Wednesday, July 31, 2013


OUTRAGE AT BLANCO has been one of my favorite Westerns ever since I first read it in paperback back in the late nineties. Having re-read it again in its reissued Kindle version, I find it has lost none of its power. And, one hopes, this new release will reach a whole batch of new readers.
It is a revenge story, which is certainly not uncommon to Westerns. The fact that its central protagonist is female gives the revenge plot a certain distinction, but that also has been done plenty of times before. The real bonus here is the depth of characterization, the plot twists, and the tangled motivations of the various players as presented by the skilled hand of author Bill Crider. Ellie Taine --- the aforementioned central protagonist --- is especially well drawn and memorable. So, too, is Jonathan Crossland, a man essentially dying of cancer who is "resurrected" to hit the trail one last time in an effort to try and set some things right regarding his greedy, no-good son.
There's plenty of action in this fast-paced tale, but the revelations and shifting interactions between its characters --- some good, some bad, a couple somewhere in between --- is what will make the most lasting impression on readers.

Until this Kindle re-issue, I had no idea that Bill Crider had written a sequel to his outstanding novel, OUTRAGE AT BLANCO. I'm delighted to have now made the (albeit belated) discovery.
Like OUTRAGE, this is a story of retribution and again Crider's memorable Ellie Traine is called upon to seek her own brand of justice when a pack of savage prison escapees invade her ranch and viciously attacked her foreman and his family.
But they didn't count on Ellie. They left her alive … to come after them. And that is something she not only is hell bent on doing, it is something she has proven to be relentlessly good at.
As noted in a prior review, I'd recommend reading OUTRAGE AT BLANCO and then TEXAS VIGILANTE in sequence. VIGILANTE is a tough, gritty, exciting yarn in its own right, but reading OUTRAGE first gives a more complete appreciation for the full impact of the wonderful Ellie Traine character.
For the bargain Kindle prices, read 'em both --- for some of the finest Western action/drama you're going to find at any price! You won't be sorry.

Monday, July 29, 2013

AFTERSHOCK by Andrew Vachss

While I've yet to read a novel by Andrew Vachss that I didn't enjoy and find fascinating in the kind of details that only he can present with signature style and authority, AFTERSHOCK instantly leaps to near the top of my favorites under his byline. This may be due in part to my long-standing bias toward series characters and the fact that this marks the first in a projected new series featuring its protagonist Dell and his lady love, Dolly. But it is more than that, much more.
Vachss's powerhouse stand-alones like THE GETAWAY MAN, SHELLA, and THE WEIGHT are bold, strong works, to be sure, and I savored the diverse characterizations and storylines in each of them. But --- like many readers, I expect --- a part of me kept longing for another appearance from Burke and his back-up "family of choice". Yet, at the same time, knowing that Andrew had announced the close of that series and knowing, too, that his word is as solid as you can get, I had to accept no reappearance was going to happen.
Hence, it was with a fresh sense of anticipation and excitement that I cracked open AFTERSOCK --- and, boy, were my hopes more than satisfied.
Dell is not some superficially re-fashioned version of Burke; but he is every bit as hard and complex and savvy. Dell's world is not Burke's; actually, Dell's past has made him a man of many worlds. But his current surroundings (where he resides with Dolly, who has known her own share of past worlds as well) is every bit as dark and nasty as Burke's urban jungle --- and perhaps even more dangerous because it has a fa├žade of "normalcy" draped over it.
I won't go into plot details inasmuch as they have been covered well enough elsewhere. Suffice it to say that the writing is clean and sharp, the characters memorable, the storyline as shocking and timely as tomorrow's headlines. Everything you've come to expect from Vachss, and never done better.
Highly recommended.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Forget Sharknado - Get Ready for SCHLOCK ZONE DRIVE-IN

Remember those good old, bad old, scary but fun thriller/horror/sci-fi movies from the 50s, 60s, and 70s? You know the kind I'm talking about, the ones where the paper-mache` and wire special effects (and the acting, too, come to think about it) were only slightly better than a standard high school play? In most cases, the titles and preview trailers were the high points of the feature.
Yet we gobbled 'em up and kept coming back for more.
And now the Sy-Fy Channel on TV is cashing in on a whole new crop of the same kind of thing, only slightly enhanced with a dash of low grade computer-generated special effects. With titles like the above mentioned Sharknado and others such as Chupacabra vs. The Alamo, 2-Headed Shark Attack, Tasmanian Devils, etc., how can you not want to check them out?
Well, it doesn't stop there. Thanks to the creative brilliance behind Schlock Zone Drive-In Theater, a whole raft of exciting writers from a variety of genre backgrounds are turning out a series of eBooks aimed at capturing that whole vein of … well, schlock horror.
Schlock Zone even has its own hostess --- Mistress Evili. You can see more of her (and you red-blooded males, trust me, you will want to see more of her – although it may cost you some of that red blood) at the SZ blog here: .

