Book Review-The Justice Riders by Chuck Norris et al.

Title: The Justice Riders

Author: Chuck Norris, Ken Abraham, Aaron Norris, and Tim Grayem

Format-Hardcover, Broadman and Holman Publishers

Published: 2006

 

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Things to look for that should raise your concerns about the quality of a book…

One-When a celebrity is listed as an author of a fiction work. Granted, this is not always a bad sign, pointing out Kareem Abdul Jabar’s recent work or the novels by Steve Allen as solid examples of good writing. With that said, though, a celebrity from tv or film penning a fiction work usually doesn’t read well.

Two-When said celebrity appears on the cover of the book, or at least an image obviously meant to be said celebrity graces the cover.

Three-And this is the biggest red flag-When there are four authors listed on one fiction novel that isn’t a round robin or a collection spotlighting each author.  When it takes four authors to write a singular novel, there may be issues with that work.

Such is JUSTICE RIDERS.  Riding on the prestige of not only Chuck Norris alone, but also the much loved WALKER, TEXAS RANGER tv series, Chuck, his brother Aaron, and the Canon Group decided that this book was a good idea. Focused on Ezra Justice, a Southerner in the Union Army, this book sees Justice commissioned to form a multicultural group of men dedicated to secretly ending The Civil War.

Not a bad premise, but every opportunity to do it right was missed.

The dialogue is ham fisted and heavy.  The descriptions of the characters are not only stereotypical, they’re either loaded with sweetness like syrup if they’re white hats or reek of sulphur if they’re black hats.  History is also played with fast and loosely throughout the book, although it hangs its Stetson on being loosely based on real events.  There is nothing redeemable about JUSTICE RIDERS, except perhaps that it didn’t ever become something other than a book to ignore.

One page out of five, and that’s only because there’s not a ‘Hell, No, Don’t Read This’ ranking. But please, don’t read this…ever.

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Book Review-Owls Don’t Blink by A. A. Fair

Title: Owls Don’t Blink: A Donald Lam-Bertha Cool Mystery

Author: Erle Stanley Gardner writing as A. A. Fair

Format-Paperback, Dell Publishing

Published: 1961 (Originally 1942)

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Most people know Erle Stanley Gardner for being the creator and author behind Perry Mason. Gardner was actually much more than that, including a rather daring lawyer himself. But even as an author, there’s more than fiction’s best known attorney to his credit. Writing as A. A. Fair, Gardner shared one of the most unique and best Private Detective duos ever with the world beginning in 1939. Bertha Cool and Donald Lam.

Some have referred to Cool and Lam as an interesting variation on the Nero Wolfe/Archie Goodwin relationship, and although there are points of comparison, they’re not plentiful. Lam is the legs of the outfit, but not because Bertha can’t work or get involved, but usually more because Lam is the cooler head and better suited to the in depth detective work than his barrel shaped (at least in the beginning, she shed some pounds over time), hot tempered boss, later partner. But Bertha makes her own contributions in the field, often helping Lam when he needs it, but always attempting to make sure it goes the way she thinks it should, though it doesn’t always.

In OWLS DON’T BLINK, the firm of Cool and Lam are hired by an attorney from New York to find a woman in New Orleans who doesn’t want to be found. Not allowed to ask any questions about why she must be found, Donald makes short work of finding her…and shortly also finds a dead body in her apartment. The body belonged to a man that, just hours before his demise, Lam watched argue with the object of his search.

This begins a cross-country romp, both past and in the present of the book, stretching from New York to Los Angeles to Little Rock to New Orleans and a few other stops in between. It also ends up involving another murder, maybe a serial killer (though this book was written about thirty years before that was a term), a distraught husband, a missing wife, and Bertha desperate to keep Donald from being drafted.

This series is one of my all time favorites. Not every entry is top notch, but OWLS DON’T BLINK is Fair (Gardner) at the top of his game. Not only are Lam and Cool both completely engaging characters, but the cast sprinkled around them all have their own quirks and flaws, which make them stand out as well. The mystery is actually several woven together and done so tightly in a way that works perfectly. The pacing is perfect, not breakneck, but also not turtle slow. Lam has a confrontation or three that every good PI novel should have, but Fair does a great job of also showing the real work that goes into the job, the actual tracking down of leads, of questioning people, of wasting hours to get the few minutes that will solve a case. Add into that a twist at the end that fits the time period…and the lead characters….perfectly and OWLS DON’T BLINK is top notch.

