Thursday, October 19, 2017

Sherlock Holmes Vs. Frankenstein by David Whitehead

When I heard that author David Whitehead was going to turn his attention to both Sherlock Holmes and Frankenstein’s monster, I knew it would be special. David’s considerable talent and passion for writing has produced an envious bibliography that includes Westerns, horror, suspense and even romance. David Whitehead is a powerhouse of talent. Sherlock Holmes Vs. Frankenstein was just as great as I thought it would be. I love being right. Based upon the screen story for a forthcoming film by Gautier Cazenave, readers will plunge into the traditional world of Holmes and Watson, and the set-up captures the feel of the original stories by Arthur Conan Doyle. This wasn’t surprising because David has co-authored several Sherlock Holmes tales with Steve Hayes. Traveling to the German village of Darmstadt to solve the mystery of a gravedigger’s murder, Holmes and Watson soon meet the current Baron Frankenstein. At the heart of this gothic tale lies the idea that Mary Shelley’s famous book, which Holmes discusses with Watson, may have been based on fact. Indeed, the central question being is the monster real? The plot has a clever twist involving the monster and Mary Shelley, which I won’t reveal. Readers need to discover for themselves as Holmes did, the ghoulish secret that lies in the shadow of castle Frankenstein. I guarantee you’ll be frantically flipping the pages as the mystery unfolds. I delighted in every chapter and enjoyed this book immensely. David Whitehead is a fine writer, and Sherlock Holmes Vs. Frankenstein is a real treat for his fans. Highly recommended!

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Young Scrooge by R. L. Stine

Young Scrooge is a stand-alone novel, and separate from R. L. Stine’s famed Goosebumps series. Young Scrooge hits the paperback racks just in time for Halloween. It’s typical Stine all the way, entertaining, and easy to read. Stine is a consistent writer, so those of you familiar with his work will be right at home with this homage to Charles Dickens. It should be noted that Young Scrooge is neither a sequel nor a prequel or a continuation of A Christmas Carol; in fact, Young Scrooge is an original tale, with a nod toward Charles Dickens, but comprised of R. L. Stine’s own blend of wickedness and humor. This is the story about Rick Scroogeman, a school bully who hates A Christmas Carol, hates Christmas, and spends most of his time fabricating cruel pranks to play on his classmates. He is obviously not popular, and he’s clueless as to the negative effect he has on those around him. When the first of three ghosts visits him, Scroogeman is subjected to the same type of bullying he’d been dishing out. The three ghosts don’t relent, and poor Scroogeman is put through the wringer, which you’d expect. Stine handles this swiftly and never lingers in one place too long. I have promoted Stine’s books multiple times on this blog, and I’ll continue doing so. His books are aimed at young readers, and if this gets young people reading – and continuing to read – then I’m all for it. R. L. Stine is a national treasure. His wild imagination and sense of playfulness compliment the spookiness. Young Scrooge doesn’t disappoint. 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Season's End

Season’s End
Thomas McNulty

The day comes where you have to pull the boat out of the water. The difficulty lies in choosing the right day. If you wait too long, the lake might have a thin crust of ice on its surface, and your feet and hands will be chilled to the bone if you get them wet. If you pull the boats too early, you’ll know you’re depriving yourself of one last ride or one last afternoon with a line in the water. All the same, there’s no getting around it. The boat has to come ashore.

I am in the habit of waiting until the last minute of the last day. I pick a time when the lake is quiet, and the swimmers and boaters and fishermen have already packed their gear and gone home. The light has to possess that autumnal gold I find so relaxing, and I’m fine with it being cold as long as the sun is out.

