Monday, December 29, 2014

REVIEW: The Mordecai Slate stories by John Whalen

If you know me and my reading habits, you know that I love weird westerns. Something about the blending of the western genre with horror has always really appealed to me. You may also know that, as far as I'm concerned, there are three names at the top of the weird western pile -- Robert E Howard, Joe Lansdale and Heath Lowrance. Well, now its time to add another to the list.

John Whalen is the author of stories about Mordecai Slate. There are presently two volumes to concern yourself with: Vampire Siege at Rio Muerto and Hunting Monsters Is My Business.

Vampire Siege is, predictably, about Mordecai Slate on the hunt for vampires. Specifically, a wealthy ranchero from New Mexico hires Slate to hunt Kord Manion, the vampire that ravished his daughter. The trick is that Slate is to bring Manion back alive (undead?). This sets the stage for one hell of a ride. Whalen recalls the very best that the genre has to offer. If you want a good, entertaining way to spend your time, you'd be hard pressed to do any better than Vampire Siege at Rio Muerto.

Unless, of course, we are talking about Hunting Monsters Is My Business. That's the name of the brand new collection of stories about Slate by Whalen. As the title might imply, you've got monsters of all varieties being represented here in this volume. They all run afoul of Mordecai Slate and, while he sometimes struggles, he always finishes the job.

That's the cool thing about Slate. He's a professional. There's no ennui or existential crises with this character. He hunts monsters because its a way to get paid and he always gets paid. Imagine Clint Eastwood meets Parker meets the John Carpenter film Vampires. Very highly recommended.

Basically, you need to pick these books up. Tell em the Chronicler sent ya.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

CESAREFEST: Exponential by Adam Cesare

Cesarefest concludes today as we look at Adam's newest book Exponential. Be sure to swing by Amazon and pick this one up, in addition to his other books.

Cesare continues to demonstrate that he can dominate whichever horror subgenre he chooses. This time, Cesare tackles a story about a science experiment gone wrong, leading to the creation of a giant monster.

Like all the creature features you loved back in the day, Exponential excites and entertains. The characters are, as usual with Cesare, incredibly well drawn and intriguing. That's all well and good, of course, but this is a horror novel and Cesare beings the scares. This is Cesare's best book to date, hands down.

This is a genuinely creepy story. The monster contains elements of classic monster tales but has a twist that is all Cesare.

It cannot be said enough that Adam Cesare is a man to follow. His titles should be blind buys and he gets better and better with each new release.

Now go forth and buy them all. Happy Cesarefest!

Friday, December 12, 2014

CESAREFEST: The First One You Expect by Adam Cesare

We are reaching the end of Cesarefest. Before we continue, I want to point out that we are covering Cesare's full length works here. He is also an accomplished writer of short stories and appears comfortable in almost any medium. Therefore, I'd like to remind you that his name means quality. If you see something featuring Cesare, snatch it up and rest assured that you're about to encounter quality. That said, onto today's review...

The First One You Expect is part of the first wave of books releases by one of the most important publishers today, Broken River Books. Once again, Cesare's love of horror shines through and he takes elements and throws them into the pot with ingredients that are uniquely Cesare. The result is funny, tragic, scary, and really makes you think about the horror genre's successes and failures.

The First One You Expect is about a guy named Tony who makes low-budget horror films. Tony has a plan to launch a Kickstarter for his new film and that plan involves a series of the sort of really poor decisions you'd expect from a character in a noir novel. The sort of decisions that lead to getting involved with people you probably shouldn't get involved with.

Cesare handles this one like a thriller and homages the slasher genre. Throughout his career, Cesare appears to be saying that he can take almost any subgenre and make it his own. This one could not be more different in subject to something like Tribesmen but he still injects the characterization and terrific dialogue that you have come to expect from him.

If there was something to complain about here, it would be that the book was not longer. That is, however, often the way with good books. What Cesare does right, he does better than anyone else.

I think that Tony's character serves as a stand-in for many people in the horror community. His faults are, at times, criticisms of the horror genre as a whole taken to the extreme. Tony feels real and you want to see all of the bad choices he's going to make and the resulting consequences of those choices.

With The First One You Expect, Adam Cesare has written another terrific piece of horror fiction. You won't be able to put it down once you start, and you'll wish there was more like it when you're done.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

CESAREFEST: The Summer Job by Adam Cesare

Cesarefest continues as we look at his third novel, The Summer Job. His newest, Exponential, came out this week so don't hesitate to head over and pick up a copy. Pick up all his other books while you're at it. You won't regret it.

The Summer Job focuses on a college grad in Massachusetts. Unhappy with her current station in life, she answers an ad for a job working in an isolated hotel. I don't need to tell you that things aren't what they seem.

Cesare writes about familiar horror concepts. Cannibals, monsters, Satanic cults. Chances are, you've read books or seen movies with these themes before. You haven't seen them like this though unless you've read Cesare. With Summer Job, he continues to perfect his craft.

One of the things that works so well in this book is how well drawn the characters are, especially Claire, the main character. It is often said that if you follow a good character long enough you are almost guaranteed a good story. Cesare proves this to be true here.

Cesare is a horror master. He never gives in to cliché, rather he takes tropes common to the genre and breathes new life into them, makes them his own. Unputdownable might as well have been coined to describe the man's work. There are some nailbiting, hair raising scenes in this book. The pacing in Summer Job is relentless. Be prepared to set some time aside and read this all in one sitting.

