The Last Notch

THE LAST NOTCH was originally published in in the late 1950s under the name Matthew Gant, one of Arnold Hano’s several pen names. This new edition from Black Gat Books, the mass paperback division of Stark House Press, is the first publication using Hano’s real name. More importantly it is a superb example of how the characteristics of noir – usually associated with crime fiction and mysteries – can be used in a Western novel.

Ben Slattery is well known as a hired gun. But after so many years, and so many killings, he’s grown tired of it all. Then a man named Fallon approaches Slattery with a job that pays more money than he’s ever earned before. Slattery accepts the job, and sees it as his last – the last notch on his gun before he puts it away and retires for good.

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EURO COMICS ROUNDUP >> Weapons of Choice

With Luc Besson’s VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS still making headlines, there’s no better time to catch up with the latest volumes in the series. We’ve covered every volume here, in fact my first review for Bookgasm was the first Cinebook release of the series, back in 2010. Love or hate the film, the comics are glorious, arguably the greatest science fiction series ever published. And even if you don’t agree with my opinion, you’d have difficulty arguing against it considering the influence the series has had over popular culture, which goes, far beyond the comics pages. 

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The Late Show

Michael Connelly could simply continue rotating novels between his two popular series – Harry Bosch and the Lincoln Lawyer – and remain one of the most popular authors working today. But instead Connelly chose to introduce a new character in THE LATE SHOW, his latest novel. And if this debut is any indication, Detective Renee Ballard can easily became the third major player in Connelly’s arsenal.

Renee Ballard, a former crime journalist, joined the LAPD several years ago and quickly rose to the rank of police detective. Then she filed a sexual harassment complaint against a supervisor. But when her fellow officers failed to support her complaint Ballard was demoted to working the midnight shift in Hollywood – known internally as “The Late Show.”

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House of Spies

Daniel Silva’s latest novel, HOUSE OF SPIES, the 17th featuring Israeli intelligence agent Gabriel Allon, takes place almost immediately after the events of last year’s THE BLACK WIDOW and follows Allon in his new administrative role, while continuing his search for an elusive and deadly ISIS terrorist leader.

Four months after the deadliest attack on America since 9/11, terrorists leave a trail of death and destruction through the theatrical district of London’s West End. The intelligence world is convinced that it is the latest attack planned and executed by the shadowy Islamic terrorist leader known only as Saladin.

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3 Hot New Books on Movies

Fresh from editing last summer’s Klaus Kinski: Beast of Cinema book, Matthew Edwards follows up with another winner in McFarland & Company’s Twisted Visions: Interviews With Cult Horror Filmmakers. Just shy of two dozen directors sit for probing, lengthy Q&As; none are household names, unless your household is adorned with Nekromantik merch. (And if that’s the case, I politely decline your invitation for a sleepover.) Among the highlights: Alfred Sole reveals one of his actresses tried to kill herself during the Alice Sweet Alice shoot; Don’t Go in the House’s Joseph Ellison recalls facing the loaded rifle of the owner of the house they shot at; Rodrigo Gudiño traces his path from founder of Rue Morgue magazine to full-fledged filmmaker; and, in arguably the most interesting chapter, Jack Sholder spills the details about what an asshole Michael Nouri was throughout the making of The Hidden. Edwards is a strong interviewer, posing questions that have genuine thought behind them, which shows in the subjects’ passionate, candid responses.

In a summer when the overdue Wonder Woman has reigned supreme, one wonders if Ridley Scott’s Thelma & Louise didn’t give the Amazon princess a boost to smash the multiplex’s glass ceiling. In commemoration of the 1991 Oscar winner, Becky Aikman chronicles every step in its making — and subsequent leaps of influence — in Off the Cliff: How the Making of Thelma & Louise Drove Hollywood to the Edge. I only wish the Penguin Press release were at least half as compelling as the film it commemorates. While Aikman is a fine writer, initial chapters focusing on screenwriter Callie Khouri alone tend to overstate the stakes or create drama when there appears to be none, assumedly to support one exec’s quote that all the planets aligned for this one-in-a-million moonshot. Her you-are-there approach works once the film’s tortured, elongated, barrier-strewn development process begins, including Scott not in the director’s chair, Goldie Hawn lobbying hard for a lead and failed sitcom supporting player George Clooney auditioning for the small, shirtless role that eventually made a star out of one William Bradley Pitt. One of the strongest parts of Aikman’s book is the epilogue, in which Hollywood remains a boys’ club, despite T&L‘s Zeitgeist success. No argument there.

