Friday, May 29, 2009

Forgotten Books...

Patti's taking the week off from her Forgotten Books Project and I am, too. I used the free time to finish chapter one of my steampunk novel and turned it in today to a writer's workshop to be held at Apollocon here in Houston a month from now. Tune in next week as she's asking us to review our favorite non-fiction books. As a historian, the list is long but I think I've narrowed it down.

In the meantime, Monday is Wild West Monday #3, spearheaded by Gary Dobbs. Head on over to The Tainted Archive for more information. Sing the petition if you're of a mind. I'll have a special post on Monday as well.

If you haven't done so, head on over to Beat to a Pulp and read David Cranmer's "Vengeance on the 18th." As I head out to play golf today, I'll, uh, be looking over my shoulder.

Lastly, if you're a Sherlock Holmes fan, you should check out Mack Captures Crime and follow him as he re-reads the Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle. He has some great insights.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Summer 2009: Crime and Pulp Fiction Edition

It’s summertime! I wonder: am I alone when I say that I thoroughly love the summer state of mind? Probably not. I love the sun, I love the freedom, I even love the heat (yes, the Texan really just admitted he liked the heat). I also love the mood it gets me in and that mood carried me to listening to a certain type of music, watching certain kinds of movies, and reading particular “summery” books. Yeah, I know: I’m a little (?!) weird that way. But just like some music is built to listen to in winter (old Genesis, for example), other music is built to listen to with the windows down, cruising down the highway, with said music blaring (old Chicago; Hendrix; Doors). Am I right?

The summer also brings for a mini To Do list. Like our annual resolutions which we usually break by the Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday, my mini summer resolutions have a beginning time and an ending time. And, let’s be honest: there are some things you just want to do in the summertime and no other time.

I’ve made my mini to do list and a couple of resolutions and a short summer reading list. For SF-related material, you’ll have to head on over to my SF blog, SF Safari.

Music: I’ve decided to start reviewing music again here. I’m going to start with summery music. Don’t worry: even I don’t really know what that means but I hope to discover it.

Movies: Other than the ones in the theater, I enjoy watching old war movies. Over the Memorial Day weekend, I recorded a bunch of them and I’ll watch and write about them throughout the summer. Here are some of the ones I taped: A Walk in the Sun; Objective Burma; The Story of G.I. Joe; Destination: Tokyo; Where Eagles Dare; The Bridge over the River Kwai; The Fighting Seabees; Sahara; The Dirty Dozen; Kelly’s Heroes; They Were Expendable

Books: This summer, I want to read some swashbuckling tales I’ve just never read. Among those are Treasure Island and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. I’ll probably watch the films after that. On the pulp side of things, I have a few Shadow and Doc Savage reprints in the wings. Might get to those. On the crime fiction side of things, Megan Abbott’s new book, Bury Me Deep, Elmore Leonard’s new one, Road Dogs, Perry Mason #2 (The Case of the Sulky Girl), and Dead Man’s Brother, the Roger Zelazny tale from Hard Case Crime. And, in August, Gabriel Hunt at the Cradle of Fear. For the SF and comics stuff, again, head on over to SF Safari.

Writing: My non-blogging goals are simple: write the next Calvin Carter story (the first, "You Don't Get Three Mistakes," is still available at Beat to a Pulp) and finish half of my steampunk novel. An extended goal will be to work on my crime short stories including the Lullaby one I teased y’all with a week or so ago and work on a short story with Anne Chambers, my HPD detective.

TV: nothing new until Project Runway. Yes, I watch it and love it. TV on DVD boils down to one series: Firefly. More on that at SF Safari.

How about y’all? Do y’all have thinks y’all like to do only in the weeks between Memorial Day and Labor Day?

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Lessons from "Raiders of the Lost Ark"

In working on my new Steampunk story, I’ve been thinking a lot about how to start the book. Since the works of Charles Dickens have inspired it, I want the book to have a certain Victorian quality to it. I like the idea that Character A knows something about Character B and tells Character C who, in turn, bumps into Character D who, unknowingly, acts on the unfounded assumption he makes based on the information he learned about Character B. I love this stuff and I want to put it in my book.

The book is steampunkish and I want to put in all the things you think of when you think of steampunk. The book is a mystery, too, and I want that certain unknown quality to it as well, the dark, eerie, uncertain nature that characterizes say, Sherlock Holmes stories. There are some magical elements to this story, too, so bring on the wizards. But, most of all, it’s an adventure story (I think; I hope). I see the opening two chapters as the opening moves of a giant chess board. I’ve hinted at the opening two chapters in previous Two Sentence Tuesday blogs (here and here).

