Monday, 14 June 2021

Skull Still Bone (A Dr Quarshie mystery)

AuthorJohn Wyllie
Publisher: Barker Suspense
Date: 1975
Pages: 158
Cover illustration: William Rankin
Not currently available in Paperback or eBook format

One of the most pleasurable aspects of reading fiction is to be transported to another world from the one you live in. In the case of Science Fiction this can literally mean being whisked off to an alien world or a far distant universe unlike anything the human race has experienced. But for me, when it comes to other genres, being taken out of my own environment can be as simple as a different part of my own homeland, an alternative period in time, a foreign country, or even another continent. The most enjoyable of these 'trips' I favour, is when I am reading about the exploits of people who come from a decidedly different culture from my own. So although reading about Philip Marlowe in 1940s or 1950 Los Angeles might be a joy I will never tire of, reading about a Doctor and amateur detective set in a West African state in the 1970s really captures my imagination and pleases the soul so much more.

I guess if you were to ask me before I wrote this article to name a literary detective based in Africa, I'd never have been able to come up with a response. To be even more honest if you were to ask, name a novel set in Africa, I'd probably have said "Tarzan of the Apes", and not be able to add many more to ERB's legacy. So it was a very refreshing change to be able to find out that there is a series of detective (sort of) books set in that continent.

The Dr Quarshie books were written by Canadian author John Wyllie during the 1970s and 1980s. As far as I can make out there are eight of them, beginning with the novel I read, Skull Still Bone from 1975. Some of them were eventually published in paperback from Keyhole Crime although I haven't actually found a copy of Skull Still Bone in that format so far.

Saturday, 5 June 2021

Halloween Rain (Buffy the Vampire Slayer)

AuthorChristopher Golden & Nancy Holder
First Published1995
Pages: 118 (163pp)
Ebook Publisher: Simon Pulse
Ebook Date: Dec. 2017

Sometimes you just need a fast, fun, satisfying read that doesn't tax your brain too much and can be consumed over a weekend or less. I had a hankering for precisly such an experience so plumped up £2.99 for the eBook of Buffy the Vampire: Halloween Rain by Christopher Golden and Nancy Holder. It was perfect - a real blast from start to finish, full of the vim and vigour that the television series exhibited.

A Buffy book first appeared in 1992 - but this was only the novelisation of the original movie from that same year starring Donald Sutherland, Rutger Hauer and Luke Perry, with Kirsty Swanson as the eponymous Slayer. Following the success of the television series, it wasn't long before paperbacks began to appear on bookshelves. And for fans, it was a surprising combination of novelisations of the TV episodes, as well as original novels. Many fans highly praise the novelisations - and quite rightly. Some of them expand upon the broadcast versions very well. But for most of us, with re-runs and streaming services so readily available, it is original fiction that draws us in to buy tie-in paperbacks. 

Buffy the Vampire Slayer books have been written for both the young adult market as well as the mainstream market and flourished in both. This is no mean feat, I remember buying these books back in the day for my partner who was a huge fan (she still has an Angel mousemat I bought for her years ago) and there where a steady diet of books up until 2008. Even as recently as 2019 saw a number of books attempting to reboot the franchise with a new Slayer taking over from Buffy.

For those uninitiated, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the story of schoolgirl, Buffy Summers, the last in a line of young women known as "Vampire Slayers", or "Slayers". These young females or "Chosen Ones", are fated to battle against vampires, demons and other such forces of darkness that arise. But Buffy Summers wants to live the life of a normal teenager before learning to accept her destiny. As with all the previous Slayers, Buffy is aided by a "Watcher" (School librarian, Rupert Giles) who teaches and trains her to become a better Slayer. Buffy surrounds herself with her circle of loyal friends who later become known as the "Scooby Gang".

