A Killing in Comics

killing in comics reviewFor A KILLING IN COMICS – hopefully the start of a new series – Max Allan Collins gets historical again, this time setting a hardboiled 1940s New York mystery in the dirty business of comic books.

Donny Harrison is an overweight, bald publisher of Americana Comics, home to such superhero hits as Wonder Guy, Batwing and Amazonia. He’s having a gala 50th birthday party in the hotel suite of his mistress when, all of a sudden, he croaks as he’s about to cut the cake, falling on the knife in his hands. By all accounts, Donny appears to have died from a combination of natural causes and a freak accident.

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QUICKGASM >> 4.30.07

quickgasmBecause time isn’t always kind: economic reviews in a world full of waste!

pornology reviewDeclared by a boyfriend as being “pornophobic,” Ayn Carrillo-Gailey immerses herself into all things X-rated in — take a deep breath, preferably from the diaphragm — PORNOLOGY: NOUN—1: A GOOD GIRL’S GUIDE TO PORN; 2: THE MISADVENTURES OF THE WORLD’S FIRST ANTHROPORNOLOGIST; 3: A HILARIOUS EXPLORATION OF MEN, RELATIONSHIPS, AND SEX. First, she makes a 12-item to-do list which includes such things as visiting a sex store, enrolling in a blow-job class and going to a brothel. The ensuing chapters detail just that, with the author’s private life constantly getting in the way. From start to finish, she goes through a few boyfriends as she becomes more in touch – so to speak – with porn. Carrillo-Gailey’s writing style is breezy and humorous, even if some chapters are far stronger than others. And while I don’t buy for a second that all of what she says transpired actually did – some episodes smack of being too convenient – PORNOLOGY is good for 230-ish pages of amusement.

female species reviewI don’t think I’ve ever read a short story by Joyce Carol Oates that I didn’t like. In that form, she’s an absolute master. That’s not to slight her novels, but all bets are off in short fiction, and she uses that to her advantage, as evidenced in her latest collection, THE FEMALE OF THE SPECIES: TALES OF MYSTERY AND SUSPENSE. As the title suggests, the nine pieces all center around women – broken, warped, victims one and all. And as the subtitle suggests, Oates is working mostly in the Gothic genre here, proving one page after another that she’s America’s living successor to Edgar Allan Poe. From the fractured first-person of “So Help Me God” to the appearance of symbols in “Angel of Mercy,” she’s not afraid to get experimental. I think it contributes further to granting us a sense of palpable unease as we devour her desserts. As expected, highly recommended.

tomb golden bird reviewElizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series has to be one of the longest-running in the mystery market, as TOMB OF THE GOLDEN BIRD – now in mass market paperback – marks the 18th installment. Eighteen! Light and fluffy but undeniably comfortable, TOMB has a slight “cozy” aspect to it, but since it’s not dealing with knitting or cats, I’m cool with it. In this one, Amelia and her husband are party to the opening of the tomb of King Tut, which brings out all sorts of bad guys. The plot gets wrapped up in kidnappings, secret documents and other reliable elements that make for good old-fashioned intrigue. That it’s wrapped in an archaeological shell of all things Egyptian makes it all the more appealing. It kinda makes me want to dive in to the rest of the series, but the sheer number of previous novels is overwhelming; thankfully, the back of the book includes summaries for each to help newcomers find their way.

philip k dick reviewJust as it promises, PHILIP K. DICK: FOUR NOVELS OF THE 1960S gathers up a quartet of the über-influential sci-fi writer in a handsome Library of America edition: THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE, THE THREE STIGMATA OF PALMER ELDRICH, DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? (better known as the basis for BLADE RUNNER) and UBIK. Personally, I’ve never been able to get into Dick’s style. But I’m obviously in the minority. His fans love how he toys with mind-bending plots, alternate realities and hallucinogenic events. Among them is Jonathan Lethem, who edited and provides the notes for this edition. It’s nice to see a sci-fi author being treated with such reverence from a line known for its emphasis on the literary. Presentation-wise, this is a must for the cult of P.K.D., printed on paper that will outlast you. It even comes with a built-in cloth bookmark. Classy!

