Litchfield Reviews End of the Line by Bert and Dolores Hitchens

LEP.CO.UK - End of the Line by Bert and Dolores Hitchens

“Born Julia Clara Catherine Dolores Robbins, prolific American novelist and playwright Dolores Hitchens began her career as a hospital nurse, and then a teacher, before becoming a successful professional writer. From 1938 until her death in 1973, she published forty books, utilising four nom-de-plumes. Her suspense novel The Watcher was adapted for the television series Thriller in 1960, and Jean-Luc Godard adapted her novel Fool’s Gold into the 1964 film Band of Outsiders.

End of the Line, first published by Doubleday in 1957 and newly reprinted as a mass market Black Gat Books edition from Stark House, is the third in a series of five novels she co-wrote with her second husband, Hubert Allen ‘Bert’ Hitchens, who was a railroad investigating officer.

All the books in the series feature the special agents of a railroad’s Los Angeles division, including regular character John Farrel, a veteran detective with an alcohol problem. Here, the wizened Farrel, a down-at-heel boozehound who lives in a boarding house, is teamed up with the inexperienced but enthusiastic investigator Calvin Saunders, an athletic, fastidious young man who drives a Chevy convertible. Former railroad bull (guard), now department chief, Ryerson, ‘a bear of a man,’ wants the pair to re-examine the Lobo Tunnel wreck, an unsolved case that resulted in sixteen deaths.

Suspenseful and methodical, End of the Line is a worthwhile mystery with a solid plot that is helped along by the understated rivalry between the two well-defined detectives, both of whom try to best each other throughout the course of their investigation. Pursuing clues to the town of Sagebloom, the place where the crash took place, the pair go undercover as section hands, eventually working together like a well-oiled team and following the intriguing tale to an exciting and satisfying conclusion.”

Nicholas Litchfield’s review of End of the Line, an exciting mystery from Bert and Dolores Hitchens, is featured today in the Lancashire Post. You can read the review here.

Litchfield Reviews The Action Man and Terror Tournament by Jay Flynn

LEP.CO.UK - The Action Man and Terror Tournament by Jay Flynn

A former US Army soldier and journalist, the late John M. Flynn was a prolific American author of crime and espionage novels, occasionally contributing Westerns using the house name Jack Slade.  In a career spanning from the late fifties to the late seventies, he penned somewhere in the region of thirty novels, mostly for Ace Books, Avon Publications, Leisure Books, and Belmont Tow

He started out as a crime reporter for the Portland Express, also contributing to the San Jose Mercury and other California papers. He is perhaps best-known for his five satisfying adventure novels featuring the distinctive character McHugh, a rough, hard-drinking, two-fisted, Irish-American bar owner and secret agent.

McHugh aside, Flynn’s other notable success was his standalone novel The Action Man, a crime caper published by Avon in 1961 and adapted into the French film Le soleil des voyous (The sun of thugs), directed by Jean Delannoy in 1967. It’s a tense, neatly plotted, and ultimately thrilling tale about a calculating businessman and his elaborate plan to make off with over two million dollars of Army payroll from a bank in northern California. The central character, Denton Farr, who is cut from the same cloth as McHugh, is a smart, bold, tough-talking hard case with an eye for the ladies and a talent for getting what he wants. He is also a successful criminal with close ties to the Eastern crime syndicate.

Terror Tournament, Flynn’s third novel, was first published as a hardback by Mystery House in 1959 and reprinted in paperback by Ace Books as an Ace Double. Like most of Flynn’s novels, it’s a gritty, action-packed drama, heavy on suspense and with a tough lead character on the hunt for a significant amount of money.

This welcome double novel from Stark House also includes, as an introduction, an amusing, revealing, and utterly riveting article on Flynn by his friend, Mystery Writers of America Grand Master Bill Pronzini, which first appeared in Mystery Scene magazine. It’s the perfect companion piece to this pair of scintillating gems pulled from Flynn’s treasure trove of forgotten novels.

My review of The Action Man and Terror Tournament is featured today in the Lancashire Post and syndicated to 20 newspapers in the UK. The full review can be found at the web link below and elsewhere:

https://www.lep.co.uk/lifestyle/books/the-action-man-and-terror-tournament-by-jay-flynn-book-review-1-9464066

Litchfield Reviews So Many Doors by Oakley Hall

LEP.CO.UK - So Many Doors by Oakley Hall

First published by Random House in 1950, So Many Doors is the debut novel by Pulitzer Prize-nominated American writer Oakley Hall, an English professor emeritus at UC Irvine and author of 25 books, who died in 2008.

