Forgotten Book: The Continental Op: The Complete Case Files by Dashiell Hammett, 1923 – 1930, Edited by Richard Laymon and Julie M. Rivette

Hammett’s Continental Op stories aren’t as well known as his novels, but they still pack a punch.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 202nd in my series of Forgotten Books.

Like John D. MacDonald in last week’s Forgotten Book, it would be hard to imagine a world where Dashiell Hammett is a “forgotten writer.” The five novels ranging from Red Harvest, The Dain Curse, The Glass Key, The Maltese Falcon and The Thin Man have been printed and reprinted over and over. In fact, The Maltese Falcon is one of the greatest novels in the English language. Together with Raymond Chandler and Carroll John Daly, Hammett led the charge to take murder and mayhem out of the English drawing room and pit it back on the mean streets.

I have read each of those books, multiple times, over the past 50 years, and I watch the films whenever they are on. I cannot count the number of times of time I have heard Sam Spade say “the stuff dreams are made of.”

But it is easy to forget that those novels did not spring fully realized from the head of Hammett. He had an apprenticeship period, generally in the Black Mask magazine. And he told many of these tales through the eyes of a short, fat unnamed detective who worked for the Continental Detective Agency in San Francisco. There are a number of Hammett short story collections that have been published throughout the years, some with great titles like Dead Yellow Women, The Creeping Siamese and The Big Knockover. But, until this volume, there has never been a complete accounting of the Continental Op stories.

The three title stories listed in the previous paragraph are all among the best of the stories contained in The Continental Op: The Complete Case Files, this week’s book. But, again, these stories did not just leap from Hammett’s fingertips. Editors Laymon and Rivette group the stories into three groups – The Early Years (1923-1924) with 10 stories beginning with “Arson Plus”; The Middle Years (1924-1926) with 11 stories, beginning with “The House in Turk Street” (one of my favorites) through “The Gutting of Couffignal” (another amazing story); and The Later Years (1927-1930) with 8 stories beginning with “The Creeping Siamese” and including the near novel The Big Knockover,” its sequel “$106,000 Blood Money” and “Death and Company.” That period also includes one unfinished story, “Three Dimes.” All but two of the published stories appeared in Black Mask.

The Early Years stories are all okay. None of them particularly leapt out to me as an Oh-My-God! moment. But with the advent of Hammett’s middle period and “The House in Turk Street” and its sequel “The Girl With the Silver Eyes,” there was a difference in the writing, a leanness that moved the stories along, even though they were longer pieces. In this period we get the stories previously noted as well as “The Whosis Kid,” “Who Killed Bob Teal” and “Dead Yellow Women.” If he had stopped writing at this point, he would still be revered today.

The later years bring it all home, though. “The Big Knockover” and “$106,000 Blood Money” were issued together as a short novel by Dell Paperbacks and as a hardcover from World Publishing. They are a little short to be considered a complete novel, but they are very, very good. During this period, I also liked “The Creeping Siamese” and “Fly Paper.” There were one or two contrived pieces, especially “The King Business” (one of the two non-Black Mask stories), which takes the Op away from San Francisco and into Europe with a young man being maneuvered into funding a political revolution.

Read in one or two sittings, these stories will get old. Spread over a week or month, however, they retain their wonderful flavor. If, like me, you have not read all of these or only know Hammett through his novels, this is where you want to be. If you are interested in the history of the mystery field in the 20th Century, this is where you need to be. The introductory essays before each section are worth the price of admission alone. If character names like The Whosis Kid, Paddy the Mex, Bluepoint Vance, Wop Healy, Tom-Tom Carey, and the Did-and-Dat Kid strike your fancy, this is the book for you. (I should mention that Hammett was definitely a product of his time, and there are some ethnic slurs that were common in the period and which reflect the character of the Operative. Just a word to not be surprised when you run into those words. There are not a lot of them, but they could be jarring to some readers.)

Looking again this evening, this particular version does not appear to be available on Amazon. Which is a crying shame. There are multiple volumes which reprint all the stories, but it talks some work and money. I got this in September 2016 for $14.99, the most I ever have paid for an e-book. And it was worth every penny.

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

Forgotten Book: The Deep Blue Good-By by John D. MacDonald (1964)

The Deep Blue Good-By is a fast-paced 144 pages.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 201st in my series of Forgotten Books.

Recently, on a trip, I was getting tired of no music on the radio from Alpine to the rest of the world and my USB stick was wearing a little thin. I pulled into a truck stop, and sitting on as shelf was a CD version of this novel, The Deep Blue Good-By by John D. MacDonald. For five discs and six hours, I was back in a world that I had not been to for a long time.

