Monday, March 20, 2023

Captain Clive's Dreamworld

To date, Jon Bassoff has authored nine novels of dark crime-fiction and nightmarish horror. I read his debut novel, Corrosion, originally published in 2013, and really enjoyed it. The author has popped up on several “best of the year” lists over the last decade, including his novel Captain Clive's Dreamworld. It was published in 2020 by Eraserhead Press and received an audio book treatment by Blackstone Publishing. The book gained high praise on Amazon's reviews, which caught my eye while shopping for the next horror title to read. 

Deputy Sam Hardy works in a low-life, scum-ridden town plagued by violence and poverty. When a dead prostitute is found with her throat cut, Sam becomes a suspect in her murder. In an odd chain of events, Sam is instructed to move out of town to a place called Angels and Hope. The Sheriff sets Sam up to be the lone lawman of this sleepy desert town. Angels and Hope's claim to fame is a giant amusement park built by a zany entrepreneur named Captain Clive. But, the town is wonky and made up of two-faced citizens that seem to be hiding secrets. These characters evolve from the warm welcoming committee to malevolent tormentors over the course of the book.

Captain Clive's Dreamworld is a weird book, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. It's presented in a dreamlike way that ultimately conveys the book's title. At times it's like the quirky Twilight Zone episode “Stopover in a Quiet Town”, with the protagonist discovering that his small town is just a reproduction. Other times, Bassoff's writing is dark erotica, complete with disturbingly graphic sex scenes that mostly involve rape or incest. In that regard, it isn't a far cry from the likes of Jack Ketchum or Bryan Smith, two authors I mostly stay away from. Perhaps the best comparison is that of Bentley Little – a little of this and a little of that to make an outlandish horror story memorable. 

Bassoff is a terrific writer that can get the most out of his characters through heartache, emotional angst, homicidal thoughts, and guilt. This gauntlet of emotions lies before the reader to enjoy or combat, which makes the reading  a rip-roar, gut-wrenching event. The reader feels something – good, bad, squeamish - which is what every author desires. There was also a great story here worth telling. It's a cyclical narrative with a plot development that offered some horrifying surprises. 

If  perverted horror is really your thing, then you'll love Captain Clive's Dreamworld. Honestly, I was just lukewarm on some of the provocative stuff, but the story as a whole was good enough for me to...thrust onward I suppose. 

Saturday, March 18, 2023

Conan - The Frost-Giant's Daughter

“The Frost-Giant's Daughter” was written by Robert E. Howard in the early 1930s. The story, featuring Conan the Cimmerian, was originally rejected by Weird Tales, so Howard changed the character to Amra of Akbitana and called the story “The Gods of the North”. It was accepted and published by The Fantasy Fan #7 in March, 1934. As a Conan story, its original, more popular form, “The Frost-Giant's Daughter”, was published in The Coming of Conan (Gnome Press, 1953) and Conan of Cimmeria (Lancer, 1969). At just 10 paperback pages, it ranks in the top echelon of Conan literature. 

The titular hero has returned to his homeland in Cimmeria, but grows a hunger for battle. He decides to participate in a raid into Vanaheim with his old barbaric friends the Aesirs. As the story begins, Conan is the last remaining combatant of the Aesirs and an enemy named Heimdul is the sole member left of Vanaheim's fighting forces. They both lock into battle and Conan kills Heimdul, but collapses from exhaustion on the hard frozen ground. 

Conan awakens to feminine laughter and then sees a beautiful ivory-skinned woman in front of him. She's naked and barefoot, yet dancing on the snow. Lusting for this cold-weather maiden, Conan trails the woman for miles through the frozen wastelands. Growing tired, he suddenly realizes that the woman has led him to her two brothers, savage frost giants. They want to cut Conan's heart out for some sort of ritual sacrifice. Forced into battle, Conan kills both giants and then the woman vanishes in a blue flame after asking her father, a god named Ymir, for help. Conan collapses yet again, but this time awakens to find another band of Aesir comrades by his side. 

Conan explains that his encounter with the strange woman and the Aesir don't believe him. They also fail to locate any tracks made by the woman. One Aesir warrior confesses that he does believe what Conan is saying is true and explains that this woman is Atali, the daughter of the god Ymir. The Aesir still refuses to believe Conan's account, but are surprised to see that the warrior is holding a piece of the woman's clothing in his hand. 

“The Frost-Giant's Daughter” has a special kind of frosty ambiance. Howard's descriptions of the battlefield, cold weather, the beautiful woman, and the frost giants themselves was just so vivid. The opening dialogue between Conan and Heimdul seemed epic, despite the fact that the reader never experienced the actual battle. For such a short story, the whole narrative felt this way due to the storytelling and pace. Conan's realization that the dream was reality was a fitting ending and proved to his comrades that his sanity, along with his fighting spirit, was still fully intact. Howard absolutely nailed this Conan story and I'm surprised it wasn't picked up by one of the publishers of that era in its original form. 

Friday, March 17, 2023

The Bride Wore Black

Up until 1940, Cornell Woolrich was mostly writing shorter works about the rich and privileged, like Times Square (1929) and Children of the Ritz (1927). After 1932's Manhattan Love Song, eight years passed before another Woorich novel was published. This hiatus set the table for a re-structure of Woolrich's subject matter and a new direction for his literature. 

In 1940, The Bride Wore Black (aka Beware the Lady) was published, the first novel-length suspense thriller from Woorich. The novel kickstarted a crime-fiction career that flourished for twenty years, producing over 15 masterworks of suspense and landing Woolrich in the upper echelons of crime-fiction authors and pioneers. 

The Bride Wore Black is presented in five separate parts, each titled as the last name of a potential victim. In between, the author includes a small portion of insight from the eyes of the murderer, an unnamed woman Hellbent on revenge. Then, another short narrative featuring insight on the victim, and then a paragraph serving as the postmortem. In this presentation, each part is set as its own short-story or novella. These parts eventually connect to make a spectacular whole, but the pure pleasure lies in the construction. 

The first victim is a man named Bliss, lured to the top of a building for an engagement party. It is here that he meets the beauty, a mysterious woman rejecting men while searching for someone special. Bliss, unfortunately, falls for the trap and takes a deadly tumble. His friend, a man named Corey, remembers the woman's eyes moments before Bliss's death. This tidbit will be of some use later in the book.

This same set-up is used as various men meet their demise after gaining some contact with this dark female avenger. The murders are clever, a cross between diabolic (shot with an arrow, suffocated) to quiet death (poisoning). All of these are written with a sense of white-knuckled dread. After Bliss, readers realize that they will be reading the last moments of life for all of these poor unfortunate men. 

