Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Twilight Zone Magazine August 1983

At long last I have obtained a copy of Twilight Zone magazine from Aug 1983. The significance of this issue is that it contains the the third and final list of KEW. This, the 13 Best Science Fiction Horror Novels, is the only one I didn't have. I have added KEW's comments to the following books reviewed previously:

Vampires Overhead
The Cadaver of Gideon Wyck
The Flying Beast
Land Under England
The Cross of Carl

Friday, December 25, 2009

The Flying Beast by Walter S. Masterman

"Masterman again takes the detective formula and runs berserk, this time with a haunted English manor, murder, anti-gravity metal, a lost race of troglodytes, and a hidden abyss in the desert."

#7 of Karl Edward Wagner's Thirteen Best Science Fiction Horror Novels list is The Flying Beast by Walter S. Masterman. Masterman has the distinction of providing two books to this list with The Yellow Mistletoe (previously reviewed) being the other. Once again, we have the distinguished book publisher Ramble House to thank for making this gem available at less than astronomical prices.
As in Mistletoe, Beast is preoccupied with bright young things who have little more to do than race around the world in pursuit of a mystery. Years before a foursome was traveling the backwoods of America looking for a mystery, Masterman had his youthful heros doing similar work. And in typical stiff-upper-lip fashion, there is a butler who lives to serve his master. Sir Arthur Sinclair, the polygot investigator, makes another appearance.
Beast begins with Dick Maldon, a toff on a walking tour of England, taking refuge from a storm at an isolated country inn. He soon learns of an even more isolated country mansion. It's surrounded by barb wire and can only be entered by a secret underground passage. In this strange house dwells the Furgeson brothers and a daughter named Joan. Before Dickie even has a chance to say "What, ho!", Joan Furgeson dashes into the inn announcing the sudden death of her uncle.
A party makes its way to the mansion and finds one of the Furgeson brothers dangling from a rope. Dick stays on at the house overnight and encounters strange creatures moving around hidden passages. By the time the police make an show the next morning, he's decided to get to the bottom of the secret inside the house.
The novel introduces plenty of characters and, once again, it's not easy keeping up with them all. There's "Bunny" Vincent, Dick's lifelong friend and companion. Hilda, Dick's fiance. Higgins, a British Amelia Erhardt and her father, the eminent archeologist Professor Higgins. There's also Inspector Heldon, a gruff Scotland Yard investigator who doesn't approve of meddling kids. No talking Great Danes, but there is a race of subterranean cave dwellers who figure prominently into the book.
Characters have a tendency to expire just as they are about to reveal some dreaded secret. Others are sworn to secrecy and refuse to tell what they know. After awhile it's hard to put the book down because you want to find out what everyone is hiding.
Most of the book takes place in England, but the last fifty or so pages conclude in the deserts of Arabia. And it's this section which makes the book memorable. Again, Masterman travels into Lost Horizons territory with a hidden civilization and secret treasure. My only complaint with Beast is that it takes too long to get to Shangra-La. For some reason, most of the characters are quite ready to listen to their betters and stay put when danger is all about. The title refers to an airship which features into the plot, although the author doesn't give it much of a description.
A neat little book, I can see why KEW included it in these lists.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Money Shot by Christa Faust

