Thursday, December 31, 2020

Review: Legend of the Black Rose

Legend of the Black Rose Legend of the Black Rose by A.W. Hart
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There are a lot of demands on the first book in a planned series, introducing multiple characters, backstories, locations, etc. This book does a solid job with all of these although I felt that the descriptive prose was a bit excessive and it seemed over long, like 50 pages could have been cut. This was probably mostly due to the nature of being the first book so it’s forgivable. A young woman named Catalina Riviera, well trained in martial arts, is rescued by a convent of nuns after her family is slaughtered in a raid. The nuns are warriors themselves, protecting underground springs with metaphysical properties, and Catalina is a welcome addition. Catalina assumes a Zorro-like disguised identity called the Black Rose, a crime fighting vigilante in her efforts to bring the persons responsible for her family’s murder to justice. A bevy of interesting characters are introduced, some unlikely alliances, a couple of twists, and an explosive climax all contribute to a satisfying read.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Review: Love-Starved Woman

Love-Starved Woman Love-Starved Woman by Peggy Gaddis
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Really enjoyed this fast-paced pulp romance. Fantastic dialog in places, with insults thrown back and forth in a way that I'd think was quite edgy in 1953. The plot is a bit straight-forward, but has a enough twists to keep the pages turning. Starts off tightly leashed to Isobel Lamar's POV and then roves around amongst the other characters. At first this POV switch was unsettling but it quickly became a strength of the novel as it rounds out the perspective of the situations and the characters. Nothing too exciting. Just a good time-capsule into small town 1950s life. And Gaddis is on top of her game with energetic and sharp prose. This is a digest-sized paperback original published in 1953 by Croydon. Can't find any record of this having been reprinted, which is quite rare for a Peggy Gaddis novel. Cover art by Bern Safran, who painted a lot of the early Croydon covers.

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Friday, December 18, 2020

Review: House of Flesh

House of Flesh House of Flesh by Bruno Fischer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Another great noir from 1950 that deserves to be ranked with the classics of the genre. Really surprised that this was never made into a movie because it has all the elements. I've seen this one labeled as horror or "male-gothic," but neither of those labels fit as this is straight-ahead noir. Harry Wilde is a pro-basketball player reeling from a divorce and a loss in the final game of the championship series. He goes to the countryside for the summer to regroup. He plays around a bit with young and beautiful Polly Wellman until he meets Lela Doane, the wife of a local veterinarian (who is rumored to have murdered his first wife and fed her body to the vicious dogs he keeps). Harry soon makes the classic mistake that drives so many noir plots as he pursues a torrid affair with Lela. The plot complications accelerate from there as Harry, wanting to have Lela Doane for himself, tries to prove that Doane killed his first wife, starting with a search for her bones on Doane's property. Fischer keeps the plot and the atmosphere thick throughout. Perhaps a bit too much dialog for my taste toward at the very end as it wraps up the way a lot of mystery novels do with the unraveling of the who- and how-dunnit, but all-in-all a great noir.

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Thursday, December 17, 2020

Review: Vengeance at Ventura

Vengeance at Ventura Vengeance at Ventura by George G. Gilman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Edge books are characterized by their extreme violence, solid plotting, and breakneck pacing making them typically entertaining fast reads. The main character, a lone gunslinger named Edge, is a damaged man prone to nihilism and brutality which can often be pretty repellent. This 37th entry in the series finds Edge surprisingly altruistic, having some thoughts of romance, and a tendency to kill only fellers that deserve it. Maybe the character has matured, or maybe he’s just in a good mood for this book. Crystal Dickens, an interesting woman from the previous book (which I now need to find and read), plays a major role helping Edge resolve a family feud involving a religious zealot who has been building an ark in the desert with money stolen from his family, and who subsequently steals Edge’s horse. There are several other well drawn characters and I think that making Edge more self-reflective and less amoral help to make this one of the stronger entries in the series.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Review: The Deceivers

The Deceivers The Deceivers by John D. MacDonald
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Carl Garrett's wife Joan goes into the hospital to have ovarian tumors removed and he chooses this time to have an affair with the next door neighbor? Yes, and you know this can't end well. MacDonald is masterful with the character development, the inner turmoil, the sordid details of the affair, and just devastating in how he spins out the consequences. He went maybe a bit overboard in the second quarter of the book with the backstory, but the last half of the novel was riveting.

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Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Review: A Taste for Sin

A Taste for Sin A Taste for Sin by Gil Brewer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you are looking for a fast-paced noir thriller to lose yourself in for a few hours this Gil Brewer masterpiece is the one. Brewer removed the filter and just blew up the page. If you are a fan of crime-noir and haven't read this book yet, then you are missing out on a centerpiece of the genre.

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Monday, December 7, 2020

Review: The Removers

The Removers The Removers by Donald Hamilton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The third book in the series finds Matt Helm becoming reacquainted with his ex-wife Beth and his children after receiving an unsolicited message from her asking for his help. In a bit of a stretch, the visit to Beth’s new husband’s ranch happens to coincide with an espionage mission to track down a criminal formerly known as Martel. It turns out that Martel has replaced Beth's new husband as an enforcer with a local mobster. Helm meets and seduces an alluring younger woman named Moira, who turns out to be the mobster's daughter, leading to some interesting exchanges between the two women. The danger to his family, making the danger personal, failed to soften up Helm. He is just and cold-blooded and ruthless as ever, which I thought was a nice touch in keeping up character consistency. Coincidences aside, I thought that this was a great book, fast moving with several unexpected twists. Hamilton’s writing is strong as he continues to flesh out the Matt Helm character with Helm's clever insights and observations. This reminded me a lot of how John D. MacDonald fleshed out Travis McGee in that excellent series. Five stars.

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Saturday, December 5, 2020

Review: Death House Doll

Death House Doll Death House Doll by Day Keene
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you like the classic hard-boiled detective novels, this one fits right in. Keene, as he often did, twists the genre a bit by not using a detective to do the detecting. Here it is an army sergeant on leave checking up on his dead brother's wife and child. As the book begins he's visiting her in prison because she's the death house doll. Plenty of action and twists and turns as the sergeant, a medal of honor winner, takes on hoods and cops as he tries to solve the crime and free his brother's wife from death row before she is executed in five days. Just a couple of things made this clunky. A lot of information is learned through too conveniently over-heard conversations. And then the big summary reveal at the end, although that is a convention of the mystery genre, I wish it could have had a more active ending.

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