Perhaps the most compelling and shocking is Moran. On his last day, his wife is lured out of town with a telegram informing her of her mother's sudden sickness. This was a way to isolate Moran, but there's a catch. He is left caring for his young son. When a woman arrives at the house, promising she is the teacher, Moran's son immediately rejects the visitor, explaining that she isn't his who she claims to be. Prone to fibbing, his warning falls on deaf ears and Moran is led into a macabre, murderous game of hide and seek. 

The Bride Wore Black is a masterpiece that essentially helped define the suspense-thriller market. The novel's use of certainty – a predetermined sentencing for each character – is oddly a paradox of suspense. Readers realize the outcome before death arrives. There is a void of uncertainty, but the build-up to death and murder creates an emotional stirring that's hard to suppress. Woolrich purposefully cranks the wrench, tightening the intensity until the last gasp. If Hitchcock was the master of visual suspense, then Woolrich was certainly his equal with literature. The Bride Wore Black is a must-read.

Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Homicide Handicap

Florida resident Bob McKnight authored 11 short novels published as Ace Doubles between 1957 and 1963. He also wrote a bunch of non-fiction books on horse race handicapping and didn’t forge into fiction until the ripe old age of 51. Homicide Handicap was his last Ace novel from 1963.

Sox Bradley is a thoroughbred racehorse trainer and our narrator in this 100-page conventional mystery. His wealthy ex-wife, Carla, owns a bunch of racehorses, and Sox still works for her despite the marriage being long over. When Carla’s dead body is found stashed away at her Florida mansion, the cops naturally question Sox for the murder.

Yes, this is another one of those paperbacks where the falsely-accused protagonist needs to solve a murder to save his own hide, and it’s a pretty enjoyable iteration of this trope. Sox is a decent main character despite a lack of charisma, and the setting in the world of thoroughbred horse training was an interesting glimpse behind the curtain of a sports subculture. I learned a thing or two along the way that will make me a hit at cocktail parties when the topic of horse racing arises.

There’s a sweet girl interested in Sox and a handful of likely suspects with motive and opportunity. There’s not much action other than a couple of peripheral murders that narrows the field of suspects. You’ll see the solution coming from a furlong away, but it will only serve to make you feel smart in the final chapter when your suspicions are confirmed.

To be clear, Homicide Handicap isn’t a mystery masterpiece, but it was an enjoyable diversion about as good as a typical long-story from Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. The novel has never been reprinted, but many Ace Double collectors probably have a copy that’s been sitting on their shelves for decades. The other side of the paperback is The Dead and the Deadly by Louis Trimble. It’s a good pairing as both authors knew how to execute a formulaic mystery. 

Monday, March 13, 2023

Double Indemnity

James M. Cain hit a homerun with his femme fatale crime-fiction novel The Postman Always Rings Twice. The bestselling novel was adapted to film seven times, converted into an opera, a radio drama and a play. It is considered one of the best novels of the 20th century. So, how would Cain ever top it? Well, he really never did, but he came really close with Double Indemnity. This novel was originally published in Liberty in 1936. The book was later published in 1943 in the collection Three of a Kind, an omnibus containing Double Indemnity as well as two additional works by Cain, Career in C Major and The Embezzler

Like The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity is told in the first-person as a sort of “if you are reading this then I'm in the deathhouse” kind of book. The protagonist is Walter Huff, an insurance agent in Beverly Hills. Like Cain's character Frank Chambers, Huff is a strategist who helps plot a murder when he falls for a young seductress named Phyllis. The problem is that Phyllis is married to a wealthy guy named Nirdlinger, one of Huff's clients. After Huff falls for Phyllis, the two collaborate on knocking Nirdlinger off to cash in on an accident policy. 

Like most of the femme fatale novels, which Cain perfected for similar novelists like Gil Brewer and Orrie Hitt, the murder plan develops into treachery, jealousy, lust, greed, and plain 'ole lyin' and cheatin'. The murder hits a major snag when Huff learns that Phyllis may have played him for a fool in hopes to run away with another guy. But, Huff gains some insight through Phyllis's gorgeous stepdaughter, whom he ultimately falls in love with. 

This book is rather short, but packs a punch. The gauntlet that Huff runs from A to Z in hopes to successfully murder for love, then backtrack to kill for vengeance is clever, compelling, and masterfully written. It's a tug-of-war as Huff clamors with the concept of murder, the ultimate sin. There's a deep mystery centralized as the narrative rotates different characters off the playing field. Who is truly innocent is one of the book's most perplexing questions. But, thankfully Cain keeps the characters to a minimum, keeping the plot development tight as the story expands outward into a brisk “man on the run” concept. 

Double Indemnity was adapted to film in 1944 by mystery powerhouse novelist Raymond Chandler and Billy Wilder. It was filmed again in 1973 and staged as a play in 2011. It's a prevalent bookend that butts up nicely with The Postman Always Rings Twice. While inferior to that masterpiece, Double Indemnity is still a mandatory read for any crime-fiction fan worth his salt. Highly recommended!

Saturday, March 11, 2023

Conan - The Road of the Eagles (aka Way of the Swords, Conan Man of Destiny)

The December, 1955 Fantastic Universe issue featured an L. Sprague de Camp Conan story called “Conan, Man of Destiny”. This story was taken from a Robert E. Howard manuscript, originally titled “The Road of the Eagles”, discovered by Glenn Lord, about the Ottoman Empire featuring a hero named Ivan Sablianka. Howard's original version was edited by Lord and published in the Donald Grant collection Road of Azrael as “The Way of the Swords”. de Camp changed the title “Conan, Man of Destiny” to “The Road of the Eagles”. That story – de Camp's version – was later published in Lancer's 1968 collection Conan the Freebooter as by both de Camp and Howard. The comic adaptation appears in The Savage Sword of Conan #38

“The Road of the Eagles” continues where “Shadows in the Moonlight” leaves off. Conan and his pirates, now referred to as the Red Brotherhood, are attacked by Yildiz, the king of Turan and his General Artaban. Meanwhile, a young woman named Roxana escapes the ransacking and destruction of her village by a man named Kurusk Khan. Roxana, and a small army of Hyrkanians, runs into Artaban and he explains to her that he was in debt to Yildiz and basically attacked Conan's pirate crew to just pay off debt. Now, he is sort of rethinking his decision to serve Yildiz and wants to go independent and do his own thing with his army. 

