Hekla’s Children

James Brogden’s book HEKLA’S CHILDREN is a deeply unsettling and complicated work, layering an intriguing mystery with a thoughtful fantasy topped by a screeching horror tale that may or may not be allegorical, but is chilling and memorable.

The mystery begins when young Nathan Brookes is leading a small troop of four adolescents on an orienteering hike through a large British park. There should be no danger involved and so Brookes lets his charges roam on ahead and he takes a shortcut to meet up with them. He sees the group in flashes and then they disappear. They are not where they are supposed to be. All four youngsters have vanished.

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The Digest Enthusiast: Book Five

On the first page after its table of contents, THE DIGEST ENTHUSIAST’s fifth issue notes that four fiction digests — those bearing the brand names of Alfred Hitchcock, Isaac Asimov and Ellery Queen — have shifted from a 10-issue yearly schedule to a mere half-dozen. The cost-cutting measure is a sign of these tough publishing times.

Luckily, it’s one that ENTHUSIAST doesn’t have to worry about, for two major reasons: First, editor and publisher Richard Krauss is more focused on covering the past history of these magazines, whose heyday is long behind them. And second, being an indie publication in today’s print-on-demand technology, pesky things like “unsold copies” do not exist. Praise be!

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Outside the Law

Author and journalist Phillip Thompson’s latest crime novel, OUTSIDE THE LAW, follows the aftermath of violence within the world of street-level drug dealers and the mobsters who control the dealers and the flow of drugs in a rural Mississippi county. While the events and characters are never less than absorbing, the novel’s overall impact is deadened due to Thompson’s leisurely pace and shifting perspective.

Colt Harper, Sheriff of a small rural Mississippi county, has a problem on his hands. Small-time drug dealers who operate in his town are showing up brutally murdered. It isn’t long before Sheriff Harper confronts Hack, a sharp dressing, intelligent talking and completely cold-blooded assassin hired by a Memphis mobster to eliminate the dealers. Hack immediately sees Harper as an obstacle to his assignment, but a very expendable obstacle.

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The Jukebox Kings

Doug Allyn’s latest crime novel, THE JUKEBOX KINGS, presents a little-known side of the music business in the mid 1960s, when recordings were made in houses renovated into studios and records were promoted more by popularity on jukeboxes in locals bars and clubs than airplay over the radio. Along the way Allyn also unsparingly presents the greed, ambition, and violence that are also parts of the professional music world.

“Irish” Mick Shannon is a professional boxer who suddenly finds himself in debt to the mob when his manager bet heavy and Shannon looses his latest match. Unable to come up with the cash, Shannon ends up working as the collector for Moishe Abrams, an aging mobster who runs the jukes and collections in Detroit’s 8 Mile area.

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The Nightwalker

Sebastian Fitzek is known for his willingness to take chances with the mystery genre, and his predilection for layering twists and turns into the story so you’re not always sure of the reality of what you’re reading.

And there’s plenty of that in THE NIGHTWALKER, a book that starts with an intriguing premise, turns it around multiple times, and ends with … well, I won’t spoil it, but frankly, the ultimate ending was far less satisfying than what had come before.

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3 New Pop Culture Books

David Thomson is one of our finest living writers, period. He just so happens to work in the field of film criticism, yet his prose sings as marvelously as any acclaimed work of fiction. Each book he releases is an event for cineastes, including his latest … although it is about the movies’ archenemy. In the Thames & Hudson hardback Television: A Biography — heavy in size, heady in subject — Thomson relates the history of TV in the same manner he did cinema in 2012’s The Big Screen: purely on his terms. That means neither chronologically nor logically by anyone’s standards, yet the book feels that way once the whirlwind tour is done. The man can pivot on a dime, going from Gunsmoke to The Rockford Files to James Garner’s Polaroid ads with Mariette Hartley to Merv Griffin — and somehow, his dot-connecting leaps work. The cover image — the iconic one from 1982’s classic Poltergeist — is as good a joke as any, representing Thomson’s sometimes contentious relationship with the boob tube. And let’s be honest: His is ours.

