Sunday, March 17, 2024

Review: Portrait of a Dead Heiress

Portrait of a Dead Heiress Portrait of a Dead Heiress by Thomas B. Dewey
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The eleventh book in Dewey’s excellent Mac series finds the PI back in Chicago investigating an dubious suicide. The cast of characters include a heart-broken and shady doctor, a gay alcoholic artist, a corrupt cop, and young woman who works for a shifty retailer in a poor urban district. Dialog is colorful and concise showcasing Mac’s detection and interviewer skills. Interesting perspective on abortion in the pre-Roe v. Wade era , a plot point that is handled discreetly, being a somewhat taboo subject in it’s time. The dialog and complex plotting are the strengths of this short novel, although the murder motive felt a bit contrived. Of all of the bevy of paperback original private eye series of the ‘50s and ‘60s I would rank Dewey’s Mac as my favorite. Another solid entry.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Review: Drachenfels

Drachenfels Drachenfels by Jack Yeovil
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Drachenfels is both the name of an evil demon wizard and his castle. Much like the second half of Stephen King's "It", a team of adventurers are forced to regroup 25 years after defeating Drachenfels, who has risen again much like Harry Potter's nemesis Voldemort. Seeing that this book takes place in the Warhammer universe the team is made up of various fantasy races and classes like dwarves, elves, wizards, a fighter prince, and most interestingly the vampire Genevieve, the glue of continuity that holds this four-book series together. The main narrative here concerns playwright/director Detlef who has been commissioned to put on a new play by the prince commemorating the defeat of Drachenfels and in a bad move - hold it in his abandoned castle. I liked that the plot revolved around putting on a play, not a typical fantasy/vampire storyline, although it was really kind of weird too. Well written, although a bit slow for my taste, inducing some snores for bedtime readings. Anyway, I liked it enough to give it three stars.

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Sunday, September 17, 2023

Review: The Case of the Velvet Claws

The Case of the Velvet Claws The Case of the Velvet Claws by Erle Stanley Gardner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gardner’s first Perry Mason novel surprised me because nothing takes place in a courtroom. Also, Mason behaves just like a hard-boiled detective, although he displays a sharp acumen of the law, and is deeply honor bound to be a faithful representative to his client, a gorgeous and very shifty wife of a soon-to-be-dead rich husband. Murder and suspicious wills are nothing new in the mystery genre, so Gardner mashes up some interesting subplots and twists that I didn’t see coming. Paul Drake and Della Street are here and Mason is clearly romantically involved with Della, something that was not alluded to on TV. Gardner was one of the best writers of the 20th century, and although his popularity has waned, I have never read anything by him that was less that great, this one included.

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Saturday, September 2, 2023

Review: The Moon Maid

The Moon Maid The Moon Maid by Edgar Rice Burroughs
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Evidently Burroughs wrote this as a metaphorical response to American Communists, which he abhorred, although I wasn’t able to figure out the connection. Set in the not-too-distant future USA astronauts on a mission to Mars are maliciously crash landed into a crater on the moon by saboteur Orthis, a sociopath with a vendetta for hero Julian. Discovering a vast lost civilization Julian gets involved is several capture/escape set pieces, meeting the beautiful titular Moon Maid in the process and culminating in a massive battle between warring cities – and the return of Orthis. This is a fairly typical Burroughs pulp space opera/romance with an emphasis on world building and adventure. It didn’t leave me with much enthusiasm for reading the next two entries in the three book series, so it was just reliably serviceable in the ERB scale. I give it three stars.

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Sunday, July 30, 2023

Review: Remembered Sin

Remembered Sin Remembered Sin by Harry Whittington
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

One of Whittington’s fabled “missing 38”, this one is a sleazed up nurse romance telling the story of horny young nurse Lenora who decides to take in her down-and-out former lover and his nympho and psychotic wife into her home. This greatly displeases her crippled aunt housemate, and her current lover – the jealous Dr. Whalen. The psycho wife is nasty and delusional enough to keep her set pieces mostly entertaining and arguably the highlight of the book. Pretty decent plot with several secondary characters and a few somewhat steamy R-rated trysts. Solid writing and nicely paced so readable without having to skim, like so many other sleazers. The sex scenes are fairly innocuous and brief so don’t expect to get aroused. Can’t recommend it, although okay for the Whittington completists, and another addition to this blog’s “missing 38” reviews. I give it two stars.