With Artaban's change of heart, Roxana also reveals that the chief rival to Yildiz is Prince Teyaspa, her lover. She tells Artaban that Teyaspa is in a dungeon jail and he agrees to assist her with liberating him. While this is happening, Conan, nearly playing a bit part by this point, is running around with his surviving pirates trying to find and kill Yildiz. Here is where the story becomes very complicated and rather convoluted. Which, seems to be a pattern now with de Camp's reworking of Howard's stories that were never meant to feature Conan or The Hyborian Age. 

My understanding is that the castle where Teyaspa is imprisoned is simultaneously attacked by the Hyrkanians wanting revenge for their village destruction and Conan and his Red Brotherhood that want to find and kill Artaban before they seek Yildiz. Then, you have Artaban and Roxana attempting the prison break for Teyaspa. Honestly, this is like Game of Thrones on drugs that just leads to a Shakespeare-styled tragic ending. But, before the suicides (yes, they happen) the best part of the story reveals itself. Conan vs vampires!

Inside the dark cavernous tunnel system below the castle are ravenous hairy cave creatures called brylukas. They are vampiric in nature and attack Conan and his crew. This portion of the narrative is just brimming over with intense action-adventure as the titular hero attempts to climb through the cave's passageways while fighting off these savage monsters. This is more of what I want from Conan – brawn versus monsters, evil men, and sorcerers. Unfortunately, this exhilarating story within the story of Conan's escape from the creatures comes at the very end and is very short-lived. 

“The Road of the Eagles” is an okay read, but requires patience and pen on paper (or a handy phone notepad) just to keep up with who is chasing whom and for what reason – revenge, power, loot, women, etc. If you can dedicate 45 mins of heavy concentration, then the story totally works. If you are looking for just casual escapism, look elsewhere. 

Friday, March 10, 2023

Rosemary's Baby

American author Ira Levin (1929-2007) struck gold in 1967 with his second novel, Rosemary’s Baby, selling four-million copies and counting. The novel’s iconic standing was solidified by the 1968 film adaptation by Roman Polanski (Full Disclosure: I’ve never seen it). The novel remains in-print today in every format imaginable. 

Guy and Rosemary Woodhouse are upgrading their Manhattan apartment to an exclusive, in-demand building called The Bramford. After signing the lease, the couple learns that the building has a dark past. Historic residents were accused of cannibalism, child murder and witchcraft. Decades ago, the building was thought to be cursed.

Despite these warnings, Guy and Rosemary move into Apartment 7B. Rosemary quickly makes a friend who promptly commits suicide. This brings her directly into the orbit of her busybody neighbors who all seem very interested in Rosemary’s fertility. 

Rosemary’s husband Guy is a struggling actor, but something about The Bramford has him acting quite different than normal. One night Rosemary has a vivid dream that her neighbors and Guy were involved in a dark ritual of sorts. When Rosemary awakens, she’s covered in scratches and soon learns that she’s pregnant. 

Levin does a great job of writing Rosemary as a naive ingenue from Nebraska, and she seems to be the only character willfully blind to the subtle manipulation of all the other characters and what may be growing in her womb. The novel is a slow burn to be sure, but the creeping dread that rises in the reader displays some really adept horror writing with a gentle touch. Scary? A little. Unnerving? Bullseye! Recommended? Definitely. 

Wednesday, March 8, 2023

Harry Stoner #01 - The Lime Pit

Jonathan Valin was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1947. He graduated from University of Chicago, and now works for Fi, a music criticism magazine he helped create. In the middle of his career were 11 mystery novels starring a Cincinnati detective named Harry Stoner. As a fan of 1980s crime-fiction, I decided to begin the series with the very first novel, The Lime Pit, published in 1980 as a hardcover by Dodd Mead.

Throughout the course of The Lime Pit, readers gain tidbits about Harry Stoner's life. The first thing we learn is that he served in the U.S. military as an M.P. during the Vietnam War. He has killed people before, and at one point he worked in Cincinnati's District Attorney's office. Now, Stoner is a private detective making ends meet taking on cases in America's mid-western heartland. As the book begins, Stoner is responding to an inquiry made by a Cincinnati man named Hugo Cratz.

Cratz is an elderly man living in the average community of North Clifton. He advises Stoner that a young woman he befriended, Cindy Ann, has gone missing. After the police dismiss the case, Cratz wants to hire Stoner to find her. The problem is that Cratz can barely rub two nickels together, so Stoner realizes he's probably working the case pro brono. The last place Cindy Ann was seen was with the controversial neighborhood couple. When Stoner interviews the couple, they tell him that Cratz is just hurt that his girl has run off with a biker. But, there isn't enough conviction in their story to fully satisfy Stoner. Combining this with Cratz's account that the weird couple are actually human sex traffickers peddling young women to Cincinnati's upper-crust thrusts Stoner into the investigation.

I read some online reviews about Valin's writing style and tend to agree with all of them. First and foremost, the guy can write his ass off. Second, his dialogue is convincing – this is how real people talk. So much that Valin even analyzes his own work by mentioning characters in other books fail to possess enough validity. He encourages his readers that his work is the real deal. I like that element and it reminded me of the great horror writer Brian Keene and his real-world presentation of average blue-collar people behaving in ways that genuinely seem valid and real. 

The Lime Pit drags readers through some really dark places within sex trafficking, politics, sports, and the lifestyles of the rich and richer. It's gritty, often disturbing, and very violent. Stoner is the capable protagonist guiding the readers through this seedy underworld. He doesn't necessarily break the law in an attempt to punish the lawbreakers, but he skirts the edges in a captivating way. I found comparisons to Loren Estleman's Amos Walker mysteries, with both detectives stalking their way through blue-collar towns to obtain justice. In fact, the first Amos Walker installment, Motor City Blue, has a similar plot to The Lime Pit, and was published the same year.

If you enjoy a great mystery filled with diverse characters, the The Lime Pit is sure to please. I loved this book and I'm anxious to read more Harry Stoner novels.

Monday, March 6, 2023

Two Truths and a Lie

Sarah Pinkster is a contemporary fantasy and science-fiction author currently living in Baltimore. In 2020, Tor Books released her 34-page creepy novella called “Two Truths and a Lie” that won both the Hugo and the Nebula awards for Best Novelette. It’s available for two-bucks as an ebook. 

Marco and Stella were friends back in high school who lost touch over the years. When Marco’s unpopular older brother Denny dies, Stella resurfaces in Marco’s life to attend the funeral and pay her respects. Stella even offers to help Marco clean out Denny’s house. 

