Get yours in print or on Kindle and check back for more news regarding Azuma Kuromori. I've got big plans for him!
Well, that was fast. My second publication of 2019 is now out: the unfortunately long-delayed fifth issue of Occult Detective Quarterly, featuring the first appearance of my hitman-turned-exorcist character, Azuma Kuromori!
The fifth installment of OCCULT DETECTIVE QUARTERLY brings new tales by Tim Waggoner, Brandon Barrows, Cliff Biggers, Cody Shroeder, Megan Taylor, Loren Rhodes and many more including new reviews!
Get yours in print or on Kindle and check back for more news regarding Azuma Kuromori. I've got big plans for him!
My first publication of 2019: my crime short story, "Nobody But You," was published in the new issue of Dark City Crime & Mystery Magazine (volume 4, issue 2).
Now available on Amazon here or click the cover image below.
You can also read an excerpt of the magazine here, including the full text of my story in which a man desperately clings to the one thing he cannot live without and is willing to do anything to keep!
As a hardcore noir read, and a collector of paperback originals--especially Gold Medal---I had heard of Peter Rabe, who wrote eighteen novels for GM in about five years, but had never read him until I stumbled across this book. And I read it because of an essay Donald Westlake, one of my all-time top favorite writers, wrote about Rabe and his career.
Well, let's talk a little about this book.
First, it's a very interesting concept: two businesses, one legitimate and one likely-mob-backed, fighting over dominance of the jukebox concession in a small city. Of course, it turns violent.
Right from the start, there was something else different about this novel, though. For one, the prose is a little more literary than I expect from a GM book, which gave it a slightly odd feeling.
More than odd, though, the book is downright uneven.
The tone of the novel begins in a hard-boiled literary form, then switches to a humorous tone it keeps up for a while before switching to a more standard hard-boiled crime feel (albeit briefly).
The plot starts out focused, particularly on the problem of the jukebox war, but also on a love triangle but, then meanders into the workings of the record-distribution industry circa 1960 and spends far, far too much time there. Then, in literally the last four or five thousand words or so, the novel remembers it's supposed to be a crime novel and tosses in a pointless kidnapping which results in a murder. Finally, on the very last page, the protagonist finds out that in the six or so hours during which he was kidnapped, all the plot-points have been wrapped up off-camera without his involvement.
As I said, I read this because an essay Westlake wrote on Rabe intrigued me and this was the first Rabe I stumbled across after reading it. Westlake's essay basically says Rabe was a genius storyteller constitutionally unsuited to the publishing industry. He described Rabe's career as writing books that were "pate, but were treated like liverwurst by his agent, the industry and readers alike" and that after five or six years, Rabe started to believe liverwurst was what everyone wanted, so he began to write "some very bad books, often in ten days or less" interspersed with a few books that were weak but had some good parts, before moving away from original fiction into novelizations and media tie-in novels, then leaving writing entirely. Rabe's first novel was published in 1955. MURDER ME FOR NICKELS was published in 1960, which put it right at the tail-end of his so-called "pate phase."
This isn't isn't pate, but it's only a step above liverwurst, to continue the metaphor. It's very much a mixed bag. There are a number of clever turns of phrase in the prose and a few legitimately amusing, even funny, verbal exchanges, but the plot is stupid, meandering and pointless and the characters so paper-thin I honestly had a hard time remembering who was who in several instances, especially in crowd scenes.
I'm still curious to read some good Rabe and if I run across something in the future, I'll check the copyright date to see what era it fits into before making a buying decision. Will I seek more Rabe out, though? I really doubt it.
Time for a revisit of one of my all-time favorite anime series, TERROR IN RESONANCE.
Directed, storyboarded and co-created by Shinichiro Watanabe, TERROR IN RESONANCE is a series I was immediately interested in upon hearing the premise, terrorism in "real world" modern-day Japan, and Watanabe's involvement. Not because I am a fanatical follower of his work or anything, but because it's so different from his previous work, which includes COWBOY BEBOP and SAMURAI CHAMPLOO--both works that combine genre fiction with specific genres of music in fun, quirky ways with a mix of action and humor--and I'm always curious to see what accomplished creators can do outside of their perceived wheelhouse. Because of TiR, though, I now watch anything the man is involved with going forward. It's so incredible, it really made me a die-hard Watanabe fan.
TiR is, on the surface, the story of two genius teenagers wreaking havoc and spreading terror throughout Tokyo. This is done through a series of brilliant bombings, clever media manipulation and a kind of charming audacity that the public--of any nation--tends to love in its villains.
But, of course, there's much more to the story than that.