If you like Cesare already or if you like 80s/90s horror, this is a no brainer. Grab this and grab everything that bears his name. The best is yet to come from Adam Cesare. Stay tuned and Happy Cesarefest!

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

CESAREFEST: Video Night by Adam Cesare

Tomorrow we celebrate Thanksgiving. That'll be nice, I suppose. More importantly, today we continue to observe Cesarefest. And so it goes...

Video Night is Mr. Cesare's second novel and it shows his progression as one of the best living horror writers even as he continues to deliver the great fiction you've come to expect from him. More of the same...but better. That's the Adam Cesare way.

The plot of Video Night centers on horror movie aficionados banding against an alien force -- an alien that takes on the form of its victims. The characters in Video Night have to rely on their wits and their love of horror to survive.

Cesare takes his obvious love of horror and applies it to body horror. If you grew up in the 80's or love 80's popular culture, especially horror, you'll love this. If you love fiction with great characters, wicked horrible villains, and a terrific plot, you'll love this.

I don't know what else I can do to make you become a lifelong patron of the House of Cesare. Read just one chapter of this and I promise you'll want to fly through the rest. If movie producers had any smarts, they'd be targeting this guy to actually provide what people wanted to see. In horror, it simply doesn't get better than Adam Cesare. His books are ones I return to because they're so much fun, because they keep me up, because they remind me what great fiction reads like.

And guess what? Video Night is entirely deserving of all of this praise and it is entirely not my favorite Adam Cesare novel. For that, you'll have to keep observing Cesarefest with me.

In the mean time, eat some turkey.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

CESAREFEST: Tribesmen by Adam Cesare

Cesarefest is an ongoing celebration of the career of Adam Cesare, one of the best horror writers today. His newest book, Exponential, comes out on December 2nd and we'll be having a look at his bibliography every week until then.

Tribesmen was released in 2012 and it was actually my introduction to Cesare. If you like Italian exploitation films from the 70s like Cannibal Holocaust and so on, you'll love this. It is largely a homage to that sort of thing but, like all great homages, it is terrific on its own.

Tribesmen is fast, gory, funny and fun. It isn't Cesare's best book but its so hard to decide what his best might be, as you'll see in the weeks to come. Cesare has one of the most unique voices in horror and you can see that voice here.

Tribesmen rocks and you need to run over to Amazon and grab the new edition of it with the amazing new cover art. Pick up everything by Cesare while you're there and don't forget that his newest, Exponential, hits in just a couple weeks!

REVIEW: Cry Havoc by Jack Hanson

When I was a kid, I loved sci-fi, action-adventure novels, sword and sorcery and pulp. Come to think of it, that hasn't changed. About the only thing different is that I've read a bunch of literary novels since then that I'm sure have taken years off of my life.

Something else is different though. The action-adventure novels of my youth featuring a select group of men taking untold numbers of baddies are basically all gone. Fantasy, itself a genre, looks down on the sword and sorcery books that used to sell big numbers. Sci-fi, well...sci-fi just isn't as fun anymore. That's where Hanson comes in. Let me tell you, guys. Cry Havoc is FUN.

The dinosaur on the cover isn't a suggestion. You won't just find dinosaurs though. You'll find pirates, aliens, sword fights, and, most of all, well-drawn characters that you care about.

The plot follows four teens at the Ganymede Military Academy. As expected, they aren't quite ready for what's ahead of them. Enter Master Assault Sergeant Alexander Black to whip them into shape. I'll let you read to find out how that goes.

One of the best features of Hanson's novel is the world building. As the action is going on, you find out about the politics and histories of all the groups involved. It isn't how you might expect it to be. Hanson is writing fun, exciting science fiction but it isn't derivative of what's come before it. Its making its own statement in the tradition.

If you dig science fiction adventure that takes you to wild, incredible new places then here's your book. If you like Burroughs and Card and Weber, here's your book. Even better, there's more coming.

Finally, this is really relevant to nothing but I just wanted to say it. Hanson and this novel were victims of the Permuted Press debacle. You can read all about that through a Google search if you haven't. Suffice to say, they must feel like real assholes now that Hanson released this great book on his own. And they should.  Because they're assholes.

Screw you, Permuted Press.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

REVIEW: The Last Projector by David James Keaton

I was going to take photos to put in this review. The book we are talking about, The Last Projector by David James Keaton, is one of the best looking novels I've ever seen. From the cover art, to the spine, to the new cinematic Broken River Books artwork, I think that the look of this thing alone should justify a purchase.

I'm not going to do that. You have Google, you can go to Amazon, you can see the photos for yourself and probably better ones than I could take. There's another reason though. I'm going to talk about the contents of this book. What I can't take a picture of. I can't take a picture because some of what is there isn't really there. But it is. Its more there than what is.

See how that sounds? Crazy. Insane. I sound like a hack that doesn't know what he's talking about. Maybe I am. Maybe I should just stop here.

Let me tell you a story though...

I had a nightmare. About this book. I have had this book on my shelf for some time and I've written earlier versions of this review which I felt didn't work. The Last Projector has been haunting me since I first picked it up. It haunts me even still, as I'm writing these words. What were we talking about? The nightmare...