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Thursday, July 6, 2023

Review: Silver Shot

Silver Shot Silver Shot by Gary McCarthy
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Gary McCarthy has written scores of Westerns and work-for-hire novels. This is the seventh novel in his Derby Man series, and the only one that I have read. As you may have guessed, the protagonist in this series wears a Derby style hat. Darby Buckingham is also a former boxer and circus sideshow strongman, now a writer of Western Dime Novels. Here Darby travels to a mining town and is soon followed by love interest Dolly, and a couple of comedic type sidekicks, where he gets involved with a corrupt stockbroker and con man who is duping the town, and Dolly into investing in a mining stock scheme. He’s also predictably a fine boxer and adversary for Darby in fisticuffs. So a few fistfights, some confusing stock trading, a murder or two, and some romance and jealousy ensue. Darby is an interesting character and worthy of a series. The writing, pacing, and dialog are solid, the plotting kind of seems like the author is making it up as he goes, which is fine, although some devices seemed far-fetched and unnecessary. I liked the writing and the character and would be interested in reading others in the series. I give this one three stars.

Recently republished by Wolfpack Publishing, including an omnibus of the entire series.

Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Review: Carla

Carla Carla by Sheldon Lord
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This was Lawrence Block's first published novel. Marketed to men of that era (1958) as a sex book about a nymphomanic, but it could just as easily have been marketed under a different name and with different art and jacket copy to women as a romance. This is a censorship era book so the sex scenes are veiled and euphemistic but I'm sure it was quite scandalous at the time. There is one particularly gruesome scene, a flashback to when Carla was fourteen and her mother takes her to to get a back alley abortion, that shows off the kind of writer Block would become. Otherwise, the writing here is similar to what Orrie Hitt was writing at the same time. Page after page of shallow psychology passed off as the character's, mostly Carla's, thought processes.

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Sunday, July 2, 2023

Review: Come Destroy Me

Come Destroy Me Come Destroy Me by Vin Packer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Bookworm Charlie channels a Holden Caulfield level of teenage angst and self-pity while struggling against psychopathic tendencies in this corker of a short novel. Charlie's infatuation with a neurotic older woman is the main focus of the narrative, among plenty of other relationship entanglements that include his mousy mother, horny sister, and the decent guy that they both get involved with, and who Charlie deeply resents. The author does an amazing job of getting into Charlie's head, his self-esteem, paranoia, and lack of remorse. Flash forwards clue the reader into what's going to happen so that we can observe the signs of Charlie’s descent, which everyone else in the story fails to pick up on. The author’s insights into mental illness are fascinating and thought provoking. A book that’s impossible to put down. I give it five stars.

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Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Review: The Chessmen of Mars

The Chessmen of Mars The Chessmen of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Tara of Helium, young daughter of John Carter and Dejah Thoris, is serious bad-ass, killing rapists and dangerous eunuchs, and mouthing off to anyone who tries to disrespect her. Burroughs was clearly before his time when it came to bad-ass women. This pretty much follows the theme of the previous Mars stories, adventures, battles, meeting strange new Barsoom races, except this time it's Tara, and she is completely lost after being blown across the planet on her flier in a horrific wind storm, much like Dorothy in Oz. Sufficiently interesting and entertaining for a story over 100 years old, although the stilted and flowery prose of the time might be off-putting. Again the strength of the Mars books is the exquisite world building that ERB is so good at with many great examples. The story is not without weaknesses. The male hero, and love interest, goes by three different names, which can be confusing. All of the characters in the main location have names formatted like A-AAA, and similar enough to add to the confusion. It also get a bit repetitive with several capture-rescue set pieces. Pretty good book in the Barsoom series. I give it three stars.

The book is in the public domain and available here.

Sunday, June 25, 2023

Review: The First Kothar the Barbarian MEGAPACK®: 3 Sword and Sorcery Novels

The First Kothar the Barbarian MEGAPACK®: 3 Sword and Sorcery Novels

The First Kothar the Barbarian MEGAPACK®: 3 Sword and Sorcery Novels by Gardner F. Fox
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Gardner Fox was amazingly prolific, writing thousands of comic books, plus a slew of novels and short stories. During the Sword and Sorcery revival in the 1960s, arguably triggered by Lancer republishing Robert E Howard’s Conan pulp stories, Fox wrote these Kothar Barbarian Swordsman stories. Sure, they’re directive as hell, and would have fit right in with Weird Tales in the 1930s, although that’s no reason to be dismissive. All five of the stories republished in these Wildside Press Megapacks are equally fun and entertaining reads. All clearly following in the Howard school of pulp fiction heroics the stories are action-packed and fast moving with no elements of high fantasy to bog things down. Reminded me a lot of video games or Dungeon and Dragons adventures when the adventurer explores a magical world, encountering monster or supernatural beings, then a final battle with the Big Bad or Boss to conclude. A terrific collection of fun and pulpy stories that are well worth the bargain ebook pricing.

The First Megapack at Wildside Press

The Second Megapack at Wildside Press