Friday, February 3, 2017

Book Review: THE KNIFE SLIPPED, by Erle Stanley Gardner

Erle Stanley Gardner
Hard Case Crime, 2016 (1939)
216 pages
Crime / Noir

THE KNIFE SLIPPED is classic, timeless, private eye, noir. Remember guys like Spillane's Mike Hammer, and Chandler's Marlowe? Yeah. Gardner was before them. Erle Stanley Gardner wrote under many pen names. He was also the creator of the Perry Mason novels, and short stories. THE KNIFE SLIPPED was supposed to be the 2nd book in the Cool & Lam Mystery series. but because of Bertha Cool's sassy, vulgar, smoking behavior, the publishers nixed the idea. Interesting, right? Very!

Hard Case Crime is the first ever to publish THE KNIFE SLIPPED. That alone is exciting. What is more exciting is how wonderful the book is!

Most private detective agencies won't touch two kinds of cases. Divorce matters, and anything political. Most agencies, but not B. Cool Investigations. Donald Lam is kind of new on the job. Making ends meet isn't always a guarantee with B. Cool, so when Bertha Cool gives him a divorce case, he's up for the challenge.

Mother, Mrs. Atterby, and daughter, Mrs, Cunner, need a detective. They are certain Eben Cunner is stepping out on his wife. They want proof. Something they can take to the lawyers. Divorce will be inevitable. After laying down the agency rules, the agreement is made and Donald Lam is on the job.

Following Eben is simple enough. The complication comes alone when it appears Eben is leading a secret life. Only, it might be worse than Atterby and his wife first suspected.

Submerged in bribes, and politics that involve the police force, the fire departments, and people with clout, Donald Lam finds himself in a bit over his head. When a body is discovered, Donald realizes he has become the fall guy. If he can't figure out who the killer is doing time in prison is what he faces.

Chasing down red herrings, and never sure who can be trusted, Donald does his best to maneuver between the traps in the case, his boss, and a new love interest. There isn't much time. The police are closing in. He needs to focus and find answers. Fast!

I will be hunting down Gardner books. And A.A. Fair books (which the rest of the Cool & Lam Mystery titles are penned under). The guys is smooth. The characters well crafted. The plot was tight, plausible. And like I said earlier, timeless (except for the use of payphones, that is). A fantastic book I loved reading, and a treasure Hard Case Crime uncovered!

Phillip Tomasso
Author of the Severed Empire Series,
and The Vaccination Trilogy  

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Book Review: HUNGRY GHOSTS, by Stephen Blackmoore

Stephen Blackmoore
Daw Books, 2017
281 pages
Fantasy / Noir

HUNGRY GHOSTS is the 3rd book in the Eric Carter series, and will be released in just a few days. Here's the thing, if you are like me you can't start reading Book 3 without having read Books 1 & 2. I got my hands on Book 3, but couldn't begin there. So I first read DEAD THINGS, and then BROKEN SOULS before diving into HUNGRY GHOSTS. Read each book in a day. Three days. Three books. Know why I read them so fast? Because they were awesome. All three. That's why.

Eric Carter is a necromancer, an exterminator. He kills ghosts, and demons, and gremlins for a living. Magic runs in the family. After his parents died in a fire, his sister brutally murdered, and his best friend killed, you could say life hasn't been a bed of roses for this gritty mage. Magic hasn't made his life better. It's only forced him to live his life alone.

In HUNGRY GHOSTS, Eric is finally dealing with his marriage. It wasn't love that made him tie the knot. It was information. While hunting for the thing responsible for his sister's murder, Eric made a deal with the Queen of the Dead. It cost him big time. Their bond was a marriage, making Eric the King of the Dead. Problem is, the queen's old ex isn't dead. Not really.

Eric and the old king are linked. Slowly Eric is turning into jade. Stone. And the old king, who was all jade, is acquiring flesh. The old king wants Eric to kill the Queen. Claims she's playing him to get what she wants. Trouble is, the queen wants Eric to kill the old king once and for all, purporting the god can't be trusted.

Eric knows he is a pawn in some game, a piece in the middle of an old lover's quarrel, but he doesn't care. He wants the marriage annulled, and his life --pathetic as it was-- back. He finds he is left with only one option. Kill both the Queen and the old King. The only real issue arises when one realizes there might not be an easy way to kill gods.

"Revenge is one hell of a motivator." With the help of a fellow necromancer, Eric embarks on a journey to recover an obsidian dagger. This is perhaps the only weapon with enough power to permanently kill a god. The journey leads him into Aztec realms, and Mist walls where Eric is forced to face demons head on. His own personal demons. Exiting from the mist is almost unheard of . . . And yet into the mist he must go, as the answers he seeks are on the other side.

HUNGRY GHOSTS has enough twists and turns to give me whiplash, that's for sure! It is an amazing third installment in the series (and hopefully not the last). There is something about the way Blackmoore writes that just resonates with the way I most enjoy reading. Taut sentences, with an almost machine gun burst of phrases. Ta-ta-ta-ta-ta, ta-ta-ta-ta ... it just sucks you in! Downfall? I read all three books in three days. How long will I have to wait for Blackmoore's next book? (I can answer that. Too long).

