Saturday, April 27, 2013

Neko Case - Furnace Room Lullaby

I love Neko Case's songs. This is one of my favorites, the title track from her Furnace Room Lullaby album. She calls it a murder ballad. It was also used in the movie The Gift.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Hangrope Town

One of my all time favorite hardboiled writers is Harry Whittington. Now here was a guy who wrote like his chair was on fire, churning out dozens and dozens of novels in various genres and under various pseudonyms. I'd imagine that most people today would know him for his noir thrillers; books like Web of Murder, Backwoods Tramp, Fires That Destroy to name a few that have been reprinted thanks to Black Lizard Books. He also wrote westerns, historical romances, nurse novels, TV Tie-ins, and good old-fashioned sleaze. Western fans of the Longarm Series by Tabor Evans may have some of Whittington's novels. Currently Stark House Press is releasing some of his thrillers in nice two-for-one and three-for-one editions.

Ballantine Books
Hangrope Town, from 1964 is a short, fast western about a convicted prisoner returning to Sage Wells, the town that sent him away after serving a five-year sentence. Welker Haines is the bad hombre in question. Welker has spent the last five years in the pen at La Paz for the murder of Kel McLoomis. Kel was the son of the local bigshot George McLoomis, a man who kicks a lot of dust in the territory around Sage Wells. Curt Brannon is the Marshall, who doesn't let anyone, including the reader, forget he earns $40 a month and still wears the same old trail-beaten boots he rode in on. Welker hasn't been content to just serve his time quietly. He's been sending death threats to the various leaders around Sage Wells, letting them know that once he's out, they're nothing but buzzard bait. Not only that, he's been courting Ruby McLoomis from behind bars. Ruby is George McLoomis's hot and wild young daughter, with no more sense then a flea when it comes to picking men. Ruby is also Marshall Brannon's girl. At least that what Brannon thought until Welker returns. The whole town is ready to lynch Welker Haines on sight, particularly George McLoomis and his cowhands. Unfortunately, Brannon's job is to uphold the law, which means there will be no vigilante style lynching under his watch. Before you know it, a corpse turns up with Welker's knife in its back. It's a hell of thing to deal with, and Brannon getting squeezed from all sides. Something has got to give, and when it does, lead's going to fly.

If there is one thing Whittington knows how to do it's plotting a yarn. There are some twists and surprises involved, and just enough doubts to wonder if Haines is truly the evil S.O.B everyone says he is, or just a victim of local prejudices. It's a quick enjoyable weekend read. Just like everything else I've read by Harry Whittington.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Hammer is Back - The Twisted Thing

I first read The Twisted Thing, by Mickey Spillane, probably when I was around 16 or 17. It was perfect escapism for a teenage dork like me back then, but I couldn't remember anything about it except for who the villain (among many) was. Now reading it again, after all these years, I was immediately struck by a suspicion confirmed with a little online research. Namely that The Twisted Thing was a "trunk novel" that Spillane pulled out for publication after a brief hiatus from Mike Hammer in the sixties. Apparently it was written around 1948 and submitted under another title about the same time as I, The Jury, or shortly thereafter, and was rejected. Then, after the success of I, The Jury, the publisher wanted another look at it. Spillane offered My Gun is Quick instead, keeping this manuscript in the trunk. Some years later it was nearly destroyed in a fire but Spillane managed to rescue much of it. The dedication reads "To Sid Graedon who saw the charred edges." It stands as an example of perseverance for even a writer as successful as Spillane. Nothing is easy...

September 1966 Signet Books
I could tell almost immediately that this wasn't the same Mike Hammer that I'd experienced reading in The Snake a few months before. No, this Mike Hammer was much more young and brash, full of piss and vinegar, swatting guys in the mug at any opportunity, insulting women, and basically being an all-round dick. But that's what we read Mike Hammer novels for, right?

Technically this is Hammer's 9th caper, coming two years after 1964's The Snake. But gone are the international plots, the communist intrigue, and the murky "federal" status Hammer enjoyed in the previous two novels. Also, Hammer's girlfriend Velda is conspicuously absent. Not even a mention. Not like Hammer would have a twinge of guilt anyway, bedding some floozie while Velda types memos back at the office. But after all the mushy pledges of love and loyalty in the previous novel, her absence here is notable.