Another McFarland trade paperback, this one from Lyndon W. Joslin, gets a fresh coat of blood-red paint for its third edition: Count Dracula Goes to the Movies: Stoker’s Novel Adapted. More than half of the book finds the author comparing Bram Stoker’s 1897 epistolary classic to 18 subsequent screen adaptations, to see how faithful (or not) the likes of Tod Browning, Francis Ford Coppola, Werner Herzog, Jess Franco, Dario Argento and Mel Brooks are — or, as the case often is, are not. While Joslin knows Stoker’s text inside and out, reading scene-by-scene beats of each film is tiresome; I quickly found greater enjoyment skipping these synopses and diving straight into his commentary. Later, less-exhaustive chapters focus on the Universal sequels, the Hammer cycle and notable vampire flicks that owe more to the Hollywood matinee than the Gothic text, from AIP’s Count Yorga to the Wes Craven-presented Dracula 2000. This book inadvertently makes a terrific companion to the publisher’s recent Vampire Films of the 1970s. —Rod Lott

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Stillhouse Lake

Rachel Caine’s STILLHOUSE LAKE is a powerhouse of a book with a fairly unique concept. Our protagonist is the victim. She was the wife of a vicious serial killer, a man who tortured and killed young women in the garage of the house. All unbeknownst to her and the couple’s two young children. The crimes only come to light when a drunk driver accidentally careens through their garage door revealing a corpse hung therein.

While at first, Gina Royal is thought to be a suspect, a helper in these grisly murders, it turns out that she really was that naïve, knew nothing, and so is eventually acquitted, given custody of her children, and sent back into the world.

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Virgin Cay / A Night Out

When you think of crime fiction based near the Florida coast, you obviously think of John D. MacDonald. But Basil Heatter, a news commentator and author, was also active during MacDonald’s early career, and portrayed a much more foreboding side to these seafaring locations. Now two of Heatter’s crime novels, VIRGIN CAY and A NIGHT OUT, are available again as part of Stark House’s Mystery Classics series, and demonstrate not only Heatter’s familiarity with the southeastern seacoast, but also his skills with plot construction and characters.

Gus Robinson’s boat is sinking as VIRGIN CAY opens. Robinson struggles to the shore, where he meets Clare. She offers him shelter as well as her bed. Then Clare offers Robinson a chance to earn enough money to buy a new boat and regain his beloved freedom. All he has to do is kill the one person who stands in the way of Clare and a huge inheritance. But then Robinson meets his intended victim and faces an unexpected choice.

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Smith

Lawyer and former U.S. Navy intelligence officer Timothy J. Lockhart’s debut novel SMITH is the story of a skilled killer who becomes a professional assassin. It begins with the promise of a riveting thriller, but sadly loses most of its power through predictability and diminishing trust in its main protagonist.

We first meet Smith as she expertly kills three men with a long-range rifle for mysterious but apparently personal reasons. Not long after these killings, Smith – and yes, that’s the only name she knows and answers to – is approached by a recruiting officer from a group known as The Enterprise. Smith quickly learns that The Enterprise is a clandestine, black ops organization called upon by the U.S. government to eliminate problematic individuals when all else fails. And the offer they make to Smith is literarily one she can’t refuse.

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Shark Island

If you’re considering writing a novel about sharks, you have to realize that comparisons will be made. For those over 30 years of age, you’re going to be brought up against people who have read Peter Benchley’s JAWS and seen Steven Spielberg’s movie adaptation of the same name. For those under 30, you’ll have an easier road because people will just compare you to SHARKNADO.

In the former, you’re going to come off poorly, but you’ll probably win the latter battle. That’s the case with Chris Jameson’s enviro-thriller SHARK ISLAND.

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The Force

Don Winslow’s latest, THE FORCE, again demonstrates Winslow’s masterful ability to present unsettling, contemporary issues through the eyes of complex and remarkable characters. Here, however, our sympathy for the protagonist is challenged like never before. Yet our understanding is never disputed. And it is this clash of emotions – among the many other striking elements — that makes THE FORCE one of the most compelling and memorable crime novels you are ever likely to read.

Denny Malone heads the NYPD’s Manhattan North Special Task Force, an elite unit renown for its ability to wage war on gangs, drugs, and guns. On the street they are known as “Da Force” and not above using the popular “Star Wars” reference. And recently Malone’s Task Force scored the biggest heroin bust in the city’s history.

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