And for anyone out there who hasn't read BURN ME OUT already, click here → to see what you're missing!
I just discovered this and I wanted to give a big THANK YOU! to whomever nominated BURN ME OUT for best mystery novel in the Critters Annual Readers poll for best novel of 2020. It didn't win, but it finished in the top ten and that's pretty good!
And for anyone out there who hasn't read BURN ME OUT already, click here → to see what you're missing!
It's been a long time since I've done one of these, but I haven't been watching too many of these old movies lately, either.
Let's jump right into VICKI.
Yet another adaptation of I WAKE SCREAMING, the novel by Steve Fischer, this movie doesn't quite live up to either the novel or the first film adaptation, despite having some Hollywood royalty in it. And by "doesn't quite" I mean it's inferior in every way from start to finish, which is a shame, but there you have it.
If you aren't familiar with the basic plot, Vicki Lynn (Jean Peters) is a waitress who is transformed into a fashion model by press agent Steve Christopher (Elliott Reid). When Vicki is murdered, detective Ed Cornell (Richard Boone) tries to blame the crime on Christopher.
In fact, the cop knows who the real killer is, but he is so hopelessly in love with the dead girl Vicki, who herself despised him, that he intends to railroad an innocent man to the electric chair. With the help of Vicki's sister Jill (Jeanne Crain), Christopher tracks down the real killer, Harry Williams (Aaron Spelling) and exposes the crooked cop Cornell, who had manipulated Williams into murdering Vicki.
That out of the way, there's really nothing left to say, so let's look at some of the decent shots from the film. They certainly tried to capture the feel of noir, even if they didn't succeed overall.
Actually, I guess that's pretty much it. Watch the original adaptation or just read the book. Steve Fischer wrote so few good novels, but it's definitely one of them.
Let's get this out of the way: this book is bizarre. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it, but it's very, very strange.
Set nearly three million years in the future on a planet Earth that has undergone vast changes, the book follows a fairly large cast of characters from a wide variety of... backgrounds, I guess you'd say. Let me list a little bit of what we know about this world:
Homo sapiens, that is, we humans, have evolved into an eight-foot-tall, super-race that can mentally manipulate matter as easily as breathe. They live in the clouds (literally) above the Earth and are referred to as "the gods".
But there are "humans" still - a race evolved from rats that resemble us almost exactly, save that they retain rat-like paws instead of hands and feet. They wear steel, mechanical hands to make up for the shortcomings (the cover does not accurately depict the "humans" in the book; it's explicitly stated more than once that they look like us save for the hands/feet and that their ears are slightly pointed), but other than that, their society and technology level is basically identical to 1970s Earth.
Most species on Earth seem to have evolved to human or near-human-level intellect, but only the "humans" are considered people. Others are still considered animals.
And then there's Sheen, the one-of-a-kind, seemingly alien being made of living quicksilver that insists it was born from the Earth itself.
And Sheen is the crux of the plot, really. Sheen subsists on the ego, the sense of self of sentient beings and believes its purpose is to cleanse the Earth of weakness - by making other beings part of itself. It's rather polite about it, though: it asks for permission and if rejected, goes away. For a while, anyway.
There's a lot going on in this novel--mostly world-building and some lesser, mostly-irrelevant subplots--but Sheen's conquering the Earth, and one "man's" stand against it, is the main plot. Again and again, though, Piserchia throws weirdness into the mix--strange creatures and topography mostly--while counterbalancing it with the mundanity of the culture and these people's everyday lives. What seemed murky, however, was the point of the novel: early on, it seemed to be anti-materialism, but then it seemed as if Sheen was representative of society's tendency towards homogeneity, until it veered off again into a sort of man vs wild kind of deal. All leading up to an ending that wasn't exactly deus ex machina, but exactly satisfactorily complete the story. In fact, it left a lot of new questions.
I enjoyed the novel, but I'm glad it was short (only about 60,000 words) as much longer and the weirdness and lack of answers would have started to detract from the pleasure of Piserchia's imagination.
Can I recommend it? Only to a very specific kind of reader. But if you're interested, by all means, check it out.
I've turned in my galley revisions for my next novel, Strangers' Kingdom, and now it's time to reveal the cover!
Politically blacklisted detective Luke Campbell’s last chance in law-enforcement is a job with the police department of rural Granton, Vermont. It’s a beautiful town, home to a beautiful, intriguing girl who’s caught his eye, and it’s a chance at redemption. Even if his new boss seems strange, secretive, and vaguely sinister, Campbell is willing to give this opportunity a shot.
And no sooner does he make that decision than the first in a series of murders is discovered, starting a chain of events that will change the lives of everyone in this once-quiet town…
The book is out August 26th, and those authors I've asked to blurb it have already given me some awesome feedback!