OK, before anyone says anything, John D. MacDonald, is not a Forgotten Writer. At least not to many who follow this blog. But to many of the readers out in the world, he is. MacDonald has been dead since 1986, more than 30 years. Travis McGee, the hero of this novel, somehow never made it into a profitable film franchise, and MacDonald is not being carried in the bookstores anymore.

But there was a wonderful time — a time when you could find a new book by John D. and the prose would sparkle and dazzle and race through your eyes and your brain. I came to John D. later in life thanks to the insistence of Joe R. Lansdale. He thrust a copy of The Executioners into my hands on a vacation. I read for two hours straight. I’m not sure I was breathing when I finished it. I had not seen Cape Fear at that point — the original one — the remake was still four years in the future. I deeply hooked into that prose and pacing. When I returned to Dallas, I started looking for every book of his I could find. And there were lots of them. There were the mysteries, the wonderful science fiction, the fantasy of The Girl, the Gold Watch, and Everything (I reviewed the film version last year), the suspense novels, the non-fiction, his letter exchanges with Dan Rowan and the short stories. I read a lot of John D. during those days.

Unlike many other writers, he only had one series character. The formidable Travis McGee, fixer of problems, salvage consultant, beach bum, and chief resident of the house boat The Busted Flush, generally moored at Slip F-18, Bahia Mar Marina, Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

The Deep Blue Good-By introduces Travis McGee, and he would be with us for 21 novels, each with a color in the title. Chook McCall is an old friend of McGee’s. She has a dance troupe at one of the clubs. One of her dancers, Cathy Kerr, has a problem. An old boyfriend, one Junior Allen, up and left her one day after destroying a mailbox. He returned about a month later with a fancy houseboat and lots of money. He ignored Cathy and took up with a Mrs. Lois Atkinson, a divorced woman. But Junior soon deserts her. Cathy believes Junior has found some cache that her father brought back from World War II. On his return, Cathy’s dad struck an officer in a bar fight and got sent to a military prison. He told his family that he would be taking care of them when he got out. But he never got out.

Cathy wants McGee to locate whatever junior has found and recover it for her. His fee is half plus expenses. Cathy seems like a nice person, so he agrees, even though he has reservations.

He soon finds out that Junior is a full-on psychopath with deep issues and great personal strength. He enjoys finding a certain kind of woman and destroying her self worth and personal pride.

It’s a good, quick read — the perfect lead in to the series. The second book Nightmare in Pink was published the month after The Deep Blue Goodbye, giving 1964 readers two quick bites of a very complex apple.

It had been a long time since I read a MacDonald novel. I no longer have all of them, but I have still own quite a few. I’ll be delving back into that world again soon. If you are a MacDonald fan, what’s your favorite JDM book and favorite McGee mystery? If you’ve never read him (and you know who you are!), that needs to change this week. Just go to the bookstore, find a couple of his books (you will want another as soon as you finish the first), call in sick to work, and luxuriate in the sparse prose and lightning action. You can thank me next week. None of the early tales are bloated 300-page tales. The Deep Blue Good-By clocks in at a trim 144 pages in the Gold Medal first edition. No wasted or excess words here. Check it out.

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

Forgotten Book: Kongo – The Gorilla-Man by Frank Orndorff (1945)

Kongo – The Gorilla Man was a strike out, even for this gorilla fan.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 194th in my series of Forgotten Books.

I am a monkey and ape fan. I say it proudly, claiming King Kong as my favorite film.

I was alerted to the novel Kongo – The Gorilla-Man by Jess Nevins, who informed a select group of monkey fans with a picture of the dustjacket and asked whether anyone of us had ever read or heard of it. No one had, but I checked out American Book Exchange (ABE) and found a copy in fair condition for under $20, including shipping. The primitive looking cover and the scarcity of the title sealed the deal.

When the book came in, I posted on Facebook and Todd Mason urged me to include it as a Friday Forgotten Book. I had been planning on returning to the FFB fold anyway, so between Robert Bloch’s Centennial and this novel, I was enticed to return.

What can I say about Kongo? I read it. If I was a sadist or horrible person, I would urge you to do the same, but I’m not. ABE shows five entries for Frank Orndorff, including two copies of Kongo, The Truth About the Bible, and two copies of Amazing Stories Quarterly, Volume 1, #1 from 1928. Other sites did not reveal any additional titles.

