Derrick Ferguson Gets Et By BARRACUDA

51P7snGOemL

There’s a wonderful story told about the filming of the classic 1946 Humphrey Bogart/Lauren Bacall murder mystery “The Big Sleep.” The plot of the book was so convoluted that in translating it from print to screen, director Howard Hawks and his screenwriters William Faulkner, Leigh Brackett and Jules Furthman discovered that not only were they not entirely clear as to who the killer of Sean Reagan was, they also had a dead chauffeur on their hands and they couldn’t figure out who killed him. In desperation they contacted the writer of the book, Raymond Chandler to ask him who killed Sean Regan and the chauffeur and Chandler had to admit that he himself didn’t know.

Indeed, there’s a terrific bit of business right in the middle of “The Big Sleep” where Bogart’s Philip Marlowe is called into the Los Angeles D.A.’s office to explain the case to him and by extension to the us, the audience. Because by the time we’ve reached that point of the movie the filmmakers felt that there needed to be some kind of summary of what happened so that audiences back then could take a breath and feel they were up to speed on what the hell this movie was all about.

I feel kinda the same way about Raymond Embrack’s impressively deranged BARRACUDA: A PETER SURF NOVELLA. Halfway through it needs somebody to hold up both hands, yell “Hold everything, please!” and summarize the plot. And trust me, I mean that in a good way. Because in the same way that “The Big Sleep” is now regarded as a classic of the private eye genre, I think that BARRACUDA in its own way is going to become a classic. And Raymond Embrack is a writer to watch.

Peter Surf is a private eye living and working in Blonde City, a California city that seems to be entirely made up of linked beaches each with their own distinctive personality. Blonde City itself is one of the best characters in the story, inhabited by gangs such as The Schoolgirl Mafia who commit thrill killings while hopped up on Hentai-14 and The Beach Mafia whose members worship The Beach Boys to the extent that all of them have the last name of “Smile” in honor of Brian Wilson’s epic project. It’s a city that seems made up out of equal parts of 1950’s, ‘60’s and ‘70’s pop culture with a healthy heaping dose of whatever the hell Raymond Embrack felt like throwing in and believe me, he makes it works. And for me watching him make it work was one of the fun things about reading this story.

Peter Surf himself is…well, the best way to describe him is if you imagined Mike Hammer created by Quentin Tarantino instead of Mickey Spillane. He lives and works out of a converted, arsenal filled service station and he doesn’t so much as do straight up detective work as wreak havoc among his enemies until somebody yells “uncle” and tells him what he wants to know.

And the havoc is profane, sexy and violent and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The story begins with Surf investigating a terrorist group called T-Unit. They’re terrorizing the private eyes of Blonde City. They’re running some out of town and outright killing others. They make the mistake of terrorizing Surf instead of killing him. From then on, Peter Surf becomes a one man wrecking crew on the warpath of T-Unit.

How this is all tied with the DEA, a particularly dangerous man named Gronsky and Blue Mermaid, a type of maryjane so mythical it’s supposed to be able to heal people I would not dream of telling you. Just be advised that by the time you reach the halfway point of BARRACUDA you may be tempted to say, “Hold everything, please!” go back to the beginning and start reading all over again just to make sure you know exactly what is going on.

That’s because Mr. Embrack writes like this was the only book he was ever going to write in his life. There’s an astounding amount of vibrantly alive characters, situations and concepts that other writers would have spread out over a trilogy. BARRACUDA is never boring and never lags due to the constant and unending stream of sheer delightfully WTF plot twists Mr. Embrack throws at us with glee.

The dialog is pure classic P.I. genre porn where everybody talks like a dame or a smartass or a tough guy. And Mr. Embrack allows himself to have fun with his concepts, his prose and the dialog. I like to think that I can tell when a writer had fun writing a story because that fun can’t help but translate into the prose. And if Raymond Embrack has half as much fun writing BARRACUDA: A PETER SURF NOVELLA as I did reading it then he had a big ol’ barrel of fun indeed. Highly recommended reading.

I do gotta point out that this is not for those of you who are PC minded or who object to graphic language, violence and/or sex. But if you want to read a really good crime/P.I. story that reminded me a lot of “Sin City” on crack you can’t do better than BARRACUDA: A PETER SURF NOVELLA. 

Want to read BARRACUDA and more Raymond Embrack novels? Of course you do. Bounce on over to Raymond’s Amazon Page 

Raymond like to review movies as well. Be sure to check out “I’M SERIOUS HOW, LIKE I’M A FILM CRITIC?”

Derrick Ferguson Has A Martini At EL MOROCCO

15039538_1113738458747641_1283854962893416591_o

Having read four of his books now and one of them twice I think it’s safe to say that I’ve become a fan of Raymond Embrack. It’s always such a pleasant surprise to discover a writer who really makes me sit up and pay attention to what he’s doing and Raymond Embrack certainly does that. Why do I like his writing so much? I think it’s because he has that Swing For The Fences quality I always enjoy reading. Each and every one of his books I’ve read so far reads as if he’s afraid he’ll never write another one again and so they’re stuffed with off the wall characters, wild ideas and wilder concepts.  Add to that playful dialog married to descriptive passages and labyrinthine plot twists that I do think he gets carried away with at times.  But we’ll get into that later on. Right now let’s get into the plot of EL MOROCCO.