This time, Hammer is pulled in to a case of kidnapping. The victim is a fourteen year old genius, Ruston York, only son of millionaire Rudolph York. Hammer's old pal, Billy Parks, is fingered by the local cops as the culprit behind the snatch. Seems that Parks, employed as York's chauffeur, and the only one on the York staff with a criminal record, is the ideal fall guy. Parks spends his only nickel in jail and calls in Hammer for help. Hammer arrives in time to watch Billy Parks dance with a couple of crooked cops, complete with bloody knuckles, broken teeth, white lights, rubber get the picture. Hammer gets tired of the act and busts the chief cop, Dilwick, in the chops. He then goes out to the York Manor where he drops in on a family of ghouls waiting for York to drop dead of the vapors so that they can split the wealth. Hammer immediately slaps a couple of them around, and convinces York to hire him to find the kidnapped boy genius. York insists that he doesn't want the cops involved (beyond arresting Billy Parks?) and hopes that Hammer can find the boy alive.

Hammer goes right to work, interviewing the family, pushing his weight around, insulting the old dames and charming the younger twists with nasty leers. He's surprised to discover that Ruston's governess is an old friend of his from the "flesh circuit in New York and Miami," Roxy Coulter. Roxy gives Hammer the low-down on York and York's assistant, Myra Grange. Seems Miss Grange took a sudden powder on the night Ruston was kidnapped. Hammer finds that interesting, and decides to pay Miss Grange a visit.

Going out to Grange's apartment, Hammer discovers the Dilwick and his goons are tailing him. He decides to let it slide and interrogates Myra Grange at her pad. Myra is one cool babe, Hammer decides, with something definitely off about her. It takes him a couple chapters to realize that she's a lesbian, which is grounds for all kinds of suspicion in Hammer's world. Soon, Grange disappears and someone has decided to  part Rudolph York's hair with a cleaver, leaving his corpse in Grange's digs for Hammer to find.

Things progress; there are some intense scenes of violence and menace. Lots of threats and tails, good old fashioned gumshoeing as well. Lead flies and a couple of thugs get ventilated. Hammer gives as good as he gets and still manages to piece the whole thing together. There is a lake full of red herrings in the novel, and lots of action to keep the plot moving.

Some holes, of course, and an ending that stretches belief, but still, an entertaining outing from Spillane on this one. It's nice to see the old Hammer back again. This is why we love those old musty paperbacks.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Sunday Morning Psych - Swami

Here is a fun psychedelic nugget (or pebble) from 1967 by William Penn Fyve. This was originally released on Thunderbird Records. William Penn Fyve (aka William Penn V) was a San Francisco band in the mid-sixties who had some moderate regional success. This is a garage rock classic and has popped up on various compilations over the years. And for any who hasn't heard it before, a careful listen to the lead vocals will reveal that's Greg Rolie behind the mike before he left to join Santana. And years before he left Santana to form Journey.

Sirens - April 20

Cover for my new novel, SIRENS. This cover was designed by Matthew Revert for Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing. It's a great cover, if I do say so myself.

The book will be available direct from publisher and through the usual sources by the end of April 2013.

Take a sweltering mix of swamp noir, drive-in grind house, sex and rock n' roll seventies style, and you've got what SIRENS is all about. 

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Look Out Jason and Freddy!

Any cult movie fan worth their salt can tell you that the heyday for slasher flicks was the end of the 70s until probably about the time Freddy showed up on Elm Street in 1984. Arguably Friday the 13th really kicked off the flood of slasher movies. For a while there it seemed like a new one crept into the theater just about every week, and I'm not talking about the flood of sequels with Jason, Freddy, etc. Before those guys came to the party, it reached a point that I recall Siskel and Ebert devoting a whole show devoted to slasher movies. This would be, if memory serves, right around '80 or '81. Mostly Siskel and Ebert were pissed off at the way these movies debased women, showing them chased, humiliated, and murdered from the killer's point of view, thereby giving the movie-goer a voyeuristic thrill.

I couldn't really argue their point. Most of the movies they were talking about were pretty awful.

Anyway, this is all a lead-up to the book I'm throwing up for consideration, 1982's Ninja Master #6 Death's Door by Wade Barker. It takes the idea of what slasher movies did to audiences, and runs amok with it.

November 1982, Warner Books, Inc.

Before I get any further I have to give a shout out to two terrific blogs: Glorious Trash and Johnny LaRue's Crane Shot, for reminding me just how much fun these old paperback men's adventure novels were.

Anyway, as I was reading this book I couldn't help but wonder what old Siskel and Ebert's response to the Ninja Master would have been, considering that some of the villains in this book are exactly the type of monster that would have been in the theaters getting their rocks off at each hack 'o the knife.