So, not a prolific writer. But that’s not the issue here. This novel is a mess. The plot takes  several paths, but essentially starts with a majestic white eagle sailing over the African continent with a priceless diamond around its neck. Various groups are looking for it. There’s the team of Harry Van Hall and his friend Jack, two men searching for game and the white eagle. There’s the villainous team of The Brut and The Weasel. There’s the tribe of gorillas, led by Kil. And there are various African natives, some good, some bad.

Harry and Jack kill a gorilla one day. This gorilla was Kongo-go, or “Kongo the coward” in gorilla speak. To amuse the natives, Harry dons the gorilla pelt and is performing in it when tthe group of gorillas led by Kil attacks the camp. Harry is knocked in the head and loses all sense. He believes that he is a gorilla and part of the tribe. The others notice that he smells odd, but accept him as one of their own. As the coward, he is the last to eat if he is even allowed. Harry does not remember his old life, but he understands gorilla speak. As in 2001: A Space Odyssey, he discovers the use of a club and works his way up in the tribal organization.

The Brute and The Weasel find the large diamond which has worked its way to a tribe. The king of the tribe wants to kill them, but the two use their white man’s magic to play for time and to try and get the diamond, which the natives do not value. Their only problem is that the king is not honorable and really wants nothing more than to kill them for their supplies. Still, though, he is fascinated by their magic and needs to learn it before he kills them.

Then there are the Arab slavers and the lost rich white girl who is to be sold in slavery. Not to mention other characters and stories, all of which are pretty bad. The book had obviously not been proofread before publication, because words are used incorrectly. There are also many spelling errors and sentences which do not make sense.

This book was a struggle, but I made it through. It is a young adult novel with little depth, motivation, characterization or reason for existing. It is not really a Tarzan rip-off as Harry has no real skills or jungle smarts.

Let me just say, save yourself the trouble. It did not work for me and I don’t think it will work for you.

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs. 

Forgotten Book: Jack of Eagles by James Blish (1952)

How much you enjoy James Blish's "Jack of Eagles" depends on how much scientific jargon you're willing to wade through.

How much you enjoy James Blish’s “Jack of Eagles” depends on how much scientific jargon you’re willing to wade through.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 191st in my series of Forgotten Books.

This week we look at a writer I have read a fair bit of, some I enjoyed, some I did not. James Blish is considered a fairly major writer of science fiction between WWII and the beginning of the New Wave in 1967. He was nominated for a Hugo Award twice during his lifetime, winning Best Novel for A Case of Conscience. He was nominated for the Nebula Award three times, not winning in all tries. He has since been nominated for three Retro-Hugo Awards which he won twice for early shorter versions of A Case of Conscience and Earthman, Come Home. Still an impressive list.

I really enjoyed the four Cities in Flight novels, of which Earthman, Come Home was a portion. His After Such Knowledge series featuring A Case of Conscience, Doctor Mirabilis, Black Easter and The Day After Judgment was not a sequence I particularly liked, though. Case of Conscience was okay but overlong. The rest, I finished but had no desire ever to re-read.

Other novels I liked included VOR, A Torrent of Faces (with Norman L. Knight) and the novella “There Shall Be No Darkness,” which was an early werewolf novel.

When I selected Jack of Eagles, I did so thinking I had read it before. Very quickly, though, I became aware that this was the first time. I think I initially had it confused with VOR. But I read it and it was OK. Again, not anything great, but I did not begrudge myself the time.

The novel tells the story of Danny Caidan, a journalist at a food service magazine in New York City. He has the amazing ability to tell people where they have lost items. Other than that, he’s pretty normal. Until the one day he is called on the carpet for writing an article that says a wheat company is about to get in trouble with the Feds for insider trading. When asked for a source, he cannot provide one and is summarily fired.

Gathering his things, he begins to wonder about his situation. He visits a stock broker and wants to buy some futures in the wheat company. If what he wrote was true, he could make a killing, ironically on “insider trading.” He visits his bank and finds he has a tidy sum, so he goes to a bookie and makes some bets on horse races. His bets all come in. Since he bet modestly, he won modestly.

He also visits a fortune teller and meets her niece, Marla, who wants to know what tricks he is using to scam the rubes. He also visits a group of psychic believers.

Suddenly, everyone wants a piece of Danny Caiden. The FBI and SEC want to know about insider trading and how he was able to break the news on a very secret investigation. The gangsters running the bookie outfit want to know how he gets the winners correct. The psychics want to know the true extent of his power. He seems to be a precog who has some telekinesis and the ability to teleport and they are not sure what else. He could be a danger to them, since he does not want to follow their party line.

