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"We need to make books cool again. If you go home with someone & they don't have books, don't fuck 'em."--John Waters

I'm the author of more than twenty novels including SHADOW SEASON, THE COLD SPOT, THE COLDEST MILE, THE MIDNIGHT ROAD, THE DEAD LETTERS, and A CHOIR OF ILL CHILDREN. Look for my next one THE LAST KIND WORDS due out May '12 from Bantam Books. Contact: PicSelf1@aol.com

Monday, March 12, 2012

Book Reviews

You’ve got to give it up to Titan Books, people. Not only did this UK publisher save the Hard Case Crime line, but they’re also bringing out a trio of Mickey Spillane & Max Allan Collins novels as we as reprinting some great pulp, including Sax Rohmer’s Fu-Manchu books. I’m loving these folks.
THE MYSTERY OF DR. FU-MANCHU and THE RETURN OF DR. FU-MANCHU are the first two collections of Sax Rohmer tales featuring Burmese police commissioner Nayland Smith, his good friend Dr. Petrie (the narrator), and the insidious megalomania Dr. Fu-Manchu. Using a variety of exotic, and often poisonous insects, animals, and plants, agents of the so-called "devil doctor" murder anyone who might get in the way of his plans to take over the world. The most famous "yellow peril" creation featuring the inscrutable occidental, the stereotype has at least some its origins in the opium wars of the 1840s and Sino-Japanese war of the late nineteenth century. The pulp action/mystery tales of Rohmer are great melodramatic fun, especially when the beautiful slave girl Karamaneh foregoes her master and falls in love with Petrie. If you dig the melodramatic flare of classic pulp fiction (Rohmer never met an exclamation point he didn’t like) and you yearn for larger-than-life villains bent on world domination, then Fu-Manchu is your devil doctor. Novels such as DAUGHTER OF FU-MANCHU, THE WIFE OF FU-MANCHU, and EMPEROR FU-MANCHU to follow soon.
LADY, GO DIE! is the latest unfinished manuscript begun by Mickey Spillane decades ago and recently finished by his friend and protege Max Allan Collins. This one holds special interest for any Mike Hammer fan as LADY, GO DIE! was originally intended to be the second full-length Hammer novel following the mind-blowingly successful I, THE JURY. The time is shortly after WW II and the events of ITJ. Mike and his ever-trusty, beautiful sidekick Velda are vacationing on Long Island in the beach town of Sidon. There Mike immediately finds himself in the middle of a fracas as a bunch of dirty cops work over a mentally handicapped homeless artist named Poochie. The cops think Poochie knows something about the missing lady who runs the local gambling house.

As Mike is wont to do, he quickly dispatches the bad guys and helps Poochie to recover. Soon though he’s on the trail of a murderer who poses his naked female victims in highly staged, dramatic, public venues. Since the murders are spread out across several jurisdictions, the cops haven’t put the killings together, but Mike is on the case. As he deals with mobsters, gamblers, corrupt cops, and an insane murderer, he also finds time to tame a cunning dame from his past who uses sex to bring weak men low.

It’s a testament to how well Max Allan Collins knows his mentor’s writing that you won’t be able to see where Spillane’s original manuscript ends and Collins’s begins (or, more likely, which portion was written by which author). This is true of all their collaborations, but Collins now slips into Mike Hammer’s persona Spillane’s style so perfectly, and uses the motifs of the time so adeptly, that LADY, GO DIE! reads like the hardest of the hardboiled, firmly set in the origins of the Hammer universe.

In Ed Gorman’s latest Dev Conrad (STRANGLEHOLD, SLEEPING DOGS) mystery BLINDSIDE, freelance political consultant Dev Conrad decides to help out his old friend Tom Ward. Tom’s son, Jeff, is an arrogant, womanizing, liberal incumbent whose weakening campaign is running into troubled waters. Strategy information is being leaked to Ward’s wealthy right-wing challenger, Rusty Burkhart, and Dev is trying to find out who the traitor among Ward’s staff is. When speech writer Jim Waters is murdered and David Nolan, Ward’s chief of staff disappears, Dev digs even deeper to find that Ward is being blackmailed over a video involving a prostitute.

When liberal incumbent Jeff Ward’s father Tom persuades Dev to spend some time with his son’s flailing campaign, Jeff’s speech writer Jim Waters hasn’t yet been shot to death. And Tom can’t even identify the other problems. But it’s clear that trouble is afoot. Someone close to Ward is evidently leaking sensitive information to Rusty Burkhart, his millionaire right-wing challenger. David Nolan, the candidate’s lifelong friend and chief of staff, disappears almost the moment Dev first pokes his nose into the campaign tent. And Dev soon learns that Ward is being blackmailed over a steamy videotape starring him and a prostitute.

Also on hand is Sylvia Fordham, Burkhart’s conservative consultant who gloats as Ward’s poll numbers sink and Burkhart’s rise. Dev has plenty of suspects for all the troubles and wrongdoings, but only one bit of positive light to part the clouds; Jennifer Conners, a Goth teenager, is the only person surrounding Ward who actually seems to care about the nature of politics, the fall of her hero, and the outcome of the election as a new hope for America.

Ed Gorman has given us another inside look at the failing two-party political system. It’s sharply written, acerbic, gripping, and eye-opening look at the ruination of American politics. Gorman’s keen eye for detail adds some nice nuances and extra facets to the novel that puts an emphasis not only on who done it and why, but also on how such shenanigans cost the nation more than they’ll ever completely understand.

The most recent addition to Bill Pronzini’s long-running Nameless Detective series HELLBOX recalls to mind one of the most memorable earlier titles SHACKLES. In SHACKLES, Nameless spent three months locked away in an isolated cabin. In HELLBOX, Nameless, aka "Bill," and his wife Kerry are considering buying a vacation home in the rural community of Six Pines. While dining they happen to see the arrogant, ignorant Pete Balfour, being mocked by those townsfolk tired of his racist, sexist, dull-witted slurs. Balfour’s publicly referred to as the Mayor of Asshole Valley, a derisive nickname laid on him by neighbor Ned Verriker. Ned thinks that Balfour can shrug off a little joking, but he’s wrong. Balfour is more unstable than anyone can guess.

When Balfour sets in motion his vengeance against Verriker, Kerry just happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Balfour scoops her up and holds her prisoner as at first Nameless searches for his beloved alone, and then calls in his cool, steely associate Jake Runyon to help with the hunt.

The narrative alternates between all the primary characters including Balfour’s belligerent perspective and Kerry’s terrified internal monologue. We watch as a driven Nameless is shaken by the irrepressible fear for his lost wife to Jake’s sharp, calm council and relentless drive towards the truth. HELLBOX is another fine entry in a long line of first-rate private eye novels featuring the iconic Nameless Detective from MWA Grandmaster Bill Pronzini. Pick it up asap, and if you haven’t already read all the previous books then buy any and all you can get your hands on.


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