The first two titles in the SZ series are available now they are:

Check out these exciting titles and then be on the lookout for more coming soon!
Add some scary fun to your summer.

Sunday, July 14, 2013


Today marks what would have been my late wife's 65th birthday.
Pam would have hated that, turning 65 (!). According to her, she steadfastly never aged past 39.

Anyone who has followed this blog or my Facebook page or read any of my interviews, knows that I comment often on Pam. I wonder sometimes if readers find this tiring and see me as some kind of pathetic, obsessive person who can't get past losing her. In a sense, I guess that's true --- I think about her daily and miss her terribly. But I've gone on with my life well enough, thank you. I have persevered. Partly because that's the way I'm made, partly because that's how Pam would have wanted it.
In the final analysis, I don't care what others may think. Not in this regard. As a writer who knows how to use words and has the outlets to do so, it is altogether fitting and proper --- maybe even obligatory --- for me to utilize these capabilities, if I wish, to carry on Pam's memory and to share my feelings about the great love of my life. Anyone not interested in hearing about her or my feelings for her is free not to read what I have to say.

This year, to commemorate her birthday, I want to share the words to a simple, sad, sweet song (by Jud Strunk) that heard for the first time a while back on the radio. I tracked down the lyrics and memorized them. I think they do a good job of capturing the kind of love and devotion that I felt/feel for Pam:

He remembers the first time he saw her

He remembers the first thing she said;
He remembers the first time he saw her
And the night that she came to his bed.

He remembers her sweet way of saying
"Honey, has something gone wrong?"
He remembers the love and the teasin'
And the reason he wrote her this song.

"I'll give you a daisy a day, dear
I'll give you a daisy a day;
I'll love you until the rivers run still
And the four winds we know blow away."

They would go for a walk in the evening
For years I would watch them go by;
And their love that was more
than the clothes that they wore
Could be seen in the gleam of their eyes.

As a kid they would take me for candy
How I loved to go tagging along;
We'd hold hands as we walked to the corner
And the old man would sing her his song.

"I'll give you a daisy a day, dear
I'll give you a daisy a day;
I'll love you until the rivers run still
And the four winds we know blow away."

Now he walks down the street in the evening
And he stops by the old candy store;
And I somehow believe he's believin'
He's still holding her hand like before.

He can feel all her love walking with him
And he smiles at the things she might say;
Then the old man walks up to the hilltop
And he gives her a daisy a day.

It's always awkward this time of year to think in terms of the word "happy" – as in Happy Birthday. Yet the occasion of Pam's birthday is a happy time. For if she'd never been born, you see, then I never would have been blessed with having her in my life for forty-plus years …
So happy birthday, babe. I love you.


For some bizarre reason (admitting that it is not uncommon for my thoughts to venture into the bizarre), after going to see THE LONE RANGER over the weekend and then sitting down to write this review, I kept thinking of that Latin phrase they hammered into our heads in high school (at least my high school). You know the one: Veni, vidi, vici … "I came, I saw, I conquered."
Only in the case of THE LONE RANGER, my thoughts ran (you'll have to excuse the rough translation): Veni, vidi, fructus … "I came, I saw, I enjoyed the hell out of it."