While we see these two boys transferring into a normal high school in the first episode, giving normal-sounding names to their new classmates, we are also shown almost immediately that their normalcy is a mask they wear, just like the literal masks they wear in their internet videos taunting the police, going by the collective name Sphinx. In fact, they don't even have names, not real ones, anyway, and refer to each other as Nine and Twelve. Their motivation is unclear, for most of the series in fact (though we get inklings of terrible trauma in their past right from the start), but it's also clear that they aren't just bored geniuses playing around, as these kinds of villains frequently are in anime and comics. They have a message that the world needs to hear and they feel this is the only way they make the rest of us listen.
TiR is set in the "real" world and taps into some deeply-seated fears of modern Japan, namely, terrorism and the country's place in the world. Japan is one of the most peaceful nations on Earth: it's economically prosperous, it isn't subject to the kind of internal or external strife (political or military) that most of the western world is seemingly constantly involved in. And it's precisely those reasons, along with the fact that its closest ally is the U.S., that make many Japanese fear they will become the target for terrorist attacks. At the same time, there is a feeling among a small, but vocal, minority in Japan that while the second World War may be long over, and the physical scars from it may have healed, their nation's soul still hasn't, that they have spent seventy years under the U.S.'s thumb, living in our shadow as a defeated nation "without dignity or sense of self", as someone puts it in TiR.
Those are real, valid feelings. Even if some people wouldn't agree with them, it's a legitimate perspective to take.
I honestly can't say as much as I want to say about this series without spoiling key information, both because the series is so short (only 11 episodes; an unusually small number for a TV anime) and because what I want to talk about hinges on extremely important plot points weaving real-world issues into the narrative, but let me say this:
TiR is, ultimately, an incredibly powerful story about three separate groups, each with noble goals, doing terrible things to try to achieve them, and coming into conflict with each other in the process.
And let me add this as well: the first time I watched it, I had tears in my eyes when the final episode was over. It's that powerful a story.
Beyond the story aspects, the animation in this is gorgeous. It's not the most amazing animation I've ever seen, but it's certainly the best-looking TV anime I've seen in a long time. Possibly ever. Perhaps because of the relatively-short number of episodes, they had more money to spend--I don't know--but the animation quality is nearly on par with big budget theatrical releases. On BluRay, on a TV screen capable of taking advantage of the format to its fullest extent, it's just gorgeous.
Please, please do yourself a favor and watch this series.
And take my recommendation, if at all possible, and watch it in as few sittings as you can manage. The first time I watched it, I intended to watch an episode or two and became so engrossed I watched the first five episodes in my first sitting. I finished off the other six in two more sittings, and that was pacing myself; I would have watched all six remaining episodes the second night except that it meant there'd be no more for me to watch.
Last week, I read Kenneth Fearing's novel, THE BIG CLOCK, and honestly did not care for it much. It was highly praised by the likes of Raymond Chandler himself as a "noir tour de force," but to me, it lacked substance and ended on a very weak note.
I'd heard better things about the film adaptation, however, so I gave that a shot. Let's take a look.
The basic plot of both the novel and the film is the protagonist (named George Stroud in the novel; Ray Milland in the film) is an editor in a huge magazine empire who has a taste for drink and a wandering eye. He cheats on his wife with his boss's mistress and when his boss snaps one night and kills her, the boss's business partner tries to pin the killing on George/Ray - the twist is that they don't know it is George/Ray, only that another man was at the scene and saw Earl Janoth (though they don't know if he knows who Janoth was and/or can recognize him).
Using the resources of the magazine George/Ray edits, a crime-news magazine with a reputation for solving crimes the cops can't (or at least before the cops do), they put George/Ray in charge of finding this mystery man so they can take care of him.
George/Ray, a very intelligent man who fully realizes what's going on, does his best to obfuscate the situation while trying to find a way to definitively prove Janoth was the murderer without admitting he himself was there (because his wife will find out about his infidelity; in fact, in the novel, he describes it as a choice between doing the right thing and losing his family or saving his skin and losing everything else).
The situation gets tighter and tighter as George/Ray had no reason to cover his own tracks, so it's quite easy for his reporters to him track down (though none ever realize it's him), until he's literally trapped in the magazine's offices and then...
That's where the big difference lies.
In the novel, Earl Janoth initially wants to turn himself in for the killing, but his business partner, Steve Hagen, convinces him that Janoth Publications can't survive without him and he'd be putting thousands of people out of work by turning himself in. At the same time, Janoth has been fighting off a hostile takeover attempt by a rival company. In the end of the novel, just before George is about to be caught and have to make his own hard choice, it's revealed that earlier that day, the rival company's takeover succeeds and Janoth then calls off the investigation, as there is no more purpose to trying to save his own skin, then kills himself. It's a weak ending that actually made me angry as it let George completely off the hook without him ever having to make the really difficult choice that he has struggled with most of the novel.