There is a lot of scientific jargon in this novel. In his introduction, Robert A. W. Lowndes talks about Blish’s fascination with science and trying to be scrupulous in how he described things. Blish was not one for a hand-wavy explanation and that may be what I dislike in his work. I am not an engineer; I don’t need to know how something works to appreciate it. When Blish comments on a scientific text, it is after reading it thoroughly, rather than getting the Cliff Notes version,

Anyway, Danny has to work out his problems with some help from a friend and save the girl while avoiding jail or death.

It was an OK read, as I said. Your mileage may vary. I will probably not revisit another Blish title in the immediate future though.

Series organizer Patti Abbott usually hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs. This week the lovely talented and vivacious Todd Mason is doing those honors.

 

 

 

Forgotten Book: Iroshi by Cary Osborne (1995)

Cary Osborne's Iroshi transports the ronin story to space.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 185th in my series of Forgotten Books.

This week’s selection is certainly a Forgotten Book. I have had a copy for about 20 years, except for a brief period after I sold my library, after which I acquired another copy. Cary Osborne has been a friend for more than 20 years and she is one of the nicest people I know. That said, I am ashamed to say I did not actually sit down and read Iroshi until last week. I had it and it was around, but I didn’t get the compulsion to read it versus some other books.

So, confessions aside, I read Iroshi the other day and really enjoyed it. It is not a perfect novel. It is a first novel, and it has some of the regular problems associated with those books. But, it was enjoyable.

Laicy Campbell is a young woman on Siebeling, one of the many inhabited mining planets around the galaxy. Her father took off one day and left Laicy’s mom and family flat. They took in wash and did other chores to get by. At 12, Laicy started in on martial arts. Her instructor, Robert Crowell, taught her for five years in the various fighting styles. Where she excelled was in kendo, working with swords. After the five years, Crowell sent her to Earth to train with his old master, Mushimo. The training was long and arduous and involved reading and understanding the zen of what she was doing, in addition to the forms. One of the things she was trying to master with Mr. Mushimo was achieving the void.

While at Mushimo’s there is an attack of ninja warriors. Ninjas were supposedly long gone from Earth. Laicy and Mushimo defeat them with the aid of another helper/student Akiro. Mushimo sends Laicy into a room filled with swords and tells her to pick one. She hears the voices of the swords, and one in particular calls to her, drowning out the others. It is Mushimo’s ancestral sword going back many generations. He gives it to her, saying he has no heirs to pass the tradition on. Soon he dismisses her and gives her a credit disk with more money than she can imagine. She decides to wander, using the name Iroshi. She hears that Mushimo has died and left his entire estate to Crowell, her former teacher.

She soon acquires a reputation as a badass who picks fight and rarely loses. She finds herself on the planet Rune, another arid mining world. She senses a call to the desert and finds an abandoned town with a hidden water source and other secrets. Those secrets include the bodiless souls of the former inhabitants who are able to guide her. Chief among these spirits is one called Ensi who is particularly bonded to her. Her old master Mushimo is also among these spirits. Together they want Iroshi to establish the Glaive, a kind of warrior guild that she will administer, and to see that others are trained in the proper ways of the masters. She is again attacked by nameless assassins who fail to stop her.

This ends Section 1 of the book. Section 2 takes place eight years later. The glaive is becoming a political force throughout the galaxy and Iroshi, as its leader, has become a powerful person. Her facility on Rune is attracting attention, which includes that of Mushimo’s two sons, whom he disowned earlier. They want to stop her and seize the property that their father has given to Iroshi and Crowell.

The fight for Earth and control of the fortune takes the second half of the book. I didn’t find it as compelling as the first half, but I did not dislike it either. The break seemed a little forced to me, but I wasn’t the one writing it.

Overall, the melding of a female Ronin warrior and a space traveling society and zen religion was a little odd, but I thought it worked. There are currently three books in the Iroshi cycle – Iroshi (1995), The Glaive (1996) and Persea (1996). They are all back in print right now as ebooks. Cary Osborne’s website indicates that she is working on a fourth Iroshi book to be titled Beyond the Void.

After reading Iroshi, I know I will pick up the other volumes in the series, although I will possibly wait until the fourth one appears, so I can get the sense of closure that reading an incomplete series does not give you. Hopefully, it will not be 20 years before that happens.

