Saturday, December 29, 2012

Noteworthy Reads: THE SILVER ALIBI by James Reasoner

"Big Earl" Stark earned his name and reputation as a stagecoach guard back in the day— and now, as Federal Judge Earl Stark, he is expanding that reputation and still living up to his name by cutting a big swath through the West and taking on big, action-packed cases. He dispenses his own unique brand of justice with a gavel in one hand and a LeMat pistol (capable of firing one shotgun blast and then nine conventional rounds) in the other.

I thoroughly enjoyed the three Big Earl novels (STARK'S JUSTICE, THE HAWTHORNE LEGACY, and THE DIABLO GRANT) that came out in the mid-90s and considered the character to be among Reasoner's best. Now it is a delight to have him back in action. And THE SILVER ALIBI is a fine entry in the series. Action, double-dealing, stubborn will and hot tempers, forbidden romance, and a strong dose of mystery — what's not to like?
(Aside: I ordinarily don't try to figure out the "whodunit?" part of a mystery story or novel. Number one, I'm not that clever and, number two, I'm usually more interested in the characterizations and interactions. In THE SILVER ALIBI, however, I smugly thought I had the mystery element all figured out about a third of the way through. But then James came along with a totally legitimate swerve that caught me flat-footed and off base by a mile. So, back to concentrating on the characters and the action for me — until the next time I get suckered in.)

Bottom line: THE SILVER ALIBI is a most welcome return for Big Earl and, one hopes, the impetus for more appearances soon. Fast-paced, engaging, well worth your time and money.
Strongly recommended.

Friday, December 28, 2012


From now (actually started on 12/26) through New Years Day 2013, all titles in the popular Fight Card series are available for 99-cents each.
Tight, tough, action-packed thrillers harking back to the sports pulps of the 30s and 40s, as authored by some of the most exciting writers working today.
Just click on the following link for access to all:
Proud to say that I have a title --- COUNTERPUNCH --- in the mix.
At this price, you can afford to check out all of 'em. You won't be sorry you did.
This fine period mystery by my pal John R. Lindermuth is also available on Kindle for a limited time at the bargain price of 99-cents. I reviewed this when it first came out and if you didn't check it out then, now is the time to correct that oversight. Again, you won't be sorry.
Here's the blurb:

Sylvester Tilghman is the third in his family to serve as sheriff in the small Pennsylvania town of Arahpot, a generally peaceful place as the 19th century winds to a close. His biggest problems are lack of a deputy and the refusal of his girlfriend to marry him despite many proposals.

When Conrad Runkle, a stranger in town, is fatally stabbed Tilghman’s attention is drawn to another party new to town, Valentine Deibert, an obese man with a wife half his age. Tilghman had seen Deibert react with obvious fear in a recent encounter with the stabbing victim. When questioned, Deibert denies knowing or fearing the victim.

Runkle’s wife arrives in Arahpot and informs Tilghman her husband was in pursuit of a man who had scammed him, bankrupting his business. Suspecting a connection, Sylvester pays another visit to Deibert only to discover him dead of arsenic poisoning. Sylvester is plunged into a flurry of unusual activity and danger. And Lydia is pushing her obnoxious cousin on him as a candidate for deputy. Things continue going from bad to worse until Sylvester finally unravels the mystery.


Thursday, December 27, 2012

Noteworthy Reads: THE SHAOLIN COWBOY ADVENTURE MAGAZINE by Andrew Vachss and Michael A. Black

The lead feature here is the Shaolin Cowboy in "The Way of 'No Way". This violent, humorous, energy-charged homage to the hero pulps of the past hits the mark dead-on. More precisely, I should say it hits the marks, plural, because author Andrew Vachss uses the high-adventure format to take aim at numerous targets ranging from current pop culture to established conventions, all of whose bubbles are due (or past due) for some bursting.
The message never gets in the way of the action or the fun and surprises, however, as the stoic, plump, baggy-pantsed Cowboy—with his ever-present Chicago Cubs ball cap, his talking mule (whose sarcasm is matched only by his horniness), and a seemingly endless arsenal of weapons strapped to the mule's back—plods doggedly onward through the Endless Desert and the Terror-tories beyond to face each new danger. His goal is to pick up a payment from the boss of the Terror-tories, a grotesque blob known as "T.A." (short for "Totally Awesome", according to the blob himself, but more commonly interpreted as "Toxic Amoeba", which everyone calls him behind his back). The payment is actually triple the amount the Cowboy has already been paid by the Noir Boys to take out T.A. For that kind of dough, the Cowboy is perfectly willing to pull a double-cross—but only after he gets the money up front.
The trick, then, becomes getting to the Toxic Amoeba to pick up his pay. This sets up a series of bloody confrontations with everything from land sharks, to biker gangs, to feral forest defenders, to in-bred swamp dwellers under the protection of a true swamp horror called Monda Conda, to a three-ton Komodo Dragon with a ferocious appetite for anything in its path … Just to name a few.
Along the way, Cowboy and Mule also rescue a little girl from the clutches of a brutal white slaver and deliver her to the security of the Protect compound just beyond the edge of the forest. This sequence shows the compassionate side of the Cowboy, not to mention the Mule, who the little girl insists on calling "Horsey".
Through it all, plenty of laugh-out-loud one-liners and wry observations, mostly by the mule, add a layer of tongue-in-cheek humor to the proceedings that provide a nicely balanced counterpoint for the over-the-top violence that reaches an ultimate climax once the Cowboy makes it to where the Toxic Amoeba awaits in T.A. Town.
The secondary feature is a tight little science fiction piece entitled "Time Factor" by Michael A. Black. It is reminiscent of some of the best science fiction movies and books from the 1950s and tells a tale of time travel, complete with some harrowing adventure and a just-right touch of human emotion.
The overall package that is THE SHAOLIN COWBOY ADVENTURE MAGAZINE has just the right mix of ingredients: Gaudy cover complete with a monster and a babe in peril, exciting interior illustrations, corny ads and filler material, even the perfect pulp paper with a faintly gritty feel and that woodsy smell when you ruffle the pages. Not to mention the quality of the previously detailed stories.
Looking for some reading material that is fun and exciting and just a little different from standard fare available these days? You can find it right here.
Strongly recommended.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Guest Blog: JACK REACHER (movie) by C.J. Henderson