The book was full of slugs and worms. Crawling, inching out of its pages. The cover had seemed to come alive, not unlike the hallucinogenic ARC of this title with the animated cover. But it wasn't alive so much, not like the video I saw. It was active, moving, and undead. All of the elements of the cover art were twitching and turning, the slugs and worms creeping and crawling, trying to pull me into its abyss.

I don't know what the hell this book is about. A few times I thought I knew maybe. I suppose its about a lot of things. It's about love and death and movies and music and pornography and video games and people and demons and paramedics and, hell, I don't know. You read it. You have the nightmares and the elation and the confusion. You let this book take you and drag you in and leave you bruised and feeling that there's no way you can describe what the fuck it did to you but, dammit, you need other people to see it. You need them to know what you know. Its worth knowing.

David James Keaton is a mad genius. This is his first novel but its less a novel than an experience. Its David Foster Wallace and and David Lynch co-directing a video game adaptation of a musical adaptation of a sci-fi horror fantasy porno. Its getting over a heartbreak by going to the cinema all alone and taking communion with the silver screen while enveloped by the darkness.

Its not something you've seen or read or heard or felt before and its something you desperately need to get. Right. Now.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

REVIEW: The Life & Times of Innis E. Coxman

This book, you guys. THIS FUCKING BOOK! Have you ever read anything like this? No, you haven't.

I'm getting ahead of myself. I'm not supposed to start a review like that. Of course, you're not supposed to write a book like INNIS E. COXMAN. This sort of thing quite simply defies all the rules of literature and common decency. However, its a real good thing that Lester didn't play by the rules.

COXMAN is a kind of bildungsroman except I'm not sure that the main character learns anything. He sure as hell ain't no David Copperfield and Lester isn't Dickens. He's Mark Twain by way of Charles Bukowski. COXMAN tells the story of our protagonist from kid to criminal, jerk to junkie, and everything in between. This book is a comedy, a tragedy, a crime story, a story about drugs, a story about love and hate, a story about childhood and miseducation.

Its the sort of book that features a restaurant whose name has been changed to Awful Spouse. Its the sort of book that you'll talk to your friends about over a beer. Its the sort of book you could imagine was written over a beer or two. Its a modern piece of folk art and its trashy as shit. I sincerely, deeply loved it.

That brings me to my final point. This book was self-published. I can't see it getting a release any other way. This would definitely be hard to pitch to someone. Of course, now that its out all the small presses and publishers who aren't afraid of something new should look to R.P. Lester. I hope to see much, much more from him.

I wouldn't have seen COXMAN if I had taken the typical old, stodgy asshat approach to self-published or indie works though. This book has been published in spite of being unpublishable and my book shelf is better for it.

Get yours immediately.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

REVIEW: Tussinland by Mike Monson

Greetings everyone,

A number of books of come my way in the past few months that I have really enjoyed. However, since that time I have released the first issue of my magazine Dark Corners, begun compiling the second issue, and started writing a few novellas. As such, this blog has been neglected more than I'd like. I'm going to try to change that now.

Today we are looking at the first novel from one of the best pulp writers working today: Mike Monson. As I'm sure you are aware, Monson is an editor of the amazing magazine All Due Respect. ADR recently expanded to form ADR Books. I reviewed their first release which was a double feature of novellas by Pablo D'Stair and Chris Rhatigan called you don't exist. Now ADR Books is releasing a novel by the great Mike Monson, Tussinland.

I was fortunate to be able to have a look at an early draft of Tussinland. As I've said, Monson is one of my favorites and so any opportunity I have to read something new from him, you better believe I'm gonna take it.

Tussinland is Monson's best work yet. I seem to say that with every new release but it keeps being true. The novel tells the tale of Paul Dunn, a TV-obsessed loser who is addicted to Robitussin. He is the chief suspect in the murders of his soon-to-be ex-wife and her lover. Of course, given that he's such a loser, you can probably imagine that something is up. And brother, something is indeed.

That's the skeleton of Tussinland. Of course, this is Monson so you'd better strap yourself in for one hell of a ride. The world of Tussinland is a world of drug addiction, social media addiction, sex addiction, and incredible violence. Also, Frosted Flakes.

Monson packs so much into this book that not a single sentence is wasted. If you have liked anything from him before, you are going to love this. He has only gotten better in time. Particularly, his depiction of social media in this novel and the obsession with Facebook, the internet and smart phones is better here than anywhere I've seen these topics handled in fiction. The result is very original.

Like all the best pulp fiction, Monson's books are not realistic. Instead, they have a sort of hyper-realism. All the best pulp guys do it. Greg Barth is another notable example. Monson takes all the things you know exist in the world but don't want to think about, cranks them up to eleven, and shoves them in your face.

Tussinland is dark and hilarious. Its over-the-top. It grabs you by the nuts and refuses to let go until the end. Even now, some months after having read it, it has stuck with me. It'll be one of my favorite reads this year.

Go and buy. Read and enjoy. Then, the next time you sign into Facebook or comment on an article, think about Paul Dunn and his fucked up little story.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014


While the verdict is still out on Max Booth III's success in Pulp Survivor, he managed to answer a few questions while waiting for his potential doom. I have decided it would be best to share his answers with you since this may be the last anyone hears of poor Mr. Booth...

1) What the hell did you do?

I accidentally wrote the greatest novel of the last ten years. It’s called The Mind is a Razorblade, and already people are jumping off bridges after reading it because it’s just that goddamn good. At least, that’s what I’m choosing to believe.

2) Why the hell did you do it?