To prepare myself, last night I watched the first half hour of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Just about everyone considers this movie to be great. Story-wise, structure-wise, I wanted to see how it worked. So, with pencil and paper, I watched the opening segment with a novelist’s eye.

Let’s start with the obvious: Indy doesn’t even speak a word until his entire character, save a few funny add-ons, is completely set. For the first few minutes, we only see his back. Worried local men, who know about the ‘superstitious’ stuff, don’t want to go where Indy is going. And he’s leading them, trudging ahead with single-minded determination. The first words spoken are spoken by Sapito and The Other Guy.
Sapito [who picks up a poison dart and inspects it]: Poison. Fresh. Three days. The Hivitoes are following us.

The Other Guy: If they knew we were here, we’d be dead already.
Brilliant characterization of Indy: he’s going where no one wants to go, is going where others will kill him if they find him, and, yet, he still goes. That’s his character and his nature.

When The Other Guy tries to shoot Indy, we get the first taste of the bullwhip. And then Indy turns toward the camera and we see him in all of his rugged glory. As he and Sapito enter the temple, Indy’s smart enough to look for booby traps. He finds them and gets past them. When he sees his former rival, Forrestal, dead on spears, Indy only utters one word: “Forrestal.” There’s no discussion between Indy and Sapito about the history between Indy and Forrestal. It’s not needed. We viewers fill in the blanks. I think a lesser director than Spielberg would have given us some exposition. We don’t need it. And the scene is better for it.

Later, after Indy escapes the crumbling temple, we get another rival: Belloq. Again, there is no long-winded give-and-take between the two, you know, ‘to fill us viewers in.’ These rivals have been going at it for a long time. The only explanation we get is Indy’s comment that it’s “…too bad the Havitoes don’t know you the way I do Belloq.” The Frenchman’s reply is a touche: “You could warn them if only you spoke Havitoes.” Again, without huge amounts of exposition or background, we get more insight into Indy’s character. He’s good at what he does and, yet, not perfect. He has rivals. Some of them are not as smart as he is (Forrestal) and some of them skirt around the rules (Belloq). Just wonderful storytelling and character development.

Then, of course, the coda on this opening scene: the snake in the plane. After Indy’s nonchalance about the spiders in the temple, the fact that we see him come unglued because of a snake is, again, a nice rounding out of Indy’s character. And we get to laugh.

As I work on my new set of characters, I’m drawing inspiration from films and books and studying them to see how they work. I hope to incorporate some of those lessons and make my story sing.

What kind of inspiration do you use when you write something new?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Forgotten Books: Hard Revolution by George Pelecanos

(My latest entry in Patti Abbott's Friday Forgotten Books. For the complete list, head on over to her blog.)

Let’s be honest: among crime fiction aficionados, none of the books of George Pelecanos are forgotten. If you had to pick one, it would probably be Shoedog, the one that doesn’t fit neatly anywhere else. But that’s just quibbling. So, in honor of Pelecanos’s talk this evening at Houston’s Murder by the Book, I’m going to offer up one of my favorites: Hard Revolution.

Why, you ask, do I love this particular novel so much? Two reasons: history and music. As a historian, I appreciate a good historical novel. It’s an experience to immerse yourself in another time and place. In Hard Revolution, it’s the spring of 1968 in Washington, D.C. African-American Derek Strange is a young, rookie cop on patrol with a white partner. If you know Strange at all before this book, you’d know him for the trilogy of novels that take place in the early 2000s where Strange is a middle-aged private investigator. For all the power of those three books (Right as Rain, Hell to Pay, Soul Circus), you learn in Hard Revolution what made Strange the man he became.

The story is a good, typical Pelecanos story. Young men, trapped in dead-end jobs and dead-end prospects facing the looming possibility of being drafted into the Army and sent to Vietnam, think the way out of their hard life is crime and the thrills it can provide. One of those young men is Strange’s older brother, Dennis, a character mentioned in the original trilogy. Dennis gets himself wrapped up with some bad ‘friends’ and the end result ain’t pretty. The other plot thread involves a group of white boys who want to rob a bank but also killed a black man just for the hell of it. Brutal stuff, the prose version of a Springsteen song.

