Monday, October 26, 2020

#56: Beyond the Pass by Lee Leighton

A bounty hunter takes a job tracking a pair of outlaws holed up in a small town about to get snowed in for the winter, thinking he can reconnect with his father and perhaps connect with a fiery young woman he had met there once before; but when he rides in and finds his father married to the woman, it makes for a long winter in Lee Leighton's Beyond the Pass.

Making things even more complicated, the outlaws don't seem that bad and the townspeople have a lot of dark secrets.  As it happens, his new stepmother may be the most dangerous one of them all.

The western veers close to noir before the finale.

I had never heard of Lee Leighton, who was actually Wayne Overholser, until pretty recently, and was surprised how good Hanging at Pulpit Rock was.  This one was also a cut above, with interesting characters and an above-average plot.

I was surprised again by Leighton/Overholser and happen to have one or two more in this big lot of mixed westerns I picked up.

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

#55: The Executioner Weeps by Frederic Dard

 A painter accidentally knocks down a mysterious woman carrying a violin along a desolate road in Spain; when she awakens with amnesia, they form an unhealthy attachment in Frederic Dard's The Executioner Weeps.

The artist becomes obsessed with the young woman, and doggedly ignores signs that maybe all was not well in her previous life; a quick trip back to France to check on clues reveals a tragic truth that leads to a downbeat ending.

Dard was a highly prolific author of French noir, and this entry was an award winner when it came out in the late 1950s.  This is a recent translation by the imprint Pushkin Vertigo.

The French noir novels I have sampled overall have a tendency to be short, very dark, and unpleasant, and I would say this first dip into Dard's work fits the criteria.

That being said, I enjoy Dard's writing quite a bit and would look for more of his lengthy bibliography.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

#54: A Dark Redemption by Stav Sherez

 A mismatched pair of London cops are assigned to investigate the murder of a college student, but find the roots of the case reach into complex Ugandan politics, in Stav Sherez's A Dark Redemption.

This World Noir entry had a somewhat familiar pair of protagonists--the lead detective kind of an eccentric outcast, his new partner carrying a lot of baggage from a messy breakup--but the African themes in the plot elevate the surroundings.  

Of most interest is the lead detective, who had a promising recording career before visiting Africa with two friends after graduation; they make a few mistakes that lead to tragedy, and influences the detective's current behavior.  The flashbacks are one of the more compelling aspects of the storytelling.

This is a very solid police procedural and apparently the start of a new series.  I would look for the next one.  A pretty good change of pace.

I picked this up somewhere and read it steadily.

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

#53: Peking and The Tulip Affair by Nick Carter

Nick Carter, Killmaster, hunts his old enemy Mr. Judas (actually escaped Nazi Martin Bormann) as Judas teams up with the Chinese to launch a deadly drug called Agent Z, in Peking, part of the long-running spy series.

As a teen, I read Nick Carter books avidly, and have decided to tentatively dip my toes back in to see how they hold up.

In this entry, Carter forgoes his usual array of nicknamed weapons and instead using an Astra Firecat .25 pistol and an incredibly handy pen that actually injects a serum that makes the recipient seem dead (and is used multiple ways at convenient times throughout).

This one was penned by Arnold Marmor, an old-school pulp fiction jockey, who writes in a terse, overheated style with a Nick Carter prone to anger and violence.

So terse, in fact, that the story goes that the book was too short, so instead of padding it out Marmor wrote a little short story to stick in the back.  To my knowledge, this is the only time this was ever allowed to happen, and might have contributed to the fact that Marmor only wrote one Killmaster book.

The short story, The Tulip Affair, is a pretty poker-faced and straightforward account of a double agent called Tulip who Carter sets out to kill and chases around Asia a bit before finishing the job.

This is a second-tier spy novel I picked up in a big stash of Nick Carters somewhere, and read quickly.

Saturday, October 10, 2020

#52: Killer's Corral by Merle Constiner

A former gunslinger gets a second chance at a normal life and job; but a trio of owlhoots guns down his boss, sending him back on the vengeance trail in Merle Constiner's Killer's Corral.

It's a straightforward description of a pretty fast-paced western, peppered with eccentric characters and humorous digressions, despite the novel's murderous thread featuring a lightning-fast gun-hand who ends up sideways of cattle rustlers.

Constiner is a long-time favorite of mine, and like to dip into one when I find it. He is a colorful, engaging writer with a wry sense of humor. 

This was half of an Ace Double on the other side of The Long Wire by Barry Cord (a pseudonym of another author I like, Peter Germano).  Curiously, this one features the protagonist in charge of grading of a road from a town to a fort, and The Long Wire features characters stringing telephone line; whether this was a coincidence in themes or designed I'm not sure, but makes an interesting Ace Double.

I read this one quickly; enjoyable for fans.

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

#51: Fair Warning by Michael Connelly

 An investigative reporter learns that a one-night stand is murdered, and he is a peripheral suspect; thus he decides to investigate the murder himself, and finds himself in the sights of a serial killer and in the middle of a dark web conspiracy in Michael Connelly's Fair Warning.

Connelly is probably best known as the author of the long-running Harry Bosch crime series, which I admire greatly, and then probably for The Lincoln Lawyer novels, which features Bosch's half-brother; but he occasionally features other protagonists from the same general milieu.  

Jack McEvoy was the lead in The Poet and The Scarecrow and because of circumstances in those novels has tumbled quite a ways from lead bylines in prominent LA papers to writing for a consumer website.  His off and on again love interest, Rachel Walling, has also lost her job as an FBI profiler (because of McEvoy!) and is now doing corporate background checks.  Yet both still have the fire in the blood for crime, and each other.

They start chasing The Shrike, who they quickly find out is targeting women using a DNA website like or 23 and Me.  

This novel is a slow boil that continues to ratchet and ratchet the tension to an explosive finale, and a second chance for several characters.

Connelly is a solid writer and this is a decent thriller to add to his admirable bibliography.

I checked this out from the Bookmobile for the New Castle-Henry County Public Library--my first library in six months--and read it quickly.

Thursday, October 1, 2020

#50: The Last Lawman by Peter Brandvold

 An aging lawman goes after a deadly gang in Peter Brandvold's The Last Lawman.

Western vet Brandvold has written a lot of "fast action" westerns frequently heavy in sex and violence.  This one has all of that plus features a unique character, a grizzled and cantankerous old law dog who is hoping his heart doesn't quit on him before he has sent a lot of bad guys to Boot Hill.

The bad guys are an especially evil bunch called The Vultures who rape, murder, and pillage across a pretty wide path while our protagonist doggedly follows, gaining and losing a lot of gun-help along the way.

This one has a memorably blood-soaked finale, set in a rotting ghost town that evoked, to me, late-period spaghetti westerns.  The surprise appearance of another Brandvold series character will be welcome to fans.

Brandvold knows how to write westerns for people who like them tough and mean, and I have enjoyed all that I have sampled.  I bought this one for my beloved Kindle and read it quickly.