It was completely unintentional. One day, to kill time, I started cutting out letters from newspapers and randomly gluing them to my wall. Eventually, the letters formed a novel.

3) What criticisms do you have of the pulp scene today? How do you feel about "pulp" as a descriptor of your work?

I don’t have many criticisms, to be honest, mostly because I’m not that deep into the pulp scene, I don’t think. I try not to put any labels on my own work. That’s up for the audience to decide. If my readers think my writing is more pulp than anything, then maybe they’re right. As long as they keep buying my books and reading them, I don’t care what you call my writing. Pulp is good, though, because [deleted orange juice joke].

4) You recently wrote a supposedly humorous but potentially insulting piece about the works of Stephen King? What the hell is wrong with you? That man's a fucking icon.

All I did was pen an accurate summarization of each one of King’s novels. Then people got pissed off because they thought Dean Koontz wrote The Stand. I don’t know why they think that. King obviously wrote The Stand. What I’m really surprised is the lack of people calling me out for forgetting to include King’s magnum opus: Rosemary’s Baby.

5) I bet you're pretty happy with yourself, aren't you?

Well, yes.

6) What is next for Max Booth III?

I’m currently working on a new article titled “50 Reasons Tyler Perry’s House of Payne is better than Doctor Who”.

Monday, September 29, 2014

GUEST BLOG: Pulp Survivor with Max Booth III

Greetings everyone,

Welcome back to The Pulp Chronicler. I took a brief hiatus in order to edit, format and publish the first issue of my new pulp magazine. That being done, its time to introduce you to a new ongoing feature here at The Chronicler.

It is called The Pulp Survivor and will act as a kind of pulp fiction game show in which a writer that I have reviewed here will do a guest blog based on a scenario that I give them. The scenario will be related in some small way to their work and will be a situation that they have to survive. They'll write up a guest blog detailing how they plan to live. First up, The Mind is a Razorblade author Max Booth III.

The scenario:

You awake after having mysteriously fallen unconscious in a hotel room. There is a letter and a briefcase on the bed. The letter informs you that twenty years in the future you will become the leader of a rebellion that will save mankind from an eternity of enslavement by murderous cyborgs. In order to prevent you from becoming the savior of mankind, the cyborgs have sent a warrior back in time to destroy you. He looks like Charles Bronson. He sounds like Bobcat Goldthwait. He is staying AT THE HOTEL! You find the briefcase is filled with bunny slippers. Each slipper is stuffed with all the one dollar bills that it can hold. What do you do?

What say you, Mr. Booth?? What's it gonna be?

Max runs into the bathroom to take a leak. This lasts many minutes. He wonders how long he’s been unconscious. His head is killing him and his stomach feels like an empty pit. He needs food. He needs cake.

Max returns to the bed and collects the cash, then puts on the funny bunny slippers. Adjusting his clothing in the mirror, he leaves the hotel room and ventures down to the lobby. He approaches the front desk guy, who is busy typing away on a laptop.

“Excuse me,” Max says, interrupting the front desk guy’s porn session, “but I really want some cake. Direct me to the closest cake place.”

The front desk guy groans and points in a random direction. Max follows.

Eighteen minutes later, Max arrives to a shop called LET THEM EAT CAKE. He enters the store. There is cake everywhere. Max throws all of his cash at the cashier and demands “all the cake”. He is given a small slice of something fruity and delicious. Max takes his cake and finds a booth at the end of the shop. He does not think about cyborgs. He does not think about time traveling assassins. That shit’s all in the future. Right now he has cake, and that’s all he cares about. Sure, someone is trying to kill him, but cake shops are safe grounds. Nobody would ever spill blood in the presence of motherfucking cake. That would be a sin, and Cyborg Jesus would not approve.

Well played, sir. Or is it?? You decide. I leave his fate in your hands, Pulpsville. Is Booth going to make it out alive with his delicious diversion or will the cyborg be Maxed out on Booth Cake? Leave a comment here or on Facebook and let me know what you think.

Til next time, friends and fiends. Stay classy!

Friday, September 5, 2014

REVIEW: The Mind is a Razorblade by Max Booth III

One of the most exciting things about indie authors and small presses in the scene today is that their fiction is allowed to be more original, more bold, more unique than anything being released by the big guys. As evidence, I present to you Mr. Max Booth III...

I'm a little late to the party when it comes to Booth's fiction. No matter, though, as I shall christen this month Max Booth III Month. What does that mean? Well, nothing, I just like making stuff up. However, a few cool things will be happening here at The Chronicler because of it. I'll review his novel Toxicity, I'll interview him, and the man himself will be stepping through our door to begin a series of guest blogs I am calling Pulp Survivor. Today, however, is all about Razorblade, his newest book. Let's have a look...

The Mind is a Razorblade will recall sci-fi neo-noir films like Dark City. If you like that sort of thing, you should go right now and buy this book. However, don't feel that you are going to be prepared for what is in store for you because of that comparison. You are not going to read another book in 2014 like this one.

Max Booth III takes you on a journey built with the stuff of your nightmares and injected with a triple dose of noir, sci-fi and the deepest, darkest comedy. From the first page — hell, the first sentence — Booth assaults your senses with paranoia, action, and terror and he never lets up. The Mind is a Razorblade is a novel about love, identity, spiders and demons — and it will kick your ass.

