Monday, 16 November 2020

The Memoirs of Solar Pons

Author: August Derleth
First Published: 1951
File size/Pages: 1373KB / 251pp
Ebook Publisher: Belanger Books
Ebook Date: Jun 2018

Despite what may have been published in the 1970's, the second collection of cases for Solar Pons was actually The Memoirs of Solar Pons. So in keeping with the republished and reformatted ebooks by Belanger Books I am following their sequence and downloaded the next chronological installement of the adventures of the most famous of Sherlock Holmes successors.

Memoirs sees author August Derleth in fine form. He weaves Holmesian influences, references and homage into his second book about Solar Pons, the private detective who uses prodigious powers of observation and deduction to solve crimes in 1920's and 1930's London, from his base in an apartment at 7B Praed Street. There is even a reference to that other man of exceptional detecting talent, Dr. John Thorndyke (I'd recommend grabbing a copy of the The Red Thumb Mark or The Eye of Osiris if you can). Derleth cleverly manages to squeak in a sneaky appearance of Lovecraftian literature, which adds a bit of spice to one of the tales (see below).

There are eleven stores, one less than in Regarding Sherlock Holmes - however, these are in my opinion far superior in structure and in the telling. Derleth is able to weave more variety and greater story-building into Memoirs than he did before. The stakes are higher, the need to deduct more quickly is evident, and the supporting characters are more finely drawn. It's clear that the author had improved in his wirting skills at this time. Despite my miss-givings with the first book, this one starts well and, with only a few exceptions, holds its interest throughout. A number of the tales are longer in form, allowing for more interaction between Pons, his assistant Dr Lyndon Parker, suspects, and Police Detective Jamison.

Pons' relationship with Parker begins to take a different slant over Holmes and Watson in this collection I feel. Whereas Holmes elicits some comradeship and even a little brotherly love towards Dr Watson - Dr Parker doesn't appear to receive the same treatment from his exceptionally talented partner. There is a more critical vein running through Soalr Pons. He is only too quick to put Parker down, and seems to relish it more than Holmes ever did with Watson (or perhaps I'm more familiar with the later and have a tendancy to over romanticize it?).

Monday, 2 November 2020

Hard Target - The Zone #1

Author: James Rouch
Ebook Publisher:  Speaking Volumes
Ebook Date: Jul. 2012
File size/Pages: 513KB / 158pp
First Published: New English Library, 1980

"For two years The Zone has been alive with death, ravaged by war beyond sanity, raped with fire and poison."

So goes the blurb on the back of Hard Target: The Zone #1 by James Rouch. An alternative timeline novel where the fall of the Berlin Wall never happened and a Third World War has developed between NATO and the Soviet Union. 

There isn't a lot of information available about the author. His is (was?) British, lives in the west of England. The Zone series and three other war fiction novels appear to be his only books to date. He became a literary agent and had his own company website at one time, but that no longer exists and I can't find anything else.

Written in 1980 at the height of the late era Cold War when President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher - best of chums across the Atlantic - were battling tooth and nail with Leonid Brezhnev, the Russian leader. The 'Ruskies' had invaded Afghanistan in 1979. There was even a videogame issued by Atari called 'Missile Command' in which you could play at thermonuclear war. Nuclear warfare was just the twitch of a finger on a big red button away from reality.

Playing on this atmosphere, Rouch's series of books, running up to ten installments by 1990 I believe, pit the combined NATO forces of a group of American and British soldiers together into numerous missions in the ravaged wasteland now called The Zone. 

Hard Target takes place two years after the outbreak of WWIII. There isn't any supporting history to explain the current fictional political situation, or the evolution of the contaminated land that most of the action takes place in. Rouch relies upon segments of the book that take the form of reports to HQ, or messages to the Team, to give a little back-story. However, he does cheekily recommend that the reader might want to locate some reference sources such as, "Pawns of Politics; A study of the refugee problem inside The Zone."

Saturday, 24 October 2020

Marksman and Other Stories

Author: William Campbell Gault
Publisher:  Crippen & Landru
Date: Mar. 2003
Pages: 206
Not currently available in eBook format or paperback

Marksman contains a loving end-piece by Shelly Gault, daughter of William Campbell Gault. In it, she reminisces about how her father would proudly claim that from the moment he began writing up until the early 1980's, he had sold everything he had ever written.

It's no surprise. Gault could write exceptionally well, and was quick to spot opportunities. When he saw dwindling sales of mystery fiction in the 1960's he turned his attention to writing juvenile fiction exclusively and began a long and successful period of his career. As she adds he "loved it when he heard that his titles were among the most stolen from libraries"!

Crippen & Landru have been publishing a series of books in their The Lost Classics Series since 2002. These consist of uncollected stories by great mystery and detective writers of the past. Most are published in hardback, but if you look carefully you can find some in eBook format. This particular issue is currently not available in electronic format yet.

This collection of short literature from William Campbell Gault consists of twelve tales published between 1940 and 1957 in magazines such as Clues, S&S Dectective Story Magazine, Mercury Mystery Magazine and premier titles such as Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, Blackmask and Manhunt (none of which made it into 2019's The Best of Manhunt if you are wondering). The first six are stories unrelated to each other, and cover the period from 1940 to the middle fifties. A few contain detectives, but most of them involve men-about-town who are involved in strange circumstance. The second half of Marksman contains the complete collection of short tales featuring one of Gault's most famous creations, Private Investigator, Joe Puma that appeared in 1956 and 1957.