The Ninja Master series lasted 16 novels. Ric Meyers took over the duties as of the 2nd novel (this one) and went on to write 12 of the Ninja Master adventures in all. The bad guys in this novel feature over-the-top violence, strong sex and villains that would give The Joker a serious run for his money in the “bat-shit crazy” gig. Death’s Door uses horror movies like Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday 13th, and Halloween as its launching point, as a murderous gang of savages reenact their favorite scenes from the slasher movies of the day. Their torture and brutality are described in lurid detail. The big difference with our gang of maniacs here is that they like to change the endings, meaning no survivors. Ninja Master Brett Wallace is on the case in no time flat, stalking the killers after a murder attempt is made on a former girlfriend of his, Lynn McDonald. Brett Wallace, we’re told, has spent twelve years training as a ninja, and has devoted his life to eradicating evil and, you get the idea. After a failed attempt on Lynn's life, he goes on to slice and dice his way through the plot leading to a wild climax that takes place in a mental hospital for the criminally insane where the diabolical physician in charge has hatched a scheme to take revenge on society. Right out of Dr. Tarr’s Torture Dungeon, the inmates have taken over the asylum.

Nothing left for the Ninja Master to do, but clean house. “His teeth were gritted as he sliced down, up, to the sides and across…Each twist of the blade caught flesh and dug. No matter how the crazies twisted, jumped and ducked, the swords found them. Brett hacked through heads, arms, torsos, necks, hips, and legs as he moved through the crowd. Unarmed, terrified, all they could do was fall before his wrath.


I had a good time with this book. It's fast, it's violent, and rude. There are some inconsistencies with the setting. I didn't know if we're in San Francisco or L.A. part of the time. Also, Brett seems to blend into a crime scene too readily, but what the hell. Reading it was sort of like sitting through one of the better examples of horror films that it references. Give me this anytime over the next bloated and gassy summer blockbuster. 

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Sunday Psych - Julia Dream

Very cool song from 1968, "Julia Dream" by Roger Waters was the B side to "It Would Be So Nice" and has turned up on various compilation albums since. I've got it on the Pink Floyd album Masters of Rock released on a German import label in 1974 for Columbia/EMI that I bought from Sun Bums Records in Tampa, thirty-some years ago. That's the cover below. My niece got into vinyl collecting a few years ago and managed to hijack some of my Pink Floyd albums, but she didn't get this one.

Oh, Who's Calling Me Now?

Pocket Books, August 1975
When Michael Calls is the third novel I've read now by John Farris. After finishing it, I'm asking myself what the hell took me so long to get around to reading any of his books. I've been a horror fan for years and have been seeing his books in the horror racks for a long time now, but for some reason have never read one until a few years ago, starting with the terrific All Heads Turn When the Hunt Goes By. Now, whenever I go to a bookstore I'll make it a point to see which John Farris books are in stock.

When Michael Calls is an old-fashioned creepy novel about a family haunted by phone calls from Michael Young, a 10 year old boy who is supposed to be dead. At least that's the official word. Fourteen years in the past, Michael ran away from a broken home and went missing. His body is found weeks later, after a snowstorm. Since then, his troubled, alcoholic mother has passed on, and his brother Craig has grown up to become a counselor at The Greenleaf School, a school for "troubled" boys. Craig's girlfriend, Amy Lawlor also works at the school. Michael's aunt, Helen Connelly, is the first recipient of Michael's calls from beyond this mortal realm. At first the phone calls are disturbing; Michael asking for his aunt to come pick him up, he's lost, it's dark, where's his mother, that sort of thing. His brother Craig is convinced that someone is up to a sick joke. Amy, fresh from a less-than-successful career as a starlet in Hollywood, believes that it really is Michael's ghost. Helen isn't sure either way. Quickly though, the calls become more menacing, threatening. The gang starts unraveling, blaming each other for past events. Guilt corrupts the once idyllic community known as The Shades. Then, sure enough, people start dying, seemingly just as Michael promises.

By indicating the novel is old fashioned, I'm wondering if your average horror reader used to today's gorier, "faster" novels will have patience with a book like this. Horror wasn't exactly a huge chunk of the market in 1969, so books then in the genre weren't pumped out with by-the-number expectations that is more evident in recent years (vampires and zombies, anyone?). Or maybe I'm wrong. I like to believe there's always an audience for the "old" stuff.