Denny was a hoarder, so going through his house with her old friend isn’t a pleasant task. The upside is that the manual labor of filling trash bags with Denny’s detritus gives Stella and Marco a chance to catch up with one another. 

As the two are cleaning and chatting, Stella asks Marco if he remembers a local children’s TV show from their childhood called “The Uncle Bob Show.“ Marco answers that he does recall the show and that his deceased brother had been in the studio audience for at least one episode decades ago. Their shared vague recollection was that the low-budget kid’s program was a sinister turn on "Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood."

In the heaps of junk in Dennis’ home, they find a VHS tape from "The Uncle Bob Show" and pop it into the VCR. The show’s format is bizarre, and the stories told by Uncle Bob to his youthful audience are unnerving. I’ll let you read the novella yourself to get the gist. This leads to Stella conducting her own investigation into the show’s history from back in the 1980s and things get seriously creepy. 

"Two Truths and a Lie" is a story playing with the vague and largely repressed memories we all have from our childhoods. Pinkster’s writing is solid throughout. The ending didn’t really work for me, but I love the concept enough to recommend the novella without reservations. 

Saturday, March 4, 2023

Conan - The Hand of Nergal

The Conan paperback published by Lancer in 1967 is a treasure trove of excellent short stories starring Robert E. Howard's brawny hero Conan the Cimmerian. Along with Howard shorts like “Rogues in the House”, “Tower of the Elephant”, and “The God in the Bowl”, the book also features stories outlined or half-completed by Howard and finished by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter. One of the second to last stories in Conan is “The Hand of Nergal”. It was originally a fragmented story authored by Howard  in the 1930s. Lin Carter completed the story and titled it. Along with appearances in Conan, “The Hand of Nergal” was also featured in The Conan Chronicles (1989) and Beyond the Gates of Dream (1969). 

What I really enjoy about Conan stories and novels is that the environment and time period is variable. Conan could be a thief, soldier, gladiator, or royalty. In this story, Conan is a mercenary warrior fighting in Turan's civil war. Serving Turan, Conan is thrust into a planned battle to defeat rebellious forces led by a guy named Khan. In the heat of the fight, an army of large, demonic bats swoops down to the battlefield and begin to attack the Turan forces. 

Among the chaos of death and destruction, Conan locks into a fierce battle with one of the bats. Magically, the bat nearly places Conan into a cold-induced coma, but a strange amulet that the hero picked up days before seems to repel the creature. Later, Conan meets a bloody and battered female and they are ushered to the city of Yaralet to assist with killing the rebel leader Khan. 

Through a sorcerer, Conan learns that Khan controls these bat creatures using a precious stone known as Hand of Nergal. Conan and others eventually find Khan's throne room, deep in the bowels of a cave system hidden under the city, and a final battle ensues. There's a touch of cosmic horror and a lot of magic as Conan's forces eventually break Khan's curse and free Turan (I think). 

I really enjoyed this story and found Carter's stroke of science-fiction and fantasy a great blend with the more “on the nose” carnage that Howard's Conan typically creates. The Carter and Howard chemistry worked well, in my opinion, on the Kull stories, and I got that same sense of adventure, dark sorcery, and utter doom here. The balance of brawn and pure strength contending with magic is a recurring theme in Conan literature, and this story is a showcase of that strong storytelling. 

Many Robert E. Howard readers and fans aren't thrilled with the pastiche authors like Carter and de Sprague, but I'm definitely enjoying my voyage through all of these old paperback collections. It is pure escapism and I'm loving it because of stories like “The Hand of Nergal”. 

Friday, March 3, 2023

Catspaw Ordeal

Edward S. Aarons struck gold in 1955 with the first of his successful espionage series starring CIA operative Sam Durell. This is considered the second, more prosperous half of Aarons' writing career. The first half consists of roughly 20 crime-fiction and mystery novels authored under his own name and the pseudonym of Edward Ronns. We've slowly consumed Aarons' crime-fiction work here at Paperback Warrior, and continue that trend with a look at the author's 1950 paperback Catspaw Ordeal, published under the name Edward Ronns. It was published by Fawcett Gold Medal at least twice, once in 1950 as #133 and again in 1958 as #766, both with different cover art. It was also published by Phantom in 1954 and Gaywood Press in 1952, both of these with variations of the 1950 Fawcett cover by William Downes.

Danny Archer is a 29-year old former Navy veteran that has settled down in Southwich, Connecticut on the Long Island Sound. Archer is married to a woman named Roz and the two have reached a complacent part of marriage, void of excitement or interest. Archer is not only tied to Roz via marriage, but he also works for her father, a guy named Stanley, who runs a local factory. All of this normal suburbia boredom is shattered when Archer's old flame shows up.

Secretly, Archer has never really gotten over Della Chambers. When she arrives in town, Roz immediately senses that Archer can't resist Della's magnetic pull. When Roz leaves town for a few days, Archer finds himself in a murder investigation. In his own home, Archer finds a dead guy huddled over his office desk. Della is somehow involved, but also a man named Burke Wiley, Archer's old shipmate that supposedly died when their ship was sunk in WW2. Archer believes either Wiley or Della killed the man, but then things become even more complicated when Wiley explains a counterfeiting plot that could make them all super wealthy. 

Obviously, there is a lot going on in this relatively short 170-page paperback. Archer's marriage complications are front and center, but the moving parts begin to tear away part of the protagonist's own sanity. He begins to question his past, and the how his work at the factory is somehow tied into Roz and this seemingly dead-man-from-the-grave, Wiley. But, the core of Aarons' complex plot is a murder mystery. The cops have targeted Archer as the prime suspect, but he can't quite explain where these other characters tie into his personal ordeals at home. It makes for a fascinating, whirlwind of possibilities as Archer walks a balance beam of right and wrong. 

Like most of Aarons' crime-fiction, he uses the same locale and atmosphere. His novels are typically quiet, rural lakeside or oceanfront cottages and houses draped in a thick fog that is symbolic of the criminality slowly descending on the main character or their close friends and family. These locations are nearly always the American Northeast, which makes sense considering Aarons' grew up in Pennsylvania and lived in Connecticut (also the home of Fawcett Gold Medal). While Catspaw Ordeal isn't the best that Aarons' early crime-fiction has to offer (try 1953's The Net for a must-read), it is more than serviceable and a pure pleasure to read. Recommended.

