Friday, April 29, 2022

Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis #01 - Murder in Mykonos

Jeffrey Siger is a Pittsburgh native who fell in love with Greece and has written 11 contemporary police procedural novels starring an Athens cop reassigned to the tourist island of Mykonos. The first installment is titled Murder In Mykonos, and it was originally published in 2011.  The Greeks have gone bonkers for this series despite being written by an American who is only a part-timer in the ancient nation, so I wanted to see what the fuss is all about. 

Mykonos is a Greek island in the Aegean Sea 90 miles from Athens. During the months of July and August, the population explodes from about 10,000 to over 50,000 as European tourists descend on the vacation island thick with 16th century windmills, dance clubs, and white-sand beaches matching the sun-baked white buildings. This is the island that our hero, Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis now calls home. He was an ass-kicking hardboiled cop in Athens who was transferred to sleepy Mykanos after the wealthy residents of the island demanded better, more aggressive policing. 

Early in his new island job as Police Chief, a murdered body of a missing tourist girl is found hidden in an abandoned church. Further investigation shows that the murder may be connected to an earlier homicide, making Andreas come to the preliminary conclusion that there is a serial killer operating on this island paradise — a fact that would be devastating to the tourist-based local economy. Even worse, the murders seemed to be ritual killings of some sort. 

Mykonos makes its money from tourism and the island’s leaders doesn’t want anything to upset the visitor trade. As such, there’s a tendency to sweep bad news under the rug. If someone reports a missing foreign woman in Mykonos, the police instinct is to assume she left willingly and no missing-person report is filed. This poses a real challenge to Andreas as he’s trying to get his hands around the number of missing girls who may have been victimized by this hypothetical serial killer. 

Anyone with an interest in serial killer police procedural mysteries or life in the Greek Islands is sure to be pleased with Murder in Mykonos. The fact that it was written by an American was helpful because he took the time to explain things to readers unfamiliar with Greek culture or the unusual setting. No punches are pulled in thoughtful critiques of the island, its residents, and the underlying political climate. 

If you like crime fiction set in exotic locales, this novel is for you. Siger knows his way around the structure of a good mystery novel, and his characters are vivid and fully-realized. I look forward to the next Andreas Kaldis novel. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Thursday, April 28, 2022

James Bond #03 - Moonraker

James Bond's third series installment, Moonraker, was first published in the U.K. as a hardcover by Cape on April 5, 1955. Macmillan published the U.S. edition on September 20, 1955, followed by Pan Books publishing a paperback edition in the U.K. a month later. In December of 1955, Permabooks published a paperback version in the U.S. under the title Too Hot to Handle. In 1979, the book's title was used for the eleventh James Bond film and the fourth appearance of Roger Moore as the Secret Service hero and heartthrob. The film's production company, Eon Productions, authorized Christopher Wood to write a novelization of the film, which was published under the title James Bond and Moonraker (a bestseller that I've heard is quite terrible). 

In Moonraker, Fleming begins by providing a more intimate look at Bond's day-to-day activities. Readers gain a peek into his home, his routines, and his official desk assignments when he isn't globetrotting to extinguish international fires. It's shown that Bond is having affairs with three married women, works a desk schedule of 10 to 6, and likes to play cards in the evenings with friends. 

Fleming reveals that Bond uses a stimulant known as Benzedrine to stay awake and alert, and even combines the amphetamine with champagne. It was also,interesting to watch his habit of sprinkling black pepper on the surface of vodka. 

It is all of these things that further connected me to the character. I also found it fascinating that Bond was contemplating how many more assignments he has to complete before he can retire. He even fathoms how many will introduce the real possibility of his own death. It was written in such a poignant way that made me sympathize with him. Personally, I felt that his characteristics from Casino Royale were further enhanced by this novel. The idea that he wants to move on and have a normal existence is re-visited at the beginning and ending of Moonraker, leaving an emotional impact on readers.

Down to business, M approaches Bond about a personal favor, sort of an “off the record” assignment. He wants Bond to join him at an exclusive gentleman's club called Blades to play poker with a wealthy entrepreneur named Hugo Drax. M suspects Drax is cheating, but wants Bond to discover his method. This segment of the novel includes intense rounds of bridge as Bond verifies Drax's cheating and beats him with a stacked deck of cards, winning seven times his annual salary. All of this is important because the narrative focuses on Bond and Drax's working relationship later.

Bond's official assignment comes to fruition when a Ministry of Supply security officer is fatally shot in a facility housing England's first nuclear missile. This missile has been created by Drax's company and is to take flight as a demo version for England and foreign powers. Bond is assigned as the security officer's replacement in an effort to determine what's going on. I found his investigation hard-boiled and edgy, culminating in a high-speed chase between Bond and Drax's crew from the town of Deal to London. Of course, it wouldn't be a Bond novel without the inclusion of a beautiful co-worker named Brand. 

Moonraker is rather unique due to its settings. The entire novel takes place in and around London, with a focus on atmosphere as Bond is centralized on the sprawling White Cliffs of Dover, the countryside, and the battering of the North Sea and the English Channel. There's a sense of isolation as Bond gazes at the ocean at night, listening for the ship's foghorns and spotting a beacon. I felt that this, combined with Bond's lonely position in the book's last pages, added a sense of solitude to the story. 

Drax's backstory of his rise to criminality, war atrocities, and his fevered attempts to destroy London paired nicely with Bond's “do or die” mission. There's violence, sexiness, thrills, car chases, shootouts, and the pesky Russians to keep the pages moving at a brisk pace. The storytelling improved drastically from the rather average prior installment, Live and Let Die. While that book was action-packed, it came  across a bit campy when compared to the series debut in Casino Royale. Ian Fleming is all business in Moonraker, making it a fan favorite among James Bond fans. Recommended! 

Get the book HERE.

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Earl Drake #06 - Operation Drumfire

After the success of The Name of the Game is Death (1962) and One Endless Hour (1969), crime-noir author Dan J. Marlowe found his heist hero in protagonist Earl Drake, the “man with nobody's face.” The Earl Drake series, for lack of a better name, includes 12 total novels, all published by Fawcett Gold Medal between 1962 and 1976. We've covered the first five novels right here at Paperback Warrior and continue our coverage with this sixth installment, Operation Drumfire, published in 1972.