What sets this novel apart is the setting. These events take place in a critical time in Washington’s, and the nation’s history. On Sunday, March 31, President Lyndon Johnson told the nation that “shall not seek, not will I accept, the nomination of my party for another term as your President.” Four days later, on Thursday, April 4, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in Memphis. The riots that ensued in the District are the literally fiery backdrop to Derek Strange’s odyssey. As a reader in the 2000s, we know what’s going to happen and that provides a nice, extra tension along with what the characters are doing.

Like the Star Wars prequels and the new Star Trek film (how’d SF get into this?), you really ought to read Hard Revolution after you’ve read the Strange trilogy. There are quite a number of little nods to the original trilogy in Hard Revolution that you, frankly, wouldn't get if you hadn't already read the other books. That's not to say that Hard Revolution isn't a good stand-alone book. It is. You'll just get more out of if if you know all the actions Strange did in the original trilogy especially the last one (Soul Circus). Hard Revolution isn’t to be missed.

Hard Revolution is also special because of the soundtrack. Pelecanos has rightly been praised for infusing his prose with the music of the times. He always tells you what certain characters are listening to. It makes his stories even more real, if that’s possible. With Hard Revolution, however, you got a literal soundtrack. Certain versions of the original hardcover came with an eight-track (heh) CD. It’s chock full of the songs Strange, his brother, and their friends would have been listening to in 1968. In a short paragraph on the sleeve, Pelecanos says it best: “This was the best of deep soul, describing the joy and pain of love, played and sung with mind-blowing passion, coming through the radio as the fury was building on the street.” You’ve got towering names on this disc: Wilson Pickett, Albert King, Curtis Mayfield (as a member of The Impressions), Percy Sledge, Sam and Dave, and Otis Redding. All the tracks are great and you can’t help but find yourself whisked back to the era. There are horns a-plenty in these songs, many of which have the bari sax blatting itself through the chorus. A favorite of mine is William Bell’s “You Don’t Miss Your Water.” This slow-burn song about lost love, of course, with the metaphor of a well run dry, but what makes this song is the cymbal. Throughout the entire song, the drummer plays high on the cymbal, a constant buzz that sounds like the sizzle Bell’s heart would make as his dissed lover burns it in a cast-iron skillet on the stove. Fantastic!

Albert King, in “Born under a bad sign,” sings “If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all.” Well, for me, without George Pelecanos, I wouldn’t be reading crime fiction. He’s one of two reasons I am firmly and irrevocably a passionate devotee of crime fiction. Dennis Lehane’s Mystic River was the book that blew open the doors of the crime fiction world for me. Pelecanos’s Right as Rain (and Derek Strange the character) took the door off the hinges, smashed it, and burned the remains, basically telling me there ain’t no going back. Hard Revolution, thankfully, is the origin story of Derek Strange, set amid the turbulence of 1968, complete with soundtrack. What more could you ask for?

Oh, and if you're up for an audiobook, Lance Reddick, of "The Wire," reads this story. I listened to the audio version (an abridgment) then read the novel. Reddick's deep baritone timbre really gives voice to Strange.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

George Pelecanos is coming to Houston

This Friday, at Murder by the Book, one of the pillars of modern crime fiction, George Pelecanos, is visiting my fair city. He's been on my list of Must-See authors since I discovered him in 2001 with his first Derek Strange novel, Right as Rain. Since then, Pelecanos is one of those authors with whom I try to compare and make my prose and characters shine as brightly as his. And, as I just went to MbtB's website to get the link, there's a Twitter comment that Right as Rain and Shoedog are on track for moviedom. How cool is that?

And, of course, there is "The Wire." This project is so sublime it's difficult to add much more that hasn't already been said. Just. Watch. It. Period.

What I'm hoping for is an airdate for the Pacific Theater version of Band of Brothers that Pelecanos is working on. Band of Brothers is a fantastic series that really gives you a human perspective of war. I know the Pacific version will be just as good.

Anyway, I'll be taking photos and reporting on the meet-and-greet-and-read this Friday at 6:00pm. If you're anywhere near Houston, stop by. The store is just about the only brick-and-mortar store I go to anymore and it's just fantastic to talk crime fiction with a bunch of aficionados.

So, anyone out there going?