"Strangers’ Kingdom is a first-rate small-town whodunit, a page turner that keeps you guessing. I zipped through this book. More, please!" - Matthew M. Bartlett, author of Gateways to Abomination
“An intelligent police procedural with emotional depth and resonance, Strangers’ Kingdom is more than a page-turner, it’s a rewarding and memorable venture into the life of a small-town cop who allows himself a real connection to the people he is meant to protect.” – S.P. Miskowski, Bram Stoker Award-nominated author of The Best of Both Worlds
"Barrows deftly weaves murder, suicide, motherhood, and fisticuffs into a taut mystery fraught with peril." - Jan Strnad, Goethe Award-winning author of Star Wars: X-Wing Rogue Squadron and Mutant World (with Richard Corben)
"Strangers’ Kingdom takes off like an adrenaline-fueled rocket and doesn’t quit until the final page." - Jill Hand, author of Trapnell Thrillers White Oaks and Black Willows
More news coming, including where you can pre-order, so check back soon!
My second publication of the year, a crime story called "Short Con" is out now in the March issue of Mystery Weekly Magazine!
This week, you can get your copy of Above Water, a Rural Crime Story for free on Kindle!
Morgan needed a little help, just something to keep his head above water, but tight-fisted old Uncle Mike wouldn't hear of it. If Morgan didn't get that money, they'd kill him, so else could he do but take matters into his own hands?
The eBook also includes an excerpt from BURN ME OUT, my newest novel, so this is an excellent chance to check that out as well, if you were interested and haven't taken the plunge yet.
Go get yours right now!
Just a quick update this week, but some big news.
First, I'm pleased to say I sold my heist story "Twitch" to Tough!
You may recall that Tough published my story Above Water in the summer of 2019. I'm very happy to be returning to its pages.
Second, I'm also pleased to say I've sold my haibun (a Japanese hybrid form combining prose and haiku), entitled "One Man's Delicacy" to Hiraeth Books to appear in their upcoming sci-fi anthology.
More news on both as it's available to me! Stay tuned!
I've got a copy of NERVOSA in my hands right now!
And you can get your own copy, either in print or on Kindle - free on Kindle unlimited!
Check out this sweet wraparound cover on the print edition!
So check it out!
The #1-rated horror novel on Textnovel.com is available to own at last!
The Parkers are down-on-their-luck, desperately in need of a fresh start and a lucky break. When Rose is sucked into a cycle of recurring dreams filled with monstrously burned and disfigured people, her world unravels and her dreams start to become a nightmarish reality.
Though Robert Bloch will always be known first and foremost as the author of Psycho (and with good reason), I recently read his first novel, The Scarf, and loved it. Like Psycho, it's a psychological crime novel, but this one is rather different.
Originally published in 1947, twelve years before Psycho, The Scarf seems to have been quietly published and quietly slipped under the radar for many years. Bloch continued to write and publish, but it wasn't until Alfred Hitchcock adapted Psycho to film that many of Bloch's older works received renewed interest. (You'll note that the copy of the book I own is published by Gold Medal; the 60 cent price puts it squarely in the mid-60s, '66 in this case.) Some of those works were solid, but forgettable, but The Scarf at least deserves that attention.
The novel is about Daniel Morley, a man with a self-proclaimed fetish for the scarf he always wears - a scarf which he received from his high school English teacher who--so Morley says--tried to rape him and he killed in self-defense. This earned Morley a degree of fame early in his life, but not the kind anyone really wants, and he spends the next decade wandering as something of a ne'er-do-well, committing minor crimes, grifting, but always carrying with him the scarf - with which he has killed multiple times, essentially whenever he feels a woman is becoming too close to him emotionally. Morley's dream, however, is to become a writer and he resolves to give up his past and start fresh, hopefully as a rich and famous novelist. And it seemingly works out well - for a while, anyway, until that old "fetish" rears its ugly head again.
The Scarf, told in a first-person narrative with an inherently unreliable narrator, is basically the story of a man trying to save himself from himself and we're kept in suspense as Morley tries, taking increasingly extraordinary steps, to do so. Where Bloch's mastery of psychological fiction shows through, though, is that he doesn't try to make Morley sympathetic, as many authors would try to do. Morley is a deranged, vile scumbag. We're wondering if he'll succeed while hoping he doesn't and as Bloch, and Morley himself via his journal he calls "The Black Notebook", gives us more insight into his background, we wonder if all is as it seems.
Of course, since it's Bloch, it's not.
And one of my favorite things about this novel is that, unlike Psycho, the ending is completely natural to the story and the character. Don't get me wrong, I like Psycho a lot, but the ending, with its forced exposition to make sense of the scenario, felt just that - forced. When we are shown the "secret" behind Morley's history, everything in The Scarf neatly makes sense.
Do yourself a favor and track this one down. It's worth it.
Other Bloch recommendations include: Spider's Web, a fantastic true noir (the only true noir Bloch wrote as far as I know), and Shooting Star, Bloch's only private eye novel.
I'm Brandon and I write comic books, prose and poetry. I own dozens of clever and interesting t-shirts.