Sunday, 23 May 2021

Tightrope

AuthorJames Grant (aka Bruce Crowther)
Publisher: Muller
Date: 1979
Pages: 168
Cover illustration: Alun Hood 
Not currently available in Paperback or eBook format

 First off, I have to thank Bob Deis at MensPulpMags.com and publisher/editor of Men's Adventure Library and Mens Adventure Quartlery for pointing out to me that mysterious author James Grant from my previous blog entry had a profile on his Amazon.com author page informing everyone (expect me of course!) that it was the pen name of British writer Bruce Crowther. That knowlege set me off on the hunt for as much information as I could find about James Grant/Bruce Crowther. I am very pleased to be able to present below an update and fuller list of Crowther's work and history. Thanks Rob!

After being so impressed with The Ransom Commando, I have spent the last few weeks tracking down as many titles by Crowther as I can. The result is that I was driven to abandon my current read (The Chinese Bandit by Stephen Becker - I'm not too sure I'll ever get back to finishing that one?) in order to start reading Tightrope - a 1979 novel published under the James Grant name by Frederick Muller Limited in the UK in hardback format only it would seem. I don't believe there has ever been a mass market paperback edition, but there may have been a large-print paperback by Lynford Mystery Library put out at some point? 

Bruce Crowther (b.1933) was born and raised in Hull, England. He became an avid reader at a very young age and soon ran out of books to consume from the local library. He found himself turning to crime fiction and American literature; developing a passion for the books of Chandler, Cain and Woolrich. This interest accompanied his love of film noir that had begun in his youth. He began writing crime fiction as a way to escape the boredom he encountered in his working life in industry and accounting, and never looked back. All those years of consuming classic American noir fiction probably meant that it was inevitable he would take up crime fiction writing as an adult.

Friday, 7 May 2021

The Ransom Commando

AuthorJames Grant
Publisher: Hamlyn Paperbacks
Date: 1978
Pages: 184
Not currently available in eBook format

It's always a thrill to find an undiscovered gem of a book and unearth a wealth of material by an author that has gone unnoticed since their heyday in the 20th century. It gives me great pleasure to tell you I've just finished the best book that I have read so far in 2021. The book is titled The Ransom Commando and the author is listed as James Grant.

Now, before you get too excited, this is not the James Grant that became the publishing titan that is known as Lee Childs. Grant's work appeared in the late 1970's to early 1980's - long before Childs turned to writing. However, Grant is an exceptional writer if this book is anything to go by. Bloody fantastic in fact. A faultless thriller in the vein of the best work by British authors such as Bagley, Kyle, Lyall and Higgins. 

The story of The Ransom Commando takes place in and around a quiet village in the English countryside. Dave Lorrimar is enjoying a dirty weekend away from London with his young female partner. They are staying in the Fenton Oak public house owned by ex-soldier Simon Arne. There is something threatening about Lorrimar, the way he treats his women and the way he speaks to the locals, its clear he isn't the usual sort of visitor they get. Also, he has been paying special attention to the manor house that overlooks the small village, Fenton Hall. The house is owned by the multi-millionaire businessman Sir James Garroway.

Before long Lorrimar is back in London, and it becomes clear that he is a career criminal of some renown. He tends to keep his nose clean when it comes to outright violence or murder - but when the circumstances call for it, he is willing to shoot his way out of trouble without batting an eyelid. He gathers his team together to discuss plans to invade Fenton Hall and take the Garroway family, father, mother and two daughters, hostage in order to extract money out of the businessman in exchange for their safe release.

Lorrimar is accompanied by McKendrick, a steady and reliable crook with a terminally ill mother; Hart, an openly gay member of the team who has many talents up his sleeve, the most important being the ability to pilot small aircraft; and lastly Ken Mannion, someone who normally stays in the background by bankrolling their jobs, but who has unexpectedly insisted upon joining the trio on this job. All of them are planning on making this one big - enough to leave England and live abroad for the rest of their lives.

Sunday, 2 May 2021

DIECAST

AuthorJohn Michael Brett (aka Miles Barton Tripp)
Publisher: Pan Books
Date: 1964
Pages: 155
Not currently available in eBook format

Have you ever had a love/hate relationship with a book? I didn't think I would, but Diecast by (John) Michael Brett is certainly a title that I lurched from loving to absolutely hating on a regular basis while I read it.