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

"Castle" officially renewed

Monday nights this past spring were chock full of shows my wife and I watch: Anthony Boudain's No Reservations, CSI: Miami, '24', Rules of Engagement, and Antiques Roadshow. The newest member of the Monday Night Club is Castle. Granted, this show breaks no new ground but it is perhaps the most entertaining and humorous hour of television we watch each week.

Nathan Fillion (of Firefly fame) is at his suave, charming best here playing a mystery novelist who gets himself inserted into the NYPD's squad room alongside Stana Katic's hard-boiled police detective. Early on in the season, my wife and I started counting the number of times Fillion smirked, raised his eyebrows, but said nothing. It could have been a drinking game in the same way as when you watch '24' and Keifer Sutherland's Jack Bauer says "Dammit".

What makes this show better than other light-hearted cop shows is the characters but not necessarily the dynamic of the two leads. You've seen this kind of thing before (Moonlight, for example). No, what really shines in this show is the relationship Castle has with his teenaged daughter and his mother, both of whom live in his lavish NY apartment. The mother, played by Susan Sullivan (of Falcon Crest fame) is an old Broadway diva who still flits around as if she were still in her twenties. She's the comic relief in some scenes but you can tell there is genuine love and repsect there.

His daughter, Alexis, played by Molly C. Quinn, is refreshingly...normal. She's not full of teen angst, she doesn't change her hair color every week, and she doesn't hate school. She's a normal teeager, smart, insightful, and well-balanced, which is saying something considering who her dad and grandmother is. Castle and Alexis love each other and you get to see the bittersweet emotions play over Fillion's face just about every episode as he realizes his little girl is growing up or, depending on the crime, how he'd react if he were in the case of the victim. As a parent, I find these intimate scenes quite touching.

I'm very happy that ABC picked up this show for a second season. If you haven't had a chance to watch any of the episodes, head on over to the Castle Episode Page at and you can watch them online. I think you'll enjoy them.

Two Sentence Tuesday: Fantasy Edition

I've finally started reading a book that's been on TBR pile for a long time: Scott Lynch's The Lies of Locke Lamora. The jacket blurb describes this book as one part Robin Hood and one part Ocean's Eleven. It was the latter that attracted my attention and led me to read the opening two lines of the novel:
Locke Lamora's rule of thumb was this: a good confidence game took three months to plan, three weeks to rehearse, and three seconds to win or lose the victim's trust forever. This time around, he planned to spend those three seconds getting strangled.
Turns out, there is a prologue that gives some background to Lamora's character. I'm only 50 or so pages into the book and, so far, I'm enjoying it.

My twofer is a blatant breaking of the two sentence rule. But, seeing as this is my blog, I'm not too conflicted about it. These are the opening two paragraphs of my new steampunk/fantasy tale. Part of me thinks these 'graphs sound pretty darn pretentious and the other part agrees with me. But, with Charles Dickens as my inspiration, I'm trying to emulate at least part of his style. Not coming close, I agree, but there it is.
Had he been able to turn away, Kionell Watson would have missed the thin blade of dawn's light as it cut through the bars of the prison cell, illuminating the dust swirling in the breeze. Had he been able to close his eyes, Kionell Watson would not have seen the pigeon light upon the small ledge, squeeze through the bars, and begin pecking at the crumbs scattered along the alcove. Had he be able to cry out, Kionell Watson would have warned the splotched bird to flee, get away, anything to get its attention and scare it away.

He could do nothing but watch as the murderer Serkis, his cellmate, reached out with a hand so fast it was a blur, grabbed the bird's wing, and hurled it across the dank room. The bird's wing snapped, the stones of the cell sucking the sound away as if it never even happened. Out of his field of vision, Kionell Watson listened to the pitiful flutterings of the wounded bird, its feathers sweeping dust on the floor where usually they unfurl with the wind.
Even now, I'm cringing a little, especially on the last line. But, hey, that's part of the life as a writer: write something and edit later.

For more Two Sentence Goodness, head on over to Women of Mystery.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Book Review: The Dakota Cipher by William Dietrich

"If you like your heroes as smart as Ben Franklin, adventurous as Indiana Jones, and as randy as Austin Powers, then William Dietrich’s Ethan Gage is your man."

That's the opening line of my review of The Dakota Cipher, the new Ethan Gage novel by William Dietrich. You'll have to head on over to New Mystery Reader and read the rest. There's no place for comments over there so, if you want to chat about this book, come back here and we'll chat.