My feelings ever since first hearing about the plans for this movie have been a sort of mental roller coaster ride. First they were kinda high, hoping they'd finally get it right this time --- better than the disappointing Klinton Spillsbury version, and better than the TV thing they did in between (where, at one point, they contemplated a female Tonto); then I heard Bruckheimer's name attached to it and I thought that would be kind of cool, or at least it would translate to big budget and exciting (say what you will about Bruckheimer movies as far as high drama or what have you, they do tend to be exciting); then I heard Johnny Depp would be playing Tonto and my feelings toward the whole deal dropped about as low as I thought they could go; then I saw the first pictures of Depp as Tonto, with the face paint and that dead fucking crow on his head, and I found out my feelings could sink even lower and I pretty much wrote off any chance of me ever seeing this version of the Lone Ranger … But then the trailers started showing up. Damn You Tube, anyway. It looked like a fun, exciting movie and once again I started thinking about the kind of energy (whether the plot makes any sense or not) that a Bruckheimer film can generate … Ultimately, I decided I wanted to go see it when it came out.
And I'm glad I did.
Was it the Lone Ranger your grandfather (that would be me) grew up on? Nope, not much at all. But --- and this is an important but --- it didn't ruin that Lone Ranger, either. It simply put a different spin on it. More emphasis on Tonto and comedy, introducing John Reid (LR) as a more inept "easterner" returning to the West from law school (not too different from the James Stewart character in THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE) who only eventually started showing more heroic grit and savvy as the movie headed toward its climax, and throwing into the mix some obligatory PC stuff about the mistreatment of Indians and the environment being out of balance due to the corruption and evils of big business (in this case the railroads), etc.
In other words, a lot of it didn't really make a helluva lot of sense beyond the core story of Tonto aiding the lone survivor of the Texas Ranger massacre, the finding of his horse Silver, the donning of the mask, and seeking out justice/revenge for nasty ol' Butch Cavendish. In deference to Mr. Depp, I have to admit that it didn't take long for that stupid crow on top of his head (they had some mumbo-jumbo back story to explain that) not to matter so much and to accept/appreciate the comedic-yet-intense (think Buster Keaton) spin he put on the character of Tonto. I wish Armie Hammer's John Reid/LR interpretation would have been a little less dorky (think Brendon Fraser in the recent Mummy movies) in the beginning but, by the closing scenes where he rides off with Tonto to dispense further justice and order in the Old West, you sense that he is on the brink of becoming the more mature, more assured character we're familiar with.

There's really not much more to say.
If you want to be guided by Lone Ranger "purists" or more elite critics who have pig-piled onto this (same as they unfairly did for JOHN CARTER) because --- in my opinion --- they simply didn't "get it", then I think you're going to miss a hell of a good time at the movies.
For me, when the William Tell Overture music hit at the beginning of the big climactic sequence and the Lone Ranger came riding onto the screen whirling a lariat, there was a nine- or ten-year-old boy somewhere inside me who wanted to surge out of his seat wearing a paper mask over his eyes and brandishing a pair of cap guns and go running up and down the aisles on a broomstick horse. That's how it made me feel. That's how a rip-roaring Lone Ranger climax should make you feel --- and nuts to everything else.
My regular movie-going buddy these days, my 20-year-old grandson Bill, didn't know hardly squat about the Lone Ranger going in. So he had no expectations, no illusions. But he told me afterward that, when the music hit and LR came riding back on the screen, he felt exactly that same kind of excitement.
I talked to a couple of other old-timers (complete strangers) on the way out of the theater, and they both felt exactly the same way.
For a movie to leave people feeling that pumped up and excited and filled with such a sense of youthful exuberance … I'd say the film makers must have gotten something right.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


This post isn't really about the weather, although most parts of the country have by now had a strong dose of those hot, sweltering spells of a kind commonly referred to as the "dog days". Who knows, with the endless thumping about "climate change" or "global warming" or whatever the hell they're calling it these days (I have my own terminology for it and it also covers something you scoop out of a barnyard) maybe some time soon it will all be called "the inconvenient Gore days" or some such.
By the way, do you know how these hot summer periods came to be called "the dog days"? It's from ancient times when it was noted that these hot spells came during periods when the constellation Canis Major and its largest star, the dog star Sirius, were closest to the earth. It was concluded that the nearness of the constellation gave off extra heat. See? They had idiots like Gore swerving the population back then, too …

Okay, the real thrust of this post and the cutesy title are to talk a little bit about the dogs of my family and especially the ones who are sadly no longer with us this summer. The real dog lover in our outfit was my late wife Pam. As most of you who follow me via this blog or on Facebook or have perhaps read some of my interviews know, Pam passed away in 2008. She left behind three little dogs who were her constant companions --- Buttercup, Peanut, and Bear. These were small mixed breeds: Terrier, Pekinese, and poodle, respectively.
Let me explain, too, about those names.
None of them were assigned by me, I assure you. "Bear" is kinda cool, but since he (the only male in the mix) is a toy poodle, and the runt of the litter at that … well, there goes most of the manly association, name notwithstanding.
Let me also admit that I've always really liked these mutts more than I pretended (which Pam well knew) but they --- and her fawning over them --- were sometimes a pain in the butt. A running joke between Pam and me (a rather morbid one, perhaps, but one made when there was no inkling I would be losing her so early) was that she wanted to have her dogs cremated when they died so their ashes could eventually be mixed with ours when we were gone. (We'd long since made a commitment to be cremated and have our ashes mixed when the time came.)  My response to her request concerning having my ashes spend eternity with those of her mutts was that I'd had to put up with them in life, thank you, that ought to be sufficient.
Well, as we all know, words have a way of coming back around, don't they?
Sometimes in very ironic ways.