Wednesday, March 1, 2023


Strange Tales #7 was published in January, 1933 and included stories by Clark Ashton Smith, Henry Whitehead, and Robert E. Howard. One of the issue's highlights is a short novel called Murgunstrumm, authored by Hugh B. Cave (1910-2004). This vampiric horror tale was reprinted by Carcosa Press in Cave's first hardcover collection, Murgunstrumm and Others, in 1977. Thanks to Pulp Fiction Bookstore, the novella is now available as an affordable stand-alone ebook.

In flashback, readers learn that young lovers Paul and Ruth were wrongfully admitted into an insane asylum. The basis for their involuntary confinement to the asylum is hysteria based on their experiences in and around a roadside inn called The Gray Toad. As the novelette begins, Paul is executing his elaborate plan to escape the asylum and return to the inn to destroy the hideous creature he encountered there. He desperately wants to free Ruth and prove to the doctors that they aren't insane.

On the outside, Paul gains help from his friend's driver, a savvy guy named Jeremy. Together, the two head to the inn to learn more about the creatures in an effort to destroy them. Murgunstrumm happens to be the inn's caretaker, a hunched decrepit servant that may feed on human flesh! Inside the inn, the duo comes face to face with the vampire creatures in both human, wolf, and bat form. However, the biggest surprise is when they discover Ruth inside. How did she escape the asylum?!?

Cave absolutely nails the atmosphere of a Universal monster flick. Considering this was published a year after the studio's famed Dracula film, the vibe was probably an easy one to conjure. The author's descriptions of the title character and the creatures that inhabit the inn were traditionally chilling. I also found the amount of gunfire in the story to be a little above average for this sort of horror storytelling. I think the contrast between the guns and the simple crosses made from bed sheets was striking – holy relics with more impact than bullets. Additionally, as an early 20th century horror offering, the town, creatures, and characters were reminiscent of H.P. Lovecraft, but that's probably a common comparison. 

If you enjoy vampire literature, chances are, you probably have read Murgunstrumm already. If not, then you are in for a real treat. Hugh B. Cave is a great storyteller and this is the perfect showcase of his talent. It is also a good reminder for me to track down more of his work. 

Note - I'm sure our readers are growing tired of the constant Stephen King comparisons, but I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that King's own vampire novel, Salem's Lot, featured the Marsten House as home to the vampire. In Cave's tale, the vampires live in the town of Marssen. Coincidence? Probably, but King was a pulp fan. 

Buy a copy of this story HERE

Monday, February 27, 2023

Ellery Queen #16 - Calamity Town

Manfred Bennington Lee and his cousin Emanuel Benjamin Lepofsky used the professional names of Frederic Dannay and Daniel Nathan to write crime-fiction. But, the two joined these professional names into the household pseudonym and character, Ellery Queen. The character is the author of the books in which he appears. It is easy to jump into an Ellery Queen story or novel simply because the history and backstory completely dissolved. You can easily enjoy this male bachelor writing fiction while solving crimes as stand-alone books. 

What's interesting about Calamity Town, roughly the 16th installment, is that it modernizes the series. You're asking, how this is possible considering the book arrived in 1942? But, think about that time period. The US had turned the corner on the Great Depression, a financially barren 10-year era that occurred during Ellery Queen's early beginnings in 1929. Additionally, the series, and this book in particular, mention the rumblings of WWII. Calamity Town also diversifies the locale, moving this sleuth from the well-trampled urban environments of New York and Hollywood to the rural American Northeast, a small fictional town of Wrightsville in an unnamed state in New England. There are also some psychological elements that come to fruition, leading to a rather chilling end. 

Calamity Town opens with Ellery Queen (using the name Ellery Smith) moving his belongings into a medium-sized Victorian house in Wrightsville. The quiet, out-of-nowhere setting will be the perfect place for Queen to accomplish his writings. Upon his first visit to the house, the real estate agent explains that the home is owned by the Haight family, with deep ties to the Wrightsville National Bank. The agent is thankful for Queen due to the house's long vacancy. It is a sort of “spook house” due to a prior resident dropping dead in the living room. Additionally, the house was built for the Haight's daughter Nora and her new husband Jim. However, a cloud of gloom enveloped the house when Jim up and left shortly after the wedding. Nora returned to her family's residence.

Unfortunately, Queen's first few weeks in the new house are interrupted when Jim Haight returns to town and wants to continue his marriage to Nora. Queen agrees to move out of the house so the newlyweds can return to the home. During a New Year's Eve party, Jim and Nora host Queen, the Haight family, and the town's prominent businessmen. But, death is in the air as someone attempts to murder Nora with arsenic poisoning.

When Queen and Nora's sister Pat team-up to investigate the attempted murder, they discover numerous indications that Jim was the planned murderer. He owned a toxicology book, and had written ominous letters dated in the future, suggesting that his wife was poisoned. Witnesses say Jim confessed that he wanted to murder his wife for money and he is a gambling alcoholic in debt. Everything points to Jim, but Queen believes the young man is innocent. Despite Jim's refusal to admit his innocence, Queen rushes to his aid as Calamity Town's second half morphs into a courtroom drama. 

This novel is the typical Golden Age of Detective offering, complete with a cast of characters at a dinner party, a poisoning, and numerous red herrings. But, the novel has plenty of open air – a chance to breathe – with Queen and Pat combing the town for clues. It isn't a locked room puzzle, but instead resembles an early work of crime-noir. The New England small town is reminiscent of Our Town, a tranquil place occupied by wholesome characters. The authors complete the novel with numerous twists that surprised me. It was a compelling read that introduced new elements to the formula, and for that reason, I highly recommend it.

Note – Calamity Town is the first of four novels that are set in Wrightsville. The others are The Murderer is a Fox (1945), Ten Days' Wonder (1948), Double Double (1950), and The Last Woman in his Life (1970).

Saturday, February 25, 2023

Conan - Shadows in the Moonlight

Robert E. Howard's “Iron Shadows in the Moon”, starring Conan the Cimmerian, was published in Weird Tales in April, 1934. The story was renamed to “Shadows in the Moonlight, and appeared in the Gnome Press volume Conan the Barbarian in 1954. It was later edited by L. Sprague de Camp for inclusion in Swords & Sorcery, a 1963 collection published by Pyramid that featured authors like Fritz Leiber, H.P. Lovecraft, and Clark Ashton Smith. The story can be found in the Lancer 1968 paperback Conan the Freebooter and future collections by Gollancz and Del Rey. It was later adapted into comic format in Savage Sword of Conan #4 and Conan the Cimmerian #22-25

“Shadows in the Moonlight” reads as if it is a hybrid of atmospheric horror and action-adventure. With Howard's association with Lovecraft, E. Hoffman Price and Clark Ashton Smith, his darker passion was stirred to author hair-raising tales like “Pigeons from Hell” (Stephen King named it one of the finest horror stories of the 20th century). But, beyond Conan battling evil sorcerers, snake behemoths, and the undead, how does “Shadows in the Moonlight” incorporate a less “on the nose” horror element? 