Anyway, Farris has a firm control on the story here, dropping suspects, clues, victims, and just enough weirdness to keep the reader wondering if Michael really is a ghost who has managed to find a phone, or if someone in the bunch is up to nasty shenanigans in The Shades. It's the sort of novel I believe writers would appreciate. A lot has come after it since its publication, and readers are a pretty savvy lot, so maybe they'll not be too surprised at the outcome. Regardless, I think there is a lot to admire here.

I understand that there was a 1972 made-for-TV film based on this 1969 novel. I've never seen it and couldn't speak about its worth. Maybe someday it will pop up on a cable channel somewhere and I'll catch it.

Oh, and yes, I sort of dig that psychedelic 70s cover shown above. And you don't see phones like that anymore.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Blue Mask - Lou Reed

It's not the easiest thing to be a Lou Reed fan. Not every album since the Velvet Underground days works for me, but I admire those who don't give a shit about always giving fans what they want and expect. Blue Mask from 1981 (RCA Records) was different though. MTV music, this wasn't. Bare bones rock with 2 guitars, bass and drums ripping into your face. More than thirty years old now, several years older than your average college kid, and it still sounds relevant and powerful and awesome. I hear songs like this and I am taken right back into that feeling of falling in love with loud guitars all over again. Just like that first wet kiss from a dirty girl. The line up here was Lou Reed on vocals and guitar, Robert Quine on guitar, Fernando Saunders on bass and Doane Perry on drums.

Monday, April 8, 2013


Thrillkiller by Howard Chaykin and Dan Brereton was one of the first graphic novels, along with The Killing Joke, that I'd bought since The Dark Night Returns way back in the 1980s. I'd gone on an unintended hiatus from reading comics and graphic novels and was totally oblivious to all the really good stuff I was missing out on.

Art by Dan Brereton
I picked up Thrillkiller purely for the terrific cover, shown above. That fantastic red hair really called out to me from the shelf. A couple of glances through the pages and I knew I had to buy it. It wasn't like any other comic or graphic novel I owned. Then one of the guys at the store explained to me all about the whole Elseworlds concept, about taking taking the DC characters and backgrounds we all know and turning them inside-out, placing them in different times, settings, places. Probably a good thing he gave me the rundown as I would have been a bit confused otherwise.

Briefly, Bruce Wayne isn't quite Batman, yet. At least not as Thrillkiller begins. Instead he's a detective on the Gotham City Police Department and reports directly to Commissioner Gordon. Wayne is one of the only cops left on the force that Gordon can trust, as the GCPD is deeply corrupt. The year is 1961 and society is awakening from the 1950s and entering the 60s with a "giddy optimism" that belies the corruption and rot threatening to overwhelm the city. Wild heiress (as opposed to "playboy") Barbara Gordon and her boyfriend Richard Graustark spend their nights donning costumes as Batgirl and Robin and make it their mission to harass and persecute the corrupt officials of Gotham. Barbara Gordon lives in what's left of Wayne Manor, after Bruce Wayne's family lost their fortunes after the murder of Bruce Wayne's parents.

The villains, in addition to the corrupt police force, include Bianca Steeplechase, a green-haired poison-nailed vixen who likes to call herself The Joker. There is also Detective Duell, who we recognized instantly as  Two-Face. Dr. Edward Nygma makes a cameo as a sleazy psychiatrist. Otto Saunders as a former Nazi who likes to experiment on live victims by freezing them among other deeds. Selena Kyle makes an appearance as an exotic dancer at The Scratching Post who also plays informant to Detective Bruce Wayne.

Howard Chaykin takes the Batman myth and creates an alternative world that is just as fascinating and open to all kinds of possibilities considering the story here ends(?) in 1962 opening a new chapter in Bruce Wayne and Barbara Gordon's fates. But the real star of the book is the fantastic artwork by Dan Brereton as the panel below shows. There is a wonderful, seedy, noir aspect that really punches you in the eye. Nice!