Buttercup died this spring. She'd gotten very slow and frail and I knew it was just a matter of time. But as long as she didn't seem to be in pain I was reluctant to hurry the end by having her put down. She was still eating her regular dog food decently but I also fed her peanut butter toast twice a day to make sure she was getting some added protein and fatty nutrition. She slept, along with Bear, on a cushion on the floor beside my bed.
But one Sunday morning I woke to find her lying dead out in the living room in front of the TV. I had her cremated and her remains are now in a little velvet bag leaning against one side of Pam's urn.
A couple of weeks ago, we lost Peanut. She, too, got very frail and weak. Her I had to hold in my arms and feed her slices of cheese and pieces of peanut butter toast. When she started to get too weak to barely hold up her head, I had to make that dreaded choice of taking her in for euthanasia. I held her in my arms for that, too. Her ashes haven't been returned yet but, when they are, they too will rest in the living room with Pam, like she wanted.
That leaves Bear. Amazingly, he's always been the sickliest one of the bunch. Even when Pam was alive, he'd developed a gimpy back and a recurring cough like he was secretly chain-smoking on the side. Since Pam has been gone he's also gone blind in one eye.
I should mention that we acquired all of these dogs circa 1998-99, right after re-locating to Nebraska. We got them all as rescue pups so never knew their EXACT birth dates, only that as of 2013 they were each in the 15-year-old range.
In December of 2010, Bear's leg got suddenly worse and was hurting him to the point he could hardly get around and was whimpering much of the time. I took him the vet where she gave him a shot of steroids and some pills and we discussed the possibility of putting him down. But, man, I sure didn't want to have to do that just before Christmas. So I took him back home with me and we agreed that if the medication helped his pain and I carried him up and down the stairs to go out to do his business (I live in a basement apartment of our house since Pam passed), we would hold off until after the holidays. Well, it's two and a half years after those particular holidays and the little fart is currently as spry or sprier than he's been for a long time. It's kinda spooky, but it almost seems like he's some kind of succubus who has sucked part of the energy or life force from the loss of the other two.
Needless to say, the little guy has become more devoted to me than ever. And the other way around, too, I suppose. He follows me from room to room and lays near wherever I settle for any length of time. He sleeps beside my bed every night and first thing in the morning, while my coffee is brewing, he snorts and woofs impatiently until he gets some peanut butter toast that he got accustomed to when I was nursing Buttercup and Peanut. Other than that, he's very little bother other than being underfoot too much of the time because he wants to be close to me.

I usually referred to these mutts as "Pam's dogs" and used to put up a gruff front by telling her --- and more recently my daughter and grandkids --- that, if it wasn't for the obligation I felt to Pam, I wouldn't want the stupid things around.
Well, inasmuch as she's been gone for over five years now, I guess I can't claim they are/were strictly "Pam's dogs". No, I never petted them nor fawned over them to the degree she did. But I must have treated them okay for 'em to make it to the fifteen-year mark. And now that two of the "stupid things" are gone … well, I can't pretend I don't miss them. And for reasons beyond just my obligation to Pam.
Remember what I said about your words coming back around on you? Believe it, they do. Even ones said in jest.

So now we're into the dog days of summer and two canine critters who were part of our family for fifteen years are gone.
The fact it's summer probably impacts on me even a bit more than their loss otherwise might.
I think about Pam and miss her all the time. But I think about her more around certain holidays and in the heart of summer because her birthday is July 14. So now I'll be missing her and Buttercup and Peanut. I know the mutts are getting good care and I know Pam is happy to have them with her again. The thought of that is somewhat comforting … Not as comforting, of course, as if they were all still here with me. But we don't get to make those choices, do we?
I know Pam has been watching and I think she must be pleased with the way I took care of "her dogs". I'll find out (hopefully) when Bear and I make the trip and join them again one day.