In Operation Drumfire, readers become fairly familiar with Earl Drake's backstory. He was a professional bank robber who now works occasional assignments for a special agent named Erikson. It is never explained who Erikson works for beyond hinting at a sub rosa agency deep within Washington D.C. Drake's lover is a tenacious former barkeep named Hazel, who has a talent for gambling on horses and the skills to pilot the couple's airplane. She's also a sexy cowgirl that owns a sprawling ranch built from the fortunes of her former husband. Beginning in the series fifth installment, Operation Breakthrough, the duo is joined by an eccentric martial arts expert named Candy and his Chinese girlfriend Chen Yi.

In this book's opening chapters, Erikson visits Drake and Hazel to show them a video of a bank heist at a horse-racing track. Erikson's agency feels that a think-tank defense contractor called the Institute of Defense Analysis (IDA) may be behind it. The idea is that mathematicians inside the agency put together an elaborate plan to knock off the track. Now, due to Erikson's involvement in a meeting between senior leaders in Mexico and the US, he's touching shoulders with IDA. His growing suspicions of their abilities may lead to chaos with the meeting. He wants Drake and Hazel to infiltrate the agency by going undercover as mathematicians inside their headquarters. 

Honestly, I have no idea what is happening in this book. None of it makes any sense to me. Normally, I can stay fairly entrenched with whatever Marlowe is springing, but I'm not even sure he knew what was going on. It's like a chain of events including a Black Panthers type of military presence in Oakland that Candy must deal with. Then, Drake has to fake his math skills inside the agency while Hazel gains clues for something or another. There's an explosion somewhere and a firefight at the end. It was like Marlowe had individual events he wanted to schedule in the narrative, but had no logical way to connect them. 

But, it isn't all completely lost. Drake changes his old snub-nosed .38 revolver for an automatic .9mm. I felt this was a major change for the character, like a promotion into the big leagues. Also, one of the four main characters is killed off in this installment. Shamefully, I felt good about that. Other than those positives, Operation Drumfire is more like Operation Dumpsterfire. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

Elin Warner #01 - The Sanatorium

According to Penguin Random House, Sarah Pearse grew up in Devon, UK and studied creative writing and English at the University of Warwick. Her debut book, The Sanatorium, was published in 2021 and became a Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller. Apparently, actress Reese Witherspoon knows a thing or two about books, and has a Book Club in which she selected The Sanatorium as a featured novel. Witherspoon is irrelevant to me, but I'm a sucker for locked room mysteries and this one looked appealing on Target's bookshelf. 

The Sanatorium introduces readers to British Detective Elin Warner, a character that Pearse is also featuring in the 2022 sequel The Retreat. Elin has been a successful, veteran detective for years, but after a particularly gruesome investigation, she's taking a sabbatical. What better place to rekindle energy than a formerly abandoned mental hospital in the Swiss Alps that has been lavishly restructured into a posh hotel? With a raging winter storm outside and the roads cut off, Elin and her husband discover that a killer is on the loose in the hotel, knocking off the trapped guests one by one as some sort of revenge tactic. 

There's so much to like about the story – great main character, multiple murder investigations, an intriguing backstory, excellent atmosphere and location – but it just fails to be overly stimulating. It's nearly 400 pages, which has become the mandatory publishing requirement for thrillers, and that's an eternity for readers to become trapped in this cavernous hotel with dull and uninspiring guests. By page 300, I no longer cared to learn the killer's identity or to even suspect who's next on the chopping block. I had lost interest completely.

If you love modern thrillers that heavily rely on lengthy dialogue to devour a high page-count, then The Sanatorium is awaiting your stay. 

Get the book HERE.

Monday, April 25, 2022

The Make-Believe Man

Elizabeth Jane Phillips (1916-1996) authored nearly 20 stand-alone novels over the course of thirty years. Often, she adopted the pseudonym E.P. Fenwick or used Elizabeth Fenwick to write her crime-fiction and suspense books, Her 1963 suspense novel The Make-Believe Man was nominated for an Edgar Award by The Mystery Writers of America. It was originally published in hardcover by Harper & Row, then published again by Avon in a paperback edition. Thankfully, Stark House Press has recently reprinted some of Fenwick's novels including The Make-Believe Man. It is in a 2022 twofer with the author's A Friend of Mary Rose (1961) and a wonderful, informative introduction by Curtis Evans.

Norma is a single mother and widow living temporarily in Detroit with her mother, Ms. Moore. In the book's opening pages, Ms. Moore, is leaving town for a few days to visit Norma's brother. She provides adequate instructions on what to do in her absence and the conversation brings up a former tenant that Ms. Moore once had at the house. His name was Cliff and he was a fine renter that was asked to leave to make room for Norma and her son Jimmy months ago.

In Ms. Moore's absence, Norma is enjoying the house and her clerical job at work. Jimmy is fond of the elderly neighbors and often goes there after school. But, one night Cliff shows up at Norma's front door asking to come inside. Cliff is really peculiar, has a black eye, and explains to Norma that he just needs a few days to rest and then he'll be moving on to another town and job. Norma says no and is genuinely creeped out by Cliff's odd behavior. Cliff finally leaves, but when Norma checks the mantle, the extra key to the home's front door is now missing. 

Norma has the locks changed, but the suspense begins to build as Cliff makes a stop at Norma's work to ask about her whereabouts. Then, he calls her on the phone and suggests that Ms. Moore is really his mother too. But, she isn't, he's just psychotic. He becomes a raging lunatic when he learns his key no longer opens the front door. From there, The Make-Believe Man transcends into some really scary happenings. 

According to my research, Fenwick really loved these “domestic menace” types of stories and it is clear she perfected it based on the quality of The Make-Believe Man. Cliff is a scary individual, made downright terrifying when readers learn about his turbulent past. I enjoyed Norma's strength, not only as a mother, but as a widow and fighter. There's a sense of intrigue when a detective begins an investigation to find Cliff. Fenwick also sprinkles in an admirable character named Benning as Norma's potential love interest and co-worker. The three characters collaborate well and I enjoyed the police procedural styling of the book's second half.

Overall, there's nothing to dislike about Fenwick's writing style or this book. Stark House Press has made a wise choice in reprinting this lost classic. It's a tightrope of suspense, scares, and action that culminates in a harrowing, unforgettable ending. In other words, you should read it right now. 

Get the book HERE.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Killer

Before he was science-fiction royalty, Robert Silverberg was a cranking out cheap genre paperbacks to make ends meet. His output included sleaze novels like 1965’s Passion Killer — originally released under the pseudonym of Don Elliott when the author was 29. After discovering that the book is actually a tidy bit of crime noir fiction, Stark House Press imprint Black Gat books has re-released the paperback under the name Killer.