This is the first book I've read by Christa Faust (see top photo), but I don't think it will be the last. It's also the second I've encountered from Hard Case Crime. If this is any indication of the publisher's abilities, I may have a new addiction. There has been a lot of chatter on the Net as to how Hard Case has spark plugged the noir genre and I'm starting to believe it. Hard Case is specializing in releasing new classics from masters old(Lester Dent) and new(Jason Starr).
Money Shot begins with former adult film actress Angel Dare waking up in the trunk of a car. She's been badly beaten, tortured, and has no idea why this happened. One minute she's the owner of an employment agency for adult talent and dancers, the next she's watching a former friend shot in the leg because she can't tell some thugs about an unknown case full of cash. Soon, Angel's been shot and left for dead. But through a supreme effort of will she managers to find a pay phone and call the only person who can help her: a former cop named Mallory. With his help, she attempts to find out why she was lured into the trap which nearly killed her. And along the way she will find out a few unpleasant things about herself and everyone close to her.
Money Shot takes place in the world of California adult film and video. As such, the realities of this fantasy world are part of the narrative. Since it's written from Angel's point-of-view, we get her take on the industry. She'd traveled to California in the 1980's from Chicago to party with rock stars, but ended up making adult videos. After ten years at the top of her game she retired to run the agency. Angel has no regrets, since she made her pile of cash and got out at the best time. But other women were not so fortunate.
This is a fast-paced book which I ploughed through in a few days. The story sucks the reader in making it difficult to put down. Christa Faust has a direct writing style which minimizes descriptions and dialogue. The reader is provided with enough material to keep the book moving along. She also manages to pack the hottest seduction scene into two pages involving nothing more than a pair of $700.00 designer boots.
Faust sets the plot up for standard devices which are twisted into angles. Everyone expects the hero(ine) to do the right thing and be rewarded by Justice. But happens when revenge is served hot on a cold dish? Faust leaves the reader in astonishment as perfectly moral and sane people commit the most sinister of deeds.
There's a sequel, Choke Hold, promised to the ambiguous ending of Money Shot. I want to reserve a copy now!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

The Shadow On The House by Mark Hansom

From Karl Edward Wagner's 13 Best Non-Supernatural Horror Novels:

#10. The Shadow on the House by Mark Hansom
Hansom is another of the unjustly neglected group of thriller writers. Usually his novels only appeared to have supernatural content, and in the end we learn it was only Uncle Geoffrey in a Mad Monk costume behind it all. The ending to this one is a stunner.

A difficult book to find for years, Shadow was recently reprinted by Ramble House's Dancing Tuatara Press imprint. It also features a new introduction by John Pelan about the possible identity of the author Mark Hansom. Very little is known about Hansom, other than a number of thrillers were written under his name between the world wars. We may never know who he was, or if the name was a by-line for other writers. At least this edition doesn't feature a contrived cameo of the unknown writer.
Shadow is told from the viewpoint of Martin Strange, a young man living in genteel poverty. Martin's family had at one time posessed a lot of money and land, but the bulk of it went to a relative, leaving Marion with one manservant, Makepeace, and a stipend which allowed him enough for survival. At the beginning of the book, he's living in an unfashionable flat in London with Makepeace.
Soon he makes the acquaintance of Sylvia Vernon, a woman of stunning beauty, and her aunt, Lady Somerton. Martin is smitten with Sylvia and can only think of marriage. However, he lacks the funds to make a proper British husband and she is penniless herself, depending on the good graces of her aunt. Furthermore, there is a rival to Sylvia, Martin's good friend Christopher Knight. Almost by accident, Martin wishes Christopher would drop dead.
Before the book turns into another Henry James pastiche, Christopher is found murdered under very strange circumstances. Next, Martin's worthless cousin Mick, who inherited most of the family fortune, is also found dead. Mick had also been a rival for Sylvia. Martin makes a marriage proposal to Sylvia, who accepts, although she's worried there may be a curse on her.
At this point the novel begins to get very weird. Martin hears a tale from Makepeace about a similar death which occurred during the time of his grandfather. There's a friend of Lady Sommerton, Professor Wetherhouse, who starts showing up at unexpected times. Strange men seem to be watching Martin outside his new apartment. Martin begins to suspect he is the victim of a ghost which has been stalking the family for generations. Or is he going mad?
The novel is written in a very refined style. I agree with the introduction as to how the author had a very clear understanding of the British class system. Once Martin comes into the family money, Makepeace hires other servants who are forbidden to cross into the master's side of the flat after 9 PM. Even the title refers to a "shadow" of shame which may have fallen on the "house" of Strange. And it's not too hard to figure out the solution to the the two murders in the book well before the end of it.
Ramble House is to be commended for bringing out this hard to find classic.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

The Cross of Carl by Walter Owen

"Antiwar novella concerning a German foot soldier in World War I, horribly wounded and baled up with the other battle casualties to be rendered into soap. After this, things really get strange. Owen is best known for More Things in Heaven."