Phillip Tomasso
Author of the Severed Empire Series,
and The Vaccination Trilogy

Book Review: BROKEN SOULS, by Stephen Blackmoore

Stephen Blackmoore
Daw Books, 2014
264 pages
Fantasy / Crime

In the Second Eric Carter novel, BROKEN SOULS, by Stephen Blackmoore, six months have passed since the events that occurred in DEAD THINGS. Things are twice as hectic, and detrimental as last time!

Forced into a marriage with the Queen of the Dead, Eric is desperate to find a way to annul the binding vows. Aside from a wedding band he can't remove from his finger, Eric's eyes have become like pitch black marbles. No iris, no whites. He knows he'd made a rash decision in getting married, but there has to be a way out of the mess.

Eric Carter's life is in shambles. His sister was brutally murdered, his best friend is dead, and his ex-girlfriend hates him. He learns he is now King of the Dead, thanks to his marriage. Only adding to the shambles, the Queen's ex might not be dead.

With the death of mob boss, Jean Boudreau, there is a clawing match for power over the territory. A front runner is Russian Sergei Gusarov, and his demented sister Katya. Eric find himself hunting down the two wannabes. They have a obsidian dagger, and skin people in order to wear the pelts. Magic is afoot. The dangers are close to home. And Eric is the center of the mobster's attention. In short -- Eric is being hunted by the psychopaths!

Eric teams up with Gabriela Cortez, a Bruja (witch), who is a do-gooder, giving shelter to vampires in a self-run hotel. She knows all about the dagger. It was hers. She wants it back. And like-minded, has no love for the Queen of the Dead. The plan is simple, just three steps. 1) Get the dagger, 2) Stop the Russians, and 3) Kill the Queen of the Dead.

Warnings come from everywhere, and soon Eric has no idea who he can trust, making their simple plan becomes a whole lot more complicated. The Russians seem to know Eric and Gabriela's every move before the moves are made . . . and for this they walk into trap after trap!

Stephen Blackmoore has a gift. His gritty noir writing style is smooth, and easy to follow. The storyline is complex, and compelling. The characters are amazingly well crafted, and the world created is defined and imaginative. BROKEN SOULS is as good as DEAD THINGS. If you are a fan of Harry Dresden, you are going to love Eric Carter!

Phillip Tomasso
Author of the Severed Empire Series,
and The Vaccination Trilogy

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Book Review: DEAD THINGS, by Stephen Blackmoore

Stephen Blackmoore
Daw Books, 2013
295 pages
Fantasy / Crime / Noir

I love fantasy novels. And I love mystery novels, but I prefer they be gritty, dark, and the more intense the better. Because I am a huge fan of Jim Butcher's Harry Dresden, and R.S. Belcher's Laytham Ballard (and hell, even John Constantine from the move / TV show Constantine), I am always on the lookout for books, authors, who can combine fantasy with noir, private eye main characters. Guess what? Stephen Blackmoore and his main character Eric Carter fit the bill. Man, do they!

In DEAD THINGS, Eric Carter is a pretty well known necromancer. An Exterminator of ghosts, demons, and gremlins. He kills them for a living. He talks with the dead. The dead follow him around. They all have a story, and constantly pestering Carter is as much a curse as it is a skill. Problem is, in his line of work, putting the ones he loves in danger comes with the territory. This is partly why years ago he fled his home town in L.A. He didn't want to put the lives of family and friends in jeopardy.

Well, there is that, and the fact that after he killed the head mob honcho, Jean Boudreau, the warning was clear. Get out of town or your family will suffer the consequences. So it was a pretty direct threat. And despite all of his magic, and power, running is also sometimes as good an idea as staying and fighting. Sometimes. But Carter ran.

It is the vicious murder of his kid sister Lucy that brings him back to town. He wants answers. Police have nothing. And clearly a dark force was behind the attack. While the more things change, the more they stay the same, Carter calls on old friends, and ex-loves for help. Tension between him and each of them is high. Resentment, feelings of abandonment, and lack of trust swell between them like concrete walls.

Getting results requires Carter to make matrimonial deals that bind his soul. It seems worth it at the time. Whoever killed his sister isn't done. Her death was committed specifically for one reason. The closer to that answer Carter gets, the more danger he puts everyone in!

An absolutely amazing book. Aside from characters, the supporting cast is so-well developed, I feel like I just watched a movie. I saw every scene in my head while I read. Clear. Vivid. Colorful. The magic is intricate, and bound by rules. The world-building is concise and defined. The pace is just faster than a constant pant in an attempt at catching your breath. And then before I knew it, I was done with the story! Once more, an absolutely amazing book. (Thankfully, this is book one in three --so far. Not to rub it in, but guess what? I have books 2, and 3 in queue)!

Phillip Tomasso
Author of the Severed Empire Series,
and The Vaccination Trilogy