In the film, Ray finds evidence linking Hagen rather than Janoth to the crime and confronts the two men. Hagen, panicking, points the finger at Janoth, who calmly says he'll stick by his friend and get him the best legal defense available. Hagen, furious, reveals that Janoth killed the girl, whereupon Janoth kills Hagen and tries to flee, only to fall down an elevator shaft to his death. It's a much more exciting ending, though it, too, feels contrived, albeit in a different way.
All told, I do think the film is superior to the novel. There are a number of great shots, and a surprise find that I enjoyed:
Harry Morgan, best known as Colonel Potter in MASH, as Billy, Janoth's nearly-mute (in the novel, anyway) chaffeur and all-around-strong-man. He does coldly detached menacing quite well.
At any rate, in this case the film > the book, so skip the novel and watch THE BIG CLOCK, if you're interested (and ignore all the stupid clock references in the film; the film-makers clearly didn't understand the clock metaphor from the novel).
Happy New Year, everyone!
Updating a day early to get in on this hopefully-auspicious date.
And here's some good news for the new year: a story of mine has been published in 32 White Horses on a Vermillion Hill, a charity anthology meant to raise money for friend and colleague Christoper Ropes's medical bills.
Featuring 32 stories of horror and dark fantasy, all profits from the book will go to the GoFundMe campaign currently running to help repair Chris's badly-damaged teeth, for which he has no dental insurance.
Below is the table of contents. As you can see, there are some great people associated with this, some whose names you may recognize, some you may not.
introduction -- Nadia Bulkin
1. Farah Rose Smith – Blue Broken Mind
2. Matthew St. Cyr – An Incident on a Cold Winter’s Afternoon
3. Douglas Draa – Fishing Boots
4. Frank. R. Coffman – Chindi/Night of the Skinwalker
5. Norbert Gora – How to live without meds?
6. Calvin Demmer – Nothing Else Matters
7. Jo-Anne Russell – The Denturist
8. Russell Smeaton – The Tooth
9. Paula Ashe – To Anne
10. James Fallweather – I Can’t See the Bottom
11. K. A. Opperman – Forbidden Knowledge
12. Bob Pastorella – Outlaws
13. Christopher Slatsky – Project AZAZEL
14. E. O. Daniels – Prototype
15. Maxwell Gold – Eton’s Last Will and Testament
16. Kathleen Kaufman - Last Call at the Overlook
17. Scott J. Couturier – Reflection in Blood
18. Shayne Keen – Four Ropes
19. Brian O’Connell – Vore
20. John Claude Smith – "Hotel California" is the Devil
21. Jill Hand – Spare Parts
22. John Boden – Salten
23. Matthew M. Bartlett – The Fever River
24. Brandon Barrows – Verdure
25. Sarah Walker – Ink
26. Robert S. Wilson – Twitching and Chirping
27. C. P. Dunphey – Denizens of Mortuun
28. John Linwood Grant – Hungery
29. Jeffrey Thomas – Chrysalises
30. S. L. Edwards – I Keep It in a Little Box
31. Jason A. Wyckoff – Trace of Presence
32. Donald Armfield – Thirty-Two
You'll notice, of course, that it includes my military sci-fi/horror (an exceedingly rare genre jump for me), "Verdure." A shorter version of this story was first published in 2014, but this version has been partially revised and somewhat expanded.
So, please, if you like varied horror or contributing to a good cause, check out the book here, share the word and let's see if we can help a friend.
Hope everyone had a good holiday with a chance to rest, relax and enjoy some time with family and friends. And hopefully you got some gifts, too - and if you're like me, you've probably got some gift-cards to Amazon or Barnes & Noble (or both) now burning a hole in your pocket.
You've been good this year, so why not treat yourself to something nice?
Here's a few recommendations. Click the titles to be whisked away.
Unusual novel and not what I expected, but very enjoyable and highly recommended.
While hyped as a horror novel, it's more of a dark, vaguely-humorous crime novel about a young woman who made all the wrong decisions at every turn of her life and incited her own murder by trying to ruin the lives of those around her. The novel is her ghost's recollection of her life--interspersed with brief passages of her haunting Seattle--as she tries to figure out who, exactly, killed her.
I've written about this book a couple times here before, but I cannot say enough good enough it. Joey Connelly is a retired professional hit-man pulled, unwillingly, back into one last job for his old boss, which takes him way up into the rural reaches of Maine, to the town of Wesserunsett.