#10 on KEW's 13 Best Science Fiction Horror Novels list is The Cross of Carl by Walter Owen. The subtitle of the book is:

"An allegory; the story of one who went down into the depths and was buried; who doubting much, yet at the last lifted up his eyes unto the hills and rose again and was transfigured".

This may be the shortest work on the lists. It can easily be read in one sitting and looks to have been originally published in the form of a tract. I'm not exactly sure how it was first published since I've read it in the Groff Conklin 1951 collection In the Grip of Terror. I would describe it a novella due to it's brevity.
Cross is the story of Carl, a nondescript older recruit in a pointless war, which seems modeled after WW1. Desiring to win the "Cross", Carl becomes involved in an assault from the trenches on "Hill 51". The first section of this piece is a gruesome description of trench warfare (before air support changed everything). Troopers in tunics and gas masks attempt to over-whelm an enemy position fortified with snipers. Carl watches his comrades ripped apart by bullets and shells until he himself is dispatched in a mine explosion. The account of the battle is detailed, with body parts flying all over the place.
But the second part, "Golgotha", is even worse as Carl finds himself thrown into a train of bodies bound for the Utilization Factory of the Tenth Army Division. In essence, this is rendering plant to dispose of war dead. Corpses gleamed from the battle fields are sent to this plant to be processed into pig food and fertilizer. Carl is tossed in with the rest of the corpses, but he's not dead, merely unconscious. When he wakes up amidst the bundles of bound bodies destined to be processed, he goes insane.
The conclusion of the book has Carl wondering around a swamp preaching to any and everything he encounters. Finally, Carl encounters the army officers who sent him to the front. The ending is hideous, which is why some people have christened this the best anti-war narrative ever written.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

FAKE ID by Jason Starr

Tommy Russo is one of those people you casually meet at a bar or work. He's a sometimes actor, a full time bouncer, and a compulsive gambler. He's down on his luck lately, but that all changes when he meets a man named Pete one cold winter's day. Pete is also a small-time gambler, but he makes Tommy an offer he can't put away: for just ten thousand dollars, buy into a syndicate of investors and become the owner of a race horse. Tommy would like nothing better than to join this group, but there is this small issue involving his lack of funds. No problem, the safe at the bar where he works has all the money he'll need and he has memorized the combination. And one other thing: Tommy is a clinical definition of a sociopath.
Jason Starr lists Jim Thompson as one of his influences and it's not hard to see The Killer Inside Me as an inspiration for this book. A friend once wrote that reading Killer was like having a conversation with a psychopath. Reading Fake ID turns you into a prison psychologist trying to figure out where this nice young man went wrong. But soon you discover the nice young man isn't such a good person. Not since KW Jeter's Mantis have I felt so trapped inside the brain of a seriously disturbed individual.
What makes the book outstanding is how everyone around Tommy can see him going over the edge. At one point he casually tries to hit on a police woman and the brief conversation is wrong on so many counts. Any fool can see the pick-up line is out of place and only going to put him into deeper trouble. Of course, from Tommy's point-of-view, a pretty woman is fair game and anyone opposed to him is an asshole. Tommy has had such a string of success with his natural acting ability and good looks, so he can talk his way out of any bad situation. But that luck is starting to run thin. It doesn'thelp that he's violent prone.
If I have one criticism of Fake ID, it would be the lack of background material on Tommy. How did he end up this way? Since the book is told from his POV, we don't get a lot of asides. There is some reference to child abuse as he remembers being knocked down the stairs by his father, but not much more.
Still, an excellent book and another fine production from Hard Case Crime.