Wednesday, April 28, 2021

#25: We Shall Sing a Song Into the Deep by Andrew Kelly Stewart

More than twenty years after a nuclear apocalypse, a submarine with a single working warhead (and a shipboard culture that has morphed strangely over time) waits to unleash Final Judgment in Andrew Kelly Stewart's We Shall Sing a Song Into the Deep.

As the signs for the End Times accelerate, a single crewmember--rescued from "Topside" years ago for a secret reason--begins to question everything that is going on in the rapidly declining ship.

As curious a genre mash-up that I've read, riffing on elements of The Hunt for Red October, The Caine Mutiny, and A Canticle for Leibowitz, all top of mind but not an exclusive list, as the story zooms along at a breakneck pace.

A slender read, but chock full of ideas, with an enigmatic but satisfying ending.  Recommended.

I checked this out from the Henry County-New Castle Public Library in New Castle, Indiana and read it quickly.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

#24: Under the Harrow by Flynn Berry

A young woman stumbles upon her sister's dead body, then starts an investigation of her own when the police seem stalled, in Flynn Berry's debut Under the Harrow.

Berry writes my favorite kind of crime story--one featuring an unreliable narrator, whose complex relationship with her sister leads to some troubling reveals in the storytelling.  

Both the protagonist and her sister prove to be complicated, deeply flawed characters, which plays out in various ways, including a genuinely surprising ending.  The reader gets the sneaking suspicion that they really don't know any of the characters at all, and are left guessing what really happened right to the last few pages.

Under the Harrow is a very compelling, literate thriller that I read quickly, on loan from the Henry County-New Castle Public Library in New Castle, Indiana.  

One of my favorite reads of the year to date and recommended for thriller fans.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

#23: The Romantics by Peter Brandvold

 A semi-retired gun-hand leads a newlywed couple into hostile territory with a map to a lost treasure, fighting Apaches, Mexican soldiers, and cold-blooded killers on one hand while fighting off the temptations of the heart with the other in Peter Brandvold's The Romantics.

Brandvold has written scores of what he calls "fast action" westerns, adult-oriented paperbacks with plenty of killing and sex, but he paints on a much broader canvas in this one.  The Romantics hearkens back to the old-fashioned western movies, one part The Searchers and one part The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

The Romantics refers to both the romance of finding a lost treasure, and the blossoming romance between the gunman, with his own troubled past, and the bride in a marriage of convenience.

This one features an absolutely rip-roaring third act with a memorable set-piece in a series of caves.

I always pick up Brandvold when I find him and enjoy his writing, but this is my favorite thus far of his large bibliography.  Recommended for western fans.

I checked this out from the Henry County-New Castle Public Library in New Castle, Indiana and read it quickly.

Friday, April 16, 2021

#22: Later by Stephen King

 A kid sees dead people, but when one starts taking an interest to him, he and his mother are in a dangerous spot in Stephen King's Later.

King has now written a couple of these crime-flavored, supernatural-tinged novels for the Hard Case Crime line.  Hard Case Crime has largely printed reprints of forgotten noir novels, or contemporary novels in that classic vein, but King has somehow forged a relationship with them, and who would turn down a Stephen King novel?

I hate to say, if I did not know King wrote it, I would say it was a second-tier Stephen King knockoff.  The story of a kid with powers and a troubled single parent is not unfamiliar to King fans.

I think what really took me out of the story is that the narrator is in his 20s, in contemporary time, talking about his childhood in the early 2000s, but uses the slang of a guy in his 70s (like the author).  It was surprisingly tone deaf to how modern kids and teenagers talk.

For people who read everything Stephen King writes.

I checked this out from the New Castle-Henry County Public Library in New Castle, Indiana and read it quickly.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

#21: The Cairo Mafia by Nick Carter

 A spy accidentally switches a briefcase with Russian plans for a briefcase full of drugs, leading to his death and bringing the incident to the attention of Killmaster Nick Carter in The Cairo Mafia.

I've been revisiting some Nick Carters through adult eyes, after binge-reading through them as a teenager.  I decided to give veteran wordslinger Ralph Hayes another chance, after being disappointed in Agent Counter Agent.

This has a slam-bang open, with Carter breaking into an African prison to kill somebody, then breaking out again.  Once he finds out about the death of his fellow agent, he races his Russian counterparts into Cairo to find the plans and dismantle the crime ring that started it all.

Carter has the help of an Interpol agent/belly dancer and the hindrance of many, many foes.

While still a second-tier spy novel, this one was a more enjoyable read than the last, and much better plotted.  

I picked this up in a lot of Nick Carters somewhere and read it quickly.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

#20: Agent Counter-Agent by Nick Carter

Killmaster Nick Carter gets captured and brainwashed by Soviet agents intent on disrupting a South American conference in Agent Counter-Agent, penned by hard-working pulp writer Ralph Hayes.

Hayes has written across all genres from men's adventure to western to romance over a long period of time.  He did a handful in this extensive spy series that I read steadily as a teenager and have decided to revisit here and there with adult eyes.

At the time, I did not know Nick Carter was not a single person but a large cadre of writers, generally thought to have worked with mixed results.  Even as a teenager I thought some were markedly better than others.

This one has a pretty rickety plot, where the spies break into the AXE training center to taunt Carter into catching them in their plans, which his espionage colleagues don't seem to believe for whatever reason.  Naturally it's a female double agent with a knockout lipstick that causes Carter's downfall.  Curiously, Carter is brainwashed into thinking he is an assassin pretending to be Nick Carter, a baroque ruse, and sent to kill the Venezuelan President and American Vice President. 

Fortunately his brainwashing is broken by a jet flying overhead, too complicated to explain, and is able to break the spy ring.

Definitely a second-tier spy novel, but written in an interesting enough way to give Hayes another try.  I got this one in a big batch of Nick Carters from a friend and have another Hayes standing by.

Friday, April 2, 2021

#19: Too Rough for San Remo by Marshall Grover

Two amiable but dangerous Texas cowpokes drift into a small town about to explode in a deadly double-cross in Marshall Grover's Too Rough for San Remo.

Grover was Australian Leonard Meares, who clocked hundreds and hundreds of westerns in his time, with a number landing on these shores.  Confusing is that he is called Marshall McCoy here, for some reason, and his easygoing protagonists Larry and Stretch are called Larry and Streak.  He is also wrote another, more sober series called Big Jim which was christened Nevada Jim here.

These slender volumes are hard to find in the wild, so I have a tendency to buy any I find for under ten dollars, anywhere.  This one relies less on comedy and more on a large ensemble cast of outlaws, including a batch passing themselves off as soldiers to steal some gold.

After an opening scene where Larry and Stretch are skinny-dipping and left to wander naked after all of their clothes--as well as their guns and horses--are stolen, they seem to take a bit of a back seat to the action, signing on as reluctant deputies to catch the owlhoots.

I enjoy these fast-moving and fast-reading westerns and think it is a series worth seeking out.