ADVENTURES OF FORTUNE McCALL

In THE ADVENTURES OF FORTUNE MCALL, new pulp author Derrick Ferguson finds fresh ways to invigorate old-school adventuresomeness. While summoning on the motifs of vintage prototypes turned archetype – say, the cloak-and-dagger crime-fighting of the likes of The Spider, The Shadow and others – Ferguson puts a spin on the ball that makes these tales fly high. Fortune Mcall, complete with his collared trench, fedora and shotgun snuggled away under the coat, is in the same vein but he’s entirely his own character – and not just because the character happens to be black. Sure, this is a terrific twist on the archetype but if the character wasn’t meaty beyond a that, it’d be just a gimmick. As it is, though, Fortune is loaded with personality, and so are his core teammates in his ventures.  Some of his ventures are friendly, financial doings – he owns and lives on a giant boat that houses a casino off-shore from Pro Se Press’ fictional metropolis of Sovereign City. Ferguson contributes gamely to The Sovereign City Project (it’s a multi-author playground) and McCall contributes greatly to Sovereign City. But some of McCall’s ventures are deadlier and boast greater stakes. With the blessing of a police official, McCall helps out solving dastardly deeds – like the release of poison gas strong enough to kill a big bank lobby’s worth of people, or the cunning crimes of the Scarlet Courtesan, or mondo magic and more. Fortune’s team of sharp professionals, each with his or her own special set of skills, back him up on his adventures stopping sensational villains. Ferguson does a bang-up job conjuring the heroes of old but without any dust, mold or mildew. Action and intrigue and a touch of noir all make for a killer piece of new pulp reveling in the old glory.

www.prose-press.com

THE GOOD LIFE

THE GOOD LIFE by Frank Wheeler Jr. is driven by a layered story, textured storytelling and real sweat-and-blood characters. The present tense narrator is a lawman who has taken over for his father in Nebraska. The city council wanted Junior since he would run things the same way as Dad. He would keep order. “That’s the thing with peace-making. When it’s done right, it’s ugly as hell.” What’s “right” is abusing and even killing “beaners” who disturb the peace. And it’s not always about eliminating crime, but controlling it. You know, keeping the peace. Maintaining order. The strange thing is that as reprehensible as the actions of the books, er, protagonist/anti-hero, there is a certain likeable quality about him. A sincerity of belief and paradoxical lack of meanness. We almost – almost – root for him, in terms of the overall arc of his plans – while at the same time we are repulsed by his racist violence. It forces us to engage in the uncomfortable task of self-appraisal. Why do we like this man despite his ugliness? Then there is the matter of his Argentine wife – who hates Mexicans as much as her husband, or almost as much, anyway. She is refusing his attempts at divorce (which has little if anything to do with her ethnicity) and even shows the fuck up in Nebraska, where her turmoils become embroiled with the new sheriff’s own crimes in the name of justice. Besides the crime shenanigans, there are personal touches and subplotting. Those who prefer lean, mean sleekness may not prefer the extra robustness but it does provide some extra flavor and a juxtaposition to the hard, violent side of the principle characters’ lives. Wheeler’s prose is delectable and the storytelling gripping. The good life involves relaxing and reading books like THE GOOD LIFE.