During his distinguished career, Hall won numerous awards, including the Wrangler Award and the Western Writers of America (WWA) Spur Award for his magazine pieces. His western novel Warlock, a finalist for the 1958 Pulitzer Prize, was made into a film by Twentieth Century-Fox starring Henry Fonda and Anthony Quinn, and his 1963 book, The Downhill Racers, was later filmed by Paramount as Downhill Racer starring Robert Redford and Gene Hackman.

This newly reissued crime novel, which he wrote while studying at Columbia University, was initially overlooked when it came out in hardback, but the paperback went on to become a big seller and received wide critical acclaim. Set in the years following the Great Depression, it is an affecting, murderous tale about two inseparable lovers, consumed with overwhelming desire and corrupting jealousy, and the havoc their relationship causes to those around them. Divided into five sections, each told from the viewpoint of a friend or relative who interacted with the pair, the story spans a period of ten years, beginning in the early 1940s.

Hall’s vivid characters and intense, emotionally charged prose elevate So Many Doors to a compelling, unforgettable story of spurned love, flawed passion and pride, caustic obsession, and distrust and despair.

My review of So Many Doors is featured today in the Lancashire Post and syndicated to 20 newspapers in the UK. The full review can be found at the web link below and elsewhere:

https://www.lep.co.uk/lifestyle/books/so-many-doors-by-oakley-hall-book-review-an-unforgettable-story-of-spurned-love-flawed-passion-and-pride-caustic-obsession-and-distrust-and-despair-1-9456122

Litchfield Reviews The Outfit: Outlawed! by Matthew P. Mayo

LEP.CO.UK - The Outfit: Outlawed! by Matthew P. Mayo

Prolific author Matthew P. Mayo, who often focuses on the American West and New England, has written more than two-dozen books in the past ten years. Arguably, he is at the height of his career and writing his best work to date. Earlier this year, he won the Spur Award, the Peacemaker Award, and the Wrangler Award for his historical novel Stranded, and his Roamer Western, Timberline, and Blood and Ashes, book two in The Outfit series, received glowing reviews in Booklist, the Lancashire Post and other periodicals.

A frequent contributor to anthologies of fiction, Mayo’s stories and essays are especially worth seeking out – his recent work can be found in The Trading Post & Other Frontier Stories (Five Star) and Invigorating Passages (Lowestoft Chronicle), both published in 2018.

His newest novel, The Outfit: Outlawed!, the third installment in his lively, all-action adventure series set in the Old West, features an eclectic band of benevolent gunslingers led by former war hero-turned-spy Rafe Barr.

Bullets zing, blades clang, and heads roll as tarnished heroes and desperadoes converge on the Governor’s mansion and Yuma Territorial Prison, setting up an explosive, thrilling showdown. Fun and fiercely entertaining, Mayo keeps the story moving along at a good clip, and the scene-stealing presence of the depraved head-chopper assassin Mincher helps ensure that this compelling third adventure is the best of the series thus far. Let’s hope that Rafe, ‘Sleuthing’ Sue, Cookie ‘Dynamite’ McGee and the rest of the rapidly expanding gang ride again soon.

My review of The Outfit: Outlawed! is featured today in the Lancashire Post and syndicated to 20 newspapers in the UK. The full review can be found at the web link below and elsewhere:

https://www.lep.co.uk/lifestyle/books/the-outfit-outlawed-by-matthew-p-mayo-book-review-fun-and-fiercely-entertaining-1-9442419

Litchfield Reviews The Red Scarf and A Killer is Loose by Gil Brewer

LEP.CO.UK - The Red Scarf and A Killer is Loose by Gil Brewer

Hugely popular and prolific during the 1950s, selling millions of copies of paperback originals, the late Gil Brewer is considered one of the best American crime writers of his era. Between 1950 and the late 1970s, he authored hundreds of short stories and dozens of novels, including The Red Scarf and A Killer is Loose, two early career novels commonly cited as among the author’s finest.

As veteran LAPD detective-writer Paul Bishop says of these novels in his introduction to this combined edition, Brewer’s ‘specialty of trapping his protagonist in a web of terror, paranoia, and dread and empathetically transmitting those feelings to his readers had been honed to the sharpness of a killer’s stiletto.’

Originally published in the Mercury Mystery Book-Magazine in 1955, and later in book form as a Crest reprint by Fawcett, The Red Scarf sold more than a million copies and received numerous favourable reviews in leading periodicals.

Arguably more blood-tingling, the second novel, A Killer Is Loose, is an unbearably tense, breathtakingly good thriller first published in 1954 as a Fawcett Gold Medal original. Penned in less than two weeks, this was Brewer’s sixth novel and, as with The Red Scarf, it is a fast-paced, first-person narrative featuring another luckless everyman who finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time and caught up in a nightmare situation.

