pimpThe trans-Atlantic writing team of Ken Bruen and Jason Starr are back with PIMP, the fourth novel in their Hard Case Crime comic-caper series featuring Max Fisher. This latest entry, which marks the 10th anniversary of the series since the debut novel, BUST (2006), finds the writing duo at the top of their satiric form.

Former drug kingpin Max Fisher has fallen upon hard times and finds himself posing as an Irishman working in a local pub in Portland. One night he discovers a new drug called PIMP (for Peyote, Insulin, Mescaline, and Psychosis). It has an exquisite high and is instantly addictive. Max immediately sees the drug as his entryway back into the big time. So he steals the formula and makes his way to New York devising a marketing plan to make PIMP the hottest drug on the street.

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The Relic Master

relicmasterBest fiction book I’ve read in the last 12 months? That’s easy. It’s Christopher Buckley’s THE RELIC MASTER, a bizarre mix of MONTY PYTHON’S LIFE OF BRIAN, THE PRINCESS BRIDE, swashbuckling fantasy à la Alex Bledsoe, tinged with historical intrigue and a giant dollop of Catholicism.

It’s also really, really funny.

The titular relic master is one Dismas, who scours the world for physical holy relics, things like the patella of St. Anne, the shoulder blade of St. Francis, a true splinter of the cross, etc. He has two very rich, very powerful clients, and he manages to hate only one of them.

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Here’s to My Sweet Satan: How the Occult Haunted Music, Movies and Pop Culture, 1966-1980

heresweetsatanOne of my favorite books from last year, Spectacular Optical’s Satanic Panic, did a thorough job of looking at one 1980s trend as peculiar today as Jams and parachute pants: the widespread hysteria among preachers, teachers and suburban creatures that Dungeons & Dragons and heavy metal and the like were corrupting our children. It is an excellent read that comes at its subject from a multitude of angles.

But that feverous movement is just one portion of a far larger story; full-blown, coast-to-coast delirium doesn’t just happen overnight. After all, tales of devilish temptation are as old as the Book of Genesis, so how did these media items become public enemies? George Case looks at the sordid, start-to-finish tale in Here’s to My Sweet Satan: How the Occult Haunted Music, Movies and Pop Culture, 1966-1980. Don’t let the serial killer-looking cover scare you away.

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King Maybe

kingmaybeJunior Bender is one of the world’s great small-time burglars. Because of his professionalism, attention to detail and overall skills, his capers generally go smoothly in the series penned by Timothy Hallinan.

But in the latest version, KING MAYBE, it’s odd when the simple burglary of a rare stamp, with a substitute changelinged into place, goes fantastically awry and Bender is struggling for his life. He’s been betrayed. And then he’s betrayed again when he tries to make it right, finding himself caught in the grip of a super-powerful movie producer. The producer offers him a way out of the mess, which Bender takes, only to find … you guessed it. Well, let’s just say that Bender doesn’t know the best people.

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El Camino Del Rio

elcaminoJim Sanderson’s fiction is based mostly in the wide and varied settings of his home state of Texas. When the location ventured south to the Texas-Mexican border in his 1999 novel, EL CAMINO DEL RIO, elements of crime were inevitably added to his fiction as befitting this perpetually troubled area.

Now EL CAMINO DEL RIO has been reissued by Brash Books, so a new group of readers can discover this moody and generally fascinating work, and its protagonist, Dolph Martinez.

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Dirty Words and Filthy Pictures: Film and the First Amendment

dirtywordsSex begins with a kiss, which must be why the 1896 featurette The John C. Rice-May Irwin Kiss — all 47 seconds of it — provoked such a uproar among a puritanical public. Distributed by Thomas Edison’s company, The Kiss (as it is better known) depicted just that and nothing more — a fleeting peck, really, between two completely clothed and consenting adults — yet was viewed as obscene, an affront to Christianity and this country’s very moral fiber.

As Jeremy Geltzer tracks with frightening precision throughout Dirty Words and Filthy Pictures, the then-new art form known as cinema often was targeted as Public Enemy No. 1. This was a time when boxing dramas were perceived as a threat, when courts ruled that film censors did not infringe upon First Amendment rights because the movies were “mere entertainment, not speech worthy of protection.”

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The Murder of Mary Russell

murdermaryI wonder if I’m getting to be a bit Sherlock-ed. After collecting Sherlockiana for 20 years, then running through multiple video reboots, some very welcome (Jeremy Brett, Benedict Cumberbatch), some not so much (Robert Downey Jr.), and then reading re-inventions or reinterpretations of the canon from some very fine writers (Laurie R. King) and some not so fine (John Gardner), I wonder if it’s all become just a bit too much.

It was my first thought on reading THE MURDER OF MARY RUSSELL, Laurie R. King’s fourteenth novel featuring Sherlock Holmes as having been married to one Mary Russell. In this installment, Holmes doesn’t even show up until around page 130 and that’s in an extensive flashback. For this book primarily is less about Holmes or even Russell, and more about the very colorful past of one Mrs. Hudson.

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Hap and Leonard

hapleonardThese are exciting times for fans of Hap and Leonard, the duo of unlikely East Texas buddies and crime fighters created by Joe R. Lansdale. The 13th novel of the series, HONKY TONK SAMURAI, was published last month. Early March saw the premiere of the Sundance Channel TV series, starring James Purefoy as Hap and Michael K. Williams as Leonard, and adapted from SAVAGE SEASON, the first novel of the series.

To mark the occasion, Lansdale has gathered together the short fiction and related writings about the pair in his latest collection titled, appropriately enough, HAP AND LEONARD.

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Movie Freak: My Life Watching Movies

moviefreakFor whatever reason, our nation’s finest film critics have been feeling very nostalgic of late, writing books that look back on their entire careers. In 2014, Kenneth Turan gave us Not to Be Missed: Fifty-Four Favorites from a Lifetime of Film; Richard Schickel followed in 2015 with Keepers: The Greatest Films — and Personal Favorites — of a Moviegoing Lifetime; and now 2016 brings us Owen Gleiberman’s Movie Freak: My Life Watching Movies.

I don’t mean to suggest Gleiberman has latched himself onto a bandwagon like an opportunist caboose — far from it. In fact, he has surpassed those efforts of his better-known, longer-at-it peers, both of whose works I loved reading. By infusing their decades-encompassing critical acumen with the cinema-as-a-drug zeal of comedian Patton Oswalt’s Silver Screen Fiend confessional from last year, Gleiberman has given us this year’s best biography you didn’t know you wanted, auto- or otherwise.

Besides, can you imagine Schickel or Turan having the guts to go into detail about their porno turn-ons? (And would you want them to?)

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Where It Hurts

whereithurtsPerhaps Reed Farrrel Coleman felt readers would forgive him for concluding his superb Moe Prager series if he immediately started a new and equally engaging series. Whatever the motivation, WHERE IT HURTS introduces Gus Murphy, and if this debut is any indication Murphy, like Prager, is a character readers will willingly and happily spend more time with.

There was a time when Gus Murphy was both secure and happy with his life. He retired from a successful career as a cop in Suffolk County, had a loving wife and two growing children. Then his teenage son, John Jr., died and the death disintegrated Murphy’s entire life. Now he is divorced from his wife, his daughter is often in trouble with the police, and he drives the courtesy van for small Long Island hotel where he also lives.

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