Diecast is the first book in a short-lived spy series by Brett (real name Miles Tripp), that stars his protagonist Hugo Baron, man about danger. This is not the series of books that lead to the TV Series "The Baron", which originated from books by John Creasey. Brett's run of titles only lasted for three books over consecutive years; Diecast (1964), A Plague Of Dragons (1965) and A Cargo Of Spent Evil (1966).

Better known as Miles Tripp (1923 - 2000), an English author of Crime and Thriller novels from Hertfordshire, England. He is probably best known for his alomost yearly run of books starring the private detective John Samson throughout the seventies, eighties and nineties (all of which are currently available as eBooks, and are worth trying out if you have Kindle Unlimited). After serving in RAF Bomber Command during the Second World War, he studied Law and trained as a solicitor before becoming a writer.

Tripp uses his experience in the law industry for this book. And there are more similarities between the hero of the story and its author. For a start Hugo's surname is but a single letter away from being the writers' middle name (Barton). Baron is an unmarried 37-year old solicitor who is bored of the humdrum lifestyle he has developed and is eager to become a writer/journalist. He has already been submitting stories to a national paper run by maverick multi-millionaire Paul Lorenz, who has a fascination with Julius Cesear and is referred to as "J.C." by his employees.

Sunday, 11 April 2021

The Way of the Samurai

AuthorEiji Yoshikawa (Hidetsugu Yoshikawa)
First Published: In serialised form between 1935 - 1939
Pages: 301 (984 in total)
Ebook Publisher: Kodansha International
Ebook Date: Aug. 2012

Musashi is the title of a Japanese historical epic novel written by Eiji Yoshikawa that relates the tale of the life of legendary 17th century swordsman Musashi Miyamoto. In real life, Musashi himself was the author of the famous book on swordsmanship, The Book of Five Rings as well as The Path of Loneliness. He is regarded as a Sword-Saint (Kensei) in Japan, and was the survivor of sixty-one duels. His is renown for adopting the style of simultaneously wielding both a katana and the wakizashi, something unheard of in the 17th century. 

Musashi the novel, was originally published in serialised form between 1935 and 1939 in the newspaper Asahi Shimbun. Since then it has been translated and appears in both a single volume edition as well as being divided into separate paperback titles. It is commonly advertised as the "Japanese Gone with the Wind". For my review, although it is now available in single volume in eBook format, I have decided to read the paperback editions (purely because they have been sitting on my bookshelf for over twenty years waiting for the right time to be read). Although the tale of Musashi in it single volume form, is split into seven "books", the paperback titles do not confirm to the precise same structure. for instance, Book One in the single volume version consists of Chapters 1 to 12 - but my paperback copy published by Corgi in the UK in 1990 ends with Chapter 15 "Hannya Plain"; all of Book One "Earth" and half of Book Two "Water". Books One and Two are quite short in comparison to later Books, so these feels in keeping with the rest of the Corgi editions which consist of seven titles.

Eiji Yoshikawa was born in the Kanagawa Prefecture of Japan in 1892. The collapse of his fathers business, meant that he had to abandon his own education before completing Primary schooling ad start working as boy at the tender age of only eleven years old. Following various degrees of success at different jobs, Yoshikawa eventually found himself winning first prize in a novel-writing competition at the age of 22. By the time he was 29 he had joined the staff of a newspaper, and soon began to contribute serialised stories for publication. This success led to him to begin work on the life of Musashi.

Sunday, 28 March 2021

Poirot Investigates

AuthorAgatha Christie
First Published1924
Pages: 123
Ebook Publisher: HarperCollins
Ebook Date: Oct. 2010

Mention the name "Agatha Christie" to anyone, and even if they are not books fans, there is a good chance they will have heard of her creation, the Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot or one of the novels that he takes part in, such as Murder on the Orient Express, or Death on the Nile. Such is power and success of Christies books that she is still regarded as the Queen of Crime or the Mistress of Mystery. Critically speaking she is bullet-proof. As recently as the year 2000 (nearly 25 years after her death) she was crowned "Best Writer of the Century" and the Hercule Poirot books "Best Series of the Century" at the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention.