If this sounds like your cup of sake, give Iroshi and the other titles a try. I don’t think you will be disappointed. But, fair warning, your mileage may vary.

Series organizer Patti Abbott usually hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

 

Forgotten Book: Lone Star Planet (aka A Planet for Texans) by H. Beam Piper and John J. Maguire (1958)

This little sf novel captures Texas' larger-than-life eccentricities.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 184th in my series of Forgotten Books.

As Greg Lake (of King Crimson and Emerson, Lake, and Palmer) so nicely put it, “Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends!” April and half of May have come and gone and there has not been a Forgotten Book column on the screen here at Sanford Allen’s Candy Skulls blog. I have been very busy! (Scroll up and read Tuesday’s Forgotten Film column for the full scoop and to learn about which Tarzan film had its initial theatrical release in 1958 and which was not shown in the US until 1966. Go ahead! We’ll wait! La-de-dah! La-de-dah! Repeat as needed.)

So, once again I say, “Welcome back!” This week, we reach back into our Wayback Bag to find a writer who was once very popular, fell out of favor, killed himself because of it, came back into favor, and is now forgotten again for the most part. H. Beam Piper wrote a lot of stories for Astounding and Analog before the New Wave made the engineer-solving-things story a little passé. He is probably best known for his novel Little Fuzzy, which had sequels prepared by Ardath Mayhar (Golden Dreams), William Tuning (Fuzzy Bones), and, most recently, by John Scalzi (Fuzzy Nation). Wikipedia tells me someone named Wolfgang Diehr has also published two additional Fuzzy novels, Fuzzy Ergo Sum and Caveat Fuzzy. And, let us not forget that Michael Whelan applied his very considerable talents (along with those of David Wenzel) to a children’s book about the Fuzzies (The Adventures of Little Fuzzy) in 1983 that is pretty wonderful.

Anyway, Piper wrote a lot to try and make a living. Some of his stuff is very good (try the Paratime stories), but of all of it is at least of professional quality. One of the odder pieces was a novelette titled A Planet For Texans, which he wrote with John J. McGuie. This is an entertaining yarn with some politics thrown in for fun. Stephen Silk is a career diplomat who works behind the scenes. When bored, he writes articles as Machiavelli Junior. One such article lands him before a group of senior diplomats, where he’s forced to explain himself. Rather than be fired, he allows himself to become the new Solar League Ambassador to the independent planet New Texas. New Texas provides superbeef and is known as the Butcher to the Stars. The giant cows won’t grow anywhere else, and the New Texans are mighty proud of their independent, cantankerous nature. The previous ambassador was shot and killed.

Also looking at New Texas is a new race in the galaxy, the z’Srauff, an aggressive bunch that resembles intelligent dogs. While the Solar League is not at war with the z’Srauff, it seems inevitable, and the League wants New Texas to be on board.

So Mr. Silk finds himself shipped off to New Texas with roughly three hours’ notice to pack and go. On his flight out, he meets Gail, who is also headed there. When he arrives, he is separated from her and ends up meeting his new aide Hoddy Ringo, a man returning to New Texas after having had some past “issues” that could have made him the late Hoddy Ringo.

One of the previous Solar League ambassadors is still on planet, Silk discovers. After serving a short while as ambassador, the man went native, renounced his League citizenship and became a New Texan. He had a family, which of course included a daughter named Gail, mentioned earlier.

Politics on New Texas is a little different. Not unlike politics in current Texas. They take personal rights very seriously, and if a law was to infringe on those rights, the New Texans can legally kill the lawmaker who brought the law into effect. Somehow, being an ambassador is seen as being a lawmaker and there is no diplomatic immunity.

Silk has to find out who killed his predecessor, make the guilty party pay, not get killed himself, convince the freedom loving New Texans to become part of the Solar League, incite the z’Srauff into breaking the peace, win the girl he loves and still find time to visit the Alamo. The New Texans did not build a replica; they brought the original over stone by stone. Ostentatious is a Texan byword now and then.

This is “not a novel of big thinks” as Mr. Joe R. Lansdale has described some books. This is a novel of true Texans and fun. I really enjoyed it and found it much too short. Originally, it was released as half of an Ace Double. The version I read had it bound together with Four Day Planet, another fun Piper book. So, copies should not be that hard or difficult to find. The Ace Double has the better cover.

Scott says check out Lone Star Planet or A Planet for Texans and H. Beam Piper while you can. Then go have a barbecue. Your mileage and acid reflux may vary.

Series organizer Patti Abbott usually hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs. This week the lovely and talented Todd Mason is hosting it for her.