It is hardly surprising that Brewer sold the film rights to the book as A Killer is Loose is a uniquely brilliant, unforgettable crime tale with an unpredictable plot, a sympathetic narrator, a frightening killer, and one heart-pounding, hair-raising moment after another. Full of frantic characters, anguished prose, and impending terror, it is perfectly paired with The Red Scarf.

My review of The Red Scarf and A Killer is Loose is featured today in the Lancashire Post and syndicated to 20 newspapers in the UK. The full review can be found at the web link below and elsewhere:

https://www.lep.co.uk/lifestyle/books/the-red-scarf-and-a-killer-is-loose-by-gil-brewer-book-review-full-of-frantic-characters-anguished-prose-and-impending-terror-1-9422316

Litchfield Reviews The Count of 9 by Erle Stanley Gardner

LEP.CO.UK - The Count of 9 by Erle Stanley Gardner

“Habitually sparring with police officers, suspects, and adversaries, the petite, lightweight Lam once again finds himself up against rough cops and vindictive crooks eager to turn him into a human punching bag. Though competent at meting out verbal jabs, he leads with his chin while ‘somebody always works him over.’

In this especially bruising tale, which sees him looking like a mangled, ‘battered-up prize fighter,’ Inspector Giddings believes Lam has taken the full count. But Lam, a glutton for punishment, is never one to throw in the towel, no matter how tough the opposition.

Intricately plotted and continually entertaining, The Count of 9 is another solid entry in a highly enjoyable series, with the strong-willed Lam at his sardonic best.”

My review of The Count of 9 is featured today in the Lancashire Post and syndicated to 20 newspapers in the UK. The full review can be found at the web link below and elsewhere.

Read more at: https://www.lep.co.uk/lifestyle/books/the-count-of-9-by-erle-stanley-gardner-book-review-intricately-plotted-and-continually-entertaining-1-9408852

Litchfield Reviews Cape Diamond by Ron Corbett

LEP.CO.UK - Cape Diamond by Ron Corbett

“Dark, gory, and cinematic, with a constant ominous tone, Cape Diamond is a compelling crime tale with plenty of shocks, surprises, and visceral thrills.”

Former Ottawa newspaper columnist and radio host Ron Corbett received high praise for his debut novel, Ragged Lake, the first in a three-book deal he signed with Toronto’s ECW Press. The critically acclaimed mystery, published in October of last year, was a 2018 Edgar Award nominee for best paperback original.

In this follow-up, Canadian detective Frank Yakabuski is caught in the middle of a violent gang war while investigating the grisly murder of a notorious gang leader found hanging from a fence in a kids’ sports field with his eyes cut out and a diamond worth 1.2 million dollars in his mouth.

Drawing heavily on his experiences and travels as a journalist, Corbett enlivens the story with vivid descriptions of the wild, forbidding landscape and the volatile, warring inhabitants who dwell there, as well as cleverly weaving together numerous narrative threads.

My review of Cape Diamond is featured today in the Lancashire Post and syndicated to 20 newspapers in the UK. The full review can be found at the web link below and elsewhere.

Read more at: https://www.lep.co.uk/lifestyle/books/cape-diamond-by-ron-corbett-book-review-dark-gory-and-cinematic-with-a-constant-ominous-tone-1-9408843

Litchfield reviews ‘Let Us Now Speak of Extinction’ for the Colorado Review

Let Us Now Speak of Extinction by Michael C. Keith

“Let Us Now Speak of Extinction marks an unexpected but welcome departure for Keith from his usual compendiums of supernatural fiction. Absurd, provocative, philosophical, and idiosyncratic, these markedly varied, darkly amusing pieces of condensed prose are as engrossing and satisfying as they are surprising and thought-provoking.”

American media historian, author, and professor emeritus at Boston College, Michael C. Keith strikes a humorous note as he dwells on death and the human condition in this comical, quasi-philosophical collection of microfiction. Keith, the author of nearly two dozen books on electronic media, including The Radio Station (a widely used textbook) and Waves of Rancor (featured on President Clinton’s 1999 holiday reading list), has also written a notable memoir that was praised by Larry King and Augusten Burroughs. Over the past decade, he has primarily focused on speculative fiction, frequently contributing to the Lowestoft Chronicle and other literary magazines. He has also authored a young adult novel and fourteen story collections. His latest, Let Us Now Speak of Extinction, is an epic assortment of diverse and weighty topics that have been whittled down to brilliant, bite-sized narratives.

Containing over two hundred and thirty exceedingly short works of fiction, with very few exceeding a page in length and most no longer than a paragraph, Keith consistently manages to make each story distinctive and fully formed. He also delights in poking fun at death and human suffering, injecting his pieces with a virulent strain of dark humor.

Published today in the Colorado Review is my review of Michael C. Keith’s collection Let Us Now Speak of Extinction.

