LEP.CO.UK - Book review: The Devouring by James R. Benn

“In the twelfth instalment of James R. Benn’s much-loved wartime mystery series, the inimitable military sleuth Billy Boyle is transported to Switzerland to investigate a murder, monitor dubious bankers and a profiteering Gestapo agent, and help expose the illegal gold transactions coming out of Germany.

Benn’s long-running historical mystery series set during the Second World War has been entertaining world audiences since 2006. Always full of action, murder, suspense, espionage and mystery, the adventures of the Boston detective-turned-army investigator continually address fresh themes and find the charismatic Boyle in different, wide-ranging locations, confronted with a new set of challenges. Incredibly, given that The Devouring marks Boyle’s twelfth outing, you never get that sense of déjà vu.

Previously, Boyle was on assignment in France, the night before the Allied invasion of Normandy, delivering a radio and weapons to the French Resistance and collecting a vital soldier. Here, Benn postpones focusing on D-Day to send Boyle and his sidekick, Lieutenant Piotr ‘Kaz’ Kazimierz, to Switzerland to help Office of Strategic Services (OSS) chief Allen Dulles with Operation Safehaven, an Anglo-American programme to locate and seize Nazi assets when the war is over.

Alas, their mission doesn’t quite go to plan, getting off to a bumpy start the moment they journey through south-eastern France, headed for the Swiss border. The hair-raising flight over the Rhone River near Lyon, taking them past a nearby Luftwaffe airfield, finds tracer bullets ‘dancing against the darkness in graceful, deadly arcs,’ ripping into the wing of their Lysander aircraft and sending them into a fatal spin.

The Devouring is another compelling Billy Boyle mystery. Well-plotted and full of intense action, intrigue and historical insight, James R. Benn’ series shows no signs of slowing down.”

My review of The Devouring (A Billy Boyle World War II Mystery) by James R. Benn is published today in the Lancashire Evening Post, and syndicated to 25 newspapers across the UK.

Read the review here.


LEP.CO.UK - Eve / More Deadly Than the Male by James Hadley Chase

“In two shocking tales reprinted from the 1940s, one of the world’s most notorious crime writers explores a self-destructive writer’s catastrophic fixation with a prostitute, and a meek, introverted encyclopaedia salesman’s transformation into the daring, determined hoodlum he has always fantasised about.

Although best remembered for his infamous debut novel, No Orchids for Miss Blanding, prolific British writer James Hadley Chase (aka René Raymond) authored some 90 books, more than half of which were turned into movies.

Following in the footsteps of author James M. Cain, Chase’s stories are predominantly hard-boiled American crime noir. Eve and More Deadly Than the Male, both originally published in the mid-1940s, are powerful examples of Chase’s ability to shock, dismay and enthral the reader.

While too depressing for some, Gregory Shepard, in his introduction to this Stark House reprint, considers these Chase novels ‘possibly the darkest tales he ever penned,’ lauding Eve as ‘the ultimate noir.’ Although surprisingly scant on violence and crime, it’s full of dark, unpleasant and sleazy situations, and features a thoroughly wretched protagonist.

Set during the Golden Age of Hollywood, with the contemptible narrator Clive Thurston rubbing elbows and knocking heads with talented screenwriters and directors and powerful literary agents and movie producers who can make or break careers, Eve is, in spite of its exciting, glamorous surroundings, a remarkably grim and sordid tale of obsession, paranoia and guilt.

Unlike those around him, Thurston is a despicable rogue who is charming and charismatic only when he wants to be and lacks good judgment and discipline. A much-admired playwright, owing to the fact he took credit for his dead friend’s work, he has had moderate success with novels but hasn’t any real talent and is on a downward spiral. Screenplays or a basic magazine article about the women of Hollywood are beyond his talents.

The second novel, More Deadly Than the Male, set in London, contains a similarly cold, manipulative, fiercely independent woman with a vicious temper and, once again, she is responsible for luring a man to his doom.