Five out Five pages for this read. There’s nothing at all wrong with OWLS DON’T BLINK from beginning to end. It starts off well, runs the course, and wraps on a pitch perfect note.

Book Review: The Idolaters of Cthulhu Edited by H. David Blalock

Title: The Idolaters of Cthulhu

Authors/Creators: H. P. Lovecraft, DJ Tyrer, Amanda Hard, Matthew Wilson, James Victor, Herika R. Raymer, Shenoa Carroll-Bradd, Robert J. Krog, E. dane Anderson, Gregory L. Norris, Michael Krog, H. David Blalock, Jonathan Dubey, Robin Wyatt Dunn, Ben STeward, Tyree Campbell, Harding McFadden, Brian Fatah Steele, Clark Ashton Smith. Edited by H. David Blalock

Format: Trade Paperback, Alban Lake Publishing

Published: 2015

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This…will be an odd review to read, probably. So, with that in mind, read this in its entirety.

This is a book I will never read again.  It left me with intense emotional feelings, even though the intent was simply to tell stories out of a popular mythos, and the feelings it left me with weren’t ones that I’d want to revisit. And that has nothing to do with the fact that this mythos isn’t one I tend to read anyway, at least tales written so true to the mythos as these were.

Having said that, this is a book any fan of genre fiction, horror tales, intense emotional rollercoasters through reading, and particularly ALL Lovecraft fans should read.  At least once.  Guaranteed.

The tentpole of the anthology, created by editor H. David Blalock, is captured in the title. Although a ton of work exists set in the world of Cthulhu, both written by Lovecraft and countless others, very few pieces are written solely from the perspective of those who might worship the giant bipedal squid and the other Ancient Ones in his gruesome pantheon.   Blalock, using both historical pieces by Lovecraft and Smith, as well as utilizing brand new tales from a plethora of authors, puts together a collection that not only takes readers deep into the twisted minds of those who pledge their life and fealty to monstrous gods, but also connects readers to these poor souls.  Several stories in the book will cause readers to see people they know in the doomed lead characters, and scarily enough, even see themselves.

There are several very strong tales in this book and only one or two that I feel could have been better.  The strongest by far for me was Sentry by Herika R. Raymer.  Now, I’ll admit, this is probably because it is the one story in the book that leans more to what I prefer to read, which is a hero attempting to stand against the unstoppable foe.  But there’s more to why this one is the best in the book.  Raymer presents a character who has given his life to his mission and even before the conclusion of the story, the reader understands just how much of a sacrifice, how much loss this individual has experienced.  This tale is very intense on an emotional level and perhaps is the best mirror in the entire collection for readers to look into.

This book is definitely a Five for me on the Book In The Bag scale.  Anytime a written work can elicit a variety of strong responses, from revelation to revulsion, in a reader, then it is something everyone should read. Even if I will only ever read it once.

 

Robert Bloch’s Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper by Joe R. and John L. Lansdale

Title: Robert Bloch’s Yours Truly, Jack the Ripper

Authors/Creators: Adapted by Joe R. Lansdale and John L. Lansdale from the original story by Robert Bloch

Format: Trade Paperback Collected Comic Series, IDW

Published: 2010

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Some stories, those collections of words and punctuation that becomes pages of sentences and paragraphs, should simply remain prose. Others lend themselves to adaptations into other forms, from television series to movies and so on.  Upon my first reading of Robert Bloch’s Yours Truly, Jack The Ripper, a tale first printed in the pulps in 1943, I can remember thinking how cool it would be see this play out on the comic page.  Bloch’s descriptions in the story lent themselves to a visual medium such as comics, the rapid pace of sequential storytelling seemingly a perfect match for his writing style.

IDW’s adaptation, Robert Bloch’s Yours Truly, Jack The Ripper by Joe and John Lansdale both proved my long held opinion right…and wrong.