It’s the swingin’ hepcat 1960’s and Guy Roman is a hot up-and-coming comic working Atlantic City. He’s not quite big time yet but he’s on his way. Until he gets derailed by New Jersey wiseguy wannabe Jackie Rockafero who blatantly hijacks Guy’s comedy routine as he thinks it would be fun to trade leg-breaking and loan sharking to be a stand-up comic. Naturally Guy takes exception to this. Jackie offers Guy gold or lead. Guy takes lead and winds up left for dead in a filthy A.C. alley alongside the ridiculously gorgeous showgirl Tess Revere who has also pissed off Jackie in a way I would not dare dream of revealing here.

Once he recovers, Guy, along with the brain damaged but still recovering Tess heads to Los Angeles where Jackie has become a comedic megastar. Guy’s intention is to not only take back his act but to make Jackie Rockafero sorry he was ever born. The conflict between them escalates into a major war that before it’s over involves the Hollywood film industry, celebrity gangster Mickey Cohen, crooked gossip columnists, high powered agents who are little more than scam artists and the West Coast Mafia a.k.a. The L.A. Set.

One of the things that makes EL MOROCCO so much fun to read is Raymond Embrack’s affinity for the language, attitudes and feel for the 1960’s. His characters all have a wonderfully smart-ass way of talking and yet he manages to not have them all sound the same. Everybody’s a smart-ass in their own way, if you know what I mean. And the characters and tone of the book are totally authentic to the time period. So those of you who are actively PC should be warned. The people in EL MOROCCO talk, act and think like people who lived in the 1960’s talked, acted and thought and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m actually more comfortable with that than with books that are supposed to be set in the 1930’s, 40’s, ‘50’s or ‘60’s but are peopled with characters from the ‘00’s.

What else can I say to recommend the book? Raymond’s way of writing is one where he’s clearly having fun with language and with words. He obviously enjoys the way he’s telling the story in the language and style and rhythm of the dialog and description. It’s really enjoyable to read his prose as it sings and swings with the patois of 1960’s hipster jive talk.

What’s my only quibble with the book? Remember earlier when I mentioned that Raymond gets carried away with plot twists? The plot twists at the conclusion of EL MOROCCO come so fast and there are so many of them that I felt he was pushing it and I was wondering if he was deliberately trying to see how many plot twists he could throw in there before they collapsed under their own weight. But that’s okay. Above all, I like and admire Raymond Embrack for his sheer audacity and willingness to take the chance of going too far with his bizarre plots and outrageous characters. It’s always more fun to read a writer who isn’t afraid to Go There instead of one that offers up easily digestible prose that is no more exciting to read than recycled oatmeal is fun to eat. He’s an extremely entertaining writer and if you’re going to start reading him, EL MOROCCO is a great place to start.

Raymond Embrack’s Amazon Page

Want To Check Out Raymond’s Unique Take On Movies? Then Go On Over To: “I’m Serious How? Like I’m A Film Critic?”

Derrick Ferguson Listens To The Tales of The GRIOTS

GRIOTS

Before we get into the meat-n-potatoes of this review, it’s necessary that Sherman set the Wayback Machine for the 1970’s so we can indulge in a brief history lesson for context: Charles R. Saunders is a writer who like most of you reading this review fell in love with the work of Robert E. Howard, the creator of Conan, King Kull and Solomon Kane.  REH is credited with being the creator of “sword and sorcery” a sub-genre of epic fantasy.  Sword and sorcery concerns itself with stories driven by action, healthy doses of sex and violence and strong supernatural/magical elements.

So in love with sword and sorcery is he that Mr. Saunders sets about writing his own stories.  And in doing so he determines to expand the genre by creating a black heroic fantasy character and set his adventures in a mythical Africa just as fabulous and dangerous as Howard’s Hyborian Age. And with his stories of Imaro, Charles Saunders gives birth to what is now known as “sword and soul” which are fantasy stories with an African connection or featuring African characters

I’ve been a fan of Mr. Saunders and his work ever since I was a high school student back in the 70’s and devouring heroic fiction at an appalling rate.  And as the Wayback Machine brings us back to the present we can begin this review proper with the good news that sword-and-soul is not only thriving here and now, it is giving voice to a new generation of African American fantasy writers eager to explore the genre and continue to nourish it with their talents.

GRIOTS is an anthology of sword and soul stories co-edited by Mr. Saunders and Milton J. Davis who himself has long carved out his own territory in the genre.  The fourteen stories in the book are:

“Captured Beauty” by Milton Davis.  It’s a great action story to lead off the book with.  It’s a simple plot having to do with rescuing a beautiful damsel in distress from the clutches of a vile villain.  But what made this story stand out for me were the characterizations of the protagonist Changa and his employer, the merchant Belay and their relationship.