Lee Floyd has just arrived in Manhattan after being hired to kill Howard Gorman’s wife, Ethyl. You see, Howard has recently met a girl named Marie and has decided to upgrade. As such, he needs Hitman Lee’s help in disposing of this Ethyl situation.

For her part, Marie is happy to allow a wealthy sucker like Howard to cover her living expenses, but she finds her benefactor rather repugnant. Nevertheless, having one client paying her bills is easier than working full-time as a call girl. All things being equal, Marie enjoys lesbian sex and Silverberg pulls no 1965 punches in his erotic writing. This is definitely a sex book, and those graphic scenes comprise probably half the novel. You can decide if that’s good news or bad news.

There are some interesting crime noir manipulations and double-crosses among the sex scenes that made Killer a lot of fun to read. It’s not the top-tier hitman fiction we periodically receive from Max Allan Collins and Lawrence Block, but it’s light-years better than most 1960s sleaze fiction. Many authors aren’t proud of their output in this genre, but I’m glad Silverberg has made peace with his past because Killer is a winner. Not a masterpiece, but certainly worth your time. 

Get the book HERE.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Five Total Strangers

I spend a lot of time at Target. My wife loves the place and one of my daughters loves throwing away wads of cash for overpriced records of today's trendy pop stars. What's a book-loving Dad supposed to do other than abandon the dependents at the shoe aisle and then hang for a half-hour in the ragtag section of books that Target deems as literature? The end-result is that the family walks out with dog toys, socks, those little colored egg-shaped lip balms and any modern thriller that resembles a horror novel with blurbs like “addictive and unpredictable”. Thus, this is the reason I now own Five Total Strangers by Natalie D. Richards.

When readers first meet Mira, she's landed in a Philadelphia airport at the start of a blizzard outside. She's a teenager, in high school, and her decision making skills aren't fabulous. Due to the next flight being canceled, she decides to take a free ride from her seatmate, an arrogant young woman named Harper. It's like an early scene out of the old John Hughes' film Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. This awkward pairing with a complete stranger then becomes complicated. Harper claims that three of her friends will be joining them in the car because they all need a ride. Yet, once they are collectively joined in the vehicle, Mira learns that the trio of people are complete strangers to Harper. Why did she lie?

The author includes these eerie, handwritten notes every few chapters from Mira's secret admirer. As the book continues, readers will notice that the notes are written months after the events that take place on Mira's ride from Hell. The notes also suggest that whoever is writing them was a passenger in Harper's car that day, but readers won't learn their identity until the book's final chapters. 

Five Total Strangers has all of the ingredients for a successful thriller – suspicious people, a harrowing event, an inescapable situation, and a terrifying atmosphere. The author's use of ice and snow on Pennsylvania's rural back roads made the atmosphere nearly claustrophobic, heightening the intensity inside the car. 

As good as these ingredients are, the book is just too long at 300 pages. Eventually, the mystery and the shady passengers couldn't keep my attention, which ruined the ultimate reveal at the end. By that point I just wanted the ride to be over. If you love slow-burns, then this one may be for you. I will add that the book is young-adult, but nearly all of the horror and thrillers these days caters to that audience, so don't let that throw you off. If you can get it for a few bucks, it might be worth your time. 

Get the book HERE.

Wednesday, April 20, 2022

Image of a Ghost

We've talked a great deal about prolific author Norman Daniels, but haven't posted a single review for his wife's work. Dorothy Daniels (born Dorothy Smith) authored nurse-fiction and romantic short stories before finding success in the gothic genre. She sold over 10 million books between 1965-1975, culminating in 150 total works in print. My first experience with the author is her 1973 novel Image of a Ghost. It was published by Warner and then reprinted again in 1976. Both feature artwork by prolific Men's Adventure Magazine artist Vic Prezio.

Janet Bancroft inherited a fortune after the recent death of her mother. A year and a half later, Janet spots a paranormal article in a French magazine explaining odd occurrences in a large Maine house. Photographs are included that depict a ghostly woman standing on a staircase. The article includes an invitation from the homeowner asking anyone who recognizes the apparition to call or visit. Janet hurries home, packs a bag, and drives to Maine to talk with the owners. Why? Because Janet recognizes the ghostly woman asher dead mother!

Image of a Ghost is mostly a traditional mystery that tips a foot into a murder procedural. The narrative is mostly just cut-and-paste as the owners, Janet, a dashing male attorney, and others remain in the home hoping to locate the answer to why Janet's mother has risen from the grave. This is a gothic novel, so anyone worth their salt knows there's nothing paranormal about it. The typical Scooby-Doo explanation is offered, but that doesn't necessarily leave out any violent murder or sadistic hi-jinx. Daniels' plot includes a murder mystery as fingers are pointed at all of the guests hoping to uncover clues. 

Overall, this is just a below average gothic that is missing a proper atmosphere and story. The characters are one-dimensional, the ghost isn't that interesting, and the murder mystery leaves a lot to be desired. In other words, Image of a Ghost is an image worth forgetting. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Tuesday, April 19, 2022

The Iron Marshal

The Iron Marshal, L'Amour's 94th novel, was originally published by Bantam in 1979. It is the traditional L'Amour storytelling experience about the unlikely hero ascending from rock bottom to new, lofty heights based on overcoming grueling hardships and oppression. This sort of story is what L'Amour thrived on and this novel proves he was an absolute master of the craft. 

In the book's opening pages, readers are introduced to young Tom Shanaghy, still wet behind the ears as he grows accustomed to life in the big city of New York. It's the late 1800s, and the Irishman immediately finds a brawl on the docks before finding a lead on a job as a server and barkeep at a local pub. The dive is owned by a man named Clancy, and it isn't long before Tom is working his way through the businessman's ranks, from blacksmith to financial clerk on a journey that leads him rubbing shoulders with Clancy on his financial affairs. Eventually, the novel begins to resemble an early mob story with warring factions fighting over pubs and gambling. 

The narrative finds its rhythm when Shanaghy escapes the city by hopping a train. Exhausted, he sleeps his way to Kansas, where he is thrown from the train by a railroad detective. Oddly, when he lands on the hard ground, he finds that the detective has tossed a large backpack to him as well. Inside are supplies, clothes, a revolver and a shotgun. After Shanaghy runs right into a lynching, the man he helps free advises Shanaghy that the pack and shotgun belong to a lawman named Rig Barrett. He says that anyone carrying the famous shotgun is going to have a target on their back. Has Shanaghy assumed the identity of this Iron Marshal? 