Robert Bloch’s Yours Truly, Jack The Ripper opens at the scene of a horrific murder in 1940s Chicago.  Jenny, a female newspaper reporter/owner and Dr. Carmody, a psychiatrist are present at the scene, one that is rather horrific, and the most recent in a series of prostitute murders.  Sir Guy Hollis of London, a rather wealthy and influential man, inserts himself into the investigation, stating that he is certain that the killer is somehow the infamous 19th Century murderer, Jack the Ripper.  Although Carmody is skeptical, Sir Guy and Jenny began gathering clues and eventually encounter a being that, the Ripper or not, is indeed a monster.  The story winds through grim revelations, dark alleys, and sinister supernatural doings, revealing that the Ripper indeed may be stalking Chicago in the 1940s…and no one may be able to stop him.

The original Bloch story was almost more character study than actual full tale and the Lansdales expanded on Bloch’s work quite a bit.  Although several liberties were taken in this adaptation, the adaptation holds to Bloch’s style, delivering both simple, straightforward storytelling as well as digging beneath the surface and finding the twists and turns within characters more than relying on the gore and audacity of the actual murders.  The true essence of this adaptation, like its source material, is what makes a person do what they do and how fickle control of that actually may be.

Where this adaptation falls short, however, is in an area that really matters in any comic book-the art. Kevin Colden, the artist, definitely works in a stylized manner within the book, relying essentially on jagged line work, reminiscent of rough pencils with splashes of red throughout.  Although atmospheric at various points and even a time or two evocative in a horrific way, the art overall is a distraction and slows down the storytelling.  If not for the strong narrative established by the Lansdales in the dialogue, the art would have crippled this story.  Because the actual adaptation and the expansion of Bloch’s work is so solid, the art can’t really do more than make this an overall average experience.

Robert Bloch’s Yours Truly, Jack The Ripper is a three out of five page read, just barely.  The art is really an issue with this adaptation, but the story itself is actually set up well and makes this worth the read.

The IDW collections earns 3 out of 6 bullets. It’s an average read when taken as the whole package because of the negative impact the rather and quite literally sketchy art has on the tale.

 

Book Review: The Complete Casebook of Cardigan: Volume 1: 1931-32 by Frederick Nebel

Title: The Complete Casebook of Cardigan: Volume 1: 1931-32 by Frederick Nebel

Authors/Creators: Frederick Nebel, with Introduction by Will Murray

Format: Trade Paperback, Altus Press

Published: 2012

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It is no secret that I am a fan of private detective stories. Nor is it classified information that I am not only a writer and publisher of New Pulp, but I am an avid reader of Classic Pulp.  Fortunately, both of those things often combine into the wonderful privilege to read Private Eye tales that were first published in Classic Pulp magazines.  Now, even though this is something I thoroughly enjoy doing, that does not mean that I like everything I read of that type. As a matter of fact, and this may be unfair to say, I may at times be a bit harder on mystery stories from the Pulp magazines simply because I do love the good ones so much when I find them.

Fortunately, Altus Press’ The Complete Casebook of Cardigan: Volume 1: 1931-32 is one I don’t have to be hard on at all.

First appearing in Dime Detective Magazine in Novemer, 1931, Cardigan, as written by Pulp great Frederick Nebel, is as hard boiled as they come.  Even though there are others who set the mold and the standard, Cardigan hits every point to be called a tough as nails, two fisted private dick and even, in some ways, raises the standard.

Cardigan is an operative for the Cosmos Detective Agency, headed up by George Hammerhorn.  He’s not liked by most cops, but does run across one or two that don’t mind him so much.   Cardigan definitely has a set of rules he plays by and, for the most part, his rules are defined by what he feels is right and what case he is working on.  Not to say that he’s not got a bit of the capitalist in him, as he is often making sure that he and those working with him will likely come out in the black financially.  He’s a fighter, both of the street and the strategic variety. Putting on dumb often, Cardigan has a mind that often sees around the next corner, puts the pieces in place just waiting for his fists to knock them in.