By placing Conan, and a damsel in distress, Olivia, on a deserted island, Howard branches this story off into new directions. First and foremost, this deserted island that Conan and Olivia sail to is deathly quiet, an atmosphere that the always colorful Howard is able to describe in an eerie fashion. When exploration begins, out of both boredom and hunger, the two find a crumbling, ancient ruin. Inside, they discover lifelike black statues that are placed in a half-circle. Finding no other shelter, the two decide to spend the night at the ruins (terrifying!) and Olivia has a nightmare that these statues come to life. I found this entire section of Howard's story to be chilling in its total abandonment of this archaic art. 

But, the horror element is temporarily swept aside as Conan and Olivia see a pirate ship on the shore. Hoping to gain passage, Conan fights the pirate captain and wins. But, these pirates are a bad lot (even for pirates) and they soon overtake Conan while Olivia runs into hiding. With Conan beaten and unconscious, the pirates take him to the ruins. But, there's a surprise with the statues, and I'm not going to ruin it for you here. 

“Shadows in the Moonlight” is set during the buccaneer era of Conan's life. In the story, Conan reveals to Olivia that he was in a a brigade called Free Companions, raiding the borders of Koth, Turan, and Zamora for a prince in Eastern Koth. Apparently, all of the Free Companions were killed except for Conan. By the story's end, Conan has become a pirate captain, complete with his own crew and ship. In the grand Conan mythos, this sets up his life under the alias Amra and his pirate empire in the Vilayet Sea. Details of this period make up the narrative of Leonard Carpenter's 1994 novel Scourge of the Bloody Coast

Sitting aside all the horror and pirate talk, “Shadows in the Moonlight” is a barbaric tale with plenty of sword fights and heroic saves set in an exotic location. As a men's action-adventure novel, there's nothing to dislike here. Robert E. Howard was in top form when he wrote the story and it's entertainment value has yet to dwindle. Highly recommended!

Friday, February 24, 2023

The Continental Op (with illustrations by John K. Snyder III)

There have been countless reprints of stories starring Dashiell Hammett’s iconic and groundbreaking hardboiled private detective, The Continental Op. However, the recent collection of the first five-stories in the series from Clover Press is something special due to the addition of illustrations from John K. Snyder III that supplement Hammett’s prose.

Snyder is an accomplished comic book artist who recently resurrected and reimagined Lawrence Block’s Eight Million Ways to Die as a graphic novel to critical and fan acclaim. Snyder’s beautiful, full-page illustrations make Hammett’s prose come alive in this slim collection. To be clear, this Continental Op compilation is not a graphic novel or comic book, but rather a collection of five stories with Snyder illustrations sprinkled throughout.

The five stories were originally published in Black Mask Magazine throughout 1923, but they remain fresh and violent stories of mystery and suspense a century later. The Thin Man and The Maltese Falcon are the works that come to mind when the public hears Hammett’s name. But for my money, the nameless detective from the San Francisco office of the Continental Detective Agency was his best hero and starred in his strongest works.

“Arson Plus”

The first Continental Op story was originally written under the pseudonym of Peter Collinson, and it involves the investigation of a rural fire that flattened a house down to ash. The homeowner was consumed in the blaze while his servants evacuated safely.

It’s a pretty straightforward mystery story with the Op and his partner interviewing suspects who may or may not know anything about the blaze that killed the homeowner until a solution becomes apparent. As the first Continental Op story, it’s clear that Hammett was still trying to find the character’s voice. It’s more of an interesting historical artifact than essential hardboiled reading.

“Crooked Souls”

The adult daughter of a lumber company CEO has been kidnapped and the Continental Detective Agency is hired to find the girl and supplement the efforts of the police. A $50,000 ransom demand provides the Op a chance to lure the bad guys from the shadows, but the client is too bullheaded to pay.

Now, this is a story! We have action and violence with a twist. Don’t sleep on this one. Hammett finds his Continental Op footing here.

“Slippery Fingers”

A wealthy man is stabbed in the throat, and his son wants the Continental Detective Agency to handle the case as the police have failed thus far. The Op figures that the motive was financial and puts some forensic accounting types on the task of going through the dead man’s books.

Another straightforward mystery yarn with a clever solution involving a mysterious set of fingerprints. This one is completely worth reading, despite the lack of gunplay action.


Sometimes you’ll see this story collected under the title of “The Black Hat That Wasn’t There.” The case involves $100,000 in Liberty Bonds missing from a locked safe of the Golden Gate Trust Company. Meanwhile, there’s a partner in the trust company with access to the bonds who has disappeared. Should be easy: find the partner, find the bonds, right?

The Op follows leads that winds him up in an awesome cat and mouse game within a dark room - two men, one gun. All of this leads to a satisfying and tidy conclusion. Another winner for Hammett.

“Bodies Piled Up”

After a hotel detective is fired for drunkenness, the Continental Op is assigned to fill in for the hotel dick for three days as a temp. On the last day of the assignment, the Op responds to a room housing three murdered hotel guests. All three men had wallets full of cash, so what could the motive be?

The Op and his men run down logical leads until a solution presents itself. Another decent mystery, but not much action - I was still coming off the high from the previous story.


Overall, this is a superb collection of stories to get you started in the world of the The Continental Op. If you’re also into hardboiled art by one of America’s finest illustrators, you’ll do well to choose this volume with the Snyder paintings over all the others. Recommended. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Tarzan #02 - Return of Tarzan

I really enjoyed the Tarzan debut, Tarzan of the Apes, authored by Edgar Rice Burroughs. It was first published in 1912 in The All-Story and then later published as a novel in 1914. The book ended in what I would consider a cliff-hanger with a lot of loose ends requiring a resolution. The series second installment, The Return of Tarzan, does just that. It was first published in New Story Magazine from June through December of 1913. Later, it was published as a hardcover in 1915.