In addition, via Stephanie Padilla, editor of New Mystery Reader, I've contacted the author himself and posed a few questions. I'll let you know when the interview is ready to go.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Book Review (SF Edition): Old Man's War by John Scalzi

For those of y'all who are inclined towards SF, I have reviewed John Scalzi's Old Man's War over on my SF blog, SF Safari.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Two Sentence Tuesday: Fun Edition

I just finished reading John Scalzi's Old Man's War (review over at SF Safari tomorrow) so I don't have any SF sentences today. My current book is my first Neil Gaiman novel, The Graveyard Book. I'm particularly fond of opening sentences and how well they hook you into reading more. Here are the opening lines of this YA novel.
There was a hand in the darkness, and it held a knife.

The knife had a handle of polished black bone, and a blade finer and sharper than any razor. If it sliced you, you might not even know you had been cut, not immediately.

The knife had done almost everything it was brought to that house to do, and both the blade and the handle were wet.
I particularly appreciate how the menace of murder is still there but lessened to an off-screen moment. And the detail of the blade and handle being "wet" gives you all you need to know. That Gaiman himself is the narrator of the audiobook is even better.

As for my two/three sentences, these are from the I-don't-know-what-it-is story I started in last week's Pulp Edition of Two Sentence Tuesday. For some reason, when I looked at those four women affixing silencers on their pistols, four names came to me: White, Snake, Jaime, and Bill. Yes, Bill is a woman's name. I'm working on the origin of that name. I hope it's funny.

Anyway, after the four women put their silencers on their pistols, they realize that one of them is going to have to 'babysit' the infant while the other three do their job against the father. Two of the women, Snake and Bill, are refusing because they have kids at home and they don't want to be stuck babysitting another kid on their 'girls night out.' Here is Snake's reason.
"I'm already paying my own sitter for tonight," Snake said. She shook her head. "Had to call in a favor just to get the little bitch to my house tonight."

"What was the favor?" Bill asked.

"Pay her double."
Again, I'm not sure what kind of story this is or where it's going. But it's fun and I'm going with the flow.

Interesting side note: when I read the four pages I have to my critique group, the guys didn't have a lot to say. The three women, however, all enjoyed it and I got the most (only?) chuckles from them. They all liked it and wanted to know more. Me, too.

For more Two Sentence Fun, head on over to Women of Mystery.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Wordle of my story "You Don't Get Three Mistakes"

I love the concept of Wordle, graphic representation of text. I plugged in the text of my short story, "You Don't Get Three Mistakes" from Beat to a Pulp ezine and, after fiddling with the layout, got this image. I chose it because, frankly, it looks like a pistol. Can't go wrong there, considering the story's a western. Plus, my name's buried front and center.

Here's the link back to the Wordle homepage where this image lives. Head on over and see what kind of magic you can create.

"Wallander: Sidetracked" - Thoughts

With eager anticipation, I watched the first episode of "Wallander" last night. I found few faults with the film (the faults were in the technical side of the program).

Kenneth Branagh stars (and exec. produces) as Kurt Wallander, a detective in Sweden. I've read a few interviews ahead of time and Alan Cummings, in a nice intro, gives us Americans the Cliff Notes version of the Wallander character. He doesn't sleep much, he takes his cases way too personally, he's short and abrupt, and, of course, he has personal issues with his friends, family, and father. Typical detective stuff, really. No new ground broken but, then, is there any new ground to be broken?

Be that as it may, Branagh does a fine job at showing us what it's like to be this kind of man and detective. The camera work was interesting as probably half the time we see Branagh's face, it's either partially or fully in shadow. There was almost an old-school noir feel to the way director Phillip Martin played with light. This being Sweden, there's either lots of sun (as in this episode) or lots of darkness. Here, the darkness was inside the souls of the characters.

When we see Branagh move, the best verb I could use to describe his movements is trudge. Wallander trudges through scenes at the beginning, a weary man doing a dreary job. However, as the investigation progressed, Wallander's movements became crisp (for him) and active. That kind of detail is probably not coincidental.

Speaking of details, Wallander's physical appearance was stark considering the way we usually see the charming and handsome Branagh. His clothes were disheviled and his shirts were untucked. I suspect the character smelled of day old body odor, too. The one fantastic detail that I particularly appreciated was Wallander's wedding ring. I can't remember any character commenting whether or not Wallander was a widower or a divorcee. Nevertheless, there isn't a wife in this episode. Wallander's left hand, shown in close-up at least once, was puffy and the wedding ring he still wears cut into his left ring finger. I took from that scene that there is no wife and he's let himself go, gaining weight, not really caring about himself anymore. A nice touch.

