The Dragon Factory

dragonfactOne of the many pleasures of 2009’s PATIENT ZERO, Jonathan Maberry’s outstanding novel that introduced the character of Joe Ledger, was how the author took an outrageous premise and made it completely credible. In THE DRAGON FACTORY, his 2010 follow-up now available in a new mass-market edition, Maberry amps up the outrageousness factor by several degrees. But again, thanks to his energetic prose and narrative drive, he has us believing it.

Ledger has been approached by ominous government security goons before, but this time, he senses that something is seriously wrong. Rather than comply with their demand to come with them, he distracts them with a few well-placed punches and flees. While on the run, Ledger learns that the U.S. executive branch, currently run by the vice president while the president recovers from surgery, is out to dismantle the Department of Military Science, the fiercely patriotic, but under-the-radar agency for which Ledger works.

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The Cartel

cartelDon Winslow’s THE POWER OF THE DOG was a stark departure for this prolific crime author. Lacking the sly humor of his preceding stories, this dense 2005 novel was a somber, violent, and often heartbreaking depiction of the “War On Drugs” as seen mostly through the eyes of Art Keller, a DEA agent obsessed with bringing down the boss of the Mexican Drug Cartel and slowing the endless flow of drugs north into the U.S.
Ten years later the War drags on. So Winslow returns to this world with THE CARTEL, a sequel and ongoing look at the increasingly dangerous and duplicitous lives of high-level drug dealers and the law enforcement officers who continue to fight a War they know will never end.

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Hangman’s Game

hangmangameI thoroughly enjoyed Bill Syken’s debut novel HANGMAN’S GAME. But that nine-word sentence doesn’t adequately describe the easy quality of the writing, the laugh-out-loud moments in the book, the thoughtful exploration of the emotions and philosophies behind teamwork, competition, success and failure. All wrapped up in a pretty good mystery.

Nick Gallow is a punter for the professional football team Philadelphia Sentinels (Gallows? Hangman? Get it?). Before the season starts, he goes out to dinner with his agent and his agent’s new client, a six-foot-seven three hundred pound behemoth who is the Sentinels’ first round draft choice and is slotted to be the team’s new defensive star. By all accounts, this man’s a beast.

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Paradise Sky

paradiseskyThe legend of Nat Love, the African-American cowboy also known as Deadwood Dick, has fascinated author Joe R. Lansdale for a long time. He appeared in two Lansdale short stories (“Soldierin” and “Hides and Horns”) and now his life and career is recalled in Lansdale’s latest novel, PARADISE SKY.

Willie, a young black boy, lives with his father on a small farm in East Texas in the days shortly after the Civil War has ended. One afternoon, while Willie is walking home from a visit to the local general store, he sees the backside of Sam Ruggert’s wife outside of their house. Ruggert, an intensely prejudiced man, immediately takes personal offence and sets out to lynch Willie.

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Trash Cinema: A Celebration of Overlooked Masterpieces

trashcinemaLet’s not kid ourselves: In this age of Netflix algorithms and Amazon recommendations, who in the hell wants to consult a bookewwwww! — for suggestions on movies to watch?

You can’t see it, but my hand is raised, and high. I trust people more than math.

Amid Mike Watt’s MOVIE OUTLAWs and The Collinsport Historical Society’s MONSTER SERIAL series (currently two and three volumes strong, respectively), there’s no shortage of ink-on-page equivalents of the ol’ conversational chestnut, “Hey, have you ever seen [insert movie title here]?” For my money, there’s always room for more, so scoot over to make way for TRASH CINEMA: A CELEBRATION OF OVERLOOKED MASTERPIECES.

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The Killing Room

killingroomI went back and re-read my previous reviews of Christobel Kent’s books featuring series detective Sandro Cellini and thankfully, I find myself still in agreement with them.

Kent, whose mysteries all seem to be set in Italy, but not all of which feature the ex-cop and now private detective Cellini, has a real flair for description and setting, perfectly drawing the Florentian landscape, the hot alleyways of the inner city, the intense emotions of the city’s inhabitants. She presents realistic dialogue and believable and likable characters.

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4 Movie Books with Which You Can Declare Your Independence from the Heat

majorleagueCaseen Gaines’ WE DON’T NEED ROADS isn’t the only current behind-the-scenes book on a hit comedy trilogy born in the 1980s. Jonathan Knight weighs in with THE MAKING OF MAJOR LEAGUE, and you can definitely tell it’s penned by a sportswriter. True to its subtitle of A JUUUUUST A BIT INSIDE LOOK AT THE CLASSIC BASEBALL COMEDY, the Gray & Company paperback is too “inside baseball,” giving it a, um, “Sheen” of inaccessibility to the average film fanatic. Knight earns points aplenty by interviewing every living important cast member — including Wesley Snipes, Tom Berenger, Rene Russo and, yes, even Charlie Sheen, who also pitched in the foreword — but I’d knock some off for constant overstating of the movie’s status of a cult classic (he contends it has achieved ROCKY HORROR levels) and for exaggerating drama that suggests the 1989 hit was some sort of industry game-changer. A minor-league MAJOR LEAGUE aficionado myself, I did learn a lot from the breezy read, including its original “twist” ending, the cutting-room fate of Jeremy Piven and the flick’s curious connection to, of all pics, Clive Barker’s NIGHTBREED.