Thirteen years later, a staggering six hundred members of the Crime Writers' Association chose her novel, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd as "the best whodunit ... ever written", and again voted her the "best crime writer"; considering this is coming from an assocaition of professional novelists it is difficult to ignore. And it's no surprise that all of this praise is accompanied by massive commercial success, her books are hot property, not least when it comes to movie and television adaptations. Christie has been lauded as the second most financially successful crime writer of all time in the United Kingdom, sitting firmly behind James Bond author Ian Fleming. Estimated earnings are considered somewhere in the region of £100 million. The Christie estate continues to prosper into the 2020's with projects almost unhindered by the passage of time and tastes. Many of her stories manage to maintain such a grip that they are often produced as period pieces, retaining the settings and historical trappings of their original publication dates.

Sunday, 14 March 2021

Licence Renewed

Author: John Gardner
First Published1981
File size/Pages: 270
Ebook Publisher: Orion
Ebook Date: June 2011

John Gardner was approached by the Gildrose Publication company to take on the writing of a new range of Ian Fleming's James Bond novels in 1979. The first of these to see the light of day was Licence Renewed in 1981. Gardner had been set the task of updating the franchise. It was his idea to bring Bond into the modern age of spying, accompanied by the techniques and gadgetry of the time. Garnder ended up writing fourteen original Bond titles as well as two novelisations (Goldeneye and Licence to Kill).

Although Bond is described as having aged (a slight peppering of grey hair around the temples for example) there is no other indication that he is physically feeling the strain of his previous literary history of the 50's and 60's. He brings with him, minor changes to staffing at MI6 and a car that is, shock-horror, not British. M is still Bond's head of the Secret Intelligence Service; Bill Tanner still the Chief of Staff and Miss Moneypenny still acts as M's personal assistant.

Gardner was born in Northumberland, England in 1926 and passed away aged 80, in 2007. As well as writing James Bond novels, Gardner is also well-known for his series of books starring 'Boysie Oakes' (beginning with The Liquidator in 1964) and a number of books about Sherlock Holmes' nemesis, Professor Moriarty (The Return of Moriarty, 1974). During the Second World War, Gardner served with the Royal Navy and then the Royal Marines. So keen was he to do his bit that before joining the armed services he had even served in the Home Guard at the age of thirteen.

Following the war he was ordained as an Anglican priest, but realised he had made a terrible mistake and left in 1958 to become a drama critic. After reaching rock bottom due to alcoholism he turned to writing and eventually turned out the first of the Boysie Oakes novels in the early sixties. 

Saturday, 6 February 2021

The Red Thumb Mark

AuthorR. Austin Freeman
First Published1907
Pages199
Ebook Publisher: Various
Ebook Date: Various

When it comes to forensic investigation there is one literary character that stands head and shoulders above all others. The undisputed original template for television shows such as Bones, Waking the Dead and Crime Scene Investigation, with all of its spin-offs, CSI: Miami/Vegas/etc. 

The character is Dr. John Thorndyke, created by English writer Richard Austin Freeman in the early years of the twentieth century.

Thorndyke made his debut in the 1907 story The Red Thumb Mark. In it, he is ably assisted by his university friend Dr. Christopher Jervis, and his 'man' - the highly talented laboratory assistant Polton. The medico-legal expert resides at 5A King's Bench Walk located in the Inner Temple, one of the four Inns of Court in the City of London, England. The area has been well-known for many years as the center of London legal offices.

Freeman was open about Thorndyke being influenced by Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes character - but added that he wanted to infuse him with his own medical and legal experiences to embellish his consulting detective with an air of the (then) modern forensic methods, in order to separate him from the crowd.

