Sunday, November 24, 2013

Easy Go by Michael Crichton

As most of you know by now, Hard Case Crime has republished eight of Michael Crichton’s early novels, all of which were originally issued under the pseudonym of John Lange. Of these eight, I had previously read Binary without knowing that Lange was Crichton. Naturally, I bought all eight. I chose Easy Go as the first to read and review because it’s a thriller involving Egyptian tomb robbers. I expected plot twists, and I wasn’t disappointed. Easy Go is fairly standard material, with strong characters and pages of suspense. Elements of Crichton’s later style are evident, namely his meticulous research on various locations and scientific techniques, all handled with his usual flair. There is more than a touch of the travel writer here, which made me wonder if Crichton had actually visited Egypt or took his material from research. Easy Go was first published in 1968, long before Crichton had made his name and fortune. In any event, Easy Go is an entertaining page turner. Harold Barnaby has deciphered ancient hieroglyphics that reveal the location of the last un-plundered tomb in Egypt. To reach the treasure he enlists the aid of a journalist named Robert Pierce who exploits his connections. They locate the general area, conduct a search, find the tomb, and work hard at getting inside. This takes the first 180 or so pages. There are some suspenseful complications afterward and a satisfactory ending, depending on your personal taste. I’ve read most of Crichton’s later work, and Easy Go ranks just shy of the middle-range. It’s basically a traditional paperback thriller. That’s pretty good and I recommend it. Also available from Hard Case Crime are the titles: Odds On, Scratch One, Zero Cool, The Venom Business, Drug of Choice, Grave Descend and Binary.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Black Towers to Danger by L. Ron Hubbard

The November release from Galaxy Press is Black Towers to Danger, a 1936 thriller that showcases all of L. Ron Hubbard’s considerable talent as a writer of adventure yarns. In this one, Bill Murphy is drilling for oil in Venezuela when suddenly everything goes wrong – his girlfriend blames him for her father’s death, deadlines are looming, machinery needs fixing, and competitors and unsavory types are circling like vultures. Another fast-paced but fun thrill-ride, Hubbard is at his best putting his heroes into difficult situations and leaving readers wondering how in the world will it all play out? Hubbard’s writing is crisp and simple: “A gun barked behind him and plaster came off a wall like snow.” (p.62) You’ll also find more than a dash of romance in this one. From a technical standpoint, Hubbard picks up the story in medias res (Latin for into the midst of things), commencing in the middle of the story on page one and giving readers just a few explanatory paragraphs to bring them up to date. This is not an easy technique and rarely used effectively, even by seasoned writers, but naturally Hubbard pulls it off. We know everything we need to know about Bill Murphy within a few pages. Black Towers to Danger is another vigorous exercise in masculine prose and imminently enjoyable. With a title as pulpy as Black Towers to Danger and prose to match, this one should be tagged as a stocking stuffer for pulp fiction aficionados.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

El Paso Way by Steven Law

I picked this one up at Book World in Minocqua, Wisconsin. Book World always has a better selection of westerns than Barnes & Noble. The cover blurb calls this the first in a new series, so I gave it a shot and wasn’t disappointed. El Paso Way is a wholly original and exciting story, with a fresh plot and exciting characters. The cover painting by Dennis Lyall is a special treat and matches the interior action. Kudos to Berkley Books for using original painted covers on their paperbacks. According to the author bio this is Steven Law’s fourth novel. I intend on backtracking and finding the others because El Paso Way had me hooked from page one. Here’s the unique set-up: Enrique Osorio witnesses the murder of his family at the hands of Antonio Valdar, a bad-ass known as the Demon Warrior. Osorio means to have his vengeance against Valdar. Soon he meets a Chinese migrant worker named Pang Lo who happens to be proficient in Kung-Fu and and agrees to help Enrique find his sister who was kidnapped by Valdar. Osorio has become proficient with a bow and arrow, and together these two sort of stumble along on their vengeance quest. What makes this work is that Osorio and Pang Lo compliment each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Neither character are traditional heroes, which I found refreshing, and yet they possess those admirable qualities necessary for a western story to engage its readers. Namely, a sense that goodness and justice must somehow prevail. Steven Law’s craftsmanship makes their plight believable, even memorable. I’m recommending El Paso Way as a must-have for western fans and lovers of quality adventure fiction in general. El Paso Way is  a fine tale and won’t disappoint.
You can visit Steven Law’s website by clicking HERE!

