Review: ‘The Blood Strand’ by Chris Ould

Blood Strand_UK_cvrThe Blood Strand by Chris Ould
Titan Books (February 2016)

Chris Ould’s The Blood Strand is a solid start to a promised trilogy of novels set in the Faroes islands, a small, isolated community that’s just as complicated – and captivating – as the novel’s characters.

British police detective Jan Reyna was taken from the Faroes by his mother when he was just a child, and he’s never known why. Reyna returns when his estranged father falls ill, only to find his father has been implicated in a murder investigation. Evidence from that case points to blackmail, and the entire sordid affair begins to turn back in ever-tightening circles to include more members of Reyna’s family. Continue reading

Review: ‘Obsidian Heart Book Two: The Society of Blood’ by Mark Morris

Obsidian Heart Book Two: The Society of Blood by Mark Morris
Titan Books (October 2015)

societyofbloodMark Morris continues his time-travelling, genre-smashing Obsidian Heart trilogy with The Society of Blood. Like any good trilogy middle child, Society is unencumbered by the need to set up plot points or tie up storylines; instead, it can simply take what’s been put into place and run wild until it’s thoroughly exhausted. And run wild it does, taking readers on a trip from Victorian times back to the modern world, with a plethora of ghastly murders, surreal villains and plot twists along the way. Continue reading

Review: ‘Brainquake’ by Samuel Fuller

BQBeing a bagman for an organized crime outfit would require, one would assume, nerves of steel. When you’re delivering money for the mob, you don’t want to be late, you don’t want to be light, and you damn sure don’t want to drop a package off at the wrong address. So, you may not have to be the smartest guy to be the bagman, but you want to be reliable, quick on your feet, and steady under pressure.

Paul is all of those things, except when he isn’t. Sometimes Paul has attacks – he calls them brainquakes – during which everything in his field of vision turns pink. During these attacks hallucinations mix with reality, but Paul can’t tell which is which. His reactions are swift and sometimes violent. It would be a tough situation for anyone to deal with, but it’s especially brutal for Paul, who is surrounded by the kind of people looking for any kind of weakness they can exploit.

In Samuel Fuller’s Brainquake (out this month from Hard Case Crime and Titan Books), Paul finds himself at the center of a converging group of intriguing characters, each with his or her own agenda. All of the ingredients for an engaging piece of crime fiction are present: a recently widowed mob wife; ten million dollars of missing mob money; a sadistic hitman who poses as a priest and crucifies his victims; a driven, determined police detective; and a mentally distressed bagman with strong moral center. Fuller expertly winds these threads around and around one another until the tension becomes nearly unbearable.

The novel moves at a fast clip. The emphasis is more on plot than on character, but Fuller manages to flesh out each of the main players to varying degrees. There are several standout scenes in the book – one involving a bomb in a baby carriage comes to mind, as well as another dealing with some urgent battlefield-type surgery while trying to extract some important information from a witness. Fuller’s storytelling style is lean and uncluttered, and his pacing is rapid without feeling rushed.

The author is best known as a film director, with titles like Shock Corridor and The Naked Kiss and The Big Red One to his credit. He also wrote a number of novels, with Brainquake being the last one. It’s been something of a “lost novel” for Fuller fans – he published it during a self-imposed exile in France, where he retreated after a dispute over one of his films, and before now it wasn’t available in English. Kudos to Hard Case Crime‘s Charles Ardai for once again going to great lengths to uncover a valuable piece of crime fiction and sharing it with the world.

 

Review: ‘King of the Weeds’ by Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins

KingWeedsShortly before his death in 2006, author Mickey Spillane left instructions for his friend and literary executor, Max Allan Collins, to complete the various unfinished manuscripts he anticipated he’d be leaving behind. Among them were six novels in various stages of completion featuring Mike Hammer, Spillane’s famous private investigator character. Eight years later Collins has completed that portion of his task with the publication of King of the Weeds, the book Spillane conceived as the last Mike Hammer novel.

King of the Weeds is a sequel to Black Alley, the last Hammer novel Spillane finished and published in his lifetime. Collins assures readers in his opening note that a familiarity with Black Alley is not necessary, and as someone who has not read Black Alley, I can attest that this is true. Spillane and Collins do a good job of filling in the important details so that this novel stands on its own just fine.

At this point in his career, Hammer has made a lot of enemies, so he’s not exactly surprised when someone takes a couple of shots at him as the story opens. It seems as though there’s about $90 billion (yes, billion) in mob money that’s been hidden away, and a few people have an idea that Hammer might know its whereabouts. As Hammer tries to fend off interest from a variety of groups, including the U.S. Government, he begins to suspect that his current troubles have roots going all the way back to a series of murders from 40 years ago – murders that have suddenly been thrust back into the spotlight. Topping things off is a series of accidental deaths involving police officers, each of which looks less and less accidental as the body count begins to climb. These disparate threads could become a convoluted mess in less sure hands, but with Spillane and Collins at the helm what you get is a tightly wound page-turner that continues to build steam chapter by chapter.