I’ll sit on the cabin’s deck with a steaming cup of coffee and just watch the water. There are usually ducks splashing in the bay; and through the spindly undergrowth on my left I can see the shine of a painted turtle’s shell on a shoreline log. My thoughts are grim in the wake of losing my parents and my sister. My sister’s oldest son had turned his back on his cancer-stricken mother when she needed him the most. That dark stain on his soul can never be wiped clean. He marked himself, and that stain will follow him for the remainder of his life.
You learn who truly cares and who your friends are in the wake of grief. Friends and acquaintances always in sales-pitch mode appear quickly; and I discard them now. The northwoods have been my constant source of serenity for many decades. I find solace here; a release from the grief that has plagued our lives in recent years. There is always war somewhere on the planet. My cold-hearted and selfish nephew is but a symptom of a breed of fools who have refused to join the global village and ignored the benefits of promoting creativity over arrogance.

I take to the waters as a way of healing. I follow the dream-path of the old chiefs in the land of sky blue water; I linger in the tracks of the black bears foraging in the brush for berries. I follow the trail of pulp dreamers and the frontiersmen of yesteryear. I listen to the tall tales of fishermen and the sad tales of hunters. I track the eagle’s shadow across the sparkling whitecaps. I read a long book, turning the pages slowly. I dream of rivers and streams without end; sometimes I can hear their voices on the pine-scented wind and the past is so close I can almost touch it. When the frost is on the vine, I pull the boat out of the water and prepare for tomorrow.

In Memoria Thomas C. McNulty, Patricia McNulty and Janet Albright

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Splatterpunks edited by Paul M. Sammon

I think we get hung up on labels, and the term “splatterpunk” is really an unnecessary tag. I agree, however, that it helps in marketing certain styles of writing. I am in agreement with writer Mel Odom who states there are seven genres of fiction – mystery, suspense, science fiction, fantasy, romance, western and horror. Everything else is a sub-genre of those primary labels. Depending on the story elements, “splatterpunk” could be a sub-genre of several other genres. Just as “steampunk” and “cyberpunk” are sub-genres of science-fiction, and “weird western” is a fusion of westerns and often fantasy and horror. All of these fusions and morphing genres can be a bit overwhelming. Splatterpunks edited by Paul M. Sammon, was published in 1990 and collects and documents the trendy splatterpunk literary movement that was all the rage. The problem I had with this trend is that it resulted in a lot of stories where the focus was on bloody scenes, and whatever story might have been told was lost in gratuitous pools of blood. Fortunately, this anthology avoids most (but not all) of that nonsense. The first tale is Joe R. Lansdale’s “Night They Missed the Horror Show” which is a masterpiece. This is the scariest story published, because it can be real. There are no supernatural elements, no Lovecraftian monsters. This is an unflinching slice (no pun intended) of Americana, and when you read it you’ll never be the same again. Everything else in this anthology is secondary to Lansdale’s frightening tale. Other tasty tales are Clive Barker’s “The Midnight Meat Train” and “Rapid Transit” by Wayne Allen Sallee. Editor Paul M. Sammon includes his own essay tracing the origins of the splatterpunk movement, and there’s an essay by Chas. Balun about splatterpunk films. Both essays struck me as pedantic. For you George R.R. Martin fans his story, “Meathouse Man,” is included, too. In general, this is an entertaining anthology, and most of the stories will keep you awake at night. That’s what they’re for, so lock the doors and start reading.

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Trouble in the French Palace by Sundown McCabe

Cleveland Westerns are published in Australia and are the last of the pulp fiction digest Westerns on the market. Most of their titles offer traditional storylines, and they are all fun to read. Trouble in the French Palace represents a small percentage with a saucier cover and a modest inclusion of adult action. They are not pornographic, just saucy. The covers are eye-popping delights in the grand tradition of old school men’s adventure magazines.  I couldn’t resist the cover for Trouble in the French Palace, and the story was great. Every Cleveland Western I’ve read has been well-written. The tale begins with the murder of a sheriff, and the town of Comanche Creek is controlled by Bernard Souter and his no-good bunch. The town council decides to hire professional town tamer, Jack Logan, who turns out to have a personal reason to get involved at Comanche Creek. The descriptions are vivid, the gunplay steady, and the doves are ready, willing and able. The cover scene actually appears on page 35, and is comprised of a few sentences. Again, the saucy scenes are modest, and the great cover guarantees a sale. Cleveland Westerns like this are the perfect reading fare for fans of pulp fiction and the men’s adventure fiction market. Sometimes heavy on the action, and racing between subplots, Trouble in the French Palace is precisely what I wanted from a pulp fiction story. Sundown McCabe is obviously a pseudonym, and I don’t know who the author is, although I have my suspicions. Some of the Cleveland Westerns authors have also written for the Black Horse Western brand. Trouble in the French Palace was first published in 2005. To learn more about Cleveland Westerns CLICK HERE and visit their website.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Seven Tears for Apollo by Phyllis A. Whitney

