Anyway, I saw BLACK FRIDAY and gave it a try. So what did I think?
Last week, I read BLACK FRIDAY, by David Goodis, a nearly-forgotten novelist whose only work I'd previously read was also his first and most famous, DARK PASSAGE, which is probably better remembered as the film adaptation, a Humphrey Bogart/Lauren Bacall vehicle, though the novel itself is great.
Anyway, I saw BLACK FRIDAY and gave it a try. So what did I think?
Today, a brand-new-to-English manga by a brand-new-to-me mangaka whose work I'm very much enjoying: Abi Umeda's CHILDREN OF THE WHALES.
Originally titled Whale Calves Sing on the Sands, CotW is a manga that caught my eye immediately for one thing: the art strongly resembles Hayao Miyazaki's line-art from his mangaka days, specifically the style he used for Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind. It's a very distinctive style and it couldn't be coincidental; googling Umeda's older works, I saw that she used a more modern, cleaner-lined style for them, so I was intrigued.
More than the art, however, the story and its tone also feels very much like Nausicaa - in a good way.
The basic premise is like something from Nausicaa's world: the world is, seemingly, an ocean of sand and on this ocean swims, literally, the Mud Whale, an apparently-semi-organic living island, populated by 513 human beings, none of whom have any knowledge of any world other than their tiny island. Moreover, the majority of these people are so-called "Marked", and possess psychic abilities called thymia, which are fueled by their emotions. Because of this, emotional displays are forbidden in their society, presumably for fear of someone losing control.
The Mud Whale has been swimming the sands for just over 93 years when the story opens and while life is monotonous and sometimes uncertain, depending on factors such as rainfall and food production, it's good overall, and people know what to expect: until another floating island is encountered and on it... another human being. The first anyone from the Mud Whale has ever seen, signaling to them that there is a world outside of their little home.
What follows is classically Miyazaki in style: the newcomer, though she doesn't even know her own name, knows more about the Mud Whale and its people than they themselves do and before she can share any of this information, the outside world (in the form of storm-troopers reminiscent of Jester-like versions of the troopers who invade the Valley of the Wind) attack the Mud Whale, setting off a chain of events that is halted by the end of the first volume.
Umeda, as so many other mangaka do, wears her influences on her sleeve in this work, but as I said, it's not a bad thing. CotW is a beautifully-drawn, lovingly-told story of exploration and frustration that is clearly leading towards bigger things. I'm personally very curious to see how far she takes the Miyazaki influence or if she'll just use it as a starting point, either way, I'm sure I'll enjoy what comes next.
This past spring, you may remember, my fourth Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder story The Arcana of the Alleys was published in Occult Detective Quarterly magazine issue #2.
(Click above to purchase on Amazon)
It featured a young Thomas Carnacki just embarking on his career of occultism and detection and running into unusual circumstances, encountering some very exotic magic, in Boston, a place I don't think anyone else has ever taken the good detective. It also featured this gorgeous illustration by Sebastian Cabrol.
Because the magazine is a 96-page quarterly, stories are kept to under 6k words, typically, but my understanding is that despite that, they receive many longer submissions and that a few of them were so good they wanted to find a way to use them.
To that end, they are presenting a book-length anthology called Occult Detective Quarterly Presents, featuring stories anywhere from 8 to 25k (novella) length. They are currently running a kickstarter to gather funds for this anthology, and, if all goes well, may do another volume.
(Click below to be whisked away to the Kickstarter)
Below is a list of the authors for the first volume:
BEV ALLEN is an English writer who combines the wry with the fantastical, as in her collection ‘A Solemn Curfew’, which draws on the appetites and folklore of England, but who then defies expectations by writing SF/fantasy adventures liberally laced with soldiers. She describes herself as “a crazy old woman who writes weird short stories about things like a bloke having sex with his garden pond”.
ADRIAN COLE is an inhabitant of Southwest England. He has had over twenty novels published, and is known to science fiction/fantasy readers for his “Dreamlords” trilogy and other books. His latest gritty collection “Tough Guys” was released last year. A prolific short story writer, his Nick Nightmare series already has many occult detective fans in its grip, and he is also writing classic weird fantasy for publications such as Skelos Magazine.
AMANDA DEWEES is an American author who received her PhD in English literature from the University of Georgia and likes to startle people by announcing that her dissertation topic was vampire literature. She is already known for her stylish dark romances and thrillers, such as “With This Curse” which won the 2015 Daphne du Maurier Award in historical mystery/suspense. Her most recent novel “The Last Serenade” features the same Sybil Ingram as her story in this issue.