“Awakening” by Valjeanne Jeffers.  It starts out with a little girl who has no desire to spend her adult days sitting around being ladylike and raising squalling brats while the men have all the fun being warriors and having adventures. The girl, Nandi, grows up and finds out that there’s a supernatural force in her life who also thinks that yeah, her being a warrior is a pretty good idea.

“Lost Son” by Maurice Broaddus is a story I wanted to like a lot more than I do as I like Mr. Broaddus’ style of writing.  But the story just seemed to end without resolution or even much of a point.

“In The Wake of Mist” by Kirk A. Johnson is another story I didn’t get.  Although I liked the imagery the writer evokes, that’s all the impression the story made on me.  A series of wonderfully described images that really didn’t seem to go anywhere or evoke any sort of feeling in me.

“Skin Magic” by Djeli A. Clark kicks the anthology back into action mode with a story that has a healthy heap of horror.  The main character is a thief on the run who has living tattoos on his skin that are portals to a nightmarish limbo through which Cthulhuian creatures can emerge into our world.  The thief, barely able to control this horrible ability is pursued by the fearsome minions of a consortium of dark magicians who desire this power for their own purposes.  As soon as I finished this story, I wanted to read a sequel right away.

“The Demon In The Wall” by Stafford L. Battle is one of my favorite stories in this anthology.  Equal parts high adventure and comedy, it’s an entertaining near parody of the genre.  The sorceress Makhulu and her grandson, the warrior Zende are characters I’d love to see more of.  The banter between them alone is worth reading the story for.

“The Belly of The Crocodile” by Minister Faust is a tale of sibling rivalry.  And that’s all I’ll say about it because it’s not a long story and its emotional punch is best served by reading it yourself.

“Changeling” by Carole McDonnell is a story that works just the way it is but if it were twice as long I wouldn’t kick.  This is about three sisters destined to marry and become queens of their own kingdoms.  But the real prize is their native kingdom only one of them will inherit when their mother dies.  It’s got that ‘Once Upon A Time” feeling as it unfolds it’s ultimately sorrowful tale.  It’s a story of Shakespearean tragedy that has a lot to say about human nature and the ugly power of jealousy.

“The General’s Daughter” by Anthony Nana Kwamu is a good choice to follow “Changeling” as they have something in common.  Both of them have more than their share of action but they also dig deeper into the emotional core of their characters to reveal who these people really are and why we should care about what happens to them.  I really liked the emotional resonance I felt in both these stories after I finished them.

“Sekadi’s Koan” by Geoffrey Thorne is another story I immediately wanted a sequel to as soon as I finished reading it.  I got a very strong Roger Zelazny vibe in this tale of a gifted martial artist studying her deadly art at a school located…well, I’m not sure where it’s located but I was so entertained I didn’t care.  And unlike some other stories where I got the impression that the writers themselves weren’t sure of where their stories were happening, I didn’t get that impression from Mr. Thorne.  I got the feeling he knew exactly where and when his story was taking place but is saving that for what I hope will be future stories about Sekadi.

“The Queen, The Demon and The Mercenary” is by Ronald T. Jones and like “The Demon In The Wall” is a story that seems designed for nothing but the reader to have as much fun reading it as I’m sure the writer had writing it.  The swaggering warrior Toulou sets out to rescue a suffering kingdom from the demon-wizard terrorizing the people and does it in style.  Highly recommended.

“Icewitch” by Rebecca McFarland Kyle proves that you don’t necessarily have to set a sword and soul story in an African setting.  This story takes place in a frigid realm where a dark-skinned youth struggles to find acceptance among his mother’s people who are lighter-skinned.

The only real problem I have with Melvin Carter’s “The Leopard Walks Alone” is the ugliness of the names in the story.  I tried saying them aloud and I swear I bruised my tongue.  I realize it’s a somewhat petty quibble but naming is important in fantasy stories.  Difficult and harsh sounding names should be used sparingly.

And The Master himself, Charles Saunders finishes up the anthology with a tale of Imaro: “The Three Faced One” If you’ve never read an Imaro story or anything by Charles Saunders, this is an excellent introduction to both.

GRIOTS also boasts fourteen interior black and white illustrations by fourteen separate artists as well as biographical information about the writers and artists and introductory essays by the editors.  The cover by Natiq Jalil is simply wonderful to look at.

So should you read GRIOTS?  Absolutely.  True, a few of the stories didn’t turn my crank but most of them did.  If you’re a sword and sorcery fan looking for some heroic fantasy that takes place in realms other than the Medieval or ancient settings most sword-and-sorcery stories take place in then you most certainly should check this anthology out.

5253037milt1

Want a copy of GRIOTS? You know you do. Okay, go HERE and get yourself one.