Confession: this is my first time reading a Mike Hammer novel. As such, I can’t really comment on how true to the series – and to Spillane’s voice – Collins’ contributions are. Other reviews I’ve read are largely complimentary in that regard. I can say that this does not feel like a novel written by two people; if there are seams, I can’t see them. I can also say that this has been a good enough introduction to the character that I’m eager to go back and read the rest of his adventures. If the tough and resourceful guy I read about here is in the twilight of his career, then I can’t wait to see what he was like when he was just starting out.

King of the Weeds is out now from Titan Books.

Stephen King’s ‘Joyland’ gets special treatment from Titan Books

JoylandCoverTitan Books has announced that three special limited editions of their upcoming Hard Case Crime release by Stephen King, Joyland, are now available for preorder.

Subterranean Press has released special editions of Hard Case Crime books in the past, but these appear to be directly produced by Titan. The three editions are:

  • A signed, lettered hardcover edition, limited to 26 copies, signed by King, housed in a clamshell box and featuring the Hard Case Crime logo in gold foil;
  • A signed, numbered hardcover edition, limited to 724 copies, signed by King; and
  • An unsigned hardcover edition limited to 1,500 copies.

All editions will feature artwork by Robert McGinnis and a map of Joyland, the amusement park that serves as the novel’s setting, by Susan Hunt Yule.

Here’s the synopsis straight from Hard Case Crime:

College student Devin Jones took the summer job at Joyland hoping to forget the girl who broke his heart. But he wound up facing something far more terrible: the legacy of a vicious murder, the fate of a dying child, and dark truths about life—and what comes after—that would change his world forever.

A riveting story about love and loss, about growing up and growing old—and about those who don’t get to do either because death comes for them before their time—JOYLAND is Stephen King at the peak of his storytelling powers. With all the emotional impact of King masterpieces such as The Green Mile and The Shawshank Redemption, JOYLAND is at once a mystery, a horror story, and a bittersweet coming-of-age novel, one that will leave even the most hard-boiled reader profoundly moved.

The paperback version is set for a June 4 release, and these special editions are listed as coming out on June 11. I’d suggest jumping on these quickly if you’re interested, as Stephen King special editions don’t tend to stay available for long.

Review: ‘The Art of Dead Space’

artofdeadspace1“Art of…” books are unique in that, even if you aren’t a huge fan of the book’s subject matter, you can find yourself spending a lot of time perusing its pages. Such was the case with me and The Art of Dead SpaceI’ve never played the games (the third of which was just released earlier this month), so my only exposure to the series comes from reading and reviewing the graphic novels and, now, this book.

The Art of Dead Space is an exploration of what must be a cavernous archive of material dating back to the earliest days of the first game’s production back in 2006. This book, as jam packed as it is, likely represents only a fraction of the work done by teams of artists under the Visceral Studios banner. Effort was made to make it as comprehensive as possible, as we see early concepts and designs ranging from the human heroes of the series to its otherworldly creatures, and as many of the ships, weapons, tools, vehicles and even logos as could be crammed in along with them.

It’s not just pretty pictures, either, as written commentary accompanies many of the pieces to explain the evolution of the design work and the choices that were being made. Clearly, the game’s designers had more on their minds than making cool visuals – they were striving to create an entire aesthetic that worked together and made sense as a cohesive whole. You have to admire that dedication to detail, especially when much of what is created is going to fly across the screen in a flurry of action.

About halfway through the book we hit my favorite part – the creature designs. From what I’ve gathered in my reading, the Necromorphs of Dead Space were heavily influenced by John Carpenter’s classic take on The Thing, and that is confirmed in both words and pictures here. Still, it’s great to see the pains the artists took to create their own distinct, twisted look, and what they came up with is simultaneously beautiful and grotesque.

I also enjoyed seeing how recurring design elements were utilized, from the “rib” imagery to the influence of DNA on the religious relics that are central to the Dead Space story. Again, its the careful use of such details that help tie such massive visual creations together, and the team behind these games should be commended for their careful, deliberate choices.

Production-wise, Titan Books has done its usual stellar job on this volume, from the embossed, glossy black covers to the Rorschach-like endpapers to the stunning amount of work between them.

Take it from a guy totally unfamiliar with Dead Space – liking the videogame is not a prerequisite for enjoying this book.

Titan Books captures ‘JAWS’

Jim Beller and Matt Taylor, the JAWS superfans who poured their passion for the film into giant behind-the-scenes tome, announced via their Facebook page yesterday that JAWS: Memories from Martha’s Vineyard has found a new home with Titan Books.

This new softcover edition, produced in conjunction with original publisher Moonrise Media, will include 16 additional pages of material and photos not found in the 2011 edition.  It’s set for a September 25 release and is now up for preorder.

I was fortunate enough to interview Beller and Taylor last year on the eve of the book’s release, and their love of the film was evident. Titan Books has proven time and time again that they know their way around these types of pop culture books, and I’m happy that this duo will see their work get the huge push it deserves. (That’s not a knock on Moonrise, by the way – I think they did a phenomenal job of getting the word out.) Although I wasn’t able to get a copy of the Moonrise edition, I hope to snag a copy of this new version and take an in-depth look at it for October Country soon.

Between this and the Blu-ray, it’s a great week to be a JAWS fan.