www.newpulppress.com

Prime Pulp

THE ROOK VOL. 1 is an exquisite piece of post-modern pulp lit. Harkening back to such heroes as The Spider and The Shadow, The Rook fits right in that groove. Author Barry Reese even name drops them, and others, suggesting that they and The Rook inhabits the same universe. The Rook sports a domino mask of a bird design (a rook, of course) and a trenchcoat and hat, drives a modified car with a silent engine and ungodly gas mileage and is armed with “specially modified” pistols. THE ROOK collects a sequential series of short tales in which events in one affect matters in the next. The bulk of the action is set in the 30s, though a flash forward to the 2000s in one story offers a curious follow-up to a particularly nasty confrontation with Nyarlathotep in human form. The fact that Reese can so nimbly mingle his pulp genres – nihilistic cosmic sci-fi horror a la Lovecraft and pulp action by way of masked vigilantes – says a lot for his writing abilities. These stories function on the level of action and horror with a decidedly comic book flavoring permeating it all. Reese’s writing is highly readable with easy-to-follow action, succinct but vivid descriptions, standout plotting, strong characters, snappy dialogue and all the other goods necessary to make pulp like this not just pulp but damn GOOD pulp. This ode to the glory days of rough pages and disreputable genre fiction (now embraced as a legitimate literary field) is one of the best such neo-pulp books I’ve had the sheer pleasure to read. Reese is a consummate storyteller who knows how to make all these cogs tick in a well-oiled machine that thrills, scares and excites. Colorful heroes and villains and equally colorful retro-future-tech fill the spaces of these terrific tales. He summons numerous elements of classic pulp, infusing his own work with it but rather than just cobbling together something “new” outta old bricks, Reese revitalizes these components and makes a work of literary art all his own. Reese is a strong author, the sort whose name alone makes you reach for the book on the shelf. I know I’ll be seeking out further adventures of THE ROOK, as well as other Reese characters. Reese certainly seems to be a gold standard for the neo-pulp world. And as though his stories weren’t enough to cause readers to lunge for a volume of ROOK tales, the book design itself is so gorgeous I can’t resist mentioning it even though it’s not the sort of thing I typically discuss. The cover art and design is out of this world and the handful of illustrations gracing the book are beautiful black-and-white renditions of a few major characters in Reese’s yarns. Pulp fans, I strongly encourage you to seek out Reese’s work. He’s the real McCoy.

http://prose-press.com/reese-unlimited/

The Nabokov of Noir

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You can read about plots elsewhere. I’m not a big synopsizing fan. So I choose to eschew it almost entirely here. I’ve reviewed Rabe before, KILL THE BOSS GOOD-BYE, etc. Hard-boiled fiction loves a tough guy; hard-boiled needs hard-boiled, right? So, first off, the second thing you’ll notice when you start reading of Rabe’s anti-hero is the immediacy of the meaty character Daniel Port. He is everything every great crime novel badass is, but in a way so vividly his own that he can’t help but stand out, miles beyond and head and shoulders above so many of the rest and every bit as great as the greatest. More ballsy than Bond, as cunning as Quarry, this Daniel Port is the consummate crisp criminal, stylish and rugged at once, ultra-confident, super-skilled, clever as hell, so on and so on and scooby dooby doo. Which reminds me, Port totally outguns America’s favorite canine crime caperer, too! So if this marvelous character is the second thing you’ll notice, what’s the first? Time you finish reading paragraph numero uno in the very first book in this menage a trois of Peter Rabe’s books about Daniel Port, you will be salivating fit to give Pavlov’s dead ass an erection. Sharp, surprising word-craft delivers information in the most delightful of ways. Hard-boiled fic needs prose as tough as the tough guy and, as a spur of the moment assertion, I must say this writing is arguably the best wordsmithing I’ve encountered in my years of encountering crime fiction. I dare say in this volume Rabe proves himself prose-wise the Nabokov of noir. And lucky, lucky, this omnibus is but volume the first!