There's a lot of threads woven together in this novel and Bagley does it all very well. It reads like a Westlake novel from his early noir period with overtones of his later comedic work. Don't think that this a Westlake homage, though - Bitter Water Blues is entirely original and fantastic.
In 1888 London, while Jack the Ripper stalks the streets, so, too, does Mr. Dry, the so-called Deptford Assassin.Along with a psychic sensitive to the chaotic goings on of the time, the two of them show us a different side of a story and time that's been told over and over again, though never quite like this.
If you're a Ripper fan and looking for something out of the ordinary, give it a try.
A collection of short stories covering the range from Sherlock Holmes to Lovecraftian cosmic horrors and everything in between, there's enough weirdness here to satisfy even the most hardcore fans of both traditional weird fiction and the so-called New Weird.
And last, but hopefully not least, if you've got anything left on those gift-cards, I'd appreciate your giving a chance to my novel THIS ROUGH OLD WORLD.
California Noir meets Lovecraftian cosmic horror in a love song to all the things I enjoy and fear.
It's a little early, but please enjoy a small Christmas gift from me to all of you: a Christmas drabble I wrote for a holiday contest several years ago.
Have Yourself a Merry Little Relapse
“Look what you made me do!” Morty hissed through gritted teeth at the now-headless gingerbread man, tempted to smash the remaining cookies.
“Deep breaths,” he whispered. Doctor Elfendorfer, the addiction specialist, had stressed proper oxygenation.
Jingling interrupted his thoughts; Morty spun, his own hat jangling. Cripes! He can’t catch me again!
Morty panicked, shoving the rest of the cookie into his mouth before diving behind the couch. Moments later, Santa crossed from chimney to table and sighed.
“More gingerbread. Oh, well. I’ll bring them back to the workshop. It was always Morty’s his favorite.”
Still hidden, Morty suppressed a groan.
© 2012 Brandon Barrows
Recently, I discovered a little-known author who has quickly become my favorite find of the year (if not in longer): Robert Edmond Alter. Since his work is pretty obscure, but deserves greater recognition, I'd like to talk about him a little.
It started with a short story in an old issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine from the '60s, "Killer in the Dark." With such a generic title, from a writer I'd never heard of, I expected very little.
It is the single most effective and terrifying horror story I've ever read in my life. Terrifying, yet utterly mundane. The scenario was completely ordinary, about a father trying to get to his daughter, and her friend, in a darkened basement with no light source, where they are playing a form of hide and seek, after seeing a diamondback rattlesnake slip in through a broken basement window. He can't see anything, but he can hear, and he's fumbling around in the dark, trying not to scare the girls for fear they'll startle the snake, all the while battling his own ophidiophobia.
It's so horrifying and so completely ordinary a scenario. And the way Alter handled it, the brilliance he exhibited in how, with a minimum of words (the prose is rapid-fire and terse), he infused every sentence with enough tension that my stomach was in knots while reading it, and at one point, my hands were trembling, blew me away.
No piece of prose has ever terrified me the way this story did. I knew before I'd even finished "Killer in the Dark" that Alter was a genius and I needed to read more of his work.
Unfortunately, there's not much more to read. Alter was a staple of Alfred Hitchcock, Man from U.N.C.L.E. Magazine and a few other markets for the first half of the sixties, totally about forty stories from what I've seen. He also, during that time, published a pair of crime novels through Gold Medal, and a nautical thriller novel with Avon. And then, in 1966, at the age of 40, he passed away, a victim of cancer. Avon would later posthumously publish a sci-fi novel of his.
I learned all of this in the course of trying to track down more of his work and it made me even more determined to find more of it. So far, I've found an issue of Man from U.N.C.L.E. with an OK spy story, and a reprint of his second GM crime novel - CARNY KILL, which I've just finished reading.
Though very different from his short work I've read, CARNY KILL shows Alter's brilliance almost as well as "Killer in the Dark." The set-up is simple, but unusual: L.M. "Thrax" Thraxton, an extremely intelligent man, who lacks much formal education and has made his way through life as one of the most gifted carnies (he can do anything from magic acts, to grifts, to fake psychic routines) makes his way to Never Never Land Amusement park, seeking work, hits it off with the owner and is offered a job on the spot - only to find his estranged ex-wife is now married to the owner. When that owner turns up dead the very next day, Thrax is the natural suspect.
The story is quite a good mystery and is filled with the kind of southern carny flavor you sometimes find in films, but rarely in a crime novel. There's plenty of atmosphere and the mystery was one I actually was having trouble solving as I followed along with Thrax's investigation. That doesn't happen too often, but I'm very pleased to say it did this time, as it was a real treat when the reveal came along.