In this installment, Tarzan has an impromptu meeting with a French leader named Count Raoul. This leader assigns Tarzan the role of secret agent, working in Algeria to out two Russian criminals. This portion of the novel really surprised me, as the narrative explodes into a Nick Carter-esque adventure as Tarzan tangles with the criminals. After the skirmish, and the assignment, Tarzan joins a ship headed to Cape Town and creates a friendship with Hazel Strong, a friend of Tarzan's love interest, Jane Porter. Unfortunately, the two Russians joined the ship's passage and throw Tarzan overboard. He washes up on the same coastline he called home in the series debut. Through a wild sequence of events, Tarzan becomes the new chief of the Waziri, a fictional African tribe.

Coincidentally, Jane and her fiance, William Clayton (Tarzan's cousin) are also in route to the west coast of Africa. Ironically, their ship sinks and Clayton and Jane join a lifeboat with one of the Russian criminals. It's this part of Burrough's story that is absolute agony to behold. These characters are left to die without food and water. The extreme circumstances lead to a coin toss to determine which living person will be eaten by the others to survive. This is written with an emotional touch and also places William Clayton into a respectable light as protector and caregiver for Jane (albeit short lived).

Eventually, Jane and William wash up on the coastline shared by Tarzan, and the loose ends are all neatly tied up. William and Jane's proposed marriage ends (no spoilers on how) and Tarzan and Jane are reunited. More importantly, Jane also learns that Tarzan is a Greystoke and the sacrifice he made to keep that fact a secret from her.

The Return of Tarzan also introduces a mainstay of the series, the Lost City of Opar. Tarzan is taken prisoner there and first meets the villain La. It is here that Tarzan discovers a wealth of gold, fortunes that he will eventually return to again and again. There is a brief backstory on Opar's history, but Philip Jose Farmer fleshes this out in his own Tarzan stories and two non-Tarzan novels, Hadon of Ancient Opar (1974) and Flight to Opar (1976).

As an adventure novel, ERB offers so much for the reader in this one book. Shipwrecks, castaways, espionage, desert chases, seemingly endless fights, treasure hunts, survival horror, jungle adventure, and heaps of action. This is really a perfect novel by a fantastic author. As good as Tarzan of the Apes was, this sequel might be just as good. A must-read vintage novel!

Monday, February 20, 2023

Matthew Scudder #05 - Eight Million Ways to Die

Lawrence Block's fifth Matthew Scudder novel, Eight Million Ways to Die (1982), features the alcoholic detective contending with a compelling murder mystery. A young prostitute named Kim Danniken hires Scudder to convince her pimp, an African-American named Chance, to allow her to leave the fold. Kim is tired of hooking, and despite Chance's historically friendly actions and demeanor, she is hesitant about revealing her plans to switch professions. Once Scudder meets Chance, he realizes that her fears weren't valid. Chance is happy to allow her to leave. However, shortly after Scudder explains to Kim that she is free to resign, the young woman is found butchered in a hotel room. 

The plot development builds to Scudder truly caring for Kim and feeling remorse for being involved in Chance and Kim's severance. While not responsible, Scudder still feels as though he owes the dead client a hard day's work to determine who killed her. He works with the police, who are hesitant to receive his tips, and he interviews other prostitutes that Chance had employed. While Chance seems to be the most likely suspect, his alibi is rock solid. Who killed Kim?

What makes Eight Million Ways to Die resonate is that deep down in the city's grime, crime and decay, this novel centralizes Scudder's alcohol dependence. Frequently Scudder attends AA meetings, and challenges himself repeatedly to extend his sobriety into consecutive days. At one point, Scudder hits an eight-day streak. But, his dependence is just too strong. Included in Scudder's struggles is the series stomping grounds like churches, bars, coffee shops, and diners to keep the mood. There are also the obligatory conversations and thoughts about his ex-wife and kids. Some prior characters also re-appear in the novel, furthering some longevity between Scudder and his love interest. 

The book's title contains some weight, mostly emerging from consistent news reports and newspaper articles about various killings throughout New York City involving different methods of death. Scudder reflects that every minute of every day all of us are able to be killed eight million ways. We are all skirting the thin edge between existence and nonexistence each second, which is a true dark sentiment. 

If you ever had the misfortune of seeing the 1986 film 8 Million Ways to Die, starring Jeff Bridges, Andy Garcia, and Rosanna Arquette, I have to sternly remind you that this is not how Lawrence Block's novel should be represented. The film's creators lacked any real interest in what makes this series the very pinnacle of crime-fiction. Arguably, they had no idea what they were doing when it comes to film making, much less how to properly portray Matthew Scudder. Despite the talented cast, the film is just abysmal. 

Eight Million Ways to Die continued Lawrence Block's hot streak and makes for the very best of the series thus far. In fact, this might be one of the best novels I've ever read. Additionally, hearing the audio version of the book with the author's narration was a real pleasure. Highest of recommendations, Eight Million Ways to Die is an absolute mandatory read.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Conan - Red Nails

Robert E. Howard's last sole contribution to his Conan the Cimmerian character was the novella “Red Nails”. It was published posthumously in Weird Tales over the course of July, August/September, and October 1936, mere weeks from Howard's suicide in June. The story was reprinted in The Sword of Conan (Gnome Press, 1952), Conan the Warrior (Lancer, 1967), and numerous times through Del Rey. “Red Nails” was adapted to comics in Savage Tales issues #2-3, which was reprinted in Conan Saga #9

Conan, in his late 30s, finds female pirate Valeria of the Red Brotherhood in a rural stretch of forest. She had killed a Stygian officer and then fled the city. Conan attempts to join her, urging that they should head to the coast. During the verbal debate on which direction to explore, the duo fight a large reptile monster that resembles a dragon. In the distance, they see a large walled city and head there.

Reaching the city, called Xuchotl, the two agree that this walled place seems desolate, a cavernous void of abandonment and neglect. Inside, the enormous building resembles a large apartment building with hallways and corridors leading in different directions. The entire city exists as a combination of shopping mall and housing, completely enclosed in this gloomy remote structure. 

Eventually, the duo discover a tribe living in the complex called the Tecuhltli, complete with a king and queen that explains the city's unique history. Xuchotl was ruled by two brothers, but one stole the other's wife and then the population split based on loyalties to each brother. The Tecuhltli tribe live in one part of the building, the army and people of Xotalanc exist in another part. Needless to say, the two have been feuding for ages and nails are driven into a pillar to represent the number of slain Xotalanc people, thus the story's title “Red Nails”. 