While not quite a runaway smash, The Legend of Tarzan performed better than expected at last summer’s box office, proving there’s lots of life left in the lord of the apes. For the life already lived, David Lemmo recounts the pulp hero’s first century of existence in Tarzan, Jungle King of Popular Culture. Published by McFarland & Company, the trade paperback has the daunting task of distilling 100-plus years of content into roughly a 200-page narrative, and for the most part, the man succeeds. With Edgar Rice Burroughs writing dozens of novels starring his creation, adapted for dozens more motion pictures, there is little space for Lemmo to dive too deeply into individual works. Plus, the preceding sentence doesn’t take into account Tarzan’s adventures into TV, radio, comics, toys and other merchandising vines, all of which get covered here — just at a monkey’s-eye view. For example, the aforementioned Legend film merits one paragraph, but that’s more than is earned by Hollywood’s heretofore most recent live-action Tarzan film, 1998’s flop Tarzan and the Lost City (a vehicle for a loinclothed Casper Van Dien). Lemmo’s writing leans heavily on names and dates, so passages tend to grow arid. For those seeking a reference work on just the movies, reach for Scott Tracy Griffin’s recent Tarzan on Film; for a broad overview on the character’s wide-ranging market penetration and influence, Lemmo’s book serves as that introduction.

As you may have noticed with his previous book on Jamie Lee Curtis in 2010, when David Grove gets interested in a celebrity as a subject, he goes all in. Now, he’s gone all in on the troubled star of Damnation Alley, White Line Fever and TV’s Airwolf in Jan-Michael Vincent: Edge of Greatness. One of the best things about the BearManor Media release is that it exists at all; although once a matinee idol, Vincent is remembered more today (when he’s remembered at all) for substance abuse struggles and other tabloid fodder. I’ll be the first to admit I thought the actor already had died. Perhaps Grove’s book can help — not to rewrite Vincent’s history or legacy, but just to make certain that someone acknowledged his talent and, furthermore, mourned its loss. If you’re not already a fan, Edge of Greatness won’t change your mind; I suspect it won’t even be read by JM-V virgins. Working without input from or access to his subject, Grove guides us through each step of Vincent’s career at a quick clip, from its sharp ascent to an extended train wreck of a fall. Any fear on your part that Grove will indulge in hagiography is unwarranted, as the rather odd and sobering (pun not intended) final chapter makes clear. —Rod Lott

Get them at Amazon.

The Night Bird

In THE NIGHT BIRD, his latest stand-alone mystery, Brian Freeman again probes the psychological themes found in most of his previous works. Here, however, a psychologist and her unusual therapy technique are one of the main characters.

San Francisco Homicide Detective Frost Easton is investigating a series of bizarre deaths. The fact that the victims, all women, reportedly suffered psychotic breakdowns just before their deaths causes Easton to look for other possibilities connections between the victims.

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Spook Street

I had never come across Mick Herron’s series of novels featuring Slough House special agents, but SPOOK STREET is the fourth book in the line (there’s also a novella) and is so fun and entertaining, that I can strongly recommend not just this title, but I’d plan on picking up the other entries as well.

Slough House agents are referred to as “slow horses” by the rest of the British intelligence agencies. It’s the place where disgraced or incompetent agents go to live out their careers in anonymity. As the author says, it’s not really an arm of the intelligence services, and not really a finger because you could say you have a finger on the pulse of the problem, it’s more like a fingernail of the intelligence services, a cutting that you discard.

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Celeste Giuliano’s Pin-Ups in 3-D / Retro Glamour: Photography of Mark Anthony Lacy

To paraphrase Patrick Dempsey’s narration that opens the rather oddball (and underrated) 1988 rom-com SOME GIRLS, I love women — almost all of them.

Either purely coincidental or through calculated Orwellian means, Schiffer Publishing has released two photography books within three months’ time that play directly to my admiration of the fairer, superior sex and their awe-inspiring form: CELESTE GIULIANO’S PIN-UPS IN 3-D and RETRO GLAMOUR: PHOTOGRAPHY OF MARK ANTHONY LACY. Both books are bursting with wall-to-wall — er, make that cover-to-cover — snaps of gorgeous gals. Call me chauvinist if you must, but you’ll be wrong; being for equal rights and being a heterosexual male are not mutually exclusive. Why, I can utter “ERA now!” and “Va-va-voom!” in the same breath, panted though it may be.

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Black Feathers: Dark Avian Tales

Prolific, insightful and often surprising editor Ellen Datlow chooses birds as the topic of BLACK FEATHERS: DARK AVIAN TALES, her latest anthology of mostly new stories.

Birds often connote beauty, freedom, and song. But as Datlow points out in her stylish Introduction, “there’s a dark side to the avian.” She notes the many birds of prey; that birds often kill other bird’s eggs; and some are also known to kill small animals. These and several other foreboding avian characteristics, along with several species of birds themselves, are the basis of the works featured in this anthology.

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