Honky Tonk Samurai

honkytonkHap and Leonard are back! And for fans of Joe R. Lansdale that’s all they need know to immediately add HONKY TONK SAMURAI, Lansdale’s latest novel and the 13th title in the series, to the top of their “must read” list.

This new work assuredly reminds us of all we love about these two unlikely best friends and East Texas crime fighters, while involving them in one of the most intricate and dangerous adventures of the series.

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The Last Child

lastchildNow available in mass-market paperback, John Hart’s junior effort, THE LAST CHILD, is a literate, emotionally charged and character-driven story — like his Edgar-winning DOWN RIVER and Edgar-nominated THE KING OF LIES — that will easily appeal to both the occasional crime fiction reader, as well as genre followers.

It’s been a year since young Johnny Merrimon’s twin sister, Alyssa, vanished from the side of a street of their North Carolina town. The only witness, one of Johnny’s school buddies, reported that Alyssa was pulled inside of a white van and driven off. And since that moment, Johnny’s entire life has changed.

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The Last Confession of Thomas Hawkins

lastconfessionTHE LAST CONFESSION OF THOMAS HAWKINS is Antonia Hodgson’s second novel in the series featuring Mr. Hawkins, an outrageous and somewhat louche gentleman of the early eighteenth century. One might think it’s the last novel in which he appears, since the opening vignette is of him in the cart on his way to Tyburn to be hanged. The novel then recounts how he got into this perilous position.

Hawkins lives out of wedlock with one Kitty Sparks. While the two of them delight in their relationship, their next door neighbor is a God-botherer and he’s outraged that the two sell illicit literature out of their home and shop.

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Sam Phillips: The Man Who Invented Rock ‘n’ Roll

samphillipsBeing the author of an acclaimed two-volume biography of Elvis Presley, its no surprise that music journalist Peter Guralnick has researched SAM PHILLIPS: THE MAN WHO INVENTED ROCK ‘N’ ROLL. Phillips discovered and first recorded Presley. But Presley was not the only formative rock star to record for Phillips, so Guralnick’s latest work is fully devoted to this fascinating individual and his record label, Sun Records.

The son of a poor Alabama farmer, Phillips loved and was highly influenced by the blues and spiritual music he heard the farm hands sing and play. As a young adult Phillips entered the burgeoning field of radio and specialized in producing live big band broadcasts; earning a reputation for his unorthodox microphone placements that highlighted the rhythm section.

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Jaws 2: The Making of the Hollywood Sequel

jaws2bkFervent fans of their subject, Louis R. Pisano and Michael A. Smith have joined forces to tell the story of JAWS 2: THE MAKING OF THE HOLLYWOOD SEQUEL, published in both hardcover and paperback by BearManor Media. To be brutally honest, the tale was told much better in another BearManor release, 2009’s JUST WHEN YOU THOUGHT IT WAS SAFE: A JAWS COMPANION, in which author Patrick Jankiewicz covers Universal’s entire shark-flick franchise.

To Pisano and Smith’s collective credit, they have interviewed damn near everyone still alive who was involved with the inferior (yet still beloved and highly profitable) sequel. Their passion for the finished product shows. They have uncovered a wealth of storyboards and photos from the set to satisfy the most ardent of JAWS 2 admirers. They even wrangled Carl Gottlieb, co-screenwriter of the first three films, to provide the foreword.

If only their work had gone through a judicious edit, as the book is filled with inconsistencies, repeated information and unprofessional passages.

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Perchance to Dream: Selected Stories

perchancedreamFans of the original TWILIGHT ZONE TV series know Charles Beaumont as one of Rod Serling’s in-house teleplay writers. But Beaumont was also a prolific short story author who, along with friends like Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson, formed “The Southern California Group” of speculative fiction writers who consulted and encouraged each other during their early careers.

Unfortunately, following his untimely death at 38 years old (from a brain disease little known at the time but today thought to be an early form of onset Alzheimer’s), published collections of Beaumont’s superb stories went quickly out of print and are nearly impossible to find.

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Quarry’s Deal / Quarry’s Cut

quarrysdealWith the Cinemax series debuting later this year, Hard Case Crime continues reissuing Max Allan Collins’ novels starring the hit-man character Quarry.

As 1976’s QUARRY’S DEAL, the third book in the series opens, Quarry holds a list of names and addresses of others who also once worked for the Broker. Quarry has the great idea of finding one of them and finding his or her target, thinking he can get paid off by the would-be victim to not only take care of the killer for hire, but the person who hired them.

Quarry sets his sights on a young woman on the job, so to speak. He quickly figures out her target: a casino owner operating in Iowa. Quarry is quick to make himself known to the intended victim; all he has to do is figure out the team. He already has the woman under very close surveillance — by sleeping with her — but his digging around upsets a few people, who let him know that.

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The Hourglass Factory

hourglassfactoryLucy Ribchester’s THE HOURGLASS FACTORY is a tremendous debut novel, a bull-roarer of a tale that manages to perfectly and cleanly evoke the squalor of London in 1912, and create strong and believable female characters, a duo of accomplishments most seasoned novelists can’t manage. The author’s portrayals of young women struggling to break free from the bonds of manner and propriety and to find their own way in the world strikes true, as does the appalling backlash against them from the folks who cannot see that their former way of living is over.

Frances “Frankie” George is a female journalist, relegated to the society pages, but striving to take on real stories. She is to interview one Ebony Diamond, a beautiful trapeze artist who has a dangerous and mysterious side. Encountering her among the sale racks of a store that specializes in corsets, she is witness to the infamous Diamond temper, then experiences it first hand as Diamond sets fire to her camera. But George is intrigued by the woman and goes to see one of her performances … at which Diamond swinging on the trapeze bar mysteriously disappears.