 

Forgotten Book: Amazon Planet by Mack Reynolds (1966 – 1967 magazine, 1975 book form)

Mack Reynolds' Amazon Planet seems to have lost some of its political punch.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 183rd in my series of Forgotten Books.

Popular taste in science fiction is a pretty fluid thing. The field is so broad and encompasses lots of sub-genres. It’s pretty easy to be focused on a single area or author and not see whole fields that exist. As a teenager in the ’60s, I found it was still possible to read most of the important books in the field each year. Within a few years that was no longer possible.

I remember when fantasy titles were very, very scarce. This year represents the 50th anniversary of the first Lancer Conan title with a Frank Frazetta cover. At that time you had to look. Michael Moorcock was coming and Ballantine had published Tolkien and some E. R. Eddison but not much else. Ace was thinking of printing the Fafhrd and Grey Mouser books.

So all this is in prelude to talking about Mack Reynolds. A very prolific writer, Reynolds published something like 75 books between the 1950s and 1980s, of which I have read four. That’s not much based on his output and huge presence in the marketplace. I don’t know why I never read much. He was in a lot of ace Doubles, and I certainly read many of those by lesser writers. But I did read Amazon Planet back then, and now, some 48 years later, I decided to revisit him and one of his novels.

Amazon Planet was serialized in Analog in 1966 and 1967, which is where I originally read it. God only knows why, because I didn’t read many of the serialized novels at that time. The fact that I had all three parts at the time is pretty amazing, at least to me.

Guy Thomas is a United Planets Federation negotiator who has been sent to Amazonia on a freighter. The only other passenger is a young woman, Patricia “Pat” O’Gara, who is going from her home planet of Victoria to Amazonia.

The crew is fascinated that Guy plans to go to Amazonia. The planet is run by women, and men have little to no rights. Pat is trying to escape the repressive Victorian mores of her planet to the more enlightened government of Amazonia. There are several early political discussions about matriarchies and female warriors, a subject which Reynolds obviously knew much about.

But there are difficulties. Pat has no landing visa to go there. And Guy is a man. When the Amazonians show up, there is a problem with Guy’s visa also, since it shows his name as Gay. He tries to convince them that it is no big deal. The Amazonians warn him that since he is a man, any Amazonian warrior with fewer than three husbands can come up, clasp him on the shoulder and say, “I take thee.” At that point, he would become part of the warrior’s harem.

But things are never quite what they seem. Guy is not a sales negotiator. He is a spy hoping to help a male underground rise up from the female tyranny.

It becomes an action adventure story stuck in the idle of a political discussion (not quite a diatribe) and something approaching Women’s Rights. And even that does not begin to cover the whole of the book.

I mostly enjoyed the novel, but it does seem a bit dated. And according to Wikipedia, this was one of the books caught up in a period of declining sales on Reynolds’ part and a takeover of Ace Books that prevented several novels from being published between 1969 and 1975. By 1975 the ERA was old hat and much of the punch of this book seemed to have been lost.

I do have another Reynolds book that I intend to read sometime, Code Duello. I am not sure when I will get to it. My experience with Amazon Planet has not moved that one in up in my reading list, nor caused it to disappear.

The Ace Books thing is interesting as it notes that his sales had declined. Yet on the paperback copy I read, he is noted in a big label, “Voted the most popular science fiction author by the readers of Galaxy and If.” Go figure.

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

 

Forgotten Book: Between the Living and the Dead by Bill Crider (2015)

In addition to solving crimes, you can depend on Sheriff Dan Rhodes to do some bull wrestling in a Walmart parking lot.

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 176th in my series of Forgotten Books.

I don’t know how many people click the link at the end of the column to see the listing of the other Forgotten Books each of these installments. Patti Abbott, a very fine writer in her own right, compiles a listing each week (and when she’s not available, some other very fine folks make it).

I have found some wonderful titles from the various listings. The listing for last week contained two that someone felt compelled to write about. I had read three of those titles and was aware of six others. The remainder were new to me or had never been on my radar. I will be checking out several more of them as the year moves forward.

Among the people who write the various Forgotten Book and Forgotten Film columns each week, Bill Crider is a prominent force. To the general reading public, I’m not so sure. He has written a lot of books over the years but he has not achieved household name status. And that is the shame.

I have posted about other Crider titles over the past five years, including A Vampire Named Fred and Mike Gonzo and the Sewer Monster. These were young adult books I really enjoyed. In addition to them, Crider has written mystery novels in five different series, men’s adventure novels, horror novels, western novels, a Nick Carter-Killmaster novel and some pseudonymous things he is very tight lipped about.