www.starkhousepress.com

Samuel Fuller’s Posthumous Prose: Hard Case Crime Unveils Lost Novel

Mostly, Sam Fuller was known for his maverick movies, stuff like Shock Corridor and White Dog. But he wrote, too. Noir aficionados know he penned hard-boiled fiction, which, when you think about it, is perfectly suited to Fuller, at least based on his cinematic personality. Thanks to HARD CASE CRIME, readers and Fuller fans generally can either (a) revisit the author side of this iconoclastic artist, or (b) be introduced to that facet of Fuller. Coming in September is BRAINQUAKE, a ballsy crime novel that boasts not only one of the great opening lines, but one of the great opening chapters, as well. It kicks off with a bang, almost literally (a word whose abuse I abhor), and sets us up succinctly with a crazy, crooked and complicated plot involving the Mob, murder, beauties and bagmen, one of whom is the main character in this violent and lovelorn pulp novel. Readers will notice Fuller’s tough prose, both distinctive and consummately hard-boiled. Punchy and verve-filled, rocking with a cadence all its own, the writing gels with the story to manifest Fuller’s singular voice. Said story is layered and circles back around on itself right from the get-go, intersecting a multi-faceted cast of characters into a story that promises suspense and mystery galore.

www.hardcasecrime.com

Slim, Goines … & K’WAN!

GANGSTA - celebrating its tenth anniversary - is a griping gem of neo-urban crime fiction. K’wan is an inheritor of the torch previously carried by the likes of such literary greats as Donald Goines and Iceberg Slim, and his skill as a writer rivals theirs. Evidence: GANGSTA is a complex story woven from several compelling subplots, all of which together forge one great story arc in which the lives and events of the novel come to an angry head. The tarot’s death card has been flipped and it applies across the board. Evidence: The novel is anchored with a rock solid core character in the form of Blood ganglord Lou-Loc, but he is at the enter of a steller ensemble cast of characters, each of whom is a linchpin for his/her segment of the stack of skillfully integrated subplots. Evidence: GANGSTA flawlessly fuses love, passion, poverty, violence, pathos, death and redemption and so much more in a tale that is as layered emotionally as it is plot-wise. Just like plots envelope schemes and schemes surround betrayals, so too do joy and mourning and the entire spectrum between find representation in an intricate network of emotions and themes. GANGSTA is a tough piece of pulp fiction, hard-boiled crime writing that slings Blacks against Hispanics and Crips against Bloods in a veritable holy war of personal vengeance and bull-headed ethnocentricity. K’wan speaks truth, bring to the fore a plethora of very real issues, uncomfortable truths, all through the spinning of a story that captivates and brings pleasure through the sheer power of tale-telling. But, at once violent and spiritual, GANGSTA is art and the art of fiction frequently has something else to say beneath what is told on surface. Great stories harbor subtexts worth probing for. And sometimes the probing is less than necessary, not because a book unnecessarily belabors the point and harps upon its own symbolism (though this happens), but because – as with GANGSTA – the metaphors and deeper meanings are vividly apparent without jarring the reader out of the detailed fictional reality. K’wan’s classic of urban crime is a bravo display of hard-edged and smart storytelling.

www.urbanbooks.net

Three-In-One, One-In-Three, a Noir Trinity

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Ariel S. Winter’s The Twenty-Year Death is an inspired, multi-volume work of fiction. It’s holographic, in that, like a hologram, one can take part of it away and the image remains, less crystal clear, but there nonetheless. The trilogy manifests as three distinct but connected stories stories – Malniveau Prison, The Falling Star, and Police at the Funeral – which may be read in any order, or quantity. Each book or any combination of the three yields a stand-alone experience, but the biggest picture is presented if one reads all three. I happened to read the second, then the first, then the last, so I can attest to the versatile order of readability. Every volume is set in a specific decade, with action of the books occurring in 1931, 1941 and 1951.

The novels are homages, each having been penned in the style of a classic crime writer. Malniveau Prison, the earliest of the three chronologically, has a classy, intellectual flavor in the vein of Georges Simenon. I am personally more familiar with the latter two of the classic writers whose voices Winter impersonates. The middle volume vividly echoes the verve of Chandler, while the last brings joyful tears to the eyes of hardened Jim Thompson fans. Nevertheless, Winter has a keen voice that permeates the specific style of all three books, a voice smooth but hard, tough but sexy, a purr with a growl behind it.

