Sunday, January 20, 2013

Ironhorse by Robert Knott

Although I’ve always been a fan of the late Robert B. Parker I feel that his work suffered in the last ten years of his career. His reliance on excessive dialogue and insistence to infuse the story with armchair psychology all detracted from his once magnificent descriptive powers. Reading his books I could sense the “routine” of his daily exercise. Frankly, most of his books after Small Vices (1997) were sub-par compared to his early work. That includes his westerns. Reading a book by Parker was like reading a trial transcript, and equally as boring. Still, Parker did write great dialogue – he just wrote too much of it. So even though I was dissatisfied with his books I still enjoyed them enough so that I bought each and every one of them. I have read every book that Parker published. I met him twice at book signings and found him amiable and polite. I enjoyed his westerns even though I felt they were lacking in scope. After his death several writers have continued his series, but I have not read one of them until now. I chose to read Ironhorse because I am familiar with Robert Knott’s work as an actor. He also wrote the screenplay for the film version of Appaloosa, Parker’s second and perhaps best known western. Appaloosa was the first of the Virgil Cole-Everett Hitch westerns. Parker wrote four Cole-Hitch westerns: Appaloosa, Resolution, Brimstone and Blue-Eyed Devil. Appaloosa was the best. Author Robert Knott picks up after Blue-Eyed Devil and takes Cole and Hitch out for a blistering train ride. The governor of Texas and his wife and daughter are aboard the train and they are besieged by outlaws, including a badass named Bloody Bob Brandice. Knott successfully emulates Parker’s style of dialogue. The pacing is excellent and the first half of this book is a page turner. Wisely avoiding most of the armchair psychology that marred Parker’s books, he manages to keep Ironhorse rolling and the suspense high. But the book bogs down at about the 75th chapter and could have been edited from its final 113 chapter form. There’s just too much reliance on dialogue, and that dialogue becomes repetitive. Still, I enjoyed Ironhorse much more than Blue-Eyed Devil, which was Parker’s last western. Now that Knott has established himself as an author I would be interested in reading a non-Parker influenced western, if such a thing is possible. I do recommend Ironhorse for western fans and Parker fans alike. Robert Knott has done a fine job honoring the memory of one of literature’s original voices.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Red Death Over China by L. Ron Hubbard

Red Death Over China is not a typical pulp fiction story and that’s why I enjoyed it so much. The second reason I enjoyed this 1937 tale reprinted from the pages of War Birds magazine is due to the fact that all of L. Ron Hubbard’s pulp fiction is immensely exciting. Hubbard demonstrated an acute understanding of genre writing and during his long career he mastered them all – air adventure, westerns, fantasy, science fiction, crime suspense and many more. Red Death Over China falls into the air adventure category, but naturally it’s much more than that. This remarkable tale is a character study of a man that has lost his way. And when he finds a new purpose it comes as a surprise to him, and he realizes the true nature of sacrifice. American pilot John Hampton cares for no one and believes in nothing. He wants a paycheck, and so he signs on with Mao Tse-Tung’s army and brings along his Bristol, an aging slipshod airship. But after a particularly nasty battle where he saves an officer, Hampton is told the story of the Red Pagoda. Now, pondering life and death choices, Hampton’s attitude slowly changes. The final line of the story is a piece of dialogue that will resonate with readers long after they set the book down. Red Death Over China is American pulp fiction at its best. This volume includes two bonus stories: The Crate Killer, a brilliant suspense air adventure classic; and Wings Over Ethiopia. I love Hubbard’s air adventure stories and this book is highly recommended.