Joe Ledger: Unstoppable

As the protagonist of five novels and numerous short stories, Jonathan Maberry’s Joe Ledger is a fully formed character with recognizable traits. This new anthology, JOE LEDGER: UNSTOPPABLE, shows how a group of other authors, selected by the Editors, handle Ledger and his various missions with the Department of Military Science (DMS). The stories vary in both length and perspective, but adhere to the series’ combination of thriller and science fiction, and are for the most part worthy additions to the Ledger canon.

In “Banshee,” by James A. Moore, Ledger, with the able assistance of his DMS teammates Bug and Bunny, tracks down a nearly invisible, possible female assassin that has been murdering foreign diplomats. The method of the murders further suggests the assassin is something other than human. In Steve Alten’s “The Honey Pot” Ledger wakes up to find himself naked in an expensive Paris hotel room, with a beautiful girl in his bed and no memory of how he got there.

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How Comics Work

I’ve never been a big Dave Gibbons fan. I’ve read, liked and appreciated his work, growing up with 2000AD through WATCHMEN and GIVE ME LIBERTY amongst many other marvels, but to me he’s always been like the Kubrick of comics: precise and magnificent, but also somewhat cold and aloof. I like squiggly lines and minor mistakes, more organic and free flowing styles over realism and accuracy. Thus Gibbons’ work has always rather eluded me; it’s one of the reasons WATCHMEN wasn’t the big deal that DARK KNIGHT RETURNS with its fuzzy blobs of stylized ink was.

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The Blood Card

Elly Griffiths writes two masterful mystery series: the one about forensic archaeologist Ruth Galloway, now up to nine books in the series, and another featuring Detective Inspector Edgar Stephens and his magician friend, Max Mephisto.

This latter series is set in early 1950s England (compared to Galloway’s contemporary time frame) and has a decidedly old school feel to the storylines. Both series I highly recommend. Griffiths has a smooth and silky writing style with nicely-paced short chapters, realistic dialogue, super-dynamic characters that are well rounded and interesting even while showing vulnerabilities, and she just manages to write a darn good story.

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ALACK SINNER: AGE OF INNOCENCE from IDW’s EuroComics is a contender for the best book of the year. This brick collects within its 400 or so pages several stories featuring the titular private eye interacting with New York City and its denizens in the unwashed ’70s.

For me personally, this book is what the first three Ramones albums, or Scorsese’s TAXI DRIVER or Barry Shear’s ACROSS 110th STREET, the pages of PUNK magazine, the novels of Chester Himes or Sol Yurick, and all those other quintessentially grubby but vital New York works of art are.

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The Usual Santas: A Collection of Soho Crime Christmas Capers

Christmas comes early this year, thanks to Soho Crime and THE USUAL SANTAS, a collection of Christmas-themed short stories by many of Soho’s celebrated authors.

The stories are grouped into three main sections. The first, “Joy To The World: Various Acts of Kindness At Christmas,” includes “Chalee’s Nativity” by Timothy Hallinan. Chalee, a homeless Bangkok street child (first introduced in Hillinan’s novel, FOR THE DEAD), spends her evening drawing figures she sees in a holiday store window. But Chalee’s friend, Apple, is soon bored and takes off into the crowded Bangkok streets. In the title story, by Mick Herron, eight Santas traditionally hired by a huge mega-mall outside of London suddenly discover a ninth Santa in their midst. How they unveil the imposter adds to the hilarity of the story.

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Bibliomysteries: Stories of Crime in the World of Books and Bookstores

First things first. Otto Penzler, the editor of the book under review BIBLIOMYSTERIES, is a god. He is a master of the mystery genre, former editor and publisher of the much, much missed magazine THE ARMCHAIR DETECTIVE (for which I used to write reviews), he is the owner of The Mysterious Bookshop in New York City (the oldest mystery specialist store in the world which has contributed mightily to the health of the mystery genre), publisher (formerly under The Mysterious Press, now under various imprints and e-publishing), a two-time Edgar award-winning author, and the editor of over 50 crime anthologies.

In short, he is to be paid attention to and so I opened with much anticipation the cover of BIBLIOMYSTERIES.

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The Hollywood Op

This collection (or “casebook” as the author calls it), originally published in 2011, features eight short stories showcasing Scott Elliott, the protagonist of one of Terence Faherty’s ongoing series. This new edition of THE HOLLYWOOD OP includes a new introduction by the author and is an excellent introduction to the Scott Elliott character.