Much has been blogged and commented upon about the soon-to-be released JACK REACHER movie starring Tom Cruise. Much of it not very flattering, mostly due to the casting of Cruise in the title — and all without actually having seen the film.
I read some of the early Reacher books and liked them well enough, but for some reason never stuck with them. I've seen a few Tom Cruise movies that I liked, a few I didn't, and a whole bunch that I never bothered checking out. So I've got no horse in the race. If the movie is good, it's good — Li'l Tommy's height notwithstanding. It is, after all, possible for the right actor to "act big" … anybody remember a fella by the name of Alan Ladd?
So when my friend C.J. Henderson recently saw a screening of JACK REACHER and wrote the following review, I thought it made an intriguing contrast to all that previously has only been speculation compared to the critique of somebody who's actually seen the finished product.
Here's what Chris has to say:

Ladies and gentlemen, this is to announce that I received my Christmas present early this year. This night, in fact, when I saw the screening of "Jack Reacher" the first good novel that has been correctly adapted by Hollywood in years. The movie is based on British author Lee Child's book, "One Shot," one of the novels in his Jack Reacher adventure/thriller series. Let me just say this up front, that one of his books not only made it to the screen, but in such good condition, is the miracle of the ages. I will, or course, explain. But right now, let's get to …
 The story: The place is downtown Pittsburgh. For some unknown reason, a sharp-shooting assassin murders five people in cold blood in broad daylight. Thanks to expert police work, a suspect is named and captured in record time. The man is given a choice: confess, and get a life sentence, or cost the city the expense of a trial and assure himself of getting the death penalty. Taking the papers he has been handed, the man scrawls across them in large letters--GET JACK REACHER.
 This confuses the authorities because no one knows who this Reacher is. Oh, they find out who he was quickly enough. He was a military policeman with an excellent record. But, for the preceding two years since he left the Army he has been completely off the grid. No phone, utility bills, screen name--nothing. Then, with no idea how to find Reacher (Tom Cruise), suddenly  he walks in the door having come to see them.
 What unfolds from that point on is a complex game filled with multiple layers of lies and misdirection. It would be practically criminal for any reviewer to give away more of the plot. And, there is no need. One could only ruin for an audience the overwhelmingly terrific experience ahead of them.
 This is top-flight entertainment. Based on one hell of a book, the filmmakers have managed to make one hell of a movie. They did this mainly by not mucking around with what was already an incredibly tight, tremendously nuanced story. The film, which just tops two hours, is the tensest, most heart-pounding film made since the turn of the century.
 Now-a-days, Hollywood doesn't have faith in this kind of story. The film is not filled with explosions. It has action, but it has no hero--at least, not the kind of "hero" that the film industry understands. The industry likes cookie-cutter heroics, the kind of asinine crap Stallone and his ever-increasing crew of knuckleheads are making fun of in his remorselessly trivial "Expendables" series.
 Reacher is not that kind of character. Most of the time, when someone in a movie talks about playing by their own rules, they're talking about the usual paint-by-the-numbers bilge that we'll most likely see highlighted in Schwarzenegger's grand return to the screen. Reacher is more than a mere refreshing breath of air. He is a return to the kind of character you would think that only a young Clint Eastwood, or Lee Marvin, possibly, might be able to portray with any conviction. That Tom Cruise was able to pull this off so successfully is, to myself at least, practically unbelievable.
 I would like to simply give him the credit for a fantastic performance and let it go at that. However, it would remiss of me to not mention that if he did have any help, it might have been from the film's director, Christopher McQuarrie, who previously brought us "The Usual Suspects." Taking that into consideration does help explain the movie's unrelenting tension level. On the other hand, McQuarrie also brought us "Valkyrie," another Tom Cruise vehicle in which the star did not so much stand out as he did stand around.
 So, credit where credit is due, this is a terrific film. First because there was an incredible book to adapt, and second because when he wants to be, Tom Cruise can rise to the occasion and be one of the best actors working today.
 As for everything else, the film has all other bases covered. There is nothing overly sensational about the cinematography, editing, special effects, costuming, et cetera. Everything else works fine, and helps keep the movie barreling along to its conclusion.
 This may or may not be a see-in-the-theater film for you, but if you like action, brutal fight scenes, intelligent characters, a story with evil in it that is as realistic as possible, and a main character like you've never seen before, this is the holiday picture for you. There is no sex, the usual cursing is held to an utter minimum, and the overall effect is fantastic. See it at home if you have to, but this is one definitely worth seeing.
 Our final word: 5 stars out of 5.

In addition to writing reviews for Black Cat Media and other outlets, C.J. Henderson is a prolific and popular author who writes in many genres. He's written extensively in the Lovecraft mythos, has recently written the first Spider novel in 65 years, has done a number of stories and novels featuring Kolchak: The Night Stalker, etc. He also does the Jack Hagee, hardboiled PI series; as well as the Teddy London, occult detective series.