This time, the hapless victim, 27-year-old George Fraser, is a former bank clerk of ten years who, because of gambling problems, has lost his job and wound up as a door-to-door salesman. Given that he is unnaturally shy and sensitive, lacks confidence, believes that whatever he plans to do is ‘bound to end in failure,’ and suffers from ‘an acute inferiority complex,’ he is ill-suited to the job.

He is also lonely and bashful, very inexperienced with women, and craves adventure. In his spare time, he reads American pulp magazines and dreams about gangsters and G-men, concocting wildly imaginative stories of his fictitious adventures in America – a place he has never visited – as mobster Frank Kelly’s gunman.

Exciting and engrossing, More Deadly Than the Male is a neatly plotted, character-focused crime novel with several distinctive, if unsavoury, characters. Cora, the unobtainable, money-grubbing femme fatale in ratty clothes, is as ruinous as the well-groomed prostitute Eve in the previous story, but much more devious and treacherous.

Harsh and murky, these dramatic, penetrating stories are captivating and distinctive, and well worth seeking out.

My review of Eve and More Deadly Than the Male by James Hadley Chase is published today in the Lancashire Evening Post, and syndicated to 25 newspapers across the UK.

Read the full review here.

Litchfield Reviews The Pyx by John Buell for the Lancashire Post

LEP.CO.UK - The Pyx by John Buell

First published in 1959 and later made into a Canuxploitation film starring Christopher Plummer, Canadian novelist John Buell’s critically acclaimed debut novel, The Pyx, is reprinted for the first time in 25 years.

Buell, a full-time professor and part-time writer who penned five novels, three of which were adapted to film, died in 2013 aged 86. His third novel was translated into many languages and his work reviewed in major newspapers and highly praised by prominent American writers like Edmund Wilson and Anthony Boucher, and yet he continues to remain a relatively obscure Québécois writer.

The Pyx, published when he was 32 years old, is an eloquent, suspenseful crime novel exploring the mysterious death of an expensive call girl who fell from a penthouse terrace… and a homicide detective’s relentless search for the truth.

Told through flashbacks and statements given to Henderson, the dogged, resourceful detective assigned to the case, Buell’s shocking and poignant story takes a stark look at the damaged victims of prostitution and drug addiction.

Trapped in a sordid, utterly destructive existence, these women were enmeshed in a ‘semi-civilized and part-psychotic fringe underworld where pleas and tears from beautiful young flesh were part of the kicks.’

Included in this Ricochet Books edition is an introduction by writer Sean Kelly, one of Buell’s former students, whose notes on the text and personal recollections of his teacher add valuable insight to the man and his work.

Dark and tragic, The Pyx is a rewarding tale with dramatically powerful scenes, rich, expressive language, and a sensitive, thoughtfully sketched female protagonist who is ‘out of the reach of human love’ and who maintains a haunting presence throughout this enthralling novel.

My review of The Pyx by John Buell is published today in the Lancashire Post, and syndicated to 25 newspapers across the UK.

Read the review here

Litchfield Reviews The Last Notch by Arnold Hano for the Lancashire Post

LEP.CO.UK - The Last Notch by Arnold Hano

Reprinted for the first time under his own name, American author Arnold Hano’s innovative, provocative Wild West tale of greed, self-loathing and redemption sees a legendary outlaw attempting the perilous, complicated path toward amnesty.

Hano, now aged 95, is a distinguished sportswriter who has authored nine sports books and contributed many sports-related articles to periodicals like Sport magazine and Sports Illustrated. Author of the critically-acclaimed A Day in the Bleachers, published in 1955, he was also the founding editor of Lion Books, a notable paperback publisher in the 1950s, and served as managing editor for Bantam Books.

Aside from his non-fiction books and work as a book editor and journalist, he was a highly productive writer of fiction in the 1950s and 1960s. Written under various pseudonyms, his standalone novels range from crime fiction and Westerns to fictional biographies and film novelizations.