SAM L EDWARDS is a writer who likes dark poetry, dark fiction and darker beer. Though a Texan by nature, he is currently residing in California, from where he explores horror and weird themes in both prose and poetry, including his ‘Joe Bartred’ series of contemporary occult detective tales.
WILLIAM MEIKLE is a Scottish writer, now living in Canada, with over twenty novels published in the genre press and more than 300 short story credits in thirteen countries. His work includes all manner of speculative, supernatural and adventure fiction, with a sideline in continuing the Carnacki stories of William Hope Hodgson. When he's not writing he drinks beer, plays guitar, and dreams of fortune and glory.
ROBERT POHLE is originally from the Delaware Valley, and is a veteran writer of Westerns, historical and speculative fiction, as well as Holmesian fiction and his work on the films of Christopher Lee.
CHARLES R RUTLEDGE is the co-author of three books in the Griffin and Price Crime/Horror series, Blind Shadows, Congregations of the Dead, and A Hell Within, all written with James A. Moore, and his short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies. Charles lives in the Atlanta area with a cat named Bruce and far too many books.
A book I stumbled across and bought simply because it was a Lion Books (one of the early paperback original publishers of the '50s, founded by Martin Goodman, founder/original publisher of Marvel Comics) publication I didn't own, this turned out to be a great find.
I don't read a ton of westerns compared to the amount of crime, fantasy and sci-fi I read. I enjoy them, but the genre tends to be very formulaic, so my reading of them is relatively sporadic so as not to get bored. .44, however, is not a typical western - it's set in the Old West, but is very much rooted in noir, which delighted me.
The story's protagonist is Dan Harland who, as a young man, was set upon by a famous gunfighter and, whether through accident or latent skill, outdrew and killed him, earning himself an instant reputation, one which he is then forced--for years--to defend simply to defend his life as others seek to make their own fame by killing him. He never asked for nor wanted this life, and repeatedly tried to escape it, until finally giving in and deciding the universe wants him to be a killer. On his first "job", however, the man he's paid to kill actually outdraws Dan, which has never happened before, only he doesn't fire and allows Dan to kill him. This upsets Dan immensely, for reasons which surprise him, and he's determined to learn why he was hired to kill this man (as he was hired through a proxy) and what had done to warrant his death.
What follows is modest mystery of lies, love and greed revolving around money--what else?--and unfaithful spouses. It's a story that could have easily been set in a more modern time period, in a more urban environment, but works surprisingly well in a western setting.
It's also about the weight of murder, how such a simple act is so profound and how a killer can suffer as much as any other survivor. Dan Harland is not a good person, we're shown that by De Rosso right off the bat. He's done terrible things and while exactly wracked with guilt over the people he's killed, he wants to be better than he is and trying to avenge a man he himself killed, as crazy as that sounds, is the first step in the process as far as he's concerned.
Simply put, the story is fantastic and I loved it. The drawback to the book, however, is that the prose is relatively weak. I don't know how established an author De Rosso was when this was published, but the quality of writing doesn't match the storytelling ability. The prose is simplistic and oftentimes repetitive, as if De Rosso hit on phrases he felt comfortable with and couldn't resist using over and over again to the point where it was noticeable.
Don't let that flaw dissuade you, though; while it does take a little getting used to, the strength of the story quickly makes up for any technical deficiencies and I very much recommend it if you can get your hands on a copy.
This is an oldy but a very goody: mystery writer Bill Pronzini and sci-fi writer Barry Malzberg's collaborative novel, first published in 1976, THE RUNNING OF BEASTS.
I stumbled on this book completely by accident while looking for someone unrelated to either author (or even the publisher of this edition, Black Lizard) and my immediate reaction was: Whaaaa?
I've read a fair amount of Bill Pronzini. I can't say I'm a fan per se, but he turns out solid work that doesn't disappoint (even if it doesn't always excite, either). I've also read some Barry Malzberg, although not very much; I really am not a fan, though he's important enough that I felt I should give him a try. These two writers are very different, in my experience with each, and never would I have ever linked the two of them together, hence my surprise and deep curiosity upon finding this book.