You will want to follow the main character to see what happens next to him. You'll feel sorry for the poor bastard as things just get wilder and wilder. Booth is a genre-blender, not content to be pigeonholed. This novel comes very highly recommended. If you like your fiction bold, different and fun, Max Booth III is your man and The Mind is a Razorblade is your book.

Go get it. Tell 'em I sent you.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

REVIEW: you don't exist by Pablo D'Stair and Chris Rhatigan

Without a doubt, one of the best crime fiction magazines on the market is All Due Respect. It became a quarterly print and digital magazine under the reign of Chris Rhatigan and Mike Monson, both incredible writers in their own right. Now Rhatigan and Monson have brought us All Due Respect Books, "publishing down and dirty novellas, novels, and short story collections from the best writers in the genre." They've got some great books planned, including Tussinland by Mike Monson which I've already been fortunate enough to have a look at and a novella by Zelmer Pulp madman Ryan Sayles.

What's even better, their first book is already out. It's called 'you don't exist' and it is a kind of novella double feature from Pablo D'Stair and Chris Rhatigan. This is a really great idea and one that I would like to see more of. The aforementioned upcoming novella from Ryan Sayles will be part of a double feature also with Rhatigan so I assume that this will be a thing that ADR Books is doing. Like I said, it's a terrific idea and I look forward to more pulpy double features. How does this one measure up? Let's see...

"I might have been imagining the thing with these signs, I thought, but shook my head even while I did, snorting. Cigarette lit, lighter replaced, I said aloud that I didn't mean Imagining, I'd meant I might not understand how the roads worked." 

The novella begins with Pablo D'Stair's novella "bleed the ghost empty." This is an clear example of why the belief that there are no original ideas is simply false. If there are other novellas like "bleed the ghost empty", I have never read them or heard of them. It is incredibly unlike anything I've ever read and, honestly, made me kind of uncomfortable.

"I kept telling myself Okay okay okay, not just muttering, telling myself the word in sets of threes and sets of three-sets-of-three Okay okay okay Okay okay okay making a relaxation of it, a sing song."

The act of reading D'Stair's novella is like being inside someone's head during a fever dream or a nightmare. What was it about? Was it about anything? Did it make sense? Does anything? If other noir stories, like Mike Monson's Scent of New Death, are like being given a shot of adrenalin, D'Stair's novella "bleed the ghost empty" is like being force fed hallucinogens. Regardless of what followed it, this novella would be worth the price of admission alone. I don't know if I will read it again but the experience has stuck with me.

Fortunately, what follows it is Chris Rhatigan's "Pessimist." That it is written by Rhatigan should be all you need to know. The man has never gone wrong before and this is no exception. It is starkly different from D'Stair's novella and some might say it is more fun, but it is excellent both as a companion piece and on its own.

"The guy in the aisle seat, who hadn't said anything the whole flight, slapped Pullman on the shoulder, said, 'Man, the way you looked, I thought we were all gonna die! Ha ha! Ha ha!' He laughed like an asshole. 'You going to be all right there, buddy?'"

Rhatigan's novella is funny and dark, much like other things that I've read from him. It deals with a man in over his head. As the title might suggest, he is pessimistic and incredibly on edge. His situation is not an easy one for anyone but our protagonist is exceptionally ill-equipped to deal with it.

"He wanted to buy one of those awful, enormous vehicles, one that said, Fuck you, other cars. Fuck you global warming. Fuck you, traffic laws."

If you are a fan of good pulp fiction, Pablo D'Stair, Chris Rhatigan, or All Due Respect, you owe it to yourself to go and buy "you don't exist." It is an incredible double feature of insecurities, , insanity, and suspicion. I eagerly await all future releases from ADR Books if this first release is any indication of the sort of things they will be doing. This is a publisher to watch, folks. As I have said many times, we are living in a golden age.

Monday, August 25, 2014

REVIEW: The Billy Lafitte novels by Anthony Neil Smith

One of the reasons why this is the best time ever to be a fan of pulp fiction is that there are so many bold, original authors in the scene nowadays writing fiction unlike anything before it. One of the very best examples I can think of is Anthony Neil Smith. Time and again, Smith has displayed an ability to surprise, shock, and entertain readers with strikingly unique storytelling. He has a voice all his own and it is one that you will never forget.

My introduction to Smith was the novel Yellow Medicine. It is the first novel to feature corrupt cop Billy Lafitte. He was dismissed from Gulfport, Ms. after some questionable actions post-Katrina and Yellow Medicine finds him in Minnesota. Smith does an excellent job of handling the great differences between these two places and Lafitte understandably has some trouble adjusting to the climate up north.

At his new home, Lafitte continues his corrupt ways and finds himself caught in a web of violence and insanity involving a drug mob and terrorism. To make matters worse, because of his questionable actions, Lafitte doesn't really seem that innocent. As a result, Lafitte decides to take matters into his own hands and try to set things -- maybe not right -- but as right as they can be with Lafitte still in the equation.

It is hard to explain exactly what I got from the experience of first reading Yellow Medicine. Smith's characterization of Lafitte is superb. Billy Lafitte is one of the most fully realized characters I think I've ever encountered. In spite of his questionable decisions, you cannot help but root for him. This is partially because, while bad, he is at least better than the terrorists. Another reason for this, however, is that Smith so compellingly and so comprehensively lets the reader inside the head of the main character. You see what he sees. You feel what he feels. While you're reading, at least, his twisted point of view becomes your point of view. Anthony Neil Smith cranks it up to 11 and does not let up. Yellow Medicine is one of the most eye-opening reading experiences of my life. It masterfully does what this sort of fiction is supposed to do.