The Last Notch, originally published in 1958, is one of five diverse novels written under the name Matthew Gant. Given his remarkable versatility and nonconformist approach, it is perhaps unsurprising that his literary style varies from book to book, or that The Last Notch is an unconventional Western.

The story centres on a complex, sympathetically drawn cowboy named Ben Slattery. Born into slavery, rejected by his white father and burdened with guilt over the death of his black mother, he carries painful memories of his boyhood in the cotton fields and is riddled with self-hatred.

Having long since been granted his freedom, he has gone on to become a widely feared professional killer known by those in his trade as ‘Wolf.’ Aged 37, with 29 kills to his name – although though he claims to have stopped counting years ago – Slattery has suddenly grown sick of killing and tired of being a tool ‘moved by others for other men’s ends’ and now wants to live normally and decently.

Stylish, perceptive, and character-driven, The Last Notch is a constantly interesting, notable Western which deliberately lurches away from the expected trail and defies conventions.

David Laurence Wilson, in his detailed introduction to this Stark House reprint, describes Hano as a ‘challenging, subversive’ author looking for ‘untouched subjects and unusual formats.’ And The Last Notch, with its focus on economic, cultural, and political issues, and starring a killer with a social conscience, is certainly a refreshingly different sort of Western, highlighting Hano’s uniqueness and masterly talents for storytelling. A surprising, top-notch tale…

My review of Arnold Hano’s The Last Notch is published today in the Lancashire Evening Post, and syndicated to 25 newspapers across the UK.

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Colorado Review - Behind the Mask: An Anthology of Heroic Proportions by Tricia Reeks and Kyle Richardson, editors

“Rocketing into speculative fiction territory, Behind the Mask, a strikingly entertaining anthology of short stories focused on the everyday lives of those in possession of superhuman abilities, sparkles with vibrant luminosity and star-spangled hipness.”

The Colorado Review features my review of the latest book from Meerkat Press, Behind the Mask: An Anthology of Heroic Proportions, edited by Tricia Reeks and Kyle Richardson.

Litchfield Reviews Smith by Timothy J. Lockhart for the Lancashire Post

LEP.CO.UK - Smith by Timothy J. Lockhart

Blackmailed into working for a secret government organisation, a hard-bitten former servicewoman overcomes a perilous training programme to become a highly skilled and extremely resourceful assassin in a taut, action-packed thriller.

In his explosive debut novel, Smith, former US Navy officer Timothy J. Lockhart draws on his years of experience working with various government intelligence agencies to craft a gripping tale of international intrigue.

The action focuses on a secretive corporation, calling themselves ‘the Enterprise,’ which is intent on eliminating undesirable political figures, terrorists, and influential leaders of regimes they believe pose a threat to US national security.

Not connected with the government, the organisation is free to engage in clandestine overseas operations without repercussion. In truth, their clients are ‘a few federal agencies of the government,’ providing them with the money, information and resources to succeed.

The Enterprise also has a highly classified programme in place to identify military personnel coming off active duty, and is keen to target those with the necessary talents and motivations to work with them.

One such person of interest is the tough-as-nails loner who goes by the alias Smith. Mentally scarred by a traumatic experience serving in Afghanistan, Smith, now 26 years old, has since turned into a revenge-fuelled killer.

Having gunned down a man who once served alongside her in the Army, she is captured while making her getaway and brought to the Enterprise headquarters to meet the Director who is keen to recruit her.

Facing life in prison should the evidence be turned over to the police, she is forced to accept his offer, agreeing to kill for them.

Timothy J. Lockhart takes great care to make the gruelling boot camp and plentiful moments of gunplay delightfully gritty and ostensibly authentic, and Smith is a suitably captivating heroine.

Odious secondary characters like the lecherous, scheming Assistant Director and Dietzler, the antagonistic fellow recruit, keep you rooting for Smith, a persecuted killer trapped in a role she yearns to escape, learning to accept that there is no going back and ‘no way out.’