Though cut from the same cloth as other loners, Cardigan plays well enough with others when they follow his orders.  Patricia Seaward, another Cosmos operative, shows up in a few of the stories in this volume and she’s definitely a welcome feature.  A definite dame from top to bottom, Pat is also something else that wasn’t as common in the classic Pulps.  Not that she doesn’t get into trouble sometimes, but she’s definitely no ill equipped fainting frail in distress. Cardigan watches out for and worries for her, but he gives her assignments that most other Pulp heroes wouldn’t even think of having a lady handle.  And for the most part, boy, does she handle them.

Cardigan Volume 1 is most definitely a five page read.  If You’re a fan at all of really well done, classic hard boiled fiction that actually knows how to deliver emotion and humor in the right way for such a story, this is your collection.

This also gets a fully loaded six out six bullets by my scale. The Will Murray introduction sets the eleven stories in the volume up well and Mr. Nebel’s writing doesn’t not only not disappoint, but comes packed with a few wow moments.

 

Book Review: Ghost Rider: Hell Bent and Heaven Bound

Title: Ghost Rider: Hell Bent and Heaven Bound

Authors/Creators: Jason Aaron, Roland Boschi, Dan Brown, Tan Eng Huat, Jose Villarrubia, et al.

Format: Trade Paperback Graphic Collection, Marvel Comics

Published: 2008

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There are two types of comic book type things I will review.  Graphic novels, which are essentially one story self contained in a singular illustrated volume and Collections, which take issues of a series and collect them together into one trade paperback volume.  Ghost Rider: Hell Bent and Heaven Bound is the latter, the actual fifth collection of the Ghost Rider series produced in the late 2000s by Marvel Comics.

To go into all the continuity that would have to be explained for someone not familiar with Ghost Rider would take volumes, so we’re going to do this quickly.  The Ghost Rider in this collection is Johnny Blaze, a motorcycle stuntman who sold his soul to the Devil in order to save someone.  The someone didn’t get saved, but Johnny was forced to work off his bargain anyway, becoming The Spirit of Vengeance, The Ghost Rider.

It was only later that Johnny learned the truth behind his curse.  Instead of his being the Ghost Rider being the fault of the Devil, it was actually the doing of an angel, Zadkiel, who cut  a deal with Johnny’s girlfriend at the time to circumvent the Devil’s deal.  Hell Bent and Heaven Bound opens with Johnny, now having the knowledge of his true origins, literally looking for a way to get into Heaven and take Zadkiel on face-to-face.

After trying several ways to get to Heaven, Johnny learns that a man who recently died, but was revived and scared to death to die again and return to Heaven was in a small town in Idaho.  Johnny visits this man, who knows who he is and relates that he wants to stay alive because going to Hell would be better than going to Heaven, as Zadkiel has lain siege to it.  Johnny, thinking this man is his ticket to the Pearly Gates, takes him out of the hospital, which basically causes the nurses, who are in fact agents of Zadkiel, to tear out after him with machine guns and motorcycles.  Throw in a highway haunted by cannibal ghosts that are still hungry, a town full of Zadkiel disciples, and a crooked deputy coming face to face with a live cannibal, and you have some sense of the road The Ghost Rider is traveling.

A second story, ‘God Don’t Live On Cell Block D’, has Johnny continuing his quest to break into Heaven, this time going to talk to a priest in prison for machine gunning his entire congregation, saying the angels made him do it.  This story does little to progress the overall arc, but is a fun bit about the Ghost Rider having to fight his way out of a prison, which includes quite literally a die hard disciple of Zadkiel and a whole lot of prisoners worthy of vengeance.

Overall, Ghost Rider: Hell Bent and Heaven Bound is a fun little read and ride.  The art isn’t consistent throughout either two issue story collected in the volume, so that’s a takeaway, although the art in the second story is superior to that in the first.   Johnny’s quest to get into Heaven by any means necessary is a neat concept that is as single minded as fans of classic Ghost Rider tales will remember the Spirit of Vengeance being, so that was enjoyable.  The first story seemed overly full, too much going on, too many hints trying to be dropped.  This made the second collected arc actually seem weaker, like enough wasn’t happening.

