Mr. Hands by Gary Braunbeck

While I’m already behind on my promise to write something about each book I received in my suhweet Dorchester Publishing order, I have been more-or-less been making good on my word that I’ll read the books from that order before I jumped on anything else. More because I’ve read two more since my last update. Less because I had to read a book for review for HorrorTalk and after I finished that, I wanted to read something I knew I liked, so went right to Legacies by F. Paul Wilson (you can never go wrong with a Repairman Jack).

With that said — since I’m now out of excuses — the next book I read in that package was Mr. Hands by by Gary Braunbeck.

Fuck if Braunbeck isn’t quickly becoming one of my favorite authors. I’ve been impressed with everything I’ve read from him (including Prodigal Blues, Safe and The Ballad of Road Mama and Daddy Bliss). The man is currently batting 1,000 with me and I don’t see that changing in anytime soon. His writing is that good, and Mr. Hands is no exception.

The interesting thing about Mr. Hands is the title character does not appear until about midway through the novel. Instead, the first part opens with a stranger arriving at “The Hangman’s Tavern” and telling his story of Uncle Ronnie, the town’s local serial killer from years prior. But Ronnie isn’t your typical serial killer. He’s more of a Dexter than a Dahlmer, and there is a supernatural element involved for the reasoning behind his killings.

At the halfway point,  Uncle Ronnie’s story goes away for a bit and Lucy and Mr. Hands are introduced. Mr. Hands was once the toy of Lucy Thompson’s daughter before the girl was kidnapped and murdered, completely destroying Lucy and her marriage. On a fateful evening, Lucy discovers Mr. Hands is more than just a toy, but rather a golem of sorts and he is at her command. Once she sets him loose, things start hopping.

One thing that constantly amazes me about Braunbeck’s writing is how he is the master at the run-on sentence. He can make one sentence a page long (I shit you not) and you don’t notice. It’s almost as if he’s writing the train of thought as it’s coming to him, and these long passages of words without a break are some of the best in this book.

Contrary to the cover image, Mr. Hands isn’t about a monster. Certainly the monster is heavily involved in the novel, but it’s really about revenge and payback and how the two are not as black-and-white as you’d like them to be. I’m a huge proponent of an eye-for-an-eye justice, but Braunbeck creates a pretty compelling argument using the characters in Mr. Hands on how things just always what they seem.

I have a few more of Braunbeck’s work in that box o’ goodies from Dorchester, but I think I’m going hold off on reading them. I’ve really, really dug his library so far, and I don’t want to blow through it too quickly. It’s hard, as I desperately want to jump into one of the others, since I know I’ll enjoy them, but I also know that I’ll be pissed when I have nothing of his left to read. I’ll save them because they’ve been worth the wait thus far.

Hunt at the Well of Eternity by James Reasoner

When I got my box o’ books in from Dorchester Publishing that I mentioned in my last post, I made myself a promise that before I went back to reading anymore e-books (which I’ve been reading a ton of), I would not only finish this batch, but I would post about each one in it. After reading Urban Gothic, I decided to go the other way and read a little adventure, thus I checked out Hunt at the Well of Eternity.

Recently, in the past year or so, Dorchester Publishing has started a new series called “The Adventures of Gabriel Hunt”. From the series’ official website:

From the towers of Manhattan to the jungles of South America, from the sands of the Sahara to the frozen crags of Antarctica, one man finds adventure everywhere he goes: GABRIEL HUNT.

Backed by the resources of the $100 million Hunt Foundation and armed with his trusty Colt revolver, Gabriel Hunt has always been ready for anything—but is he prepared for the adventures that lie in wait for him?

Or, alternatively, a modern day Indiana Jones.

Being a big fan of the Hard Case Crime series (which Dorchester also puts out), I’ve been meaning to grab a few of the Hunt books to see if they were to my liking but never got around to it. Their last sale, though, was so good that I ended up picking up all the titles to date. A bit risky because if I didn’t like them, I’d be stuck with them, but I figured it would be something up my alley and since they were around $2 a book, my bank wasn’t going to be broken anyway.

After reading the first book in the series, Hunt at the Well of Eternity, I’m already convinced my purchase was sound, as it lived up to all of my expectations.

Click cover to enlarge.

The book starts off with a bang. Gabriel Hunt and his brother are at a fund raising event in New York when a mysterious woman attempts to hand a whiskey bottle full of water to them. Before she can, the waiters at the event whip out some guns, bullets start flying, the baddies grab the girl and run off into the night.