At novella length, Howard leaves himself plenty of wiggle room to incorporate numerous fights, betrayals, deaths, and action. As Conan and Valeria quickly learn, no one in this mysterious city is particularly noble. I think the narrative's switch from Conan and Olmec's alliance to inevitable confrontation (he wants Valeria) was a smooth transition that allowed some character development, albeit brief. The plot is a little crowded considering nearly the entire story takes place in one structure between warring factions, but the atmosphere and descriptive attention to surroundings enhances the story's depth. Overall, this is an entertaining blood-soaked adventure tale that sits in the higher echelon of Howard's Conan stories. 

Note – S.M. Stirling's Blood of the Serpent (Titan, 2022) full-length novel is a prequel to “Red Nails” and features an original story that details Conan and Valeria's first meeting and the events that Howard described in the opening paragraphs of this story (the death of the Stygian officer). “Red Nails” is also included in that book's ending to preserve a sense of continuity. 

Friday, February 17, 2023

Nobody Would Listen - The Collected Mystery Stories of Elisabeth Sanxay Holding

Elisabeth Sanxay Holding (1889-1955) authored 25 novels between 1920 and 1953. In addition, she wrote over 200 short stories for magazines and digests like Ellery Queen, Alfred Hitchcock, The Saint Detective, and Nero Wolfe. Mostly, she concentrated her efforts on mystery and crime-fiction, however, she also contributed to the science-fiction genre as well. Stark House Press has been releasing many of Holding's novels, novellas, and short stories. The publisher's newest Holding release, Nobody Would Listen: The Collected Mystery Stories of Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, is a mammoth volume collecting 19 stories and novellas as well as an introductory article by Curtis Evans. At over 400 pages in length, there is a little something for everyone. Here are a few of my favorites:

The Strange Children

The Magazine of Mystery and Science-Fiction included this Holding story in its August, 1955 issue. As a fan of “evil kids” fiction and films, I honed in on the ominous story title. This 11 page story features a young woman named Marjorie receiving a call from a distressed mother. The woman explains to Marjorie that she was referred to her by a mutual acquaintance and that she desperately needs a babysitter for her two sleeping children within hours. The woman and her husband have a prior engagement and their sitter and housekeeper are both unavailable. Being late in the evening, Marjorie explains that she shouldn't babysit children that don't know her. What if they wake up and find their parents gone and a stranger in the house? The woman assures Marjorie that the children sleep through the night and won't wake up. Marjorie takes the deal and the family's chauffeur picks her up and drives her to a secluded house in the forest. 

The mother shows Marjorie the house layout and advises her that the children sleep in the bedroom down the hall. There are no other people in the house (this is important). The parents leave and so Marjorie sits in this strange house that is as silent as a tomb. Until she hears a child's laughter down the dark hallway. Looking through the door's keyhole, she finds the children awake in their beds playing with a man in a gray suit. Who is this creepy guy and how did he get in the house? This story is told in a suspenseful way and is just eerily delightful. It's a mix of paranormal, suspense, and mystery and Holding utilizes just enough restraint to keep the reader glued to the pages. Excellent. 

Nobody Would Listen

This is a 20 page story that was first published in Mystery Magazine in August, 1935. Like the above story, this one features an isolated house in the forest, a rainy atmosphere, and a new visitor. 50-year old Mrs. Morrissey has just accepted a new job as a live-in cook and housekeeper for two older women, Mrs. Raleigh and Mrs. Torrance. However, once Mrs. Morrissey settles in, she discovers that the two women have an immense hatred for one another. A nearby neighbor scoffs at Mrs. Morrissey's warning that she fears the two will murder one another. The story is aptly titled with Mrs. Morrissey's repeated warnings fall on deaf ears. Will Mrs. Raleigh and Mrs. Torrance eventually hurt or kill one another, or is this a familiar, old-time rivalry that is nothing more than harmless bickering between two lifelong companions? Holding builds so much suspense and impending doom that it seemingly explodes in the unforgettable finale. Think of “Nobody Would Listen” as a dark character study with a unique atmosphere. Recommended.

Friday the Nineteenth

The Magazine of Fantasy and Science-Fiction included this story in its Summer, 1950 issue. To properly review the story in 2023, I'm citing a popular 1993 film called Groundhog Day. It starred Bill Murray and Andie MacDowell and was written by Danny Rubin, who claimed the concept came to him when he read Anne Rice's 1985 romantic horror novel, The Vampire Lestat, and began thinking about eternal life. In the film, weatherman Phil Connors finds himself reliving February 2nd repeatedly, in a time-loop, in a small tiny Western Pennsylvania town. Oddly, Holding had a similar concept as her plot for "Friday the Nineteenth" – 40 years before Rubin's screenplay. 

Boyce is an average white-collar suburbanite living a mundane life with his boring wife and kids. He begins to fascinate about a relationship with his friend's wife, a plain-Jane looking woman named Molly. On Friday the 19th, Boyce arranges for a meeting with Molly in a downtown bar. There, the two discuss their attraction to each other and the restraints both of them practice when the couples meet at social gatherings. Boyce and Molly make a plan to meet in a more intimate setting the next day, on Saturday the 20th. However, Boyce awakens on Saturday to learn it is Friday all over again. When he meets Molly at the bar, he discovers that both of them realize they are living in a time-loop, constantly reliving Friday the 19th. How do they escape?

Groundhog Day, and other time-loop films like Palm Springs and Edge of Tomorrow, have always fascinated me. I was shocked to find a time-loop story that seemingly matched Groundhog Day, but I would imagine there were even more of these stories prior to Holding's. Regardless, her story injects a Gil Brewer/Orrie Hitt flavor as Boyce becomes the unsatisfied husband and father. I really enjoyed the chemistry between Boyce and his wife and how it changes over time. It was rewarding and entertaining simply examining Boyce's complaints at the start of the story. Everyday events like mowing the grass and taking out the trash become valuable experiences that Boyce wishes to have back when he realizes seeing Molly each day isn't exactly a thrilling experience. 

Other highlights include the private-eye story “Farewell, Big Sister” and three stories starring Captain Martin Consadine, Commissioner of Police on the Caribbean island of Puerto Azul, “People Do Fall Downstairs”, “The Most Audacious Crime”, and “The Daring Doctor”. 

Holding's writing is top-notch and gradually leans from mystery, suspense, thriller, and shades of atmospheric terror. She has a unique writing style where her protagonists think to themselves, but Holding places these thoughts into the form of dialogue with quotation marks. I've seen this method a few times in other early 20th century writers, but it's uncommon to me. If you can accept that, then there is nothing to dislike about any of these stories. The Stark House Press staff has performed a marvelous job of singling out some of her best stories. Recommended!