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4 New Film Books You Might Love

wecanbewhoweareJust a HAIR shy of 800 pages, WE CAN BE WHO WE ARE: MOVIE MUSICALS FROM THE 1970’S is a brick. Available in hardback and paperback, the BearManor Media release by Lee Gambin is nothing if not a giant love letter to the cinema’s arguably most experimental decade of that once-sacrosanct genre. Going year by year, Gambin dives deep into each and (one assumes) every film that either is a full-fledged musical or dependent upon music; from those rated G to those rated X, he examines them with one eye toward history, one eye toward criticism and both ears toward their tunes. All the obvious titles are here, but what makes the book special is the inclusion of the lesser-knowns and obscurities, such as SON OF DRACULA (with Harry Nilsson and Ringo Starr), THE FIRST NUDIE MUSICAL, WHITE POP JESUS and assorted nuggets from the world of prime-time TV (e.g. the PAUL LYNDE HALLOWEEN SPECIAL). With the occasional doozy à la “Racquel Welch,” spelling is the author’s second greatest enemy, bested only by a tendency to let his interviews read as transcripts in need of a good trimming. Then again, when someone pours as much passion onto the pages as Gambin has here, I can understand his desire to impart as much here’s-what-happened knowledge as the spine glue allows.

movienighttriviaAs bright and colorful as its cartoon-concessions cover, MOVIE NIGHT TRIVIA would work as a gift to a film-loving friend, but why not you, too? Across half a dozen categories, Robb Pearlman (with true-or-false assistance from Shane Carley) has written 400 questions to test your knowledge of yesteryear’s classics, today’s blockbusters and a bunch in between. These “brain-benders” range from easy (“Name Chuck Noland’s quiet, yet faithful, friend from 2000’s CAST AWAY”; it’s even multiple-choice) to hard (“Name the two races that join together when THE DARK CRYSTAL is restored”) to arguably misleading/not entirely factual (“Hitting theaters between 1998’s STAR TREK: INSURRECTION and STAR TREK: NEMESIS [2002], _____ is often called the best STAR TREK movie ever made” — the answer is GALAXY QUEST; “never made” would be playing fair). Skill level be damned, the Cider Mill Press paperback is a visual treat, with many items getting their own well-designed, full-bleed page featuring photography from the flick in question. It’d make a killer app.

draculafaqClearly, Bruce Scivally has done his homework for DRACULA FAQ: ALL THAT’S LEFT TO KNOW ABOUT THE COUNT FROM TRANSYLVANIA. While the trade paperback touches upon the vampire’s literary roots and subsequent stage adaptations, it’s the prince of darkness’ numerous incarnations in the movies — reverent and irreverent, Universal and Hammer — that form the book’s focus. The most satisfying aspect of this is how these sections read like miniature making-of articles on the films, whether John Badham’s DRACULA, Francis Ford Coppola’s BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA or the comedy LOVE AT FIRST BITE. Television runs a distant second focus, with looks at various comic books, Drac-influenced music and merchandise bringing up the rear, all illustrated with a wealth of photos and poster art. Being of the opinion that vampires don’t sparkle, I could do without the entire chapter devoted to THE TWILIGHT SAGA; still, in the end, DRACULA FAQ proves one of the very best entries from Backbeat Books’ ongoing FAQ line of pop-culture crash courses. Other recent titles tackle THE TWILIGHT ZONE and TV finales; coming up are ROCKY HORROR and M*A*S*H.

horrorsubgenreHORROR FILMS BY SUBGENRE: A VIEWER’S GUIDE is a rather drab title that doesn’t exactly get the saliva flowin’. Hiding behind it, however, is a fun work of reference presented uniquely. Spouses Chris Vander Kaay and Kathleen Fernandez-Vander Kaay have chopped and divided the world of fright flicks into 75 distinct categories of That Which Scares You, whether animal attacks, environmental disasters, invisible beings, serial killers, old folks, puppets, carnivals, tools, twins — you get the idea. And if you don’t, well, therein lay the book’s purpose: introducing the reader to a very specific type of terror. Each chapter begins with a brief essay about that subgenre, followed by the meat: reviews of three or four movies that Team Vander Kaay believes are among the best representations of that subject vs. the best quality. Part of the fun of reaching each is predicting which movies they might cover; while you’re apt to guess at least one correctly, they throw in their fair share of left-field choices, too. While you could flip only to those subgenres that interest you, the McFarland & Company trade paperback is also perfectly readable as a front-to-back experience. If horror isn’t your thing, perhaps one of McFarland’s several other serious-minded film texts of the season may be: TIM BURTON: ESSAYS ON THE FILMS, A GALAXY HERE AND NOW: HISTORICAL AND CULTURAL READINGS OF STAR WARS and WIZARDS VS. MUGGLES: ESSAYS ON IDENTITY AND THE HARRY POTTER UNIVERSE, to name just three. —Rod Lott

Get them at Amazon.

Even Dogs in the Wild

evendogsFans of Scottish crime author Ian Rankin know that his long-running series star, Police Detective John Rebus, has never been comfortable with his forced retirement. So in two recent novels (THE SAINTS OF THE SHADOW BIBLE and STANDING IN ANOTHER MAN’S GRAVE) Rebus willingly returns to help close a cold case or provide details of clandestine police procedures.

In his latest, EVEN DOGS IN THE WILD, Rankin has the Scottish Police Force enlist Rebus in a consulting capacity after a threat is made to Rebus’s long-time nemesis. But this is only one element of a complex plot that reunites Rebus with his police cohorts and features a player from another Rankin crime fiction series.

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