Sunday, October 30, 2016

SHERLOCK HOLMES: ZOMBIES OVER LONDON by Stephen Mertz

I have always wanted to hear Sherlock Holmes say—

“Zombies.” and “The undead.”

—but I didn’t know it until I read those words in Stephen Mertz’s Sherlock Holmes: Zombies Over London. It features, as the title suggests, Arthur Conan Doyle’s timeless detective Sherlock Holmes. It is, as are the bulk of Conan Doyle’s original stories, narrated by Dr. John Watson and the narration is close to perfect – the cadence, noun and verb selection, characterization, and setting very much capture the feel and time of the original stories.

It opens with a punch. Holmes and Watson are inflight aboard the futuristic military dirigible Blackhawk, approaching Castle Moriarty to rescue Watson’s wife, Mary Morstan, from the clutches of Professor Moriarty. Moriarty kidnapped Mary as a form of extortion to keep Holmes and Watson from investigating his most recent criminal endeavor. An enterprise Holmes knows nothing about, except Moriarty’s plan to auction off its results, whatever it is, to the highest bidder. The two men jump from the dirigible, a “flight enabler” – very much like a hang glider – strapped to their backs, landing safely on the roof of the castle. Once on the castle they notice a group of empty-eyed workers loading wagons in a precise, rigid manner; to Watson’s confusion, and incredulity, Holmes labels the workers as zombies. And Moriarty, always the master criminal, has more than zombies in his plans.   

Sherlock Holmes: Zombies Over London is a hybrid adventure and detective novel. Its mystery is genuinely interesting. It features more than one nicely turned sub-plot, which effectively adds texture and confusion to the primary mystery without cheating. Its cast is unique and includes H. G. Wells and a teenage Albert Einstein. There are several scenes that display Mr. Mertz’s keen ability to develop action in a sparse, believable manner without losing the voice and tone of a Sherlock Holmes story. It is an impressive display of storytelling. It captures the essence of Conan Doyle’s stories while being wholly original, and it is a showcase of Mr. Mertz’s range as both storyteller and writer. And, it is damn fun.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Ed Gorman, A Writer of Our World

I found out yesterday Ed Gorman died late Friday night, October 14, 2016, after a years long struggle with multiple myeloma. A disease he had for as long as I knew him, and a disease I thought would never really kill him. I have corresponded with him, mostly through email, for somewhere close to ten years. I always looked forward to his emails because they made me laugh – he promised more than one Maserati – and he had such keen insights about writers, books, writing, and politics that he also made me think. He supported me, and this blog, more than you (or I) can imagine.

Ed asked me to write an introduction for Stark House’s reprint of his fine novels The Autumn Dead and The Night Remembers in 2014. He put me in touch with a couple editors at Mystery Scene Magazine a year later who gave me a shot at writing book reviews. It went well, I think, since they keep sending me books to review.

But the best thing Ed gave me, and at heart I’m really a fanboy so this is something special, was his friendship. It wasn’t anything grand. We didn’t speak on the telephone for hours, meet for drinks, or anything else most friends do, but we did get to know each other in that fuzzy, Twilight Zone, way the internet allows. He sent me books. His and other writers he thought I would enjoy. He always inscribed his own titles with a funny little note and signed it simply, “Ed”. One of my favorite inscriptions arrived on the title page of his novel, The Midnight Room, in 2009—

“That million+ I owe you is on the way as soon as Bernie Madoff pays me back!”

He often asked about my daughter, and he always, and I mean always, thanked me for everything I did for him. Just so you know, I didn’t do nearly as much for Ed as he did for me. When his illness really started to wear on him a few years ago he asked me if I would review a few books other writers had sent him, hoping for a review on his blog. I readily agreed and after I sent him the second review he insisted that I be paid. I demurred since I know how much revenue literary blogs generate – none at all – but he remained insistent and from then on every so often he would send me a small payment in my Paypal account.

Ed Gorman was a great writer. It is true he was a great mystery writer. A great western writer. A great suspense, both dark and straight, writer. He was all that, but he was, simply, a great writer. He could write anything and he frequently escaped the genre where he wrote and created something very much like literature. His stories always said something about the human condition, the world we live in. His characters, always vivid, were three dimensional. He never wrote a wholly good hero, or a completely stained villain. He wrote about us – our experience in the world – in stories that were larger than life with players so real we can very nearly see them in our bathroom mirrors.

Ed Gorman was a great writer, but he was an even better friend. And I think it is going to be a very long time before I open my email without a glimmer of hope that there will be an email from Ed. I miss you already, my friend, and my thoughts are with your family.

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Mystery Scene Reviews: Issue No. 146

The latest issue of Mystery Scene Magazine—No. 146—is at a newsstand near you. The issue is packed, as usual. It features a detailed and illuminating review of Karen Huston Karydes’ Hard-Boiled Anxiety, which is study of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and Ross Macdonald. A fine article about Erle Stanley Gardner’s DA Dough Selby novels, and interview with mystery wrtier S. J. Rozan and much more.

Issue No. 146 also includes four book reviews by, um, me. The titles: The Babe Ruth Deception by David O. Stewart, Smoke and Mirrors by Elly Griffiths, Death of an Avid Reader by Frances Brody, and Survivors Will Be Shot Again by Bill Crider.