When Phyllis A. Whitney died in 2008 at the age of 104, she left behind an impressive collection of novels. Her books consistently sold well and brought her numerous accolades and fans. Shown here is the Fawcett-Crest 1966 paperback of Seven Tears for Apollo, one of her many successful mainstream suspense novels. Whitney was a superb writer with an outstanding command of character development, setting, dialogue and plot. There are no weak places in her novels, and she handled everything with dedication and apparent ease. Seven Tears for Apollo is a perfect example of her craft. Whitney takes us to Greece with an attractive young widow named Dorcas Brandt who suddenly comes to realize she is being pursued, but by whom? The tale involves antiquities, deception, love, and a slow unraveling of a mystery that involved Gino, the husband she lost in a plane crash. Like many of Whitney’s novels from the 60s, I found the leisurely pace but steady rhythm of suspense an attribute. Whitney’s suspense thrillers are to be savored; the imagistic descriptions, keen intelligence and dangerous predicaments of her heroines all melding together into a fine piece of entertainment. I’m fond of such tales where the heroine finds herself in some exotic location. I think Whitney, along with Mary Stewart in her novel My Brother, Michael, handled the set-up better than anyone. I don’t know if Whitney ever visited Greece, but she makes me believe she knows what she’s talking about, and that’s all that matters. Great writers like Whitney make us believe the story. 

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham

The eastern philosophy, popularized by W. Somerset Maugham in this 1944 novel, had a profound impact on American and British culture in the decade’s following the book’s publication. I am quite obviously the product of the 1960s counter-culture influence which embraced religious diversity, studies in Transcendentalism, Buddhism, Sanskrit, and many others. The Razor’s Edge is the masterpiece that helped influence the 1950s Beat Generation and those wild flower children I grew up with. I saw the 1946 film version starring Tyrone Power on television long before I read the book. I own a first-edition hardcover and this 1955 Cardinal paperback edition. Maugham was a wonderful fiction writer; his prose is measured but lively and infused with his sharp intelligence. Larry Darrell had seen enough horror during World War One, after after being released from the Army he commences on a journey seeking enlightenment. Larry’s influence on others at various parts of his journey provides the novel its framework. Two women, Isabel and Sophie, are key players as is Elliott, his wealthy friend. Larry’s enlightenment includes his discovery of a personal spiritual power by way of the mystics of India. Darrel is attempting and succeeds in finding value in a world that is often meaningless, which is the existential theme Maugham used in several stories. Spirituality versus materialism would quite naturally become a point of discussion for the Beat Generation and Hippie cultures who found merit in Darrel’s odyssey. Maugham never hits readers over the head with these ideas, but allows them to take form in the dialogue and actions of the characters. Several of Darrel’s materialistically focused friends suffer set-backs and misfortunes while giving the impression of suffering from a spiritual void. Darrel, by comparison, finds ways to flourish during difficult circumstances. I think by now the basic plot is known by most avid readers, and the book is a perennial best-seller. Some prefer Maugham’s Of Human Bondage over The Razor’s Edge, and I agree that Of Human Bondage is fantastic. But The Razor’s Edge is one of those special books the literati love. In my home, it fits nicely on a bookshelf with Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller, Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell, Hunger by Knut Hamsun, Steppenwolf by Herman Hesse, Journey to the End of the Night by John Ferdinand Celine, and On the Road by Jack Kerouac. At some point, all of these will be covered on this blog.