After the frenzy dies down (but not too long after), the brothers investigate the flag the bottle was wrapped in. Since the bottle had broke in all of the excitement, the flag and the remains of the bottle is all they have to go on, and there’s enough clues found for Hunt to determine his next destination: Florida. I guess he’s a little pissed that he was shot at, and the woman was intriguing enough for him to find.  Or he just likes adventure. Perhaps a little of both.

Before he even reaches the airport where his private plane awaits (one that he flies himself, mind you, because he’s a jack of all trades), he’s chased and shot at again on the highway. The man cannot get a break. Fortunately, Hunt escapes unscathed, makes it to Florida, gets shot at some more and his adventures continue to South America where he discovers the true nature of the water and why it’s important enough to kill over.

Hunt at the Well of Eternity is non-stop action and adventure has everything you need in pulp fiction goodness: hot women, shootouts, mystery, suspense and, hell, it even has a bullwhip fight.

In addition to all of that, author James Reasoner wisely creates a mysterious back story for Hunt regarding his parents. Apparently, his parents disappeared on a cruise years before, and when I say disappeared, I mean disappeared. The ship went out full and came back empty. Every good series needs an underlying arc, and this may be the one for Hunt. The disappearance is lightly touched on only a few times in the book, but it’s enough to make you want to know more. I have a feeling this will be something that I will see more of, and I’m looking forward to it.

Like the Hard Case Crime series, the Gabriel Hunt adventures will be penned by different authors. The next book, Hunt Through the Cradle of Fear, is written by Charles Ardai. Not just the founder of both the Hard Case Crime and The Adventures of Gabriel Hunt lines, Ardai is also an established author. I dug his Little Girl Lost, so I’m looking forward to reading what he has to write about Hunt.

Like I said, this first book with Gabriel Hunt was a solid blind buy for me. I’m excited to see where the series is going to go.

Urban Gothic by Brian Keene

A couple of weeks ago, Dorchester Publishing had an amazing sale. 50% off their entire catalog. If that wasn’t good enough, if you were a member of one of their clubs — like I am (the Hard Case Crime club) — you got an additional discount. Plus for every five books you bought, you got one free! I ended up picking up 12 books for $26 shipped. Damn fine deal for brand new books.

Of them, I finally got around to purchasing Brian Keene’s Urban Gothic. Since I picked up my Sony eBook reader, I’ve been a bit behind on some of my favorite authors, simply because they aren’t available in eBook format. (My God, I can’t wait for this to change.)

It had been awhile since I had read something from Keene, so I eagerly tore into Urban Gothic first when I got my bundle o’ books from Dorchester because I’ve enjoyed all of Keene’s work. Surprisingly, I was a little disappointed in this one.

Urban Gothic by Brian Keene

The premise of Urban Gothic is relatively simple: A group of white kids, on their way home from a concert, get lost in Philadelphia and end up in a very bad neighborhood. To make matters worse, their car breaks down. This is not good, as this is the kind of neighborhood cops don’t even bother responding to calls. After a confrontation with a group of teens who live in the area, which leads to one of the cracker kids shouting out ‘nigger’, the whitebreads escape to a house that even the residents of this ghetto avoid due to its shady history.

Of course, immediately after entering the house, they get locked in. And there are far worse things in this dwelling than the angry youths that chased them. The suburbanites immediately find this out when a seven foot tall mutant crushes the skull of one of the teens within minutes of entering the house. And he isn’t the only freak-of-nature in the house, not by a long shot. The party has started.

The biggest strength in Urban Gothic, hands down, is the unflinching brutality that runs rampant throughout the book. Within 20 or so pages, one of the (what you would have assumed) main characters is immediately dispatched. And like many of Keene’s work that I have read, no one is safe. That’s one of the things I really like about Keene, he doesn’t care if you like the character. He doesn’t care if the character is a good guy, or a hero. They are human and they can, and many times will, die. Don’t get too attached.

The book is also a very fast read. The action is virtually non-stop the moment the kids enter the house. Hell, once the first of the group bites it, the kids are either running or fighting constantly, and eventually even the teens that chased them into the house get involved. It’s an exciting book in that regard.

However, the problem becomes the book feels as rushed as the action within it. There are plot points that are hinted at, but never fully developed, like the history of the house. At one point, one of the girls finds a room with papers and photos that might give a clue on the creatures that lurk within, but that’s just a tease as all she does is take some pictures of the papers with her cellphone and then moves on. I’m not the type of person to necessarily need to know why something is, but when an explanation is dangled in front of me, I would want some follow through.