For the uninitiated, Scott Elliott was one of countless movie bit players during the 1930s. Then his career was interrupted by World War II. When he returned Elliott quickly discovered the Hollywood he had once known had changed forever – and had completely forgotten about him. To make ends meet – and maintain what few industry leads he still has – Elliott becomes a sort of private investigator for Hollywood Security, a firm hired to do the kinds of bothersome jobs the studios would rather avoid.

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Night School

Lee Child’s 21st Jack Reacher novel, NIGHT SCHOOL, now available in paperback, is a prequel that has Reacher still serving as an Army officer in the Military Police. But that’s only one of the notable features in this latest title of the long-running and increasingly popular mystery/thriller series.

It is 1996, and as the novel opens Reacher has received his second Legion of Honor medal. But before he decides where to keep it, Reacher is ordered to report to his commanding officer, who tells Reacher he is being sent back to school. When Reacher arrives he finds two other men in the classroom, representatives from the CIA and the FBI—both as unaware of the purpose of the school as Reacher himself. Then members of the National Security Council appear and tell the three men, “This is not school.”

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3 New Entertainment Titles

Bart Beaty’s study of 1960s-era Archie Comics, Twelve-Cent Archie, came out two years ago, but with the squeaky-clean icons turned into the soapy hit TV series Riverdale, Rutgers University Press has reissued it with full-color illustrations, so anyone who ever enjoyed the comics no longer has an excuse against buying this milestone in pop-culture criticism. While my eyes appreciate the upgrade, my heart is certain that the book was fantastic even in black and white. Unlike, well, every other academic work I’ve read, Beaty has divided his into 100 tight, concise chapters, and then seemingly threw them into the air and let gravity decide the order. The genius of this approach is that it absolutely works. Whether dissecting the literal shape of panels or discussing whether Archie would be better off with Betty or Veronica (mathematics provides the answer, hilariously), Beaty never fails to enlighten as he charms. I haven’t so much as touched an Archie comic book since leaving grade school, yet every page held me rapt.

In Comic Book Film Style: Cinema at 24 Panels Per Second, Canada-based Dru Jeffries argues — rightly, successfully — that the media continues to misuse the term “comic book” as it relates to the movies, in part because it’s bandied about so carelessly, it’s applied even when the source material isn’t a comic book at all. So what is the comic book film, exactly? Jeffries is glad you asked! Per chapter one of his University of Texas Press paperback, the mostly forgotten 2010 actioner The Losers best represents the true definition, in translating the page to the screen as faithfully as possible — not merely in story, but also in style — and the accompanying images from both mediums prove the point, over and over. Subsequent chapters loosen up a bit to examine more flicks, whether through their use of onscreen onomatopoeia (1966’s Batman: The Movie), framing to replicate panels (Creepshow) or manipulation of time (300). Although smartly designed and more than generously illustrated, the book can grow dry if approached from a casual standpoint. So don’t! This material would kill in a classroom setting.

So venerated is Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 existential sci-fi epic that you could fill a small shelf with books dedicated to the film. Even more are on the way; in the meantime, here’s another! From McFarland & Company, film critic Joe R. Frinzi’s Kubrick’s Monolith: The Art and Mystery of 2001: A Space Odyssey reads less like a serious study of the picture (although that exists in one chapter) and more like a Fodor’s guidebook. With enthusiasm and efficiency, Frinzi covers how Arthur C. Clarke’s short story turned into what now is a classic, but considered a failure in its day; plus 2001’s needle-drop soundtrack of classical cuts; Oscar-winning special effects, especially the trippy Star-Gate sequence; and the various sequels, spin-offs and illegitimate children. Chapters vary in usefulness, from quite handy (comparing the various soundtrack albums over the years) to not at all (giving a beat-by-beat plot synopsis). —Rod Lott

Get them at Amazon.

Infinite Stars: The Definitive Anthology of Space Opera and Military SF

Any short story anthology that boasts itself as “definitive” leaves itself open for debate. But INFINITE STARS’ claim of being this kind of collection of space opera and military science fiction might be justified.

This is due, in large part, to editor Bryan Thomas Schmidt’s perceptive decision to include both new examples – many of which are additions to popular series – as well as previously published stories that shaped this kinds of science fiction over the years.

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