Thursday, 15 October 2020

Rough Trade

Author: Robert Silverberg
Publisher: PS Publishing
Date: Dec. 2017
Pages: 415
Not currently available in eBook format or paperback

In 2012, Hard Case Crime published Robert Silverberg's novelette Blood on the Mink, packaged together with a couple of short stories (Dangerous Doll and One Night of Violence). These stories had been written by Silverberg in the late fifties and early sixties for pulp magazines of the time. The success of the HCC paperback prompted a new interest in the authors crime back catalogue, and so in 2017, British independant publishing house PS Publishing release a limited run of his stories from the same period as Rough Trade.

This new collection contains 23 short stories (but does also include One Night of Violence from the HCC paperback) covering the years from 1957 to 1961. Most of the stories are around ten to twelve pages in length, with a few 10,000 worders increasing that to 30 page tales. All of them appeared in one of two pulp magazines that Silverberg was providing a constant stream of material too, Guilty and Trapped. As he says in one of the introductions that preface each story, for some reason Guilty was the more poular magazine despite it covering exactly the same type of crime/hardboiled/delinquent teenager type of content as its companion magazine. Both magazines were edited by the same man, W.W. Scott, to whom Harlan Ellison introduced Silverberg. Thus was born a period of his life where he supplemented his living by sending rapidly written shorts to Scott for consideration.

Silverberg left college and got married in 1956. He immediately began to write full-time - he had already started writing science fiction whilst in college, and wanted to continue to write for a living. Whilst his partner went to work, there was pressure on him to contribute to their living costs. At this time there were very few publishers issuing regular science fiction magazines, nowhere enough for Silverberg to earn good money. Needing to branch out, he began to write for many of the pulps inclinding submissions of Westerns, Sports and Mens Adventure tales. But crime was still king in the late fifties, and so he eventually began to churn out the sort of stories that he hoped would appear in Manhunt

Wednesday, 7 October 2020

The Horror on the Links (The Complete Tales of Jules de Grandin #1)

Author: Seabury Quinn
Ebook Publisher: Night Shade
Ebook Date: Apr. 2017
File size/Pages: 1109KB / 512pp
First Published: 2017 (original tales 1925-28)

Night Shade books produced a fantastic set of hardback books in 2017 that have collected all 92 tales of the occult detective, Dr Jules de Grandin by Seabury Quinn. These are handsome editions set in chronological order across five volumes. Thankfully they decided to also make them available in the eBook format.

Volume One contains a sumptuous 23 tales, across a hefty 500 pages, the first of which graced the pages of Weird Tales in 1925. The tales cover the first four years and culminate with the story featured in the December 1928 issue.

Seabury Quinn was born in Washington, USA in 1889 and died in 1969. After graduating from law school he attained the bar in the District of Columbia. Serving in World War One, he subsequently became the editor for trade papers in New York, started teaching medical jurisprudence, wrote technical articles and began submitting pulp magazine fiction stories. He continued to write for the pulps despite still remaining an active lawyer. His most famous creation was Dr Jules de Grandin.

De Grandin is a French doctor who has a particluar expertise in all matters of the paranormal and supernatural. His is a flamboyant character, wearing immaculate clothing, and always recongnisable due to his white hair and waxed moustache. His manners are also, at various times, brusque; demure; excitable; unforgiving, and ingratiating. But underneath there is a vicious hatred of evil in all its forms. It's sometimes quite surprising how ruthless de Grandin can be when dispatching his enemies - death befalls most of them.

Accompanying the French investigator is the loyal and level-headed partner, Dr Samuel Trowbridge. A Physician based in Harrisonville, New Jersey, he assists de Grandin in a succession of cases due to accidental meetings in America and abroad (The Isle of Missing Ships is a wonderful example, see below). These meetings soon dissapear as de Grandin seemingly moves to Harrisonville permanently.

Wednesday, 23 September 2020

The Keep

eBook edition
Author: F. Paul Wilson
Ebook Publisher: Wilsongs
Ebook Date: Nov. 2013
File size/Pages: 1162KB / 377pp
First Published: 1981

F. Paul Wilson is an author who has made his mark. He is the author of more than fifty books. He has covered many genres including horror, science fiction and thrillers. He has also written for the comic medium, plays, television and movie treatments. He sometimes writes young adult novels. He is probably most well known for his Repairman Jack series of novels about an anti-hero involved in a age-long battle across time. His first published novel was The Healer in 1976, a Sci-Fi book that eventually became part of his LaNague Federation sequence.

In 1981 Wilson published The Keep. A horror novel involving Nazis, a Romanian Castle/Keep and an ancient vampire. This novel became the first in what is called The Adversary Cycle, which now encompasses six titles. The book was a hit, and very quickly the film rights were snapped up. By 1983 a motion picture was distributed by Paramount Pictures starring Scott Glenn, J├╝rgen Prochnow and Ian McKellen amongst others. German electronic music band Tangerine Dream produced the soundtrack (which is great if you can get hold of a copy). The film was not received very well, and is probably deserved. It has a fascinating history I'd recommend anyone looking up. I haven't seen the movie for a long time - but my own memory of seeing it as a teenager, most likely on video cassette, was that it was extremely creepy (I was most likely heavily influenced by the music if I'm honest). With that in mind, I thought I'd choose The Keep as one of the books for Horror Month here on Digital Bibliophilia.

Almost the whole of The Keep is located within or close by the Keep. Set in the Dinu Pass, high up in the Carpathian Mountains of Romania in April 1941, this ancient fortification is targeted by the Nazis as key spot to post a garrison of troops. Their orders are to guard the pass from Allied encroachment in to the Romanian oil fields that will soon be made available to them after their newly formed pact with the country.