Also, Urban Gothic has some of the weaker editing I’ve seen compared to Keene’s prior works that I’ve read (and I’ve read most). There were more-than-a-few instances of forced analogies. In particular, the phrase “it reminded him [or her] of” is used a lot. For example, if a character felt a breeze that could lead them to the outside, they would be “reminded of the time” they went on that picnic. Or if a character was extremely thirsty, they were “reminded of the time” they went hiking and forgot to bring water. (Note, these situations are made up, as I don’t have the book in front of me, but you get the gist.) I am completely aware how nitpicky that seems, but once you pick up on it, it stands out every time you see it. I don’t blame Keene for this, as I freely admit I do it myself in reviews for HorrorTalk, but the people that do my editing generally pick it up.

This does not make the book non-enjoyable, not by a long shot. It’s a lot of fun and, like I said, a quick read. Hell, this is one of those books that would make a great movie because of all of the action. Keene fans will definitely enjoy it, and Richard Laymon fans will dig it as well because it drips of his influence. I’m just a bit disappointed that there seemed to be a missed opportunity with the history of the house (or, rather, the inbreds within it), the rushed feel of it and the need for a stronger edit.

There is little doubt I’ll read it again down the road, but I’d probably give The Rutting Season or Ghoul a re-read before this one.

Top of the Heap

Ever since I’ve gotten my Sony 505, I’ve been doing some mad reading. I’ve also been doing some mad neglecting, most namely in the Hard Case Crime (HCC) series.

So I made myself a promise, for every book I read on the 505, I read a HCC book until I’m all caught up. I don’t know how long I’ll keep at it, but since I tend to not like reading back-to-back-to-back HCC novels, this is doable. In addition, I’m starting from the first HCC release and reading them order (those I haven’t read yet).

So, first one up is Top of the Heap, which is book three in the series.

The book follows detective Donald Lam as he provides what at first seems to be a harmless alibi for John Carver Billings II, but as things unravel, Lam finds that he has been played. Of course that doesn’t sit too well with Lam, and he goes on a mission to figure out why Billings set him up.

Top of the Heap is bittersweet. It starts off grand, with that pulp fiction prose that I love so much, but by the third act, when the mystery is coming unraveled, it’s nothing but exposition. In these types of books, it seems that exposition is to be expected at some point or another, but here it seems to go on and on and on. First Lam explains to one person what exactly happened. Then the coppers pull him in, and he explains the entire thing again, this time adding a little bit more. Then a third party is notified and it starts all over again. By the time the third (or was it the fourth?) explanation came around, I was weary of the whole damn thing.

Best known for his “Perry Mason” novels, Gardner certainly does have the snap and wit for the dime novel, but this first introduction for me was pretty underwhelming. Yet I like his style enough to give him another chance, I just hope I’m not spoon fed the entire mystery next time.

Delirium Drops Trade Paperback Line. Goes Digital.

Today, Delirium, one of the best small publishing companies specializing in horror, announced that they will replacing their trade paperback line with digital editions.

Delirium’s trade paperback and book club will end this month with the final featured title: David Jack Bell’s The Girl In The Woods. My focus has shifted significantly over the past few years and digital editions will replace the trade paperback line in Delirium’s production schedule.

This will no doubt become a hot topic, but I’ve come to the conclusion over the past few years that the digital medium is a necessary step for the survival of not only the genre in literature, but the entire book industry.

The only thing I can say at this point is this: it’s no longer become a matter of whether you like or dislike the digital medium; it’s the point that the business of publishing needs to change in order for it to survive. The money-makers for each physical book that is produced sadly barely include the two essential components which is the author and publisher. The money that changes hands profits printers, book binders, distributors and shipping carriers, which is great, if it weren’t for the fact that what little is left (a very small pittance) falls into the hands of the true artist and those that work hard to bring their book to a broader readership.

The digital format has the ability to change all of this, to even the playing field, to compensate justly the starving artist and independent entrepreneur instead of the bloated corporation. It also allows readers to purchase new works of fiction for much cheaper than limited editions, trade paperbacks and even mass market paperbacks in some cases.

I’ve always been one to do things my way and carve my own path and it’s time to start a new direction.

Don’t get me wrong: I love the physical book as well, and plan to continue to produce limited edition hardcovers for collectors, but I feel the time has come for change, to focus on digital.