The premise of the book is a "ripper" type serial killer is terrorizing a tiny, upstate New York town, committing textbook-perfect crimes that leave no witnesses or clues. Victoria Broome, a semi-famous NYC writer, has returned to the town--her birthplace, which she detests--to write of it. Along with her is a Dr. Ferrera, a psychiatrist of dubious qualifications, who has an interesting theory: the killer is committing their crimes in a fugue state and doesn't know they are the Ripper, therefore anyone in Bloodstone could be the killer.
It sounds like a bit of silly premise, but Pronzini and Malzberg not only make it work, they make it exceptional. The book races along at an incredibly fast pace, ping-ponging back and forth in small snatches between numerous characters, progressing the story in tiny steps in quick succession, dropping numerous hints, red-herrings, leads and developing characters' individual traits and plots (and sub-plots) while we hurdle towards conflict (a few false seeming-endings) and conclusion. It's a truly wild roller-coaster ride of a novel and I loved it. It was a novel that could have easily become bogged down in its own complexity, but never is.
I've learned since buying this that Pronzini and Malzberg collaborated on three more novels after this one. Apart, I am not a tremendous fan of either writer, but if their other collaborative work is similar to this, I am definitely a fan of them working together and I'll definitely have to track down more of it.
THE RUNNING OF BEASTS is very much recommended.
Jack McGriskin, my cranky, super-strong private eye, is back in an all-new one-shot, JACK HAMMER: PAPER HERO ONE-SHOT, coming in January from Action Lab!
Writer(s): Brandon Barrows
Artist Name(s): Bill Blankenship (Pencils), Bill Blankenship (Colors)
Cover Artist(s): Bill Blankenship
32 pgs./ T / FC
In an all-new one-shot, JACK HAMMER is back, balancing super-powered action with private-eye sensibilities to give readers the kind of high octane, street-level gut-punch fans of series like Daredevil and Kill or Be Killed crave!
With nothing left to lose, Monkey Business, one of Jack McGriskin's oldest super-powered enemies, cuts loose and rampages through the streets of Boston!
As long-time readers know, Jack McGriskin has been a part of me for more than half a decade and I'm thrilled that he's back. And I'm thrilled that, with the more than able help of artist Bill Blankenship, I'm finally able to tell this particular story.
Jack is a tough guy, but even tough guys have vulnerabilities, things that get to them, and this is a story about something that affects Jack in an extremely deep way. After the events of the USURPER series, he's already been shaken up a bit by things he was forced to do, but this is a story that really rocks him to his core. These are events that will leave him questioning himself for a long time.
This a story that affected me while I wrote it -- I almost wasn't sure I could go through with it, but now, I think it's a story that I needed very much to tell. I hope readers will understand why when they read it for themselves.
JACK HAMMER: PAPER HERO will be in comic book stores on January 31, 2018.
Please make sure to ask your local comic shop to preorder it for you with the Diamond item code NOV171104, under Action Lab Entertainment.
You can also pre-order online from major retailers like Things From Another World!
Regular Diamond order cut-off date is 11/18, so make sure you get your order in, either at your comic shop or online, sooner rather than later!
It's that day again: Halloween! For some people, horror is a year 'round interest, but for many, this is the only time of the year they're really interested in it. Personally, I fall somewhere in between, but regardless of where your interests lie, here's some reading recommendations for the scariest time of the year.
First, Ravenwood Quarterly's Halloween Annual is out and includes a short comic story by me and Steve Rupp, plus a dozen or so prose stories, poems and so forth.
For more scary comics by yours truly, why not check out my Ghastly Award-nominated series MYTHOS: LOVECRAFT'S WORLDS?
Eight short stories adapting the myriad corners of the worlds legendary writer H.P. Lovecraft created, filled with horror, dark fantasy and even a touch of humor!
If you're more interested in words than you are pictures, how about my occult-detective book THE CASTLE-TOWN TRAGEDY, featuring four stories about Carnacki, the Ghost-Finder?
I don't normally do reviews here, but I don't know what else to call this, so bear with me.
I've read a lot of Harry Whittington. A couple I've really liked, a few I've liked less, but this is the only one I've actively disliked and since I haven't seen much about it elsewhere online, I decided I'd post my thoughts in case someone is curious about the book (like I was, when I saw the cover on a tumblr aggregator a while back) and its relations to the rest of Whittington's body of work.
Whittington wrote a lot of things, but primarily, he's known for crime and westerns and Gold Medal--who published many of his works--plays that up by presenting this book as if it's a crime novel. It's not. It's not even crime-adjacent.