The music was a nice addition, as well. Many times, we see Wallander driving or walking or thinking and, underneath the scene, the music was soft and plaintive, even a bit mournful. Don't think me weird when I say I got a subtle Vangelis-doing-"Blade Runner" vibe for some of the music.

The story itself was interesting, as an American, seeing how the murders involve scalping. Too often I forget that folks beyond America's borders enjoy learning about the Native Americans and their culture and history.

My faults with the show are technical. The PBS feed through the cable box had sound issues. I checked both my TVs and the sound problem--like some intern was playing with the volume knob, going up and down, up and down--was from the company, not our TVs. Annoying but I soon ignored it. The other problem was in the editing. I've had some issues with the editing of Foyle's War, too, where the cuts seem quite abrupt, leaving you to wonder "Okay, what did I just learn?"

The faults didn't lessen my enjoyment of the show and I'm looking forward to watching the other two episodes. As with "Little Dorrit," has some good bonus materials. If you're interested, head on over to PBS's Wallander page.

So, did you watch it? What did you think?

Friday, May 8, 2009

Forgotten Books: Star Trek Logs by Alan Dean Foster

(Apologies, folks. I had tagged this post with the incorrect date.)

(This is my latest installment to Patti Abbott’s Friday Forgotten Books. Head on over to her blog for the complete list.)

The history of Star Trek has many milestone years. The year 1966 was the debut of the show on television. The first movie landed on earth thirty year ago this year (seriously!?). Nineteen eighty-seven saw the launch of The Next Generation while 1994 showed us the death of James T. Kirk, twelve years after the death of Spock.

The year that gets lost in the shuffle is 1973. That is the year that Star Trek: The Animated Series (TAS) debuted. While there was some canonical discussion in the 1980s (whether or not TAS should be considered part of the wider Trek canon), it’s now more or less established that these 22 episodes constitute the fourth and fifth years of the Enterprise’s original five-year mission.

Here’s the funny thing: I’ve never actually seen any of the episodes. But I have read their adaptations, published as Star Trek Logs (to differentiate them from the adaptations of The Original Series (TOS) by James Blish) and written by Alan Dean Foster. Where Blish slimmed down TOS episodes to make them short stories, Foster expanded the 22-minute episodes into novella-length stories. There are ten Star Trek Logs that cover the 22 episodes. The first seven volume includes three novellas each. In the last three volumes, Foster expands the episodes into full-blown novels. He brings all of his gifts as a storyteller and explainer of scientific fictionalities to the fore. In short, he makes the Trek universe believable.

And this makes all the difference. His descriptions put Trek in a real universe with real machinery, not the cheesy backlot sets of TOS. But what I really took away back in the late 70s when I originally read these books was the sense of wonder you get from the pages. Back then, without an internet or cellphones that looked like communicators, the young boy I used to be really thought that a ship like the Enterprise could really be in our future.

It was my exposure to Foster via these Star Trek Logs that led me to start reading his own works and, from there, other SF and fantasy books. From there, well, I guess I boldly went...

P. S., A friend of mine has cued up TAS on his Netflix account. Finally, after 35 years, I’m going to get to see these episodes. Just after I see the new film.

(This is the last part of my examination of some forgotten Star Trek books in advance of the release of the new movie. Here is part one and here is part two. If you’re interested in my take on the new film, check out my SF blog, SF Safari, later today or tomorrow for the full run-down.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Book Review Club: Gabriel Hunt at the Well of Eternity by James Reasoner

(This is the May entry for Barrie Summy’s Book Review Club. Head on over to her blog for the complete list.)

“Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear....”

There’s a certain number of y’all out there who, upon hearing these words, got (and probably still do) a big, goofy grin on your faces and plopped yourself right in front of your family’s radio. Another portion of the blog-reading world, like me, discovered this phrase from cassette copies of the old time radio shows and loved them just as much as the original airings. Then there are those who don’t even know what I’m talking about or the thrills you can get from good, old-fashioned storytelling. Well, good news: there’s a book out there that will remind the old guys and gals of the glory days of storytelling and introduce a new generation to the glory days of the cliffhanger.