The individual novels in this set of connected crime tales each has its own respective mystery. Yet the trilogy as a whole follows the character arc of one Clotilde Rosenkrantz, a.k.a. Chloe Rose, and her temperamental husband, Shem. Clotilde and Shem form the thread that stretches through the three books. Each book is intimately and intricately connected with Clotilde, even though she isn’t necessarily always the fulcrum of the action. Indeed, the books seem to penetrate deeper and deeper into the Rosenkrantz marriage, family, and household, beginning with a story built around the perimeter of the couple in Malniveau Prison’s third-person narrative focused on Frenchman Detective Pelleter, and culminating in Shem Rosenkrantz’s narration of a deeply personal story in the final volume.

Malniveau Prison doesn’t adhere to the tone or atmosphere of the subsequent two books. Rather than the hard-boiled edge of The Falling Star’s Chandleresque voice or Police at the Funeral’s tough take on Thompson, the first one opts for a more elegant prose style, a droll subtlety perfectly suited for the quiet iconoclasm of the protagonist, Detective Pelleter. Naturally, it takes full advantage of its European setting, something else which greatly sets it aside from the distinctly American tone of the latter books.

The prison-centric tale commences with the discovery of a body in the city streets – the body of a man who should be back in his cell at Malniveau. The body of Clotilde’s father. He was even marked off on the prison’s roll call.  They mystery consists of who singled out which prisoners for execution and why, who smuggled them out, and how did the perpetrator or perpetrators pull off this feat?

By the time the reader gets to 1941, Clotilde is now Chloe Rose, a once famous and beloved starlet burning up in her descent. A private dick is hired by the studio to keep an eye on her. She’s gotten paranoid, but the protection is to make Chloe feel better. Nevertheless, the private eye in question takes his work seriously and he’s not interested in just playing protector. The presence of paranoia does not guarantee the ephemeral nature of the apparent threat. There is a very real threat, one the P.I. has every intention of sussing out. Trouble is, there are heavy forces who want anything but the solving of this mystery. Some doors they’d prefer left closed. The P.I. is as stubborn as the conspirators, though, and things come to a violent head.

He’s not exactly dealing with the Illuminati but the Hollywood power brokers flex have enough muscle to make life very miserable. Losing his new job and its needed income is only the first warning. Danger, for Chloe and the dick, escalates past harassment to violent skullduggery as both people become entangled in a plot deep as a river that hinges, to Chloe’s detriment, around the tarnished star. And the only protector who tried to actually protect her has becomes the next target of the all-too-real menace.

The final volume is the most personal and the most enjoyable of these well-written, entertaining books. Shem narrates this harrowing tale of soured familial relations, inheritances and death. He still loves his wife, even after the decades and despite everything fate has done to tear them apart. But though he does dearly adore her, there nevertheless is distance, coolness between them. Shem flees the coolness, seeking warmth in another woman’s arms.  He clings pathetically to the relationship despite the fact that his mistress has already grown to hate him. The only thing that could possibly keep her around is Shem’s inheriting family money, the heirs of which are to be announced at a forthcoming reading of the will.

The will’s revelations are shockers, and before all is said and done, a man accidentally dies at the hands of another man who stands to gain heavily from the first man’s death, though that was never a motivation of the accidental murderer. The situation is gravely compounded when the perpetrator, rather than contacting the police, engages in an elaborate cover-up to make the death look accidental. It is, in fact, accidental, but the accident must be one that cannot be tied to the killer.

This is arguably the most psychological of the three novels, as the reader spends the whole time in Rosenkrantz’s head and Rosenkrantz is in no good mental shape. Drunk, alienated from his family, masochistically staying with an embittered lover, Shem is a man beleaguered by life. His writing career is in the tank. His cooled marriage is in better shape, ironically, than his extramarital affair. Yet Shem finds a way to go deeper than rock bottom. With the will reading sending shockwaves through an already broken family and one pivotal person dying at the hands of another (in an accident that looks like anything but), Shem and Chloe are on the brink of destruction on a scale greater than they imagined, especially after all the trauma they’ve been through at this late stage. Things go from bad to worse to cataclysmic, with manslaughter leading to crime scene tampering and even worse. Bleakness dominates.