Delirium’s amended publication schedule will be posted in the coming weeks.  Instead of monthly, Delirium will take on an irregular production schedule of primarily digital releases with some limited edition hardcover releases in the mix.

Another major reason for the reduced production schedule is my involvement with Horror Mall.  This company has really become a force in the past year and I feel it is essential to the growth of the genre at the independent level.  It is a company that is at the forefront of helping many authors, artists, publishers and movie studios.  And starting this month it has become my full time job. My goal when I founded Horror Mall in 2007 was to make it the gateway to independent horror and it is well on its way. With more of my focus on Horror Mall, I will be able to promote digital titles not only from my own press, but from others as well. And not just digital, but the fine limited edition publishers that are in business.  And Horror Mall will be there to support other entrepreneurs, artists and many others in our genre.

(Story Link)

As a proud Sony 505 owner, I can only say this pleases me. Is it going to piss off some people? I’m sure it will, especially those without some sort of reader. But, let’s face it, digital books are a thing of the future, like it or not, and if Delirium jumps on now to both save money so they will be around in the future as well as embrace the new technology, I can only say kudos to them.

Admittedly, I do feel for those who do not have an ebook reader of some sort, but the selfish part of me would rather see Delirium — and other independent book sellers — stay in business, and if this is the way to go, it’s time for people to throw down money for the technology of the future. For those of us who already have readers, this is win/win/win. It will be even easier for us to get the newest books from lesser known authors, it will be cheaper and it will be in our hands much faster. Hot damn this is good news, indeed.

Smart move, Delirium. I’m quite sure I won’t be your only huge supporter in this, and I look forward to purchasing even more titles from you.

The Stand

“Guess what The Stand Girl is reading,” my buddy, Zig, started off the conversation with when he called me a bit ago. That’s exactly what he said, too. Guess what The Stand Girl is reading.

The Stand Girl is one of Zig’s friends. I’ve never met her, but like most good friends, he brings her up in conversation often, and that’s what I know her as. I’m sure he’s told me her real name. Hell, he’s probably mentioned it numerous times before getting tired of me going “Who?” and him replying with “The Stand Girl.” Sometimes you stick with what works. She got the nickname rather easily: One day he told me he had a friend who was a big Stephen King fan. He had talked to her that day and she had just decided to watch the TV version of The Stand straight through one day. People, this is impressive as the miniseries runs about 6 hours. So I asked the next logical question: “Is she single?”

To my dismay, no. She’s married. Jealousy of her husband aside, she became forever known (to me) as The Stand Girl.

So, Zig calls me about a month ago and says, “Guess what The Stand Girl is reading?”

“What?”

The Stand.”

“Oh, duh. Aren’t you reading that now, too?”

“Yeah,” he replied, “and I was talking to Kevin last night and he mentioned he was reading it, too. How odd is that?”

“Shit,” I said, “that is weird. I’ve been wanting to jump back into it lately, too. It’s been ages since I’ve read it.”

“Now’s a good time.”

He was right. I used to read The Stand every two years or so growing up because it’s that good. Hell, when the full uncut edition came out, I read the abridged version, then immediately read the uncut edition. That’s a couple thousand pages, and I enjoyed every word. But I hadn’t read it in years and I was well overdue for a jump into the battle of good and evil.

As I wrote on my facebook wall, what can you say about The Stand that hasn’t already been said? Considered by many, myself included, this is King’s masterpiece. Yes, he’s had great books both before and since The Stand, but the closest he’s come to matching the enjoyment of The Stand is IT.

The Stand is nothing more than a battle of good and evil, plain and simple. But King is at his best here at what he does best; storytelling and characterization. There are a lot of characters in this book, but each one is unique, and I never had any confusion on who was who. This is a big deal for me, as if there are too many characters, or if they are too cookie cut, I have to page back to see who is who (this is no doubt coming from ADD). But not here, no sir. Each player is instantly recognizable.

If there’s one teeny, tiny, itsy, bitsy problem I have with the novel is the last 200 – 300 pages seem a little rushed. It’s as if King got to page 1,000 or so and said, “Well, shit, this is going on way to long. I need to wrap this the hell up.” It no way distracts from the book’s enjoyment, but if I’m going to read 1,300 pages, I’m going to read 1,500 if that’s what it takes.

Regardless, The Stand is my favorite book, hands down, no question. It was good to revisit it again.

Now to re-watch the mini-series.