Gabriel Hunt at the Well of Eternity is the first book in a series of six that follow the exploits and adventures of one Gabriel Hunt. A two-fisted adventurer in the mold of Doc Savage and Indiana Jones, Hunt is the creation of Charles Ardai, co-founder of Hard Case Crime. Just as Ardai saw a void in the old-school pulp crime novel, so, too, did he see a void in the old-fashioned pulp adventure novel. Come to think of it, I can’t think of another literary adventurer that comes between Savage and Hunt. I know he or she is probably there. I’m just not that fluent in the pulp adventure canon.

And speaking of cannons (yes, I’m being cheesy), this story, written by James Reasoner, starts off with a blast. Gabriel and his brother, Michael, independently wealthy with the $100 million dollar Hunt Foundation, are at a black tie event at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. A drop-dead gorgeous woman arrives (natch) and makes her way across the museum to give something to Michael. But, before she can, a man with a gun accosts her and a gunfight ensues. The mysterious woman is kidnapped but not before delivering her secret cargo: a bottle of water in an old whiskey bottle wrapped inside an old Confederate cavalry flag.

A car chase follows, then an airboat chase, then another gun fight, and this is all within the first fifty pages or so. Honestly, it isn’t until the end of chapter ten that you get a chapter that doesn’t end with a cliffhanger. It’s our time, and Gabriel’s time, to take a breath. Reasoner’s prose is effortless when it comes to describing action. This is the first book of his I’ve had the pleasure of reading and, holy cow, can he write some fantastic prose that just glide into your brain. As Gabriel tracks down clues first to the flag’s origin and, later, to a distant site deep in the Guatemalan jungle, Reasoner spices the present story with off-handed references to earlier Hunt adventures, giving us the barest glimpse of a life well lived and many adventures to be had.

And the book is just darn funny. Taking it’s cue from the Indiana Jones and National Treasure films, Gabriel Hunt finds himself in some dreadful circumstances and, yet, always finds the humor...after the fact. He’s not flippant like James Bond became. He genuinely feels for the allies that fall beside him and holds no remorse for those that need killing. However, he does find time to grin and, since he has the companionship of a different gorgeous woman along the way, he finds time for other things as well.

I read this book with a pencil in hand, circling words and phrases that caught my eye. I’d be quoting half the book if I were to cite them all. There’s a wonderful inside joke in the middle of the book that I won’t ruin here. You’ll know it when you see it. Let me quote a couple of passages just to give you a sense of the fun we’re all having with Gabriel Hunt as our guide.
The only crime he’d [Hunt] committed lately was tampering with evidence. Well, that and discharging a firearm illegally on the Queensboro Bridge. But he didn’t think the men in the SUV could be filing any complaints with the police about the incident.
And this:
“Gabriel Hunt,” the man shouted [while deep in the jungle]. “I know your must be here somewhere.”
Cierra glanced over at Gabriel in surprise. Gabriel shrugged.
I also quote a couple of sentences in my Two Sentence Tuesday post yesterday.

“Pure adrenaline, pure fun” are the words Ardai used to describe the Gabriel Hunt books in my interview with him back in January. Back then, I couldn't wait for May. Now, I can hardly wait until August when the next book is published. As I wrote yesterday on this blog, I haven’t had this much fun with a book since Don Winslow’s The Dawn Patrol.

Since it’s May and that means all the fun popcorn movies are starting to get released, do yourself a favor and pick up Gabriel Hunt at the Well of Eternity. It fits right in with the best of the summer films and you can read it as you stand in line to watch Star Trek.

And if someone sees you reading the book and asks about it, just show them the gorgeous cover (by Glen Orbik), smile, and say “it’s a return to those thrilling days of yesteryear.”

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Two Sentence Tuesday: Pulp Edition

I'm currently reading two books, one a grand pulp adventure and one a fantastic SF novel. Since this is a crime/pulp blog, I'm posting one edition of Two Sentence Tuesday here. Head on over to my new SF blog, SF Safari, Two Sentence Tuesday: SF Edition.

James Reasoner's Gabriel Hunt at the Well of Eternity is hands down the most fun I've had with a book in a long, long time, probably since last year's The Dawn Patrol. There are so many twofers I could choose--including a brilliant inside joke that I am *not* going to excerpt here because I don't want to ruin the surprise; you'll know it when you get to it--but I'm going to highlight a couplet that exemplifies the type of humor that spices up this fun work.
His [the guy driving the air boat] moved with assurance on the controls. The airboat wheeled to the left--to port, Gabriel corrected himself; this was a boat, after all--and kept turning until it was headed straight back at the airboat that had been pursuing them.
You'll just have to read the book to find out how--or if--Gabriel makes it out of this dire predicament. And come back here tomorrow for a full review of this fun, fun book.