These are complex stories with intertwined threads spanning two decades and three novels. The Twenty-Year Death is a triptych of beautiful, tenebrous crime stories, each a work of art all its own but yet part of something greater than the sum of its parts. This is a mammoth work, especially in the world of pulp’s tight page counts, and it doesn’t have any noticeable sagging as with some large literary endeavors.

Eyeballing its core characters with a scope both broad and intimate, this trilogy provides a strong stare into three micro-cosmoses, each a distinct product of a time and a place, as well as a macroscopic overview of change and deterioration on a broad scale but on many intimate levels. Poor Chloe and Shem, for whom the reader develops real empathy despite the pair’s fatal flaws, are the tour guides on this trek through culture as both geography and time shift. External societal changes roll across the story’s timeline and the inner workings of family and mind are illuminated thanks to Winter’s piercing insight into the thoughts and actions of these characters as they scurry through her pages of premium prose.  

www.hardcasecrime.com

GRIND

                THE FORTY-TWO by Ed Kurtz is a beefy, plump noir novel, a fatter read than is typical of the genre. But it’s not excess; this character-thick, twistily plotted hard-boiler has a lot of places to go and a lot of people to see. Filled with fictional people who have some heft, the book gives us characters to love and ones to hate, as well. Then there are the ones we’re just not sure about until all the chips fall. One of the most important characters in the novel is not human at all – at least not entirely. Forty-Second Street, the legendary grindhouse district of a New York City no longer with us – hence this bloody love ballad by Kurtz – is as much a character as anybody in the movie. I said “at least not entirely” because part of the personality of “the Forty-Two” is the spectrum of weird, perverted and dangerous folks populating the tenebrous alleys and the neon glare of the streets. But there’s also the buildings themselves, smut shops and theaters showing all the stuff viewers couldn’t catch at the neighborhood matinee, kung-fu, gore, porn, you name it.

                This love affair with the grindhouse district helped elevate the book for me. It’s already a baller crime novel that shifts hither and thither, all the while giving one a tour of a time and place that is now more. That tour is what makes this more than just another good crime book from New Pulp Press. I’m a certified grindhouse fan and have seen a lot of the movies that played there … albeit from the safety of my own home. Nevertheless, to be able to wallow in such rich history of a corner of cinematic counter-culture made this read a joyous one.

                And then there’s the story itself. Charley is just another poor bastard in the city, another schmuck. This schmuck likes his grindhouse flicks and frequents this famously shiny and seedy section of the city despite the warnings of his flophouse boss Sol. While in the balcony of a theater one night, a cute girl sits down right next to him. But rather than getting lucky, Charley gets UNlucky. She is murdered right next to him during the film. This sequence plays out beautifully, with Krutz deft wordsmithing revealing its spark early on. As is usually the case in these scenarios, rather than leaving well-enough alone, Charley decides to look into the death of this young woman. It earns him a lot of trouble.

                Before he knows it, Charley is caught up with a Serbian gang, cops (crooked or not?), the Syndicate, the gorgeous sister of the dead woman and Ursula, who has a couple of interesting secrets. For that matter, so does Eve, the sister of Elizabeth, who died in the balcony. No perfect people here. But such is noir, a genre about the human condition as much as any type of fiction. Strangely, one of the nicest people, in his way, is the prima donna gay low budget film director Andy, who I suspect is the fictional analog to a real grindhouse era director. Or maybe he’s an amalgam.