L'Amour's novel turns into a remarkable crime-noir once Shanaghy arrives in the small Kansas town. The narrative threads a number of solid plot points together, but it all centers around the town choosing Shanaghy as their new marshal. His order of business is to make sure the train carrying a large payroll isn't robbed. But, after investigating, he learns the heist is happening, but doesn't know all of the players. It could be residents, retailers, criminals from out of town or the railroad men themselves. This is the magic of the story, like any hardboiled private-eye story of the mid-20th century. The mystery is both compelling as well as action-packed. 

The Iron Marshal is just a fantastic western with an extremely likable hero in Tom Shanaghy. I loved the side-stories and how L'Amour neatly tied it all together to deliver an extremely entertaining reading experience. Highly recommended for both fans of westerns and hardboiled procedural storytelling.

Note - The model for the cover pictured here is the "face of a thousand paperbacks", Jason Savas. We told his story in a 2020 article HERE

Get a copy of the book HERE.

Monday, April 18, 2022

The Grave's in the Meadow

To the extent that he’s recalled at all, Manning Lee Stokes (1911-1976) is remembered for his pseudonymous work in men’s adventure paperback series titles, including John Eagle: Expeditor, Richard Blade, Nick Carter: Killmaster, and The Aquanauts. However, Stokes began his career authoring mystery novels beginning in 1945 and beyond. His crime-fiction output includes a largely unknown hardcover novel from 1959 titled The Grave’s in the Meadow that was later reprinted by both Dell and Manor Books in paperback.

Our narrator is an amoral sociopath named Dick Ludwell who just witnessed the murder of a middleweight boxer for refusing to take a dive. Dick was the only person to witness the killing at the hands of a ruthless mob henchman, and he correctly figures this makes him a marked man. Dick is a crooked newspaper reporter who supplements his income by providing tips to the local mob boss, but this cozy relationship isn’t going to be enough to save Dick’s bacon this time.

Dick decides to hide 100 miles from the city in his friend’s vacant farmhouse, and this is where the plot really takes off. The farm is located on the outskirts of a small town where everyone knows one another, and Dick assumes the identity of a dead hobo for his new life in exile. As Dick tries to assimilate into small-town life, an astute genre fiction reader begins to see exactly the direction the paperback is headed. He meets a girl and a sweet relationship evolves bolstered by the lies Dick tells her about his identity and background. Could this story be the tale of a heel redeemed by true love?

About halfway through the novel – right when you think you see where it’s going – there is a bonkers scene that turns the plot into a nasty, violent noir. I promise that there’s not a single reader who will ever forget the scene that sparks the paperback’s turning point. I never saw it coming and I read a ton of this stuff. From that point forward, the book erupts into one of the finest crime-noir stories I can recall reading in a long, long time. It reminds me of Dan J. Marlowe’s The Name of the Game is Death, but this Stokes novel predates the Marlowe classic by three full years.

The paperback sprints to the finish line with an exciting, bloody climax. A couple pages from the conclusion, you’ll be dying to know what’s going to happen at the very end. Stokes’ plotting is superb and he does a fantastic job getting you into the narrator’s warped mind. I honestly can’t get over how exciting and wild The Grave’s in the Meadow is, and I can’t believe it hasn't been reprinted since 1973. This is a forgotten paperback definitely worth rediscovering. Readers should seek out a copy, and reprint publishing houses should acquire the rights and resurrect this lost classic. Highest recommendation. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Friday, April 15, 2022

Ed Noon #17 - Assassins Don’t Die in Bed

The character of Ed Noon began as a traditional wisecracking, skirt-chasing private eye in the mold of Richard Prather’s Shell Scott. Over time, author Michael Avallone (1924-1999) pulled a clever trick and began sending Noon on spy missions at the request of his recurring client, the U.S. President. Such an adventure is the 17th Ed Noon novel, Assassins Don’t Die in Bed from 1978, currently available as an affordable ebook

The novel begins with a call to Noon on his red, white and blue telephone providing a direct line to the President. The Man needs Noon to shadow a U.S. elder statesman named Henry Hallmark on a tour of Europe in furtherance of maintaining the peace. The President has reason to believe that Hallmark (America’s Churchill) is in danger of being assassinated and needs Noon to keep him safe. If you’re wondering why the U.S. law enforcement, diplomatic, and intelligence community doesn’t just work together to protect our famous emissary, you have no business reading this paperback. 

Aboard the ocean liner is an array of colorful characters and suspect assassins. This includes a Japanese Sumo wrestler named Buddha who can snap silver dollars in two between his fingers. There’s also a woman named Gilda Tiger who is regarded as one of the most beautiful women in the world. Will Noon lay her? I’ll never tell! There’s also an Indian political leader seeking to shepherd his starving Hindu nation under the political umbrella of the Red Chinese. 

Further dressing up this cruise ship mystery is an assortment of spy gadgets Noon brings along for the ride. It’s clear by 1968 that Avallone was influenced by the James Bond films, and he wasn’t alone. During this period, there was an arms race to crown a paperback series as “The American James Bond.” With Noon, Avallone threw his hat in the ring and decided to have some real fun with the concept. 

Overall, Assassins Don’t Die in Bed is a better-than-average novel for the genre with a really terrific hardboiled ending. Avallone was a solid author who could always be counted on for a good, pulpy read. If you’re new to the Ed Noon party, you safely can start with this one and not be disappointed. Recommended. 

Buy a copy of this ebook HERE.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Nowhere to Hide

R. Patrick Gates is a teacher, young adult and horror author, husband, and dog owner. Beginning in the 1990s, Gates has authored a number of horror novels like Tunnel, Deathwalker, Savage, and The Prison. The author created a two book series, Grim Memorials and Grim Reapings, about an evil character named Eleanor Grimm terrorizing the small town of Northwood. My first experience with Gates is his psychological horror novel Nowhere to Hide. It was originally published by Pinnacle in 2008 and now exists in a brand new edition as an audio book by Capricorn Literary

The book begins with a bloodbath. Young Billy Teags returns from school to discover his mother and brother have been brutally murdered. As gruesome as this scene is, it pales in comparison to the horrific events that unfold throughout the narrative. Billy discovers that the killer is still inside the house.

In Nowhere to Hide, Gates blends a unique concept with present and past events to create this terrifying horror novel. Readers know what Billy is experiencing in the present, but flashbacks to the days before bring new light to the situation. Billy knew about the killer in advance and had notified his parents of a murder he witnessed in his dream. They didn't believe Billy's account, not realizing that Billy has a psychic link to the killer. 