And then there are the sequels...

The saga of Billy Lafitte picks up in Hogdoggin'. Obviously I will not be discussing the finer points of the sequels because I don't want to spoil anything. However, Smith continues to drag Lafitte down in the dirt and he encounters more insane situations. Again, Lafitte's moral compass is uniquely his own. Again still, Smith puts you in his corner. The character of Steel God in Hogdoggin' is one of the more interesting characters I have encountered in recent memory and Billy Lafitte becomes more complex, more vulnerable than ever before.

The third and most recent Lafitte novel is called The Baddest Ass and was published by the great Blasted Heath. Once again, Smith manages to surprise his readers with a balls-to-the-wall insane novel. There was more than one occasion in the third Lafitte novel where I really had no idea where Smith was going with it and each time he managed to surprise me. It is a badass adrenaline-fueled crime novel that will leave you speechless and dying to know what will happen next to Billy Lafitte.

I am a diehard fan of Anthony Neil Smith, in case you hadn't noticed. I have not encountered a novel or story by him that I have not been a big fan of. He is undoubtedly a cult writer, something I believe Smith himself has even acknowledged. What he does is not for everyone. However, you will know immediately if what he does is for you and, if it is, everything he has ever done and will ever do will be for you. He is an unsung hero of the scene, although he is certainly acknowledged quite a bit in the right circles. Like a modern day Gil Brewer, future generations will look back on the work of Anthony Neil Smith as being one of the greatest pulp fiction bibliographies of our time. His writing is pure distilled pulp, free from all the excess crap that the mainstream writers do which audiences skip over. You won't be skipping any pages in a Anthony Neil Smith novel, you'll be rereading them.

You can get Yellow Medicine for your Kindle free. If you haven't read it, you should do so immediately.

Monday, August 18, 2014

REVIEW: Lamentation by Joe Clifford

Joe Clifford's a cool guy. He joins the list of so many hard-working folks in the scene today who hold down jobs, edit things (like Flash Fiction Offensive, Gutter Books), do all kinds of impressive work, and somehow manage to still be absolutely brilliant writers. His blog is constantly surprising with how smart and witty he manages to be. On top of it all, every time I've had correspondence with the man he has been kind, thoughtful, interesting, and funny. He's a kind of Pulp Renaissance Man.

Like I said, dude's all over the place...
His third novel, Lamentation, is hitting in October from Oceanview Publishing. I was recently fortunate enough to be able to read a review copy of it. When I starting reading though, I had a tough time with it. Not because its poorly written. It's incredible. I guess what held me back was how honest and real the book is. Lamentation is a hell of a book.

There are relationships at the heart of Lamentation. Jay Porter, the main character, is a guy just trying to get by in New Hampshire. One of these relationships is with his ex-girlfriend Jenny and their two year old son. The other relationship, however, is with his drug-addled older brother Chris. You might say that the latter defines the former and most other relationships in Jay's life. The novel opens with Jay having to bail his brother out once again, something the reader senses that Jay has to do a lot of. Jay describes his brother after picking him up:

"In the five or six months since I'd seen him last, he appeared to have lost weight. I'd seen cancer patients with more meat on their bones. Over six feet, he couldn't have weighed more than a buck forty. Despite the long time apart, I felt no joy in our reunion. I'm pretty sure the feeling was mutual."

Over the course of this reunion, Jay discovers that Chris is in trouble yet again. Chris's business partner has been found dead and the fingers are pointing at his way. Jay once again steps up to try to help his brother. What unfolds sets off a chain reaction of violence and corruption that will leave everyone changed for better or worse.

The incredible thing about Lamentation is Clifford's ability to balance the different things that the novel tries to do. It has just the right amount of action, just the right amount of mystery, just the right amount of humor -- all wrapped up in small town reality. The novel packs a punch and it's a fun read. Clifford keeps the pages turning. However, it's not exploitative or contrived. Bad things happen because bad things happen and these particular bad things are unfortunately all too real. The ending of the novel is neither oppressively bleak nor unrealistically optimistic. Joe Clifford has quite a novel on his hands and it is one that he should be very proud of. More than that, it is a novel that you should mark the release date on your calendar for. If you like stuff like Hustle by Tom Pitts, you are going to like this. It's a book that stays with you.

When you're done, go over to Joe's blog and bug him about when his next book is going to be out. Tell him The Chronicler sent you.

Friday, August 15, 2014

REVIEW: Last Chance Canyon and Last Stagecoach to Hell! by James Reasoner

James Reasoner is a titan of pulp. Since the mid-70's, he has been actively writing both short and long-form works, producing more than one-hundred short stories and over THREE-HUNDRED novels, sometimes under pseudonyms. While perhaps best known for his westerns, Reasoner has also done mysteries, fantasy, historical fiction, and other genres. Like the great pulp masters of old, he is seemingly able to write in any genre at any time with equal wit, intelligence, and quality. If you have visited this page, you probably know and like James Reasoner's fiction or you will.

My introduction to Reasoner was his Gabriel Hunt novel Hunt at the Well of Eternity. It immediately appealed to my pulpy, adventure-loving heart. However, as many of my friends know, there are few things in this world I enjoy more than a good weird western. Enter Rye Callahan.