                An incredibly rich hard-boiled experience that takes the rabbit-hole descent of 8MM, the urban grit of Martin Scorsese and the hard edge of Jim Thompson, et. al., and plunges them sizzling into the world of early 80s Forty-Second Street and the rich culture there. The book sucks up all that richness and presents it on the page to grateful readers like me. So, go be grateful. If you dig grindhouse or noir or both, you aren’t allowed to miss this.

www.newpulppress.com

Go Pulp Yourself

                The prose in THE STING OF THE SILVER MANTICORE is terse, abrupt, rough around the edges, very direct. These qualities are among the very central traits qualifying MANTICORE as true pulp, as far as I’m concerned. The author’s voice rings so very true to the classic lean but bumpy wordsmithing that filled books such as those about The Spider, a classic dark hero forever obscured in the shadow of The Shadow, as well as Bob Kane’s Batman (did you know the latter was inspired by Zorro?). In short, neo-pulp though it may be, blended pastiche of multiple old-school genre staples though it is, MANTICORE is no less full bore pulp in its own regard. The real McCoy, this is.

                The most obvious influence, right up front, is the classic veiled-face vigilante from the tenebrous corners of the city, The Shadow! Right up there, too, is the aforementioned Spider. Between the masked-visage grimness wrapped in cloak and upturned collar, and the gadget-happiness and custom car driving, the Manticore – named after a mythical beast comprised of multiple animal parts (those ancient fuckers loved that) – comes off as a Shadow Spider, a hybrid of those two dominating numerous other influences. Even beyond the nature of the Manticore the story spiderwebs itself into a fictional network connecting it to any number of vintage stories and characters from multiple media – everything from comic strips to classic lit. So many things referenced, both directly and obliquely. It’s a beautiful meta-merging ode-to-thing and the-thing-itself. Pastiche pulp delivered in pure pulp.

                The story is robust, quite girthy. This may be pulp but it also proves that that’s not a dirty word nor is it an implication of simplicity or lack of brains. A tapestry is woven with the distinctive prose style and eye for broad scope. Appropriately, the tale is sardine-packed with a creative cast and crew, an eclectic group of multi-faceted characters, quirks and peccadillos galore. Men and women, tough as nails, smart as hell, real ball-busters, all of them. And funny how author P.J. Lozito represents the prejudices of the times – early 40s – while simultaneously smashing the shit out of them. Lozito manages to dance right up to the line of anachronism while brilliantly dodging said a-word bullet.

                THE STING OF THE SILVER MANTICORE is a fantastical tale of pulp power, an achiever of dizzying heights of thrillseeker storytelling, whose enthusiasm is evident in this effusive, smooching love letter, whose zeal is ebola contagious. Never read pulp? Where have you been, first? Second, read this, get pulped. Love pulp already? Love along with Lozito. He’ll be more than happy to have you along for the ride.

www.prosepulp.com

lust plus lust equals LUST

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You gotta pay the bills. But it doesn’t mean your rent work has to be bad. Nope. Science fiction author Robert Silverberg wrote more than his fair share of gritty adult fiction, including a number of titles for erotic men’s fic publishers like Nightshade. Silverberg applied the same talent to his sexy potboilers as to his science fiction classics. The prose is smooth, sleek, Teflon. It flows like a downhill creek. The narrative flow is equally sublime, with a simple but completely compelling tales of a man under a wicked woman’s thrall and a couple whose lives, not just home, are wrecked by a midnight intruder and mysterious intrigue. Or, if not wicked, at least dangerously self-absorbed. The characters, now that they’ve been brought up, are also top of the line. Silverberg, writing as Don Elliott, imbues his characters with flesh and blood like God forging Adam from dust. One story, of an east coast writer gone Hollywood, eventually aginst his will. What starts as a promising payoff to punishing due-paying by a struggling writer ends as a nightmare of a vicious vixen’s out of control starlet behavior. The other half of this fine volume presents an intimate relationship immediately thrown into chaos, a couple literally and symbolically interrupted mid-coitus, or very nearly anyway. Silverberg’s … Elliott’s … delectable prose, vivid characters and steely grip on the psychology of relationships - not to mention his nimble depiction of sexuality - make this pair of hard boiled melodramas a rich read for fans of literate pulp.

257 pp.

www.starkhousepress.com