Gates is far from a traditional storyteller and has a rather abstract style that is reminiscent of Jack Ketchum or Bryan Smith. The writing possesses violent, in-your-face imagery that's not for the squeamish. While the horror is prevalent, Gate's creates a multifaceted monster that surprisingly fastens an emotional bond with the reader. In terms of thrilling suspense, it's the reader hiding out with Billy as he navigates the suburban home's hallways, closets, and rooms in a tight cat-and-mouse contest. 

If you want traditional, small-town horror or a weak monster of the week, Nowhere to Hide isn't for you. Instead, this book exists for horror fans that crave a deeper level of psychological terror. Along with this offering, Capricorn Literary is reprinting classic horror novels, all smoothly presented in fantastic audio editions (or Kindle/paperback). Check out the publisher's other authors like Jeff Rovin, John Russo, and Allen Lee Harris

Get the audio book HERE.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

Say it with Bullets

Richard Pitts Powell (1908-1999) was a Princeton man, an ad man, and a newspaper man who worked on Douglas MacArthur’s staff during World War 2. After the war, he proceeded to write 19 novels in a variety of genres. His 1953 paperback, Say It with Bullets, found new life as a Hard Case Crime reprint in 2006 and remains available today in digital and paperback editions from Wildside Press. 

The novel wastes no time thrusting the reader into the action.  Bill Wayne is traveling across the U.S. with the goal of tracking down five old friends - war buddies and later business partners. One of the men shot Bill in the back overseas in China. Bill is not sure which one of his buddies tried to kill him, but he intends to put that old friend in his grave once he figures it out. 

Bill will be traveling many miles in this ad hoc vendetta investigation. His suspects live in Cheyenne, Salt Lake City, Reno, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Another interesting wrinkle: Bill  and his .45 are covering this ground in a bus filled with tourists who signed on with Treasure Trips, Inc. for a tour of the American West. The set-up is totally contrived, but highly-creative and a perfect way for the story to unfold. 

Another contrivance is a sweet woman on the bus named Holly, who coincidentally knew Bill when they were kids. Holly always had the hots for Bill, but he’d prefer to fly under the radar on this trip. After all, he’s more interested in murder than seeing Yosemite Park. Bill initially shuns Holly’s advances, but the reader can see where this storyline is headed. 

Flashbacks fill in the details of the back-shot that failed to kill Bill in China after a heated argument with his five business partners. After returning home to Philadelphia, another unknown subject took another shot at Bill. He narrowed the suspects down to the five partners, which brings us back to this weird bus ride. 

When Bill reaches his first suspect, the plot takes an unexpected — and rather clever turn. I won’t give it away, but the mission changes from a standard revenge story to a mystery in which the hunter is being hunted. You won’t be disappointed. Leave it at that. 

The author’s prose is straightforward and no-frills, but he had a real knack for snappy dialogue. As a protagonist, Bill has an evolution from a cranky misanthrope to a fully-realized man with whom the reader can eventually empathize. By this point in his career, Powell had  nine books under his belt, so he had cracked the code of writing sharp, terse prose with great pacing. 

Say It with Bullets is an easy recommendation, and has spurred my interest in reading more of Powell’s writing. Thanks to several forward-leaning reprint houses, it won’t take much hunting to find more of his work. Buy a copy of this book HERE.

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

Race Williams #02 - Three Thousand to the Good

“Three Thousand to the Good” by Carroll John Daly is a 20-page short story that originally appeared in the July 15, 1923 issue of Black Mask magazine. It’s the second appearance of Private Detective Race Williams, the first hardboiled detective series character ever.

Our narrator Race Williams is ostensibly a private investigator, but he’s the first to admit that he’s really a “gentleman adventurer” who lends his services targeting criminals on behalf of paying clients. In this case, he is hired by a fellow named Abe who needs Race to be the bagman for a blackmail payment Abe owes some crooks in exchange for incriminating evidence in the possession of the blackmailers. Abe is no choirboy himself, and the activity that opened him up to blackmail in the first place underscores Race’s own operation in a morally grey area.

The blackmail payment is $10,000, and Race strikes a deal with Abe. If Race can come back with the incriminating evidence from the blackmailers and Abe’s $10,000, Race gets to keep $2,500. If Race fails, he gets nothing. Abe jumps at this opportunity for Race’s value-added services.

The story quickly shifts to Race’s attempt to double cross the blackmailers, and fans of tough-guy action find plenty to enjoy. Staging a double cross is one thing, but getting away with it is quite a different challenge. Race eventually gets to the bottom of the situation with a somewhat odd conclusion to the story.

In the world of good-and-bad Race Williams stories, this one was solidly satisfying and will please fans of Race and his imitator, Micky Spillane’s Mike Hammer. The story has been compiled elsewhere, but the cheapest option is a two-dollar ebook from Black Mask that also includes a bonus stand-alone story from Daly called “Paying an Old Debt.”

While we’re here, I’ll say that “Paying an Old Debt” was from an April 1923 issue of Black Mask - one month before Daly launched the Race Williams series. The narrator is a jailbird who cons his way into a butler job for the purpose of ripping off his host’s diamonds. It’s a great little story with an O. Henry styled ending. I thought it was a stronger story than the Race Williams one.

The Black Mask ebook containing the two stories is only two bucks and completely worth it. The stories have aged extremely well and stand as a monument to the very beginning of hardboiled crime fiction. 

Get the ebook HERE.

Monday, April 11, 2022

The Woman on the Roof

According to Wikipedia, Helen Nielsen (1918-2002) authored television scripts for classic mystery shows like Perry Mason and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Before her writing career, she worked as a draftsman during WW2 and helped design aircraft like the B-36, XB-47, and P-80. She authored nearly 20 novels, including a series of detective novels starring District Attorney Simon Drake. Stark House Press has been reprinting some of Nielsen's stand-alone crime-fiction novels like The Woman on the Roof. It was originally published in 1956 by Dell and now remains as a reprint through Stark House Press's Black Gat Books imprint. 

Wilma Rathjen spent a considerable amount of time in a mental institution. There, she rehabilitated and learned new skills. Now, she lives in a rooftop apartment in Los Angeles and spends her spare time spying on her neighbors. The rent is completely paid by her wealthy brother Curtis, a prominent politician and lawmaker. Wilma still likes to keep busy, so she works at a nearby bakery designing birthday cakes. Thankfully, the author's final lines in Chapter One sets up the narrative.