It's a literary novel about Clay Stuart, an aging Hollywood superstar, one of the last of the mega-stars in the same category as Cary Grant, Clark Gable, etc, we're told, whose wife of 25 years passes away. He is, understandably, lost without her. Despite the fact that he mainly ignored her during their life together, he's come to realize what a big presence she really was in his home and life.
With Ruth gone, Clay is listless. He doesn't have any interests, he can't work, barely eats. Does little but drink and sleep. His personal manager, knowing him better than anyone, finds a girl who is Clay's perfect dream woman, hires her to pick him up, make him fall for her, etc (all beknownst to Clay or the other people who work for him) thinking Clay will be wrested from his stupor, get a little life in him and go back to work. Only the girl, Joanne Star,k is smarter than any of them realize and has plans of her own.
The set-up has potential, but Whittington doesn't use it well.
Clay and Joanne have a torrid love affair, but all she's really after is a career boost. She wants to be a movie star. Using his connections, Stuart gets her a screen-test with a very famous director, who hires her for a lead in a low-budget film. It's not much, but she's on her way and dumps Clay. Predictably, he has a nervous breakdown and is left worse off than when Ruth died. Even after his agent (not his personal manager, who hired the girl) plays private detective (for all of maybe 1500 words), learning that she's a con artist with a long history of scamming men, breaking homes, marriages and careers to get what she wants, Clay still loves her, he says, even knowing she probably never cared for him at all.
There were all sorts of ways Whittington could have gone from here, but he went very safe, and too predictable, while setting up a couple lame red herrings that were never followed up on. For example, he repeatedly implies and then outright tells us that Clay has a weak heart, seemingly foreshadowing Clay's death, by either accident or murder. Nothing comes of it. Whittington simply stops mentioning it three-quarters of the way through the novel.
Anyway, Clay pines for Joanne, mopes a lot, stalks her a little tiny bit, finally decides he's just going to go to her apartment house and wait for her. But when he sees how Joanne lives--in squalor, with a bunch of drugged up, oversexed hippies, who go after him, violently, delighting in a chance to beat on a big celebrity (it's entirely unprovoked, Clay does nothing to upset them)--he comes to his senses and washes her out of his mind and heart.
Meanwhile, Joanne thinks she's going to be a big star, only to discover that she's got such a terrible screen-presence (the audience can tell she's a miserable phony, as one director puts it) that the studio has only hired her as a favor to Clay and that once shooting wraps on her single film, they're cutting her loose. The film is unwatchable, but the studio is willing to eat a minor loss to keep a big name like Clay happy (so they think). When she learns this, she decides she wants Clay back (of course), but he's realized she's poison and sends her packing. He goes back to work, taking a meeting with a big director about a part in a major film, only to come home and discover Joanne has returned while he was out and killed herself in his pool, apparently hoping to ruin him with scandal according to witnesses to her ranting.
Here, Whittington could have given us another five or ten thousand words about the fall-out and Clay's career being ruined or something like that, but nothing comes of Joanne's ersatz tragedy. Clay's personal manager, who originally hired her, it turns out, still has cancelled checks showing payments to Joanne and simply claims that the girl was a deranged employee of hers to the police and media, allowing the potential scandal to wash right over Clay.
At the end of the book, I was left thinking: "So what? Why am I supposed to care about this?" There was no major personal growth for the main characters, no lasting consequences for Clay, the protagonist. The only change at all, really, is his May/December romance has made him accepting of his daughter Sharon's (who is the same age as Joanne and is engaged to a middle-aged man who sincerely loves her), but even that seemed like an afterthought.
There just didn't seem to be any point to this novel and I was left feeling cheated of my time and money. It's one of Whittington's rarer books to find, which is why I was interested in the first place, but after reading it, I'm guessing it's relatively rare because it didn't sell when first published - and with good reason. It's just not a good example of either Whittington's work or a novel in general.
I normally read a novel a day. This past week I read seven, which I believe is a five-day record for me. But I had some thoughts on each of them I shared elsewhere, so I thought I'd round them up here with some micro-reviews.
Graham Greene's MINISTRY OF FEAR - C+. A surreal spy novel written, set and published during the Blitz period in London. Not badly written but very very dated compared to other Greene works I've read
James M. Cain's SERENADE - F+. Prose is decent, but the plot is moronic and the main character absolutely vile; Cain uses him to spout A LOT of hatred towards Hispanics, Indians and gay people. I already wasn't a Cain fan, but I'm never reading him again after reading this.