blumhouseWith such low-budget/high-return smashes as INSIDIOUS, SINISTER and PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, producer Jason Blum is Hollywood’s current king of horror. Can he do the same for that slim section of your local bookstore? Judging from the Vintage fiction collection he has edited, THE BLUMHOUSE BOOK OF NIGHTMARES: THE HAUNTED CITY, the Ouija planchette points to “YES.” It sure helps that for the 17 stories selected, he called upon such friends and collaborators as Ethan Hawke, Eli Roth, Scott Stewart and Mark Neveldine, the latter two being the respective directors of DARK SKIES and those crazy-ass CRANK movies. Although most of these guys are not known for printed fiction, they more than rise to the challenge, jumping mediums without losing the menace. Blum could strike gold by turning some of these tales into an anthology film. (Like that idea, Jason? Just credit me as an executive producer, thanks.)

splatpackThe aforementioned Roth is one of the primary filmmakers at the (stabbed and bleeding) heart of Mark Bernard’s SELLING THE SPLAT PACK: THE DVD REVOLUTION AND THE AMERICAN HORROR FILM. In the Edinburgh University Press release, the author examines the business behind pushing the likes of Rob Zombie and the SAW franchise onto audiences of the multiplex and then, more tellingly, to home-video consumers who salivate over discs branded with lurid promises of “UNRATED” cuts and extra content. (Guilty as charged!) Charting the coinage and spread of the “Splat Pack” term across continents, Bernard also discusses how today’s digital platforms have helped lift public opinion of the horror genre from execrable trash to insightful social commentary. While rehashing the histories of fright films and the format wars is unnecessary, SELLING THE SPLAT PACK emerges as a smart study in the economics of horror — not to be confused with the horror of economics.

menwomenchainsawsReferenced seemingly everywhere since its original publication in 1992, Carol J. Clover’s MEN, WOMEN, AND CHAIN SAWS: GENDER IN THE MODERN HORROR FILM is now available in an affordable paperback edition as part of the Princeton Classics line. While the reprint sports a snazzy new cover, the interior layout has been ported, resulting in the photos appearing cruddy and muddy. It’s easy to see why this book is considered such a landmark in film analysis, and in her new, five-page preface to this edition, Clover boils the appeals of horror down to a sentence: “The point is fear and pain — hers and, by proxy, ours.” She’s referring to the concept of the slasher’s Final Girl — a now-widespread term she birthed. As her chapter within the also recently reprinted THE DREAD OF DIFFERENCE: GENDER AND THE HORROR FILM shows, she performs skillful and credible dissections on mass-market horror shows like ALIEN and THE TEXAS CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, but it’s her essay on rape-revengers — and defense of 1978’s notorious I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE in particular — that she most excels. —Rod Lott

Get them at Amazon.

A Witness Above

witnessaboveThe Frank Pavlicek mystery series by Andy Straka is the latest in Brash Books’ ongoing reissues of once-hailed-but-since neglected works. A WITNESS ABOVE, first published 14 years ago, introduces the series and its lead character. It distinguishes itself by its introspective protagonist and unexpected location.

Thirteen years ago, in events recounted in the Prologue, Frank Pavlicek was an NYPD Homicide Detective. Then one night a shoot-out involving Pavlicek and his partner left a young African-American teenager dead. The controversy and public outcry that followed the shooting forced Pavlicek to resign from the force.

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Killing Pretty

killingprettyBack in 2009, Richard Kadrey made a large splash on the urban fantasy scene with SANDMAN SLIM, the story of a guy who escapes from Hell after 11 years with some cool weapons and newfound abilities, and goes on a revenge-fueled rampage against the people who sent him there. The book was violent, over-the-top, and definitely a shot in the arm for the staid fantasy scene … like Harry Potter injected with sex, drugs, rock and roll, horror comics, and Hong Kong action flicks. For me, of course, it was love at first sight.

Six years and seven books later, what was once a breath of fresh air is starting to smell as stale as the chicken I cooked last week.

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White Knuckle

whiteknuckleWhen he’s not busy writing and directing movies for various major and independent production companies, Eric Red writes horror short stories and novels. His previous three horror novels often incorporated elements from other fiction genres — like science fiction or westerns.

WHITE KNUCKLE, his fourth and latest novel, is also a horror story, but differentiates itself for its complete lack of anything supernatural or extraterrestrial. This doesn’t make it any less horrifying. In fact, WHITE KNUCKLE is all the more shocking and frightening for its realism.

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