Ghost Rider: Hell Bent and Heaven Bound gets three out of five pages.  If You’re a die hard fan of ol’ Bonehead and his blazing bike, there’s enough in here for you to like, including the return of someone Johnny won’t be glad to see eventually.  If you’re looking for something that will make You pick up more Ghost Rider, this might be it, but might not be.  Overall average storytelling with up and down art.

This is a solid three out of six bullets by my scale.  Not something I’d seek out again, but a read that I enjoyed the first time through.  I found myself smirking at hints to Ghost Rider fans that were dropped only slightly more than I groaned at some of the poor art and sequential storytelling that plagued this book.

 

 

 

Book Review: The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Ectoplasmic Man by Daniel Stashower

Title: The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Ectoplasmic Man

Author: Daniel Stashower

Format: Paperback, Titan Books

Published: 2009

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A few years back, Titan Books turned out a line of books entitled The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. This series was exactly what it sounds like, adventures of Holmes post Doyle written by a variety of writers. I have read and previously reviewed one of these elsewhere and called it, paraphrasing here, one of the worst reading experiences I’ve ever had. I attempted to read a second and couldn’t finish for fear that I would have to revise that prior statement if I did. So, it’s safe to say that my experience with Titan’s foray into tales of the World’s Greatest Consulting Detective was anything but positive.

I can say that that has changed, at least somewhat, due to one of the books in the imprint.

The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Ectoplasmic Man by Daniel Stashower finds Holmes in the later years of his career involved in a case of international intrigue involving the theft of letters written between the soon to be George V and a German countess. These letters are stolen in such a way that the only possible suspect, both for Scotland Yard’s Lestrade and Holmes brother, Mycroft, is the performer for the dignitaries at the mansion the night the letters are stolen. That performer is none other than Harry Houdini.

What follows is nothing short of a Victorian Roller Coaster Ride, involving jailing Houdini and binding him head to toe in chains and straitjackets, an impenetrable vault, gunplay, a mysterious figure in a red muffler and hat, and even airplanes! And all the while, Stashower not only writes Holmes and Watson in a pitch perfect way, he capitalizes on the characteristics of the pair as they interplay with Houdini that make this more than just two great icons coming together. It’s a true buddy flick cast in the gaslights of a London long lost, two geniuses in their own fields who clash and bash into each other, only to find they complement each other perfectly to resolve the mystery and have one hell of an adventure while doing it. This isn’t an easy alliance and that makes it all that much more engaging.

Crafting this as a lost tale penned by Watson, Stashower captures every nuance of Holmes in a way I’ve seen almost no one else do. He is just as skillful with Houdini, but the reason for that is grounded in his penning of The Harry Houdini Mysteries, three books featuring Houdini at the start of his career solving mysteries with his wife, Bess, and brother, Dash (I’ll be reviewing them soon, but take my word for it, three of the best mysteries I’ve ever read). The characters are real, stepping off the page into the reader’s mind and snatching said reader back into the text with them.

This book also contains a fair bit of physical action and daring do in it, largely due to Houdini’s presence. I know some people have issue with this in their Holmes’ tales because there wasn’t a proliferation of it in Doyle’s work, but what Stashower does in this story not only fits, but it stays within the acceptable parameters of action that Holmes and Watson would engage in and offers enough surprises to leave you on the edge of the page, eager to turn to the next one to see what happens.

If there were more than five pages to give for The Further Adventures of Sherlock Holmes: The Ectoplasmic Man.  Every mark that Stashower had to hit to make this both a great Holmes book and a wonderful Houdini tale, he hit with amazing accuracy.

is definitely one of the big guns, getting six out of six bullets.  This book is a success in every sense of the word, from nailing Doyle’s voice to wonderfully reconstructing Houdini and Holmes and all who accompany them to delivering a level of action that definitely thrilled and fit into the expectations of a Holmes tale. You should read this volume if You’re a Holmes fan, a Houdini follower, a reader of mysteries, a lover of Victorian work, or simply someone who can just read words. By far the best modern non Doyle Holmes story I’ve ever read, and made even better because of Houdini.

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