, putting him up for adoption where he is taken in by Susan and Cliff Weston who name the baby Gregory, all held my attention. The novel jumps from the early 1950s to the early 1970s where a grown Greg Weston begins his journey in unraveling his past and initiating legal proceedings against Dr. Harry Chapman. I found myself enthralled by the characters, sympathetic to some, angry at others, and spellbound by the drama as it played out. There are many surprises with these characters, but read the book to see for yourself. This is an excellent novel, and when I was finished with it I was struck by the fact that The Discovery would make a great film. The plot twists in the latter half are superbly handled. The lives of Greg Weston and Harry Chapman are intricately entwined, and their story is impossible to ignore. Highly recommended!

Monday, December 26, 2016

Superman: A Celebration of 75 Years

All of the DC Comics “Celebration of 75 Years” hardcovers are beautifully designed, high quality editions. This Superman edition is what I expected. While there are no surprises here, there are some stories worth mentioning. Naturally, the collection reprints the first Superman story from Action Comics # 1. That is obviously the quintessential pulp fiction story. This is followed by the rare “How Superman Would End the War” from Look magazine in 1940. We’re treated to Superman’s origin story, and “The Mightiest Team in the World” co-starring Batman from Superman # 76 in 1952. These and other Golden Age tales are a delight, even though they’ve been reprinted many times before. The real jewel here is “Superman’s Return to Krypton” from Superman # 141 in 1960. This under-appreciated masterpiece was written by Superman co-creator Jerry Siegel with artwork by Wayne Boring. A three-part feature story, author Siegel takes Superman back to his birthplace in a poignant time-travel tale where he meets his parents and falls in love with the beautiful blonde, Lyla Lerrol. It’s not a dream, and Superman interacts with his family and friends without them knowing who he is. But Krypton is doomed, and at the heart of this tale is the idea that Superman is a hero who has lost everything. That key piece of characterization is often overshadowed by this idea that superman is invincible. Wayne Boring is the least appreciated Superman artist today, but “Superman’s Return to Krypton” highlights his fantastic imagination. Boring’s approach to science fiction should be the envy of today’s artists. The background buildings, flying machines, and mechanical apparatus all have that classic feel, and each panel is vivid and alive with motion. The splash page alone is awe-inspiring. The remainder of this collection is also what I expected, and long-time readers won’t be surprised by the inclusion of “Must There be a Superman?” by Elliot S. Maggin, Curt Swan and Murphy Anderson, and “For The Man Who Has Everything” by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Other creators like Gil Kane, John Byrne, Dan Jurgens, and others are represented. Another highlight is the inclusion of both “Death of Superman” stories; the “imaginary” classic from 1961 by Jerry Siegel and Curt Swan, and the 1993 Doomsday story by Dan Jurgens and Brett Breeding. The concluding tales are recent vintage, and their inclusion is a study in contrasts. The color palette is darker, less optimistic, and less satisfying. Comic books are meant to be bright, and they work best when you don’t have to squint through the murkiness. I believe that trend resulted in flagging sales, and DC Comics is currently attempting to turn that around with their “Rebirth” series. Superman: A Celebration of 75 Years is highly recommended.