The Babe Ruth Deception is an historical mystery set in New York City of 1920 featuring none other than Babe Ruth.

Smoke and Mirrors is an enjoyable traditional mystery – British style – featuring DI Edgar Stephens and master magician Max Mephisto.

Death of an Avid Reader is a whodunit set in Leeds, England of the mid-1920s and featuring private eye Kate Shackleton.

Survivors Will Be Shot Again is Bill Crider’s latest Sheriff Dan Rhodes, and it is an excellent addition to the series.

The reviews are available online at Mystery Scene’s website—click the titles above.

Mystery Scene is available at many newsstands, including Barnes & Noble, and available for order at MS’s website.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

TROUBLE MAN by Ed Gorman

Ed Gorman’s work is reliably good. At its best it is clear, concise, meaningful, entertaining. The people he creates are melancholy with a bitter hopefulness; a hope that mostly goes unfulfilled, but a hope that is as steady and resolute as a winter storm. His stories are most often set in the towns and cities of Iowa. A place that can be as welcoming or forbidding as Mr. Gorman wants it to be. A place he knows well. A place, including its people, he understands with the clarity of a surveyor and the sorrow of a poet.

He has successfully written in many genres, mystery, crime, science fiction, horror, western. He is, on a foundational level, a crime writer. No matter the genre he is writing, and while still honoring the tropes and expectations of that genre, his stories are structured and executed with the deft plotting of the crime story. This style and story structure is especially appealing in the western genre where he has written many of his best novels. I was reminded how well his style translates itself to the western genre when I recently read his novel, Trouble Man.

Ray Coyle is a faded gunfighter. He gave up the violence for a sharpshooter job in a traveling Wild West show. When word comes that his only child, Mike, was killed in a gunfight in Coopersville he blames himself. He taught his boy the trade and now Mike’s dead. Ray travels to Coopersville to claim Mike’s body and get the details of the fight that killed him. When the town’s doctor, who doubles as undertaker, shows him the body he notices a deep gash on Mike’s forehead. His suspicions are raised further when he meets the man who killed Mike; Bob Trevor. Bob is the town bully and the son of the most powerful man in the region and, to Ray’s educated eyes, incapable of beating Mike in a fair fight. And Ray decides, no matter how much pressure the town’s Sheriff applies, he isn’t leaving Coopersville until he knows how his son was killed.

Trouble Man is a multilayered novel that is, at its core, a study of two fathers losing sons – Ray and Bob Trevor’s father, Ralph – and their struggle to deal with the loss. Ray is a sad, regretful man, and Ralph is, on the self he projects to outsiders at least, the opposite. Ray blames himself for his son’s demise and Ralph has protected Bob from the consequences of his bad behavior for decades. The story, deftly and without being overbearing, is a character study of these two men, but it is also a well-plotted, entertaining genre vehicle.

It begins in violence and ends the same way. The story transforms more than just the primary protagonist, Ray, and it effectively communicates the turmoil of the human experience. But it does this without devolving into despair and, as the story ends, a bright anticipation of a better future is revealed. In a phrase, it is classic Ed Gorman and its appeal should be wide as both entertainment and the depth of humanity – both good and bad – it displays.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

H. A. DeRosso is Back in Print

This morning I made a wonderful discovery. Three of H. A. DeRosso’s books are back in print as trade paperbacks and low cost ebooks. Two are novels, the third is a collection, and all three are westerns. The titles: .44, The Dark Brand, and Under the Burning Sun. I reviewed Under the Burning Sun several years ago—

“It tended toward the unusual and bleak, the mythical and surreal, but it also vitalized the characters with a hard-bitten sadness and self-awareness that is rarely found in genre fiction. A major theme in the stories is one of hope, but it is hope that is never fulfilled.”

—and the stories are as vibrant in my memory now as they were when I originally read them.

.44

Publisher’s description: “Dan Harland was a man with a reputation—a reputation earned through killing. He was a hired gun, and the speed of his .44 was the stuff of legend. He never enjoyed his work, but he did it well and the pay was good.

But even the money didn’t help when Harland was hired to hunt down a man who seemed all too ready to be killed. The look in that man's eyes as he died stirred something almost forgotten in Harland's soul...his conscience. All at once, Harland knew he couldn’t rest until he found the mysterious man who had hired him for the job—even if the trail led to his own grave.”


The Dark Brand

Publisher’s description: “Stuck in a jail cell with a man due to be hanged, Driscoll found out that the guy had robbed a bank and killed a man. He also found out that the money was never recovered. Now out of jail, Driscoll realizes that the townspeople think the condemned man had told Driscoll where the loot was buried before he had died. Now it seems that everybody wants that money enough to kill for it.”


Under the Burning Sun

Publisher’s description: “Of all the amazing writers published in the popular fiction magazines of the 1940s and '50s, one of the greatest was H.A. DeRosso. Within twenty years he published nearly two hundred Western short stories, all noted for their brilliant style, their realism and their compelling vision of the dark side of the Old West. Now, finally we have a collection of the best work of this true master of the Western story.


This collection, edited by Bill Pronzini, presents a cross-section of DeRosso's Western fiction, spanning his entire career. Here are eleven of his best stories and his riveting short novel, ‘The Bounty Hunter,’ all powerful and spellbinding, and all filled with the excitement, the passion, and the poetry of Western writing at its peak.”