Lawrence Block's A DIET OF TREACLE - B. Not my favorite Block novel, but decent. It's basically a spin-off of his soft-core porn novel 69 BARROW STREET, complete with reuse of some characters (slightly renamed) and some scenes, but focusing more on the crimes, mainly drug-related, of two characters than sex scenes. The last two lines irritated me a lot, though, turning a concrete ending into a cliffhanger that will never be resolved.
Ao Jyumonji's GRIMGAR OF FANTASY AND ASH, volume 3 - B. More focused on a single event than the first two volumes and stronger for it plot-wise, but less character development than the first two volumes, making most of the characters more set-pieces than anything else.
Harry Whittington's DON'T SPEAK TO STRANGE GIRLS - D. Decent prose, but the plot was extremely thin and pointless. The weakest Whittington novel I've read. If Whittington wasn't already "the Paperback King" when this was published, it probably wouldn't have been published - at least not by Gold Medal.
Gil Brewer's THE EROTICS - B-. Fairly standard Brewer plot of self-made loser trying to get out of his hole and making it worse. Oddly, it has a happy ending, which is rare in Brewer novels.
Gil Brewer's ANGRY ARNOLD - C-. The weakest Brewer novel I've read, also a departure from his normal formula as this is a serial-killer novel rather than a heist/con-man/attempted murder for love/money novel, as virtually all the rest of his I've read are. His characterization of the killer is actually excellent--he really makes you feel the guy's sickness and desperation--but the plot overall is weak and relies on too much coincidence to be believable.
This is a little bit of an unusual diversion from my normal topics, but I've been reading a lot of the same type of novel lately (unintentionally) from the same general time period and it got me thinking, specifically about the origins of the post-World War II (and Korean War, to a degree) thriller.
It started, for me, anyway, with Michael Crichton's early novels, written under the pen-name John Lange. I haven't read every single novel he wrote under this name (5 of 8, actually), but they mostly follow a pattern: an American man abroad, almost inevitably a veteran of WWII or Korea, involved in a high-stakes adventure involving international crime. Sometimes, he's the criminal, sometimes he's trying to stop the criminal, doesn't matter - the result is the same, either way. These novels, while entertaining in their way, are the macho equivalent of high-camp. They're kind of ridiculous, actually. Every woman is stunning, every situation is deadly or sexy, every foe is impossible to overcome and yet the hero is always able to squeak by somehow. There's a reason Crichton used a pen-name to publish these, after all.
But that's fine once in a while. I wanted to try something different, something by authors I'd never read. I came across OPIUM FLOWER, by Dan Cushman, a writer who I'd previously only known as a writer of westerns. The blurb sounded so-so, but I bought it really for the Robert McGuiness cover painting. Overall, I was very disappointed in the novel (it's terrible), but, though somewhat older than the Crichton/Lange novels, it follows the same basic pattern: a Korean War veteran traipsing through Southeast Asia, trying to smuggle opium (at the US government's behest) out of Laos in order to figure out how the "real" bad guys are getting it into the US. But almost beat-for-beat, it follows the same pattern as Lange.
Well, moving on, to something even older, by a much more famous (infamous, even), author: E. Howard Hunt's THE VIOLENT ONES, from 1950. And what do you know? It follows the exact same pattern: a WWII veteran in France, trying to find who murdered his childhood friend over gold missing since the war. THE VIOLENT ONES is better written than the Lange or Cushman novels (it's very serious in tone and the prose is really quite good), but the essence is the same.
And I started thinking about this pattern and it's origins and it hit me immediately: almost an entire generation of American men went to war in Europe and Asia, in WWII and the Korean War, then came home, most settling down to marriage, families, jobs. But even years later, in the 50s and 60s, many were still relatively young (the average age of a US serviceman in WWII was 19, I've read), and probably, let's be frank, many were probably bored as so many of us are with our own monotonous lives today.
But unlike many of us today, many of these men had literally deadly experiences in foreign countries, places that probably seemed both foreign and familiar after years away, and a certain nostalgia probably developed - a sort of what might have been. I'm sure that these characters in the novels I've mentioned, and likely thousands of other books, were intended to be a sort of every man for that generation - a "this could have been YOU, reader" kind of thing. Of course, these readers knew that wasn't so, and most probably wouldn't want it to be so, but it's always nice to dream of adventure, right? It's certainly a lot safer than living it.
Maybe I'm off base, but this makes a lot of sense to me.
What do you think?
I'm Brandon and I write comic books, prose and poetry. I own dozens of clever and interesting t-shirts.