sandman mystery 5 reviewEnough already. After reading SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE: DR. DEATH AND THE NIGHT OF THE BUTCHER – the fifth collection of the Vertigo comic –  I’m ready to declare I’d put the ’90s title up against any mystery novel. It’s just that. Damned. Good. This SMT book encompasses two complete story arcs of four issues apiece, though both fit together snugly with an underlying theme of living two lives. Wesley Dodds is the mild-mannered man who dons gas mask at night to bring down public enemies with his gas gun. This puts a serious cramp on the evolving relationship with his long-suffering gal pal, Dian Belmont, whose suspicions of Wes’ double life are raising more questions she no longer can stand to let go unanswered. Amdist all the sex and scandal, there are two strings of diabolical serial killers, as sumptuous as period mysteries should be. If you aren’t reading this, your life is worse off. You just don’t know it yet.

season of witch reviewWith Anne Rice off writing Jesus books, who will provide America with its erotic-tinged Gothic fiction? Natasha Mostert steps forward with hand raised and SEASON OF THE WITCH, about Gabriel Blackstone, a psychic hacker who falls hard for two witch sisters while investigating the disappearance of a banker’s son. The novel is an uneasy mix of magic, murder, technology, love and death – different, if nothing else. Set in the present day – witness references to everything from Guns ‘N Roses to Pringles – its self-aware hipness is off-putting, with dialogue like “whatever rubs your Buddha” rubbing the wrong way. With Gothics, the reader wants to be immersed in the world, rather than constantly jarred out of it. At least I do.

tabloid prodigy reviewFreelance journalist Marlise Elizabeth Kast recounts her tour of duty at scandalous supermarket rag The Globe in TABLOID PRODIGY: DISHING THE DIRT, GETTING THE GOSSIP, AND SELLING MY SOUL IN THE CUTTHROAT WORLD OF HOLLYWOOD REPORTING. What’s most interesting is how tabloid “journalists” get the scoops, interviews and photos they get, which Kast details through numerous good stories, including crashing a soap star’s wedding, calling Carrie Fisher to ask about her trip to the “psycho ward,” catching Morgan Freeman with his alleged mistress, tracking down the dish on Leonardo DiCaprio’s “kinky sex life,” learning how Dolly Parton supposedly once had an affair with a 15-year-old boy. As fun and fearless as those tales are, the stress of churning out these celebrity features took their toll on Kast, and she even remains apologetic about some of her bylines. That kind of approach is refreshing, especially compared to other, far lesser tabloid tell-alls like the execrable, “funny” RABID NUN INFECTS ENTIRE CONVENT. –Rod Lott

Buy it at Amazon.

OTHER BOOKGASM REVIEWS BY THESE AUTHORS:
SANDMAN MYSTERY THEATRE: THE SCORPION by Matt Wagner, Steven T. Seagle and Guy Davis
A SCANNER DARKLY by Philip K. Dick

SEARCH ME >> 4.07

Our monthly depressing look at the search terms that bring pervs to BOOKGASM!

search terms april 2007

What’s So Funny?

whats so funny reviewDonald E. Westlake’s series of Dortmunder books is the complete opposite of his alter ego Richard Stark’s Parker novels. These books — including the new WHAT’S SO FUNNY? — are more comic capers and less man-on-a-mission no-matter-what revengers. Even if you’ve never read any of the other books in the series, you won’t feel lost, since Westlake’s writing is so enjoyable and breezy, you don’t mind not knowing the hero whole history.

John Dortmunder is a career thief — a man who likes to break into places and make away with the goods, with no huge, elaborate plans or long weeks of planning and recruiting. Instead, Dortmunder stays put in New York City, where he has a group of associates who all hang out in a bar. Some of this crew are not the best and brightest when it comes to ideas of things to steal.