My crime/pulp sentences today are inspired by a word choice Jay Stringer gave to me as a writing exercise. He said it would be a fun challenge to take a certain word and each of us write a story around it. Kind of like the new Flash Fiction challenge Patti Abbott's started. The word Jay suggested was "lullaby."
"Brilliant," White said as she dropped her binoculars and rubbed her eyes, "We got a baby in there." Without another word, all four women reached into their vests, pulled out silencers, and attached them onto their pistols.
BTW, Jay Stringer's story, The Hard Sell, is the featured story over at Beat to a Pulp. I've read it, folks, and it's a fun story. It had me laughing and entertained all the way through.

For more Two Sentence Tuesday goodies, head on over to Women of Mystery.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Sherlock Holmes, Calvin Carter, and a Guy Named Mack

Mack, over at Mack Captures Crime, has embarked on a fun reading journey: read all the Sherlock Holmes stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in publication order. There's a reason for this and, to find out, you'll have to head on over to Mack's blog. In a separate entry, Mack lists Doyle's personal favorites Holmes stories and that of the Baker Street Irregulars. I'm looking forward to seeing what insights Mack discovers.

Today, in his entry to Patti Abbott's Friday Forgotten Books, David Cranmer writes about some Continental Op short stories by Dashiell Hammett. David laments that he's now read all of Hammett's published short stories. And he's 'sullen.' I can understand that feeling and it's one of the driving forces behind the reason I have never read all of the original 60 Holmes stories (4 novels and 56 short stories). I have my favorites and I've read them over and over again content with the knowledge that there are still more Doyle stories for me to read.

Ironically, Mack's reading challenge comes at a time when I have started reviewing the Holmes stories I know well. After the publication of my first short story, "You Don't Get Three Mistakes," over at Beat to a Pulp, I've created a character that I like and others seem to like as well. I am going to write more about my character, Calvin Carter, and have begun reseraching the structure of Doyle's stories to understand why they're so popular and long-lasting. It'll be a fun adventure and, you never know: I might just plow through all 60 stories to find out Doyle's secret.

Forgotten Books: Imzadi (Star Trek) by Peter David

(My next installment of the Friday Forgotten Book extravaganza created by Patti Abbott. Head on over to her blog for the complete list. This is the second installment of 'forgotten' Star Trek books leading up to the new movie. Here is the first from last week.)

“Let’s get the hell out of here.” So spoke James T. Kirk at the end of one of the best (the best?) episode of the Original Series, “The City on the Edge of Forever.” This is the one where Kirk, who has fallen in love with Edith Keillor (Joan Collins) has to let her die in order to preserver the true timeline.

Star Trek: The Next Generation: Imzadi begins with this closing scene of this classic episode. And, after two pages describing the closing scene and its characters, you get these two lines:
They [Kirk and company beaming back to the Enterprise] got the hell out of there.
And Commodore Data watched them go.
Now, if you are a Trek fan, your adrenaline just surged. Thus kicks off what I think is the best Star Trek: The Next Generation novel written to date. (Well, there is one other...) This one has everything: romance, time travel, political intrigue, future history. We get to see Admiral Riker (a big deal in 1992 when this book was originally published), we get Captain Wesley Crusher, and the aforementioned Commodore Data.

The central component of this book is the relationship between Riker and Deanna Troi. Imzadi is the Betezed term for “beloved,” and it is a relationship that has died away by the time of the events of The Next Generation (TNG) TV series. They are friends by that time and they get along. We get the whole story, the romance, the beginnings of their relationship. It’s wonderful for a SF book and author Peter David dishes out the emotion in heaping scoops.

The complicating factor is what Commodore Data learns in the future: that Troi’s death precipitated a truce between two warring factions. When, in the future, Admiral Riker decides to act and try and prevent Troi’s death, Commodore Data, also from the future, has to go back in time (to the era of the TV series, natch) to stop him. To go into more details would ruin all the fun surprises and twists.

Needless to say, there is a lot to like in this book and, since I’m not going to give away the ending, you’ll just have to find out for yourself. If you are a fan of Star Trek and TV's "Lost," this is the book for you. You won't be disappointed.