Solidly entertaining, with an interesting female lead character who has plenty of grit and toughness, Smith is a notable hard-boiled noir that hits the ground running, with guns blazing and knives slashing, and doesn’t let up until there are ample corpses piled high.

My review of Smith by Timothy J. Lockhart is published today in the Lancashire Evening Post, and syndicated to 25 newspapers across the UK.

Read the full review here

Litchfield Reviews Stranded by Matthew P. Mayo for the Lancashire Post

LEP.CO.UK - Stranded by Matthew P. Mayo

Best known as an author of popular western novels, Matthew P. Mayo produces his finest work of fiction to date with this compelling, heartbreaking account of Janette Riker’s harrowing experiences while stranded for months on end in the Rockies, battling blizzards, frostbite and floods, and a vast array of ravenous, menacing creatures.

Based on a true story and told in the form of journal entries, Mayo’s novel begins at the very start of the Riker family’s ill-fated journey westward toward Oregon Territory.

Three months into their trip, ‘with the most difficult stretch still to come’ as the final three-day journey to Oregon will be through mountain passes, they decide to stop and replenish their depleted food stocks. Her 12-year-old brother, Thomas, ‘an uneven mix of good and rascal, of laziness and kindness,’ and William, aged 16, ‘who sometimes seems older than Papa,’ set off for the day with their father to go buffalo hunting. They never return.

Alone except for two oxen, and unsure of the best path through the mountains, Janette has no choice but to stay put. Armed with an axe, a shotgun and a hip knife, her best hope for survival is to build a shelter, set traps for rabbits and other small game and recollect every scrap of advice her father ever gave her.

Placed in such a horrifying and distressing situation, while at the same time having to overcome the sudden loss of her family, it is remarkable how Janette Riker is able to adapt to her hostile environment and rise to every new challenge. The reader can’t help but be inspired by her bravery, determination and extraordinary resilience.

Gripping, unsettling, and deeply affecting, Stranded is a powerful and unforgettable tale of courage and endurance in the face of adversity. A remarkable, must-read novel.

My review of Stranded by Matthew P. Mayo is published today in the Lancashire Evening Post, and syndicated to 25 newspapers across the UK.

Read the full review here

Litchfield Reviews Mrs. Jeffries Rights A Wrong by Emily Brightwell for the Lancashire Post

LEP.CO.UK - Mrs. Jeffries Rights a Wrong by Emily Brightwell

Prolific New York Times bestselling American author Emily Brightwell (aka Cheryl Arguile) has been penning popular cosy mysteries on a regular basis for the past 24 years. Adding a novel twist to standard detective fiction, her long-running Victorian historical mystery series featuring the incisive Mrs. Jeffries and her invaluable squad of determined, below-stairs novice sleuths has gained a keen international following, with the books proving just as popular in parts of Europe and Asia.

In her newest novel, Mrs. Jeffries Rights a Wrong, which marks the 35th entry in the series, Brightwell delivers another entertaining and intricately plotted murder mystery set around a bustling London hotel and focused as much on uncovering the truth about the ‘slick as a slippery eel’ victim as on discovering the identity of the killer.

Well-told and with an absorbing, carefully constructed mystery at its core, Mrs. Jeffries Rights a Wrong is another great addition to Emily Brightwell’s robust series.

My review of Mrs. Jeffries Rights A Wrong by Emily Brightwell (aka Cheryl Arguile) is published today in the Lancashire Evening Post, and syndicated to 25 newspapers across the UK.

Read the full review here


LEP.CO.UK - The Delight of Being Ordinary by Roland Merullo

“Missing and believed kidnapped by the Mafia, two of the world’s most recognisable holy men embark on a secret, impromptu road trip across the appealing Italian countryside in a delightfully whimsical novel from acclaimed American author Roland Merullo.”

My review of The Delight of Being Ordinary by Roland Merullo is published today in the Lancashire Evening Post, and syndicated to 25 newspapers across the UK.

Read the full review here