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Spicy Mystery Stories: Feb. 1936

spicy mystery feb 1936 reviewPulp magazines now are enjoying their greatest flood of popularity since the rediscovery of Edgar Rice Burroughs kick-started the pulp boom of the 1960s. Falling between the pricey original magazines still in existence and the acceptably priced reprint editions are the exact replicas. These match the original mag’s dimensions and page count, and include everything that the first purchaser bought 55-85 years ago: all the ads, the letters to the editor, the not-so-inspiring interior art and the hyperbole.

One of the leading producers of pulp replicas is Girasol Collectables, which puts out three replicas every month at a $25 or $35 per. Honestly, that’s a little steep for me, especially since other folks are doing it cheaper. Whining aside, I just finished reading Girasol’s replica of Amazon/hitchmagazine-20″ target=”new”>Feb. 1936 issue of Spicy Mystery. Look at that H.J. Ward painting and tell me that you don’t want to read the stories that lurk behind that cover. Go on – I dare you.

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The Surrogates

surrogates reviewSlam the future-is-now warnings of Issac Asimov’s I, ROBOT and Alan Moore’s V FOR VENDETTA into one another, and the ensuing wreckage is a stellar piece of graphic fiction: THE SURROGATES, by Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele.

Taking place in the year 2054, the speculative piece imagines an American civilization content with living through surrogates – namely, robotic doppelgängers of one’s self (or how you’d like to look) that can go to work for you, run errands for you, have sex for you, be you … all while you sit at home on your lazy ass and enjoy the data that streams back into your senses.

Besides getting fat, what could go wrong? Lots.

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The Everlasting

everlasting reviewMost grandparents leave you money after you die. But Scott’s grandfather leaves him to a map to a book of otherworldly evil, in Tim Lebbon’s THE EVERLASTING.

Thirty years after Papa killed his best friend Lewis and then himself, Scott receives a letter from Papa containing strange symbols. Then the ghost of Lewis appears and hauls Scott’s wife off to another dimension. Then a woman named Nina shows up, claiming to be an immortal, and tells Scott that they’ve got to find the lost pages to the Chord of Souls in order to get his wife back.

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Big Numbers

big numbers review“The stench of my own vomit fills my nose.” That’s got to be one of my favorite opening lines I’ve ever read. It’s in Jack Getze’s novel BIG NUMBERS, in which Austin Carr waits to be killed via bluefin tuna, thanks to the bad guy, aka Mr. Blabbermouth.

Rewind to three weeks earlier: Carr – a divorced, down-on-his-luck stockbroker – is so on the short end of the stick, that he’s living in a truck camper. You know, the old type that fits over the truck bed – the kind that reeks of “living the high life.”

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The Gentle Axe

gentle axe reviewThere is a long history of authors commandeering the characters of a deceased writer and creating new adventures for the fans. There are now at least 20 times more Sherlock Holmes stories than ever were created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. But to my knowledge, no one has ever appropriated a Fyodor Dostoevsky character and featured him in a mystery novel. Until now.

R.N. Morris has chosen to write a sequel to Dostoyevsky’s CRIME AND PUNISHMENT, and so Porfiry Petrovich walks the mean streets of Russia once again, this time in the adventure of THE GENTLE AXE.

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Alien Crimes

alien crimes reviewA couple years ago, Mike Resnick had the bright idea to marry the detective story to the sci-fi world in the anthology DOWN THESE DARK SPACEWAYS. I enjoyed it so much, I had hoped he’d do it again.

For the most part, he has in ALIEN CRIMES, a follow-up offered as a Science Fiction Book Club exclusive.

The six contributing writers were given freer reign in that Resnick allowed no hard-boiled stories this time around, whereas SPACEWAYS was nothing but. This results in several different kinds of mysteries on tap, so there’s likely something here for every kind of armchair sleuth, antennae or not.

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