From her rooftop view, Wilma discovered that her neighbor Ruby, a beautiful female dancer and entertainer, was lying in her bathtub dead. But, Wilma didn't want to risk being scolded by the police for snooping or reporting a dead body. She may have to return to the mental hospital where the food is bad and the staff is abusive. She can't do anything to jeopardize her comfy living arrangement. Wilma is still hiding the secret when her friend and neighbor Pop peers through Ruby's window and discovers her corpse. 

The authorities are called and the narrative then focuses on John Osgood, a 40 year veteran police sergeant and Frenchy Bartel, a homicide detective, as they attempt to find Ruby's killer. But, the tension escalates when another tenant is murdered and Wilma sees someone snooping around Ruby's empty apartment at night. The police, and readers, receive a surprise when someone walks into Ruby's apartment claiming to be her husband. Is he the killer, or is it a pesky photographer?

The Woman on the Roof didn't entertain me as much as I had hoped. I rarely strike out with Stark House Press, but I just felt the book was too long and didn't have enough to keep me occupied. It's written well and I enjoyed the characters, but Wilma left something to be desired. With her limited capabilities, I became bored with the events surrounding her. The mystery was engaging enough, and Ruby could have been sexy as Hell. But, she's a bloated corpse before the narrative even starts, so any sexy chemistry was completely voided. Osgood's role was interesting and he turned the story into a procedural investigation, although a dull one. 

Overall, this was my first sampling of Helen Nielsen's work and I'm intrigued enough to try another. Buy a copy of the book HERE.

Friday, April 8, 2022

Gold Bait

Colonel Corby spent years fighting in Korea and Vietnam before an injury ended his military career. After rehabbing at a local hospital, Corby cashed out and wanted a retirement somewhere cheap with lots of booze and sex. So, it's in Mexico that entrepreneur Max Haggard finally locates Corby, nestled between bottles of tequila and a beautiful senorita's legs. At the front door, Haggard explains that he has traveled from Korea just to find Corby. He ain't selling vacuum cleaners. What he has to offer is worth over $4 million smack-a-roos.

Haggard reminds Corby of a Korean battle at sea in which Corby, manning a small South Korean boat, managed a direct hit to sink a battleship. But, little did anyone know that the battleship held a metric ton of fun payable in small, shiny gold bricks. Those same bricks are now sitting on the seabed wherever Corby scored the hit. Haggard learned of the ship's fortune in Korea, but no one could locate any whereabouts of the sunken vessel. Only Corby can recall the coordinates After squinting at charts, Corby knows where to find it. But, he's keeping his 'ole kisser shut until they can put together a salvage job. 

Author Walter Sheldon, often writing as Walt Sheldon (once as Ellery Queen), made stacks of dimes writing pulps in the 30s and 40s. Like everyone looking for a better payday, he switched to paperback originals and dished out crime-noir, science-fiction, horror, and action-adventure novels. By the time he wrote Gold Bait, published in 1973 (Fawcett Gold Medal), he had the writing machine well-oiled. So, after consistent success, Sheldon presented Gold Bait in an experimental, different way. 

The first page of the book is a CIA memorandum from Mr. Fancy Pants to another Fancy Pants outlining Corby's possible recruitment into the organization. The memo says that the pages in the book are documents recovered from Corby, other people and agencies. The last page of the book is another CIA thingy suggesting that the documents were reviewed by enough peeps to make a final decision. The last line states that Corby is either eligible or ineligible for recruitment. I'm not telling you how it ends.

So, what are the pages inside? What do they contain? It's a conglomerate (that means buncha) of diary entries from Corby and that blonde bombshell that's on the front cover as well as letters and police reports that tell the tale of this foursome attempting to recover the sunken gold while being watched by the pesky military. Mostly, it all works out and makes this a real cool read, but I wondered how these guys had the time to write diary entries while dodging bullets, assassins, criminals, and scoundrels? 

I'm sure you just gawked at the cover and spent your $5 because it is a Robert McGinnis painting and you're a filthy savage, but if you want to open it up and read the words, I think you may get hooked on Gold Bait. I sense it could have been a series of books starring this Corby fellow blowing up people and places while pulling down panties. But, I don't think a sequel even happened and that's a real bummer. Anyhoo, Gold Bait is recommended. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Thursday, April 7, 2022

Cage of Ice

Duncan Kyle is the name printed on a number of 1970s and 1980s high-adventure novels. In reality, this is John Franklin Broxholme (1930-2000) using Kyle as a pseudonym. I really enjoyed my first sampling of the author's work, the action-packed 1976 novel In Deep (aka Whiteout!). I wanted to try another, so I randomly chose Cage of Ice from my bookshelf. It was the author's first published novel, originally appearing in hardcover in 1970 (Harper Collins) and later reprinted numerous times in paperback. Pictured is my 1987 Fontana edition, which has the best cover -  in my opinion - of the reprints I've seen.

In Cage of Ice, protagonist Dr. John Edwards is a British surgeon and teacher residing in New York. In a unique plot set-up, Edwards receives an envelope addressed to Professor John Edwards, which isn't him. Once he receives the envelope, he is nearly killed on the highway by a motorist and his apartment is ransacked and the doorman assaulted. Whatever was in the envelope is then stolen by these mysterious men. Edwards, desperate to learn why he has been targeted by killers, tracks down the envelope's origin and discovers it was supposed to go to Professor Ed Ward....not John Edwards. Get it? 

Edwards finds Professor Ward's residence, but when he arrives, he finds the man murdered. After surviving another round of killers, Edwards is then arrested on suspicion of murder and bailed out of jail by the CIA, who then safely ushers him to their headquarters in Washington D.C. What the heck is happening in this high-adventure-missing-high-adventure narrative? 

Here's what amounts to be the most absurd plot I've discovered yet in a men's action-adventure novel:

The Soviets need more shipping alternatives and routes to contend with the West. To do this, they need sea ports on their northern coastline. But, the area remains frozen nearly year round, so the region is mostly useless. The Soviet Union needs the sea level to rise so they can build a giant dam to allow warmer water onto their coasts while also funneling cold water to Japan, annihilating that country's climate (along with submerging most of Northern America's coastline). To force sea levels to rise, they need the Arctic Ice Caps to melt. Anyone knows that the sunlight bounces off the gleaming white snow and ice, thus it stays frozen. But, the Russians create a carbon that they can release from aircraft that turns the Ice Caps the color of dark ash. Now, the sun can become the Soviet Union's ally by melting the ice and raising the sea level. It is so ridiculous, yet somehow remarkably brilliant! 

