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

Litchfield Reviews Poughkeepsie Shuffle by Dietrich Kalteis

LEP.CO.UK - Poughkeepsie Shuffle by Dietrich Kalteis

“Full of jaw-smacking fistfights, rip-roaring car chases, and gun-blazing gang battles, Poughkeepsie Shuffle delivers a mighty thump of thrills and spills, and carloads of mean-tempered sons of bitches.”

Dietrich Kalteis, the author of the notable books Triggerfish and Zero Avenue, is fast becoming one of Canada’s top crime writers. Prior to writing novels, he was a short story writer, contributing fifty or so tales to literary magazines. You can find a couple of good ones in the archives of the Lowestoft Chronicle.

Dietrich’s debut novel, Ride the Lightning, won a bronze medal at the 2015 Independent Publisher Book Awards for best regional fiction, and since then he’s gone on to publish five books with the big Canadian publisher ECW Press.
His books have garnered a number of fine reviews from publications like Kirkus Reviews, The Globe and Mail, and Publishers Weekly.

I was lucky enough to review his previous novel, Zero Avenue, for the Lancashire Post. You can read that review here.

His latest work, another standalone novel, is a crime caper set in Toronto in the mid-1980s. It features a pack of fierce lowlifes all shooting for the high life and is centered on a somewhat likable fifty-year-old ex-con named Jeff Nichols.

Soon after Jeff is release from Don Jail, having served an 18-month stretch for stealing cars, he is persuaded by a former prison inmate to work for Ted Bracey, the no-good owner of a used car lot in Toronto. What Jeff doesn’t tell his long-time girlfriend, Ann – who has stayed with him while he served his prison sentence in the hope that they will one day have kids and own a home – is that the company is a front for a criminal operation covertly transporting automatic weapons over the Canadian border.

Ignoring Ann’s pleas for him to get a regular job and adjust to suburban life, Jeff buys into Ted’s promise of easy money and rapid promotion and convinces himself that his ‘days of bum deals and scratching a living’ are over. His high-risk job offers no salary except a twenty-five percent commission on sales, the threat of getting shot or dismembered, and the excellent potential for a return to prison.

Ted’s operation involves buying cars at auctions in upstate New York and employing a crew in Poughkeepsie to hide pistols in sealed bags in the gas tanks, and weld cells under the chassis of the cars, packing them with Uzis. They then put the cars on a trailer and ship them north.

Given a $2500 cash gift, his own office, an automatic pistol, tailored suits, and allowed to steer the boss’s 36-footer yacht, for Jeff there is no turning back. Flush with cash and on the rise, he becomes firmly rooted in Ted’s organization and powerless to escape an inevitable decline into violence, bloodshed, savagery, and a perpetual life of crime.

My review of Poughkeepsie Shuffle 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

Paperback Warrior Reviews James O. Causey’s The Baby Doll Murders / Killer Take All! / Frenzy

The Baby Doll Murders / Killer Take All! / Frenzy by James O. Causey

“James O. Causey got his start in the 1940s writing short stories for “Weird Tales” and “Detective Story Magazine.” As the pulps died off, he became a highly-regarded, if not well-known, author of short, hardboiled crime novels. Stark House has compiled three of Causey’s classics into one volume for 21st Century audiences. The new trade paperback includes “The Baby Doll Murders,” “Killer Take All,” and “Frenzy” as well as an introduction by Nicholas Litchfield.

Despite problems of plot and pacing, Causey’s hardboiled, first-person prose is among the best. For example, His descriptions of acts of violence are vivid while also being matter-of-fact. Taking a professional beating in the groin, ribs, and kidneys is just an occupational hazard in this world, and those scenes were vivid as hell.”

Paperback Warrior is a review and discussion blog that takes a humorous look at the Men’s Action-Adventure book genre. From barrel chests to bullet belts Paperback Warrior doesn’t pull any punches. You can read their review of this new reprint of James O. Causey’s trio of novels on their website.

Read the full book review here.