The Dark Knight Returns

When told my buddy my displeasure over Watchmen, he laughed and said, “Dumbass. Why didn’t you ask me if you’d like it? I would have told you not to buy it. It’s not your type of comic.”

He was right, I should have at least asked, as he would have prepared me. He owns a comic book store and is a good friend, so he knows comics and he knows me. I would have bought it anyway for the discussion we are going to have on it (pushes glasses up), but at least I would have been prepared.

“Come up Sunday,” he went on. “I got some stuff you’ll like.”

So I went up Sunday and picked up a few comics (Stephen King’s comic version of The Stand being one of them. $3.50 for about 12 pages. Fuck you Marvel!), with a high recomendation from my friend for Frank Miller’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns.

batman-the-dark-knight-returns

Now we’re talking.

I’ve been a fan of Frank Miller ever since I read Hard Boiled almost 20 years ago. I’m an extremely casual comic fan, so I probably don’t even have 5% of what Miller did since Hard Boiled and now, but I’ve been pleased with everything he’s done that I’ve read, The Dark Knight Returns is no exception.

Returns is interesting is that it takes place in the future, where Batman is in his 50s and is retired. But a series of events leads him out of retirement, and his age is obviously an issue (he’s still mad as fuck, though).

What’s great about it is it shows not only how human Batman is, but also how angry. I’ve always preferred The Dark Night comics over plain old Batman comics because The Dark Knight work was always… darker. Returns is absolutely no exception to this. The entire graphic novel is somewhat of a downer. Batman is old, he’s beat up, he’s alone (until Robin comes along) and he has no support. Even Alfred is more dickish than usual.

If there’s one thing I didn’t like (and this could simply be the way the graphic novel was consolidated, and not how it played it during the original comic run), it’s how Robin seemed to appear, be trained and bond with Batman in a matter of a few pages. The entire dynamic was incredibly rushed and underdeveloped.

But even with that niggle, The Dark Night Returns is everything Watchmen wasn’t. I’m not knocking Watchmen, as it obviously has its fans, but I believe Returns has a lot more character depth.

My friend gave me another one to read — the title escapes me — but no doubt I’ll dig it.

Watchmen

So the big movie right now (at least for comic book fans) is Watchmen, based on the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Over at a forum I frequent, a vote was cast for a “book of the month” discussion and guess what won?

You got it.

I have mixed feelings about a graphic novel (basically, a big comic) as a book of the month discussion. I’m not adverse to reading them, I just don’t believe they have as much meat as a real book. No, scratch that, they don’t have as much meat as a real book. That’s not to say they aren’t enjoyable, or worthy of discussion, but if I’m going to discuss a book, I’d want to discuss a book. But since a vote was cast, and the yays had it, I went out and bought Watchmen.

What a waste of $20.

watchmen

Watchmen is well written, for sure. And the art I can dig. Even the story is more than doable as it follows around a superhero outcast, Rorschach, as he tries to make sense of the brutal murder of The Comedian, another superhero killed in the first pages of the novel.

For all intents and purposes, Watchmen is a graphic novel I should like. With the exception of one character (Dr. Manhattan), none of the heroes in the book have superpowers. They are just strong, or athletic or whatever. Like Batman (hands down, my favorite hero) or The Punisher, they are just normal everyday folk — unlike that clown Superman, who is just lame. For the most part, any superhero with superpowers is lame, except those in Supreme Power.

In addition to the characters, the story is enough to interest me. It’s a mystery, plain and simple. I should be all over that.

But where it fails, and fails miserably, is the action — or lack of. Nothing ever happens! Okay, so that’s a mild exageration, but let’s face it; comics are a visual medium. No matter what spin is ever placed on it, at the end of the day a comic is visual.

Sure, there is a lot of subtext in Watchmen — the pirate story was pretty well done — and Rorschach is pretty bad ass (even with his annoying Hulk-like speech pattern), but the story really needs to be more interesting than it is in order to justify all the accolades the comic gets. Hell, The Walking Dead doesn’t have action every page, but it has one hell of a compelling story (although I will admit being biased, as I dig zombies more than tight wearing vigilantes).

Regardless of it all, I’ll still see the movie. I won’t rush out to the theaters, as I’m perfectly content on waiting for the DVD. I’ve heard a lot of good things about the movie, most importantly that the movie is more violent than the comic. That’s good for me. Also, I’m curious to see Jackie Earle Haley as Rorschach. He’s done a lot of movies since I first saw him, but he’ll always be Kelly Leak from The Bad News Bears.