Last Chance Canyon is a 6,000-word short story featuring bounty hunter Rye Callahan. It was originally published a number of years ago in Finnish and this year it has seen its English-language debut as an ebook. Spoiling the experience for the reader would be a shame, so I will not talk much about the plot of this story except to say that Callahan is a bounty hunter that finds himself in a very weird and spooky situation. As I mentioned before, Reasoner is a master of his craft and the pages fly by. Like any great pulp writer, it is as though you aren't even reading and soon you will be left wanting more.

And you'd be in luck! At the beginning of this month, Reasoner released another, longer, Callahan tale in the form of Last Stagecoach to Hell! A 10,000 word-novella, Stagecoach delivers a bit of weird menace with its pulp western. It opens with Callahan bringing outlaw Ike Blaine to justice. However, when Callahan and Blaine get on a stagecoach to a settlement in Arizona, things are not as they appear to be.

If you've read Last Chance Canyon, though, you know that Callahan is a tough-as-nails pulp character and all the deep, dark secrets in Last Stagecoach to Hell are no match for him. I enjoyed Stagecoach even more than Canyon and it recalled the sort of stories that I fell in love with growing up.

The weird western is a genre that few have mastered. Joe R. Lansdale and Heath Lowrance are pretty much the masters at this sort of thing. However, Reasoner is one of the best pulp writers alive and his weird westerns are every bit as terrific as you expect them to be. I fully expect every single one of you to grab these Callahan stories and clear your schedule for an evening of exciting, suspenseful, brilliantly-crafted pulp. The Chronicler demands it!

Monday, August 11, 2014

REVIEW: Trouble In The Heartland

It is no secret to anyone that I am one of the world's biggest fans of Zelmer Pulp, that crazy collective of writers who specialize in "retro-futuristic, pulp hero, dark crime, monster noir, and neoclassical post-apocalyptic multi-generation uber-exploitive psychodrama." As a matter of fact, I think I'll declare myself as Zelmer Pulp's #1 fan. Got a problem with that? Leave a comment and prove yourself to me. If you prove me wrong, I'll delete your comment and pretend it never happened.

Where was I? Ah, yes -- Zelmer. Sayles, Panowich and company are some of my favorites in this business of ours. As far as I'm concerned, when there's a new Zelmer Pulp release, people had better pay attention. Therefore, when I discovered that Zelmer was teaming up with Gutter Books (one of the best publishers in the noir/crime field) to bring an anthology of songs based on the music of Bruce Springsteen, I was so excited that my body went into hibernation until I got a review copy. The book is now in my hands and I have risen from my cave. Was it everything I hoped it would be? No, it wasn't.

It was better than that! (See what I did there?) There is something to be said for the inherent noir nature of Bruce Springsteen's songs. I'm not going to talk about that. Chances are, you already know that. If not, I encourage you to delve into that yourself. Me? I came here to review books and make references to cult movies and I'm all outta references!

Trouble in the Heartland is like a Greatest Hits of crime/noir. Almost everyone you can think of is included within the pages of this volume. In fact, my sole criticism of Trouble is going to be that word "almost." There are some puzzling absences (Mike Monson, for one) of some of my favorite writers but generally speaking everyone is here. What do I mean by that? Here is just HALF the list...

Dennis Lehane, Dyer Wilks, Tom Pitts, Chuck Wendig, Rob Pierce, David James Keaton, Ryan Sayles, Chris F. Holm, Les Edgerton, Todd Robinson, Ezra Letra, Jen Conley, Richard Thomas, Chuck Regan, Court Merrigan, Chris Rhatigan, Steve Weddle, Hilary Davidson, Chris Irvin and Jordan Harper.

Again, folks -- this is just HALF of the authors in this anthology. I'll leave you to discover the rest of the names yourselves. Of course, the inclusion of all the authors in all the world wouldn't matter if the stories were bogus. Luckily, you're in for some terrific tales when you pick up Trouble in the Heartland. I'll give you the rundown on ten of these tracks.

"Does This Bus Stop at 82nd Street?" by Ezra Letra -- Letra's a guy who is new to me. He's a dude who wears so many hats (writer, rapper, photographer, producer, graphic designer, and more) that it's a wonder he manages to keep any one of them on his head. I'm here to tell you, though, that he's got the talent. His story here is just a small slice of life of a guy who knows a hard life. "We knew at any moment we could be left with nothing, but fuck it, we had nothing else." Ezra Letra is a guy to watch and you should let this be your introduction. After you read the story, visit his website. Listen to his music. Tell him the Chronicler sent you.

"The Iceman" by Les Edgerton -- "I shot her. Twice." Bam! Edgerton's story gets you right in the gut immediately. That shouldn't surprise any fan of good noir or crime fiction, though, because Les Edgerton is one of the best writers alive. That sounds like hyperbole but, if you've read things from him like The Bitch, you know it isn't. Here, Edgerton tells a story about a lady who thinks she knows everything about her husband. Spoiler: she doesn't. This one will kick your ass.

"Mansion on the Hill" by Chris F. Holm -- Again, Holm is a guy that everyone knows I dig. I covered his Collector book over at my old blog and even scored an interview with the man himself. Here, he spins a yarn about a guy who loves the ladies. Of course, this is crime anthology so you know nothing is as it seems. As the story says, "Love's a funny thing."