A Russian scientist has created this whole process, but he wants out of the Soviet Union so he can spill his secrets to the U.S. and avoid a global catastrophe. But, the U.S. already knows the secrets based on correspondence this Russian scientist had with Professor Ward, who has been killed by Soviet assassins already. The Russian scientist is being held at a secret facility in a frozen wasteland off of Russia's northern coast. The CIA then recruits operatives from Japan, Scotland, England, and the U.S. to make the impossible journey, through the ice and snow, to retrieve the scientist (for some reason). But, because Edwards is a doctor, he's recruited as well because most British surgeons know how to climb icy mountains, navigate specialized snow vehicles, shoot straight, and survive under Earth's harshest elements. 

As insane as all of this sounds, Cage of Ice is a fantastic adventure if you just dismiss the destination and enjoy the ride. Duncan Kyle is writing to entertain readers and this is just pure popcorn fun. The author creates dramatic, harrowing situations for this team to endure and overcome. The survival elements are there, but they don't consume the action. Instead, it is endurance, skiing, breaking into the installation, catastrophe, and creating a backup plan on the run that keeps the pages turning. The book's finale has an awesome firefight with helicopters and a nearly apocalyptic showdown with a nuclear submarine.

If you suspend disbelief to concentrate on the overall action and adventure, then Cage of Ice is an absolute winner. It's similar to the greats like Hammond Innes and Alistair MacLean in terms of the faster pace and death-defying sequences. It's just tissue thin on plot, so your mileage may vary. I recommend it, and I rarely steer you wrong. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE

Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Paperback Warrior Primer - Jack Pearl

The first thing to know about Jack Pearl is that the name is a pseudonym of Jacques Bain Pearl. Pearl was born in Richmond Hill, New York in 1923. After obtaining his Master's at Columbia, Pearl spent nearly three years in the U.S. Army's Military Police throughout Africa, Sicily and Italy during World War 2

After the war, Pearl began a short career as an engineer, but quickly his goal of becoming a full-time writer took control of his life. In 1952, Pearl was able to get his feet wet by writing for a short-lived crime-drama television show called Gang Busters. He also began contributing short stories to the Men's Adventure Magazines. His earliest short story may have been "Submerge!", published by Saga in September 1953. He would go on to contribute short stories to Man, Climax, Impact and Boys Life. After a stint as an advertising copywriter, Pearl worked his way into a managing editor role at Saga and Climax

In 1961, Pearl began writing military non-fiction novels. The first was simply called General Douglas MacArthur, a life story of the man published by Monarch, which was followed by Blood-and-Guts, a life story of General Patton also published by Monarch. These two books instantly became hot sellers and Pearl was off to the races as a full-time novelist. A year later he wrote another one about Navy legend Admiral Bull Halsey and Famous Aerial Dogfights of World War 2.

The earliest work I've read by Pearl is his 1962 movie novelization Ambush Bay. This was a film released by United Artists and Pearl mostly sticks to the film's screenplay but has a few variations. I read the novel and it's set during World War 2 in the Philippines. Nine battle-scarred U.S. Marines and an Air Force radio man are attempting to penetrate a Japanese occupied region to rescue a U.S. Intelligence officer. I really liked it a lot and reviewed the novel HERE.

Pearl wrote a young adult, air force cadet series called The Young Falcons in 1962. The first was The Young Falcons, the second was Bruce Larkin – Air Force Cadet

In 1963, Pearl was still writing for magazines like Saga. In fact, Pearl started dabbling in Cryptozoology with some of his stories. 1964 proved to be a very productive year for the author. He wrote a non-fiction book called Battleground World War 1 as well as the movie novelization for Robin and the 7 Hoods. This was an all-star film showcasing Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Jr., and Bing Crosby. That same year, Pearl rose to prominence with his book about historical assassinations called The Dangerous Assassins. In 1965, he also authored the movie novelizations for The Yellow Rolls-Royce and Our Man Flint, as well as a prison novel called Stockade, which was published by Pocket Books. 

One of Pearl's most popular novels was published in 1966. It was called The Crucifixion of Pete McCabe and it is about a man convicted of rape and murder that must prove his innocence. In 1967, Pearl authored a television tie in novel to the sci-fi TV series The Invaders called Dam of Death. That same year he also authored the first of a two book series of young adult science fiction called Space Eagle, which is loosely based on the Lone Ranger concept. Also in 1967, Pearl authored two books as television tie-in novels to the show Garrison's Guerillas. One was a young adult novel called Garrison's Guerillas and the Fear Formula. The other was simply titled Garrison's Guerillas, a paperback published by Dell that serves as a traditional WW2 men's action-adventure novel. I read and reviewed the book HERE.

In 1968, Pearl authored the movie novelization of Funny Girl. By the 1970s, Jack Pearl started to author books in a gritty, more violent tone that fits snugly with men's action-adventure of the time. This era of his writing begins with 1971's A Time to Kill, A Time to Die. It's about a reunion of old friends from World War 2 at an Aspen Ski Lodge. But within a half-hour, five are fatally shot by a sniper and it's up to the local police and a psychiatrist to close in on the killer and learn his/her motives. His 1973 book Victims is about a terrorist bombing attempt in New York City on Christmas Eve. 

Pearl wrote The Plot to Kill the President in 1972 and it was published by Pinnacle. This is a book that was inspired by the Kennedy Assassination. Pearl continued doing television and movie novelizations in the 1970s with a book called Nancy, a mob-themed one called Lepke. He also started tinkering with romance novels in the 1970s with books like Callie Knight.

Real life Newark Detective David Toma co-authored a handful of novels with Pearl based on his career in law enforcement. The first was co-written with Michael Brett (the same one that wrote Diecast) and two were written with Jack Pearl – The Affair of the Unhappy Hooker and also The Airport Affair

From 1977 through the late 1980s, Pearl teamed up with his cousin Donald Bain (author of the Murder, She Wrote series) to write mass-market romance novels under the name Stephanie Blake. This is what Pearl finished his career doing. He would pass away in Nassau County, New York in 1992. 

You can check out our Jack Pearl page HERE as well as listen to our podcast episode about the author HERE.