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Dark Land by Andrew Salmon

This riveting science fiction novel by Andrew Salmon must surely fall into the category of neglected but brilliant. By this I mean The Dark Land deserves a wider audience. It is, quite frankly (but not surprisingly), better than any science fiction novel published by Tor in the last few years. The Dark Land is an Airship 27 production, spearheaded by Ron Fortier and Rob Davis. They continue to publish the best New Pulp adventure stories out there. A page-turner from the start, the set-up is traditional – To rebuild mankind scientists are cloning humans but with the past lives erased. That is until C-Peter Reilly shows up with the memories of the Vancouver detective he was cloned from. Okay, I’ll bite. The emotional weight of such memories is but one plot thread, and I was acutely interested in how that, in addition to, well, everything else, all tied together. Salmon is a fine writer and co-authored Ghost Squad: Rise of the Black Legion with Ron Fortier. So I knew he was good. The Dark Land clocks in at 288 pages which gives Salmon plenty of room to explore. A fully realized future, interesting characters and believable dialogue all add texture to this fast-paced thriller. Pick this one up and you’ll meet characters like Banjo Bones, Steakley, Neff, and a group called the Orphans (friendly chaps). I enjoyed the brisk pace and while I won’t give away any plot twists, I’ll mention that Banjo Bone’s comment on page 287 (yep, right near the end), sums it all up: “Strength comes from adversity.” Read it and you’ll understand. The Dark Land is a highly enjoyable science fiction thriller, not too heavy, but with a thought-provoking ending that will leave you wanting more. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

New by Paul McCartney

Paul McCartney’s eagerly awaited album, appropriately titled New, is another feather in his cap. McCartney doesn’t need the acclaim, but it’s nice to see him create an album that is so warmly received. That has not always been the case; mainstream music critics have often unfairly criticized McCartney, but not this time. From my own small fanboy perspective, New is great, and I think it rates as among McCartney’s best. The album opens with a rocker, Save Us, followed by another rocker, Alligator. These two songs set the tone for what is generally an up-tempo pop album. The third song, On My way to Work, is the song everyone is talking about. A ballad that recalls is youth in Liverpool, McCartney rhapsodizes about a photograph on a cigarette packet: “How can I have so many dreams and one of them not come true.” A haunting melody balanced with some violin and cello work and produced by Giles Martin (son of you-know-who), this is another McCartney classic. Joining McCartney are long-time bandmates Rusty Anderson, and Paul “Wix” Wickens. The session for On My way to Work includes musicians Cathy Thompson, Laura Melhuish, Patrick Kiernan, Nina Foster, Peter Lale, Rachel Robson, Caroline Dale, Katherine Jenkinson, Chris Worsey, Richard Pryce, and Steve McManus, all unknown to the average radio listener. The point being that in McCartney’s post-Beatles, Post-Wings career – he has consistently sought out and worked with talented musicians. And he’s not afraid to try something different. New features musical flourishes and some digitized rhythmic groove that add texture to this immensely enjoyable collection. McCartney even takes a crack at the revisionist “historians” in Early Days when he sings: “They can’t take it from me if they try,” and pointedly states “Now everybody seems to have their own opinion, who did this and who did that, but as for me, I don’t see how they can remember, when they weren’t where it was at.” Other stand-out songs include I Can Bet, a raucous dance number, and Looking at Her. I purchased the “Deluxe Edition” of New which includes extra songs and one “Hidden Track” (Track 15) which I had to google to learn is titled Scary. I’ve been listening to Paul McCartney’s New for a few weeks now and I haven’t tired of it.