"The Promised Land" by Court Merrigan -- Merrigan tells a story of revenge, in a sense. It's also a story about people looking to use other people. It's a story about how unfair life can be. However, when the land is full of people screwing over other people, there is a lot of opportunity for someone who walks tall and carries a big stick.

"Prove it all Night" by Jordan Harper -- Harper is another name in this anthology that I didn't know before but it's definitely a name that I will be remembering. "Prove it all Night" is about two young lovers on a criminal spree straight to Hell. "One two three four five gas stations and liquor stores before four a.m." What's left at the end of it all is blood, sweat, and maybe, just maybe, a little yearning for the old bad times when all the wrong choices were still left unmade.

"Highway Patrolman" by Ryan Sayles -- I've already talked about my fondness for Ryan Sayles. Apart from being one of the Zelmer guys, he's a hell of a writer by himself. He's got a story forthcoming in my own pulp magazine Dark Corners. Here, Sayles (one of my favorites) writes a crime story (one of my favorite genres) that involves New Orleans (my favorite place). To make things even better, the story is full of language so carefully and perfectly chosen that you will re-read sentences just to hear them again in your head. "Reds and yellows and blues and whites shimmer, flapping every time God breathes along the subtle incline of the graveyard." Like so many other writers in this anthology, Sayles uses the hell out of his instrument. He's a consummate wordsmith.

"Radio Nowhere" by Chuck Regan -- Another story, another Zelmer crew member. Regan does great sci-fi and here is no exception. Regan also does the great cover art that graces this anthology. When it comes to his fiction, though, what I love so much about Regan is that he does the sort of pulp fiction I loved as a kid. It's the sort of stuff that sparked my obsession with reading and writing. Regan seems to have a limitless imagination. He's a bold writer and he takes you, the reader, places you haven't been before. How many times is that actually true for a writer? It's true here, friends. Read this one twice.

"Wrecking Ball" by Chris Rhatigan -- "I need fire running through my veins for this." If you've read Rhatigan's The Kind of Friends Who Murder Each Other, you know his unique brand of funny, badass noir. His story in this anthology is more of the same from Rhatigan which is to say that you'll laugh and you won't believe what you're reading. Rhatigan's characters are not good people but you'll never forget them. You just strap in and try to hold on for the ride.

"Local Hero" by Tom Pitts -- Also joining the anthology is Tom Pitts, author of Piggyback and Hustle. He writes with a knowledge of the darker, harder side of life that a lot of other writers simply don't possess. His story in this anthology is about what its like to be a hero in a thankless world. As one character says, "You think you're special? Because you can throw a fucking baseball?", but this ain't a story about just baseball. It's a story about small towns and pain, blood and anger. It's a story that'll make you look at Piggyback and Hustle on your shelf and make you pick them up again. I don't even want to think about the possibility of someone not having those on their shelf. If that is the case, you know what to do.

"State Trooper" by Dennis Lehane -- This is, no doubt, the story that a lot of folks are gonna be talking about, and for good reason. Lehane is a popular writer. Here, at least, he's also a damn good one. "State Trooper" is the sort of story that doesn't tell you anything you don't need to know. It's far longer than the other pieces in this anthology but it doesn't outstay its welcome. In many ways, this story being first sets the stage for the rest of the stories to follow. That's also why I am talking about it last. A little bit of the themes that I have talked about in the other stories are present here. You've got a simple scenario, one that doesn't have to lead to violence and heartbreak. Of course, it will. Lehane doesn't even show you the violence. That would be too much. He doesn't have to hold your hand and he's sure as hell not going to. Instead, he sets everything up, lets you see whats coming, and then he leaves you in the dirt. All you really need to know is about Dale's (our main character) luck. "Most of his life" Dale's luck had been "glass-half-empty or glass-never-fucking-was". Those words are all you need to know. You know how this story goes, you've heard it before. However, like a good reliable rock band, you can count on the experience.

That's ten of these tracks, ten of forty. Does that mean I only enjoyed these ten? Not in the slightest. This is one of the most enjoyable fiction anthologies you are likely to encounter this year. Editor Joe Clifford and  the other folks that worked on this one have something to be proud of. If anyone reading this review has any doubt when I say that we are living in a golden age of pulp fiction, they have only to pick up this one volume when it is released and be ushered into a world of great, dark, amazing stories. I promise that you will be grateful that you got this one and I can guarantee that there will be at least one writer here whose work you will want to better familiarize yourself with after you've closed the book. So says the Pulp Chronicler, this one's a MUST own.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

NEWS: Broken River Books to release Ed Dinger novel

J David Osborne from Broken River Books revealed the following on his Facebook:

"ON THE BLACK by Ed Dinger will be released in mid-November from Broken River Books.

"A former private detective suffering from dementia finds himself in a Philadelphia hotel room with a dead body, a blonde, and a smoking gun in his hand. He has only minutes before the police arrive to unravel what just took place, as well as to solve a mystery from a 1950 case that somehow seems connected."'

Ed Dinger is a name that I do not know but Broken River is a name that I know very well indeed. I would imagine that many of you reading this are also more than familiar with the great work they're doing over there at Broken River. I am very excited about any future release from them. One of the great things that Broken River does is the books consistently always have great artwork. ON THE BLACK is no exception. 

If that doesn't get you excited for ON THE BLACK, folks, I don't know what will. I'll be reviewing it upon release and let you guys know what I think. 

Stay pulpy.