Art by Dan Brereton

Sunday, April 7, 2013

More Like a Worm

The Snake is the 8th Mike Hammer novel, coming right after The Girl Hunters. Out of the Hammer novels I've read it’s easily the most problematic. Not that The Girl Hunters was much better, but at least that one had a certain momentum that managed to make it to the “socko” ending. The Snake picks up almost directly after the events of The Girl Hunters, as Mike Hammer finally meets Velda after seven long years for reasons all covered in The Girl Hunters. Mike Hammer now is armed with a shady federal status in the form of a badge that he’s quick to wave under the noses of all the pesky officials and thugs that get in his way. His friend Pat Chambers is also back on the scene as well. Why they've remained friends, especially after their big blowout in the previous novel, is a bigger mystery than anything else.  It was established that they’re both nuts in love with Velda, who could do loads better than either of them. And Velda really comes off badly in this novel. She is often described as a big lady with a sexual force that is part woman, part tigress, and ultimately, all idiot. This exchange between Velda and Mike pretty much sums up what I mean:

“There’s more to it than that, baby. Let me do it my way, okay?”
“Sure. It’s always your way, isn’t it?”
“Is that why I love you?”
“And you love me because I think that way?”
“Why sure.”
“I’m home, Mike.”
I touched her knee and felt her leg harden. “You never were away, kid.”

I guess if patter like that doesn't work for Hammer he could always belt her one. In fact, Velda lets Hammer know in the first chapter, after their seven year separation, that she’s saved her virginity for him the whole time. Then she proceeds to spend the rest of the book throwing it at him while he dodges it like it’s the plague. His reason? That they have to do it right, with a judge and a license, the whole bit. 

Signet Books, November 1964
Mike and Velda have their reunion, get worked up like a couple school kids, then get busted in on by a couple gun-toting goons who manage to get blasted all to hell by each other. One manages to get away with a bullet in his gut, thanks to Hammer, but the other two are left dead at his feet.  

On to the mystery then. Velda’s been harboring a girl, Suzie Torrence, who is in fear for her life. Suzie insists that her mother was murdered a couple decades before by "The Snake" and now this Snake is after her.  Who the hell is The Snake and why is he trying to kill Suzie Torrence? Well, first thing is that Suzie insists that it's really her father who wants her dead. Suzie is the daughter of a political riser, Sim Torrence, who takes all of one meeting to see that he’s pretty much a prick. But Hammer can’t see any reason for wanting his daughter killed. Torrence then hires Hammer to bring Suzie home and find out just who is after her. It’s kind of fuzzy, because Velda’s still got Hammer foggy with her feminine juju, and Pat is still pissed off at him and Suzie is…oh well.

Things proceed that eventually involve a 30-year-old heist that Sim Torrence prosecuted during his days as a DA. Then there is an old show-girl, and old ex-con and a missing three million clams that could be the big financial source for some new syndicate shenanigans hitting the city.

This is the first Hammer novel I've read where he doesn't kick the hell out of someone in it. In fact the few times his life is really threatened, some wild, completely implausible turn of events save his ass. But worst of all, whenever a villain has the drop on Hammer, they proceed to get diarrhea of the mouth, and flap their yap at him, instead of just pulling the trigger. Sort of like Hammer’s fear of pulling the trigger with Velda.

Finally, the mystery is solved. We discover who The Snake is about forty pages past caring and Mike Hammer finally seems ready to man up and give Velda what she’s been so torque up for all these years.

This snake bit its own ass. And the reason I’m hard on it here is because Spillane normally writes a good fun read.

Will I read more Spillane?

Well sure.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Narc #3 The Death List

This is the 3rd book in the Narc series by Robert Hawkes and first published in 1974. It's action driven, and not much in the way of a character study. But character study is for English majors and action is what we read books like this for, right? This is upper tier grindhouse men's adventure, and it's rather well written to boot. Narcotics agent John Bolt is a force of fury, going from New York to Paris and back again on the trail of professional working chick that has gotten her hands on a “black book” containing the list of suppliers and customers and corrupt officials involved in the drug trade. The owner of the list was gunned down during an orgy, leaving the parasites and vultures of the underworld scrambling after it. It's violent and nasty. You can see the blood-stained shag carpet and smell the cheap cologne throughout. I understand the Narc series is available in ebook format now, but I think the fun of a novel like this is finding an old paperback of it instead. My Signet copy is the one shown here. Oh yeah, and the pages smell like stale Winstons.
Signet - September 1974
As a writer friend of mine observed, “You just don’t get that from your Kindle!
Robert Hawkes is really Marc Olden who is also the writer of the the Black Samurai series. I haven’t been able to find any of the Black Samurai books in my used bookstore haunts yet. I suppose I’ll have to break down and go on EBay for some. I’m sorry I didn’t find about Marc Olden sooner. As so often happens, I’m late to the party again.
I’ve got three other books in the Narc series in my collection: #5 Kill the Dragon, #6 The Beauty Kill and #7 Corsican Death. I’m looking forward to stepping back in time to John Bolt’s world again soon.