Scouts in Bondage and Other Violations of Literary Property

scouts bondage reviewOrdering a book called SCOUTS IN BONDAGE might land you on an FBI red-flag database. Luckily for you and your arrest record, SCOUTS IN BONDAGE AND OTHER VIOLATIONS OF LITERARY PROPERTY will get you into no such trouble.

Edited by UK secondhand bookseller Michael Bell, this slim volume is an impressive collection of questionably impressive tomes from simpler times, when one thing meant something entirely different than it does today. Thus, we get covers for meant-to-be-totally-innocent books like 50 FAGGOTS and INVISIBLE DICK.

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The Way Some People Die

way some people die reviewThe fine folks over at Black Lizard/Vintage Crime are reissuing some of Ross Macdonald’s harder-to-find titles, slapping a nice new coat of paint on some truly great noir. First and foremost, their covers are a huge improvement over the other Macdonald books they have put out … or maybe I’m just a sucker for black-and-white photos of girls smoking.

From 1951, THE WAY SOME PEOPLE DIE is the third of Macdonald’s Lew Archer detective novels, and one of the more bloody ones, racking up a nice-sized body count by the end. What starts out as just a case of finding an adult daughter for a woman who won’t let go turns into double-crosses and drug-running.

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Showcase Presents Batgirl: Volume 1

showcase batgirl reviewOne thing I took away from reading SHOWCASE PRESENTS BATGIRL: VOLUME 1, featuring the first adventures of Barbara Gordon, librarian turned superheroine: It’s amazing how many criminals frequent the library. Daughter of Gotham City’s Commissioner Gordon, Barbara makes her own costume to step in to help Batman and Robin out with the lawless element every now and then.

But it’s amazing how little respect she gets, just because she’s smoking hot. Even after Barbara gets herself elected to the U.S. Congress – Congress! – Batman refers to her as “a cute, sunshiny little redhead.” Some battles you just can’t win, but then again, you’re making the hill ever steeper when you deliberately tear your tights to distract crooks.

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The Horror in the Museum

horror museum review“Oh, no,” you groan, upon learning of the release of THE HORROR IN THE MUSEUM. “Not another repackaging of H.P. Lovecraft stories we’ve already read and already own.”

“That’s right,” we say. “It’s not repackaging of H.P. Lovecraft stories you’ve already read and already own.”

I’ve read a lot of Lovecraft over the past five years, but even I wasn’t aware that he made more money as a short-story editor and collaborator than he did as an author of same. This new collection from Del Rey finds those rare weird tales that he wrote with amateur writers, completely rewrote, ghostwrote or tweaked. To be honest, you could’ve told me these were 100 percent Lovecraft, and I would’ve believed it, because that’s how they all come off.

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The Hellfire Conspiracy

hellfire conspiracy reviewThe difficulty with pastiche is when authors attempt to use well-loved characters created by another author. We always are conscious of the differences between how the originating author created his or her world, and how the successors create new stories within that world. This is nowhere more prevalent than with Sherlock Holmes. Few authors ever have been able to recreate the magic conjured by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but many have tried.

This is why it often seems a wiser move for an author, if they wish to write a Victorian mystery novel featuring two strong characters – one an enigmatic superman and the other a brave and doughty lad – simply to start from scratch and come up with entirely new characters. This is what Will Thomas has done with Cyrus Barker and Thomas Llewelyn in his series, the newest novel of which is THE HELLFIRE CONSPIRACY.

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slide reviewOne wonders if in writing SLIDE, coauthors Ken Bruen and Jason Starr had set out to pen a novel with zero boring parts. Because that’s what it reads like, and that’s what it is. This crime number pulls the cord on page 1 and takes off whether you’re ready or not. “Can you keep up?” it laughs in your face, as it spits in it.

A sequel to last year’s BUST, this rollicking tale of sex, drugs and serial killers begins when disgraced New York computer exec Max Fisher wakes up in Alabama, not remembering anything from the last couple of days. Desperate times call for desperate measures, leading Max to befriend Kyle, the farmboy motel employee who fancies smoking crack every now and then. With promise of a threesome with big-boobed whores, Max wins Kyle over as his right-hand man.

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bullets broads blackmail and bombsmafia operation hitman reviewI think THE SOPRANOS was one of the most overrated TV shows ever. I think the year that they killed off Christopher’s girlfriend, it felt like it was going nowhere fast. From what I understand with how it ended, I was right in my assumption. But enough about that – I still love a good mob movie or series dealing with organized crime, so this week we feature three books with one thing in common: the Cosa Nostra, aka “the Outfit,” the bent-nose bunch. So put away your copy of GOODFELLAS for a minute and take a look at these three under-the-radar titles.

MAFIA: OPERATION HIT MAN by Don Romano – This 1974 book was part of the MAFIA: OPERATION series, but it doesn’t have any sort of continuity, that’s for sure, other than dealing with the mob. This one involves the recruiting and work of the title character: a hit man named Dom Caressimo, a former Vietnam vet who is woken by a group of men in complete darkness, making him a job offer he can’t refuse.

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The Looking Glass Wars / Seeing Redd

looking glass wars reviewIn the new-in-paperback THE LOOKING GLASS WARS, Frank Beddon has created a genius concept, resulting in one of the more imaginative fantasies in recent memory. A modern-day, action-packed version of Lewis Carroll’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND, Beddon’s conceit is that the fiction was anything but, and the truth was much deadlier and of higher stakes.

His Alice is Alyss Heart, an 8-year-old princess whose good-queen mother rules Wonderland. The girl has the ability to will things to happen – a power she uses for wholly innocent mischief – and all is well in life until her evil, power-hungry Aunt Redd makes a bloody bid for the throne … and gets it.

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Tanner’s Twelve Swingers / The Scoreless Thai

tanner 12 swingers reviewLawrence Block is best known for his crime novels, but luckily for the spy fans, he did not leave us out in the cold, as being reissued all this year is the Evan Tanner series. Tanner is a spy with a weird condition that makes him more special than any kind of agent: During the Korean War, he had a piece of shrapnel hit a part of his brain that affects his sleeping. Actually, it totally knocked out his need for sleep at all.

TANNER’S TWELVE SWINGERS is the third in the series and still a fine introduction to this unusual character. It starts simple enough for him: A friend who is part of a Latvian army living in exile in New York City wants Tanner to bring his sweetheart out of Russia. But what starts out as a somewhat hard job just gets harder as Tanner moves along.

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ivory reviewMike Resnick is one of the few American writers who really knows how to write about Africa. His “Kirinyaga” stories earned Resnick his first Hugo award in 1989, and while it might be a mistake to say that anyone truly understands a place he isn’t native to, he writes about it as if he grasps some of the subtleties of the hugely diverse and multifaceted continent. IVORY, which was first published in 1988, demonstrates this, along with a Resnick’s flair for solid speculation.

IVORY’s centerpiece is a wonderful imagining of the last days of the Kilimanjaro elephant, a beast whose gigantic tusks – weighing a combined 462 pounds – now reside in the bowels of the British Museum of Natural History. Very little is known about the elephant’s demise, and Resnick’s explanation is as good – if not better – than any.

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