The Sheriff Dan Rhodes series is the biggie among his mystery novels. The series currently stands at 23 books (there is another being prepped for publication). Rhodes was his first series character, beginning with Too Late to Die (1986). Rhodes, the sheriff of Blacklin County, Texas, works out of Clearview, a smallish town with its share of wonderful characters.

Between the Living and the Dead begins with the death of Neil Foshee, a local meth dealer, at the local haunted house. Everyone knows the house is haunted. It has been empty for years. The last owner died alone there. So, over the years the stories about the death have grown and expanded. Sheriff Rhodes knows the facts, but locals don’t want facts to get in the way of their stories.

Local math professor/singer/amateur PI/character C. P. “Seepy” Benton provides some fun comic relief to the proceedings, as he has set up Clearview Paranormal Investigations (CPI) and offers his “expertise” to the county for a potential law enforcement endorsement.

Foshee’s two cousins have just gotten out of jail on bail, so they are potential suspects. But then so are Neil’s former girlfriend and her current boss/boyfriend, the mayor, the mayor’s wife and the mayor’s nephew. And when the skeleton shows up, the whole thing changes.

In addition to looking for murderers, a small town sheriff has to deal with lots of things like chasing suspects on foot through the woods and then avoiding the rampaging hogs or wresting a bull in the Walmart parking lot after it charges a small child. He has to deal with the his bickering employees and their relationships. And, of course, he has to deal with the dangerous drivers in Clearview who do not use their turn signals!

Crider captures that small town feeling and atmosphere superbly. Over the course of these books, you get to see the wondrous nature of that small town and come to care about many of the folks.

I’ve known Crider for about 40 years. I’ve read many of the books in this and the other series. They are great go-to books when you need a good solid read that puts a smile on your face and happiness into your heart. I don’t think I tell him enough how much I love his books, so hopefully he gets the idea now. Thank you, Bill, for these books.

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

 

Forgotten Book: The Face in the Frost by John Bellairs (1969)

By Scott A. Cupp

This is the 168th in my series of Forgotten Books.

Once again I have to apologize for those few regular readers, After Thanksgiving I began a new work project and that consumed my time. Normally over the holiday I would have spent some time reading but we had guests and that didn’t happen. I hope it doesn’t happen again anytime soon, but it will, so hopefully we can all bear through it.

This week’s title is a book I have had for many years and somehow never got around to reading, even though I knew it had a great reputation and that I would enjoy it. The Face in the Frost is by the great YA writer John Bellairs, but this is not a real YA book. This was meant for the adult fantasy market and it deserves the reputation it has maintained for the last 46 years.

It is a story of magic and magicians and friendship and how all these things work together. The two main characters are both magicians with familiar names, Prospero and Roger Bacon. Prospero lives in the South Kingdom while Roger lives in the North Kingdom. The two realms have no other names than that. They each have their quirks.

The two magicians are old friends and see each other rarely. So it is with joy that Prospero greeted his old friend who came telling of a book he had been searching for. The book is in an unknown tongue and has last been owned by a wizard named Melichus who had trained with Prospero and, during that training, the two had become not friends, more like adversaries.

Strange things are happening in the kingdoms and the two wizards find themselves on a quest to find the book before evil really happens. They shrink down and travel on a small ship. They get separated. Prospero finds an evil pseudo-village and nearly dies. The wizards are reunited and find themselves traveling in a smaller version of Cinderella’s coach, made form a squash.

All the above makes this sound formulaic and squeaky. It is not that at all. The writing is so wonderful it practically leaps off the page. I found myself not wanting to finish the book because I was enjoying it so much, but this column was not going to write itself if I didn’t finish. But, let me cite an example from the first chapter:

“Several centuries (or so) ago, in a country whose name doesn’t matter, there was a tall skinny, straggly-bearded old wizard named Prospero, and not the one you are thinking of, either. He lived in a huge, ridiculous, doodad-covered, trash-filled two-story horror of a house that stumbled, staggered, and dribbled right up to the edge of a great shadowy forest filled with elms and oaks and maples. It was a house whose gutter spouts were worked into the shape of whistling sphinxes and screaming bearded faces: a house whose white wooden porch was decorated with carved bears, monkeys, toads. And fat women in togas holding sheaves of grain; a house whose steep gray-slate roof was capped with a glass-enclosed twisty-copper-columned observatory…”

Your mileage may vary but I was hooked from those words on. There are not any cutesy elves or orcs or hobbits or warrior-kings. This is the good stuff, not the derivative stuff that passes for fantasy these days.