I won't spoil anything, in case you want to read it, but again, it only made me want to read more of Alter's work. I'll definitely be doing so and recommend it very much to all of you.
It's been a while since I've done one of these posts, but never fear, it's not for lack of liking stuff.
As always, not a review, just me talking about things I like.
Today, let's talk about the manga series TALENTLESS NANA.
Written by Loose Boy with art by Iori Furuya, TALENTLESS NANA is another in the long line of Square Enix manga series I've loved. I don't know what it is about SE, but their editorial teams consistently choose to publish works that hit me right where I live and this is no exception. In perfect fairness, I was surprised by this one: the first chapter seems to be rather generic super-hero-high-school material until the twist in the last couple pages. And that twist caught me hook, line and sinker.
The set up: in a world several decades in the future from our own time, super-humans are a reality. Nobody has been able to explain it, but since the mid-1980s, a small, but increasing number of people are being born with super-powers. The next stage of evolution? Something in the air? Who knows - and nobody really cares. What they do care about are the so-called Enemies of Humanity - a supposed alien race that briefly ravaged the Earth several years (the time-frame is given as 199X) after super-humanity began appearing. In order to combat this threat, various world governments came together to build regional training academies for the burgeoning super-human population, taking in children as their powers develop and training them both academically and, in theory, in the use of their powers to combat the Enemies of Humanity.
Into Japan's training school comes Nana, a girl seemingly like any other there, and with the self-professed power of limited telepathy. Students are encouraged not to show their powers, or even talk about them, to other students for fear that Enemies of Humanity will learn their strengths and weaknesses and use them against the students, but on her first day at the academy, Nana's abilities apparently slip, causing her to respond outloud to someone's thoughts, outing her. After that, there's some standard first day at new high school manga stuff until the twist at the end - Nana not only has no special ability and isn't there to study, she's there to kill the students.
You see, there is no alien invader, though the Enemies of Humanity are real - they are simply super-humans whose abilities have gone violently out of control (whether willfully or not is up for debate). The entire myth of alien invaders and the training academies are simply designed to quarantine and isolate super-humans and put them in a long-term holding pattern. It hasn't been shown yet (I'm on volume 3 of the collected series) what becomes of them when they eventually graduate from the school, but either way, some shadowy group (again, it's yet to be revealed who they are, though it's hinted that they are rogue elements of the Japanese government) disagrees with the whole program and has sent Nana, a highly-trained spy and killer, to infiltrate the school and eliminate as many classmates as possible before they can be released into the world and do any damage.
Nana pursues this goal, one she fully believes in, and the manga quickly becomes a game of cat and mouse as another student--an unkillable immortal with an unorthodox mind who proves to be a fairly astute detective--catches on to her after there are no possible, logical suspects for the multiple strange deaths that have occurred since Nana has shown up besides Nana herself or the Enemies of Humanity (which he personally isn't convinced exist).
What follows is a series of brilliant set ups, traps and solutions as Nana pursues her agenda while Kyoya tries to catch her in the act. Many times he's nearly caught her only for author Loose Boy to come up with an unexpected, but logical (honestly a couple solutions stretch believability, but never fully break it) way for her to put Kyoya off - at least temporarily. At this point in the series--where I've read to--he is 99.9% convinced Nana is the serial killer on campus, but has yet to find proof he can bring to anyone else. In her cover personality, Nana is a cute, cheerful, friendly girl whom everyone likes, while Kyoya is seen as an odd loner. Accusing Nana without iron-clad proof would do nothing but turn the student body against him. Slowly, he brings a few others around to the point where they, too, doubt the Enemies of Humanity really exist and it's all building up to the inevitable confrontation.
And I can't wait for their final showdown. I'm honestly excited as new chapters of this manga are published in English. This is a series that could have become rote fairly quickly, but instead has consistently surprised and delighted me.
I've focused a lot on the writing here, but that's because it deserves it. The artist of the series, Furuya, is perfectly competent, but unexceptional. His designs are fairly generic (and a couple are noticeably reminiscent of My Hero Academia characters) and his layouts functional more than anything, but there's nothing actually wrong with the art. Perhaps it's better this way as a more dynamic artist might have taken some of the focus away from the brilliance of the solutions to the problems Nana finds herself in in favor of giving us flashier art. Either way, this is the artist on the series and I have no complaints.
All told, this a series I'm enjoying a lot and one I'm looking to forward to buying print editions of when Yen Press finally gets around to publishing them (which I hope they will.)
I'm Brandon and I write comic books, prose and poetry. I own dozens of clever and interesting t-shirts.