In his own words from later introductions of his collected stories, Freeman says,
...I asked myself whether it might not be possible to devise a detective story of a slightly different kind - one based on the science of Medical Jurisprudence, in which, by the sacrifice of a certain amount of dramatic effect, one could keep entirely within the facts of real life, with nothing fictitious excepting the persons and the events.
Richard Austin Freeman lived between 1862 and 1943. Born in Britain, he went to medical school at the Middlesex Hospital where he qualified at the age of 24. After marriage, he and his family moved to Ghana, where he was a surgeon for the Colonial Services. Following many travels around the African continent he became ill and was sent home in 1891.

Saturday, 16 January 2021

Wagon Train to the Stars (Star Trek New Earth #1)

AuthorDiane Carey
First Published: 1999
File size/Pages: 1225KB / 265pp
Ebook Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK
Ebook Date: July 2012

Continuing my 2021 Challenge, the next book is the first in the Star Trek miniseries New Earth. Written by Diane Carey and published in 1999, this series deals with the exodus of humans bent on settling a new colony far from Federation and Starfleet control, in the star system known as Occult.

The New Earth series was devised to be solely concerned with The Original Series (TOS) crew of the Enterprise, unlike other miniseries that had gone before which flitted across the various time periods of the Trek universe. John Ordover, editor of the licensed novels between 1992 and 2003, devised the concept from his own reaction to the television series, Voyager. He was dissatisfied with the lack of Voyager's crew having any 'turf' to defend other than their own ship. He wondered what kind of stories could come out of a colony being settled far outside the common galaxy or from Earth's influence, yet having a Starfleet crew and ship assigned to protect that settlement and also expand the Federation's reach from that new home base. There is a widely believed story that Gene Rodenberry, creator of Star Trek, when touting the idea of the new series described it as "Wagon Train to the Stars". This was Pocket Books chance to carry out that theme in fiction format.

Diane Carey is an American author born in 1954. She began her career writing romance novels under the pen name of Lydia Gregory. Now best known for her works in the Star Trek universes, she wrote two of the inaugral books in the Trek lines, Broken Bow for Star Trek: Enteprise, and Ghost Ship for Star Trek The Next Generation. By 1999 she had many Trek books already under her wing and went on to author (or co-author) three of the six New Earth installments.

Monday, 4 January 2021

Jedi Twilight (Star Wars Coruscant Nights #1)

Author
: Michael Reaves (James Michael Reaves)
First Published: 2008
File size/Pages: 596KB / 188pp
Ebook Publisher: Cornerstone Digital
Ebook Date: Oct 2012

For the first entry in my 2021 Challenge, I decided to choose the first novel in the Star Wars Coruscant Nights trilogy, Jedi Twilight, written by Michael Reaves. As I've previously said in my review of Heirs of the Force (Star Wars Young Jedi Knights #1) I have a problem with the Star Wars expanded universe books. 

I don't find reading about the adventures of Luke, Leia or Han Solo that engaging. Added to this, in my eyes no other villains can match up to the gravitas of Darth Vader or The Emporer. I've tried over the years, but it just hasn't worked out for me. So, when I decided to choose Star Wars EU as one of the 2021 Challenges, I had to pick carefully. To be honest, it was a toss up between this trilogy and the X-Wing series (mainly because I do not believe either of them feature any of the holy trinity) and this one came out on top.

And this is where it pains me to have to admit that I have actually read this book in the past. I have no idea what came to mind, but as I was about halfway through the novel I started to get a strange sense of deja vu. [It's now rather embarrassing to read my blog of Splinter of the Mind's Eye in November 2019 and realise I remembered reading it back when I wrote that blog entry, but not 12 month's later - I must be getting old!]. Anyway, suffice to say, I read the whole book through - this review isn't conceived from a long distant memory.

Michael Reaves was born James Michael in America in 1950. His work spans many mediums including film, television, tie-in novels, children's books and original short and long fiction. Beginning in the 1980s he has written for an impressive number of animated shows. His script contributions span numerous series such as Batman, Spiderman, Conan, He-Man, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Transformers, Ghostbusters, Superman, Godzilla, Droids and Ewoks as well as many others. He is also no slouch when it comes to live action; series such as Swamp Thing, Star Trek The Next Generation, Captain Power, The Twilight Zone and even Father Dowling Mysteries commissioned his work.