Take the time. Enjoy the ride. Treasure the words. Live. You won’t regret it.

I know this is a shorter column, but the time is late and I have a 5 a.m. wake-up staring me down.

Buy some great books for your friends and yourself for Christmas. Spread the words.

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.

 

Forgotten Book: Danger: Dinosaurs! by Richard Marsten (1953)

When time travelers go back to hunt dinosaurs, what could possible go wrong?

By Scott A. Cupp

This week the Forgotten Book folks are celebrating the life of Ed McBain. I haven’t read anything by Ed for this review, but I thought I would revisit this review from a couple of years ago. This was a favorite book growing up. I have also inserted a few new comments down below.

This is the 101st or 160th (you decide) in my series of Forgotten Books.

The astute mystery fans among our readers already know that Richard Marsten is a pseudonym for Salvatore Lombino aka Evan Hunter, Ed McBain, Curt Cannon, S. A. Lombino, D. A. Addams and Ted Taine. A prolific writer of mysteries, he came very close to being a major science fiction writer.

In the early 1950’s as he was writing the first of his 87th Precinct novels, Evan Hunter (he legally changed his name in 1952) wrote several science fiction novels including the Winston juveniles Find the Feathered Serpent (as by Evan Hunter) as well as Rocket to Luna and Danger: Dinosaurs! (both as by Richard Marsten). I did an article in the early ’90s for a Martin Goldberg book to be entitled The Ed McBain Companion in which I postulated that had the 87th Precinct novels not taken off as they did, Hunter might have continued in the science fiction realm.

We will never really know.  He did about two dozen short stories and one more novel, Tomorrow and Tomorrow, which I recall liking quite a bit though it has been quite a while since I read it.

To the book at hand! Danger: Dinosaurs! is a classic time travel novel where people can travel back via the Time Slip to the Jurassic period to “hunt” dinosaurs with camera and lens. Young Owen Spencer is set to take his first trip, theoretically as his brother Chuck’s assistant.  They are taking back a group led by Dirk Masterson, his assistants Brock Gardel and Arthur Baron, and Masterson’s niece Denise. They will be safe with their use of a mile-radius force field which will keep everything safely away.

What could go wrong? Ask Ray Bradbury and L. Sprague de Camp.

In the first few hours, Masterson “accidentally” destroys the force field and all bets are off. The trip only allows dinosaurs to be shot only with cameras to prevent any potential time paradoxes from occurring. But Masterson has conveniently brought high powered weapons along (very much against the rules) and is planning on hunting and protecting the group at the same time. His first targets are a herd of stegosaurus and a pteranodon.

Nothing fazes the beasts and when Masterson starts a brontosaurus stampede, he nearly dies. Chuck saves him, at the cost of his own life.  This brings up a time paradox that I found implausible. Marsten postulates that since Chuck dies long before he is born, he ceases to exist at any point in time. All memory of Chuck is erased, just as if he had never lived. I think he would have existed for those periods of his life up until his death. It is a major plot point, and while it bothered me, it wasn’t a deal breaker. I still enjoyed the book.

During the week they have to spend before being rescued, they encounter a number of dinosaurs as well as two lost scientists, Dr. Perry and Dr. Dumar, who were doing geologic work and had discovered a large uranium deposit.

The group heads for the two white hills marking where they have to be when the automatic return is set to occur, when they experience an earthquake and find their markers gone. This is just one of many setbacks and problems that befall the team, not including Masterson’s personal agenda, which does not include following any of the rules set down by the time agency or Owen and Chuck.

The book is a good fast, fun read that I quite enjoyed in the early ’60s, again in the 90’s and once more this last weekend. It’s highly recommended. Unfortunately it has not been reprinted in an accessible format. The copies online range from $50 to $400 or so. You can find some copies less expensively if you don’t mind a lot of wear and not having a dust jacket. I like my copy better. But, when you get one, you get the fabulous Alex Schomburg endpapers (and the wonderful dustjacket). These are full  of iconic science fiction tropes and should be represented in every science fiction fan’s library.

And if you like this one, try the others. They are superb stories. Science fiction lost a great writer when McBain decided to go to the 87th Precinct. But the mystery field rejoiced. And so should we.

Series organizer Patti Abbott hosts more Friday Forgotten Book reviews at her own blog, and posts a complete list of participating blogs.