Read the full, in-depth book review here

Litchfield reviews ‘Mademoiselle Bambù’ for the Colorado Review

Mademoiselle Bambù by Pierre Mac Orlan

Mademoiselle Bambù is an unexpected pleasure. Rich with dark humor, fertile imagination, and eloquent, intelligent reflection, it offers an admirably unique, disorienting, hallucinatory approach to storytelling.”

Merging crime, espionage, and absurdist fiction, French author Pierre Mac Orlan (born Pierre Dumarchey in 1882)—a prolific writer of adventure novels, erotica, songs, essays, and memoirs—constructs a compelling novel of intrigue set in the murky shadows of Europe in the 1920s and 1930s. Written in stages over the course of decades, Mademoiselle Bambù comprises several pieces of writing, revised and consolidated into a single volume and reprinted in English with exquisite, original, sketch-like illustrations by Orlan’s friend, Gus Bofa, an artist who is best remembered for his book illustrations of French literary classics and his collaborations with Orlan.

Aaron Peck, in his afterword to the book, emphasizes the importance of Bofa’s contributions to Mademoiselle Bambù in serving to complement Orlan’s moody work and underline the obscure and shadowy characters who populate the story. “His drawings suggest the existential darkness that overtook a Europe defaced by war and modernization,” remarks Peck, noting that “his style is dark, almost resembling the aesthetics of film noir, though at times it is also goofy or playful.”

This handsome edition also features an enlightening introduction by Chris Clarke, responsible for translating the text into English, who describes the author’s particular take on the spy novel as a “poignant example of Mac Orlan’s blending of the social fantastic with the adventure novel and a dark and latent surrealism.” Opting to confine the main narrator’s role to “the odd polite interjection and occasional comments,” Mademoiselle Bambù—which examines the life of Signorina Bambù, a double agent in the service of France, and the diabolical career of sinister spy Père Barbançon—is told through wistful confessions by Captain Hartmann, an adventurer and accidental spy, and through the “observations and fabrications” of Paul Uhle, the odious proprietor of a boarding house in Brittany where Barbançon spends his final days. Philosophical, darkly humorous, and highly original, much of the book’s pleasure is derived from Orlan’s astute, comic observations and his colorful, if sometimes derisive, depictions of the larger-than-life main characters.

Published today in the Colorado Review is my review of Pierre Mac Orlan’s admirably unique, disorienting, and hallucinatory spy novel Mademoiselle Bambù.

Read the full, in-depth book review here

Litchfield Reviews Solemn Graves by James R. Benn

LEP.CO.UK - Solemn Graves by James R. Benn

Solemn Graves is another must-read entry in the outstanding Billy Boyle Second World War mysteries, offering fascinating details about the unique, thousand-man military unit known as the Ghost Army whose courageous acts of tactical deception are estimated to have saved tens of thousands of soldier’s lives.”

Set in the summer of 1944, this is the thirteenth adventure for Boyle, the Boston detective turned U.S. Army investigator assigned sensitive WWII military investigations by his ‘uncle’ General Eisenhower.

Here, he travels to a farmhouse near the town of Trévières in Normandy to investigate the murder of Major David Jerome, commanding officer of the Signals Company, Second Armored Division, who has been found with his throat cut in a chateau.

Unfortunately, the crime scene offers up few clues and few witnesses, except for the ‘haunted, fragile, ethereal beauty’ Yvonne Virot, who discovered the dead body. Yvonne, whose dress is stained with Jerome’s blood, is a houseguest of wealthy widow Madame Regine Janvier, owner of the property and a former French Resistance agent.

The trauma Yvonne has suffered at the hands of the Germans has resulted in her becoming mute, and so she can offer little to help Boyle’s investigation.

Other figures in the small community are suspiciously tight-lipped and equally unhelpful, and by far the most dubious character of all is Claude Legrand, a liaison with the Resistance who is actively involved in killing and torturing suspected German collaborators.

Feeling like he’s getting nowhere with his investigation, Boyle and his regular buddies, Staff Sergeant ‘Big Mike’ Miecznikowski and Lieutenant Piotr ‘Kaz’ Kazimierz, head out in search of the Second Armored Division and come across the uniquely gifted Ghost Army.

As usual, Benn crafts a highly entertaining murder mystery, as well as eloquently reflecting on the horrors of war and bringing to light less discussed wartime incidents, such as the brutal punishment inflicted on women during the épuration légale (wild purge).

My review of Solemn Graves is featured today in the Lancashire Post and syndicated to 20 newspapers in the UK. The full review can be found at the web link below and elsewhere.

Read more at: https://www.lep.co.uk/lifestyle/books/poughkeepsie-shuffle-by-dietrich-kalteis-book-review-1-9342204