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

X-Files - Goblins

I'm an X-Files fan, one of those weird X-Phile nuts. To prove it, I have an old trunk filled with show toys, coffee mugs, calendars, books, action-figures, autographs, and various magazines like TV Guide. I even have VHS recordings of various episodes as they originally aired on Friday nights. I've read the graphic novels, fan-fiction, and some of the books. I've had Goblins for a long time and recently decided to listen to the audio version while earning my keep performing honey do chores. It was originally published in paperback by Harper in 1994 and authored by Charles Grant, a prolific writer that specialized in horror.

In a small town in Louisiana, two retired U.S. Military officers are slashed to death. However, eyewitnesses claim a hand came from out of nowhere, as if it was nearly invisible when making the killing stroke. One of the men was to marry the cousin of a sportswriter that Mulder knows. The sportswriter comes to Mulder with the murder mystery, but he's already on it. The F.B.I. has already been called to perform the investigation quietly, thus Scully and Mulder are brought up from the basement to handle what may, or may not be, a legitimate X-Files case.

The problem that the F.B.I. agents face (and readers for that matter), is that there are too many cooks in the kitchen. Grant doesn't leave well enough alone and partners two rookie agents to accompany Scully and Mulder on the case. Thus, there's multiple investigations with different pairings of the agents. Also, the sportswriter comes to town as well to conduct his own investigation, which just complicates the narrative more.

I'm not sure if Grant had actually watched an X-Files episode when he was hired to write this sort of television tie-in literature. Mulder's characterization is off, behaving in ways that doesn't really match his television persona. In this book, Mulder isn't as sarcastic with his responses or as serious as the TV character, and does the investigation in ways that has no real purpose or flow. I also didn't sense any of the guilt ridden emotion that wrecks Mulder on screen, although Grant does include a flashback scene of Samantha disappearing (Mulder's sister and major series story arc). He's also overly happy about things beyond the paranormal, which is unusual. The idea is that Mulder only becomes enthusiastic when researching X-Files-type cases. 

My main issue with Goblins is that it's just boring. Nothing really happens, the agents spin their wheels, and I figured out the whole “goblin” mystery in the book's first few chapters. The bumpy narrative was a struggle to get through and I was left thoroughly disappointed that I've hung on to this paperback for nearly 30 years only to find out it isn't very good. 

There are numerous paperbacks available, including a couple that retcon Scully and Mulder's teen years. I'll continue reading X-Files related stories and books, but there's no reason for you to read Goblins

Get the ebook HERE.

Monday, April 4, 2022

Hugh North 18 - Two Tickets for Tangier

Francis Van Wyck Mason (1901-1978) was a renowned international traveler and author with 78 books to his credit. He began his career writing stories for the pulps where he developed his signature character, U.S. Army Intelligence Colonel Hugh North (7 stories, 25 novels) in 1930. The stories began as mysteries, but shifted into spy adventures with the advent of paperback original novels. My first taste was the character’s 18th novel, Two Tickets for Tangier, from 1955. 

North, who works for a U.S. spy agency called G-2, is on vacation in London romancing a sexy babe named Lady Angela Forester. He’s known Angela for awhile, but he’s not initially aware that she’s a British MI-2 spy. Their romantic time together is cut short when North is summoned into his boss’ office in London, and Angela has to fly to Tangier for something or other. 

Don’t be embarrassed if you know nothing about Tangier. I’m here for you. It’s a port city located in Morocco on the northern coast of Africa — across from the Strait of Gibraltar from the southern tip of Spain. In 1955, Tangier was still an international city largely operating independently as a free trade zone beyond the control of much oversight from Morocco. As a result, Tangier was a multi-cultural, freewheeling city — an “anything goes” kinda place. 

As luck would have it — the paperback’s title gives it away — North’s new assignment is also to Tangier. The mission involves a gas called Thulium-X that creates intense cold temperatures similar to those of outer space. The gas was perfected by a former Nazi scientist named Dr. Vogel, who had been enslaved by the Ruskies since 1945. Somehow the scientist escaped and is hiding in Tangier. North needs to find him and buy the formula before the Soviets can make the grab. 

The plotting in Two Tickets to Tangier was good, but not remarkable. The writing, however, was a slog. The author went to such pains to portray North as a debonair man of the world that he really came off as a foppish snob. He peppers his language with French phrases and seems like the last guy I’d ever send into a critical mission. Painstaking descriptions of locations abound and offhand references to obscure characters from previous novels litter every scene. 

I was really optimistic about this series, but this first foray into the world of The Man From G-2 really left me cold. If there’s a good installment in this series, please hit me up. I assure you that Two Tickets to Tangier isn’t the one. 

Buy a copy of this book HERE 

Friday, April 1, 2022

The Many

The Many (2016) is the first book in a trilogy of psychological horror thrillers by American author Nathan Field. I sampled the first chapter on my Kindle and was sufficiently creeped out to continue reading.

The novel begins with a blind date in Portland, Oregon, where Stacey quickly becomes charmed by a British doctor named Adam, whom she originally met on a dating app. The wine and dinner portion of the date went swimmingly well, but things get seriously weird in the car ride back to Adam’s place to consummate the good night.

The third-person perspective changes to Karl Morgan. He’s Stacey’s brother and he is super-concerned about Stacey’s well-being. Karl is flopping on his sister’s couch, and Stacey has been acting seriously weird since her date with the doctor. The change in Stacey’s behavior triggers Karl to leave Stacy’s place and set off on his own. Maybe some time apart will be good for the siblings.

When Karl reconnects with his sister, her weirdness and creepy behavior only increases. The central mystery of the novel’s first act: “What the hell is going on with Stacy?” No one spoiled the book for me, so I was wavering between demonic possession and an alien body-snatching. There were some legit terrifying scenes depicting Stacey’s descent into weirdness or madness or however you want to characterize her changes. Fans of horror fiction will be super-pleased. Leave it at that.

The initial solution to the mystery is revealed halfway through the novel, and the book then slides into straight-up thriller territory. Two characters pair up to solve the mystery, and their relationship follows the beats of a young adult novel. A late-novel plot twist turns everything you’ve read on its head, making the reader want to know more about the conspiracy of The Many promised in the title.

Beyond that, there’s not much I can say about the plot that won’t spoil the fun for you. My only complaint is that the paperback is part one in a trilogy, and not much is resolved in The Many. To the publisher’s credit, all three installments have been released in one 900-page volume, which I’ll need to tackle one day to find out what the Hell happens.

Bottom line, The Many - at least the first installment - is inventive, periodically terrifying, and often hard to put down. It’s a puzzle-box mystery with an intriguing solution that kept the pages turning. If this sounds like your kind of thing, it probably is. You won’t be disappointed. 

Get the ebook HERE.