Category: Mystery

Derrick Ferguson Gets Et By BARRACUDA

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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

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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 Cozies Up To CURSED FROM THE CRADLE

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Quick description of cozy mysteries: a genre of crime stories where the crime takes place in a small community where everybody knows each other and have long-time, even generational relationships with each other and they’re all up in everybody’s business. The detectives in these stories are generally amateurs and mostly women. The example that most people would be familiar with is the long-running and highly-successful “Murder She Wrote” starring Angela Lansbury as mystery novelist Jessica Fletcher who always seems to be stumbling over dead bodies. In fact, there’s a fan theory that has it that Jessica herself was actually the murderer and framed all the people who went to jail for the crime as there was no possible way she could have encountered all those murders by happenstance.

I myself have very little familiarity with the genre myself as my taste in detective fiction runs toward the hard-boiled. I’m more down with Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and Chester Himes. But I do believe that with the plethora of good fiction available, there’s simply no good reason to obsessively limit one’s self to one type of fiction. So, when CURSED FROM THE CRADLE: THE ELLIOT LAKE MYSTERIES I became available to me, I thought it a good time to check out what the genre had to offer.

The beautiful town of Alder Bay on the Oregon coast is one of those communities far enough away from the big cities that the inhabitants can cheerfully pretend the outside world might as well not exist. It’s not a big town. In fact, it’s so small it only has one unmarried Chinese-American resident; Elliot Lake, chief reporter for the town’s weekly newspaper. Elliot’s a friendly, easy-going guy, well-liked by the residents and seemingly satisfied with his life and his job. A lot of the pleasure I got out of reading the book is Elliot’s wry, laconic thoughts about the town and its people, most of whom we get to know very well indeed when a series of child kidnappings commence.

This is less a straight-up and down relentless hunt for the kidnapper(s) stealing young children and more of a study of how the kidnappings affect the town and how the inhabitants deal with it and their relationships with each other as it soon becomes apparent that whoever is snatching the kids has intimate knowledge of their movements. It has to be someone living in Alder Bay and for Elliot, the thought that the kidnapper(s) has to be somebody he considers a friend is as frightening as the fact of the kids being stolen. Elliot isn’t just some small-timer. He’s worked for Seattle newspapers and as such he’s trained to observe. How could he be that close to somebody that capable of such a crime and not have seen them for what they are?

Well, that’s possibly because he’s distracted with girlfriend problems as well as dealing with a surprise visit from his parents. Let’s just say that Elliot has issues with them he is neither qualified nor prepared to cope with and we’ll leave it at that. In fact, goodly portions of the novel are taken up with Elliott and his personal problems to the degree that if you decide to read the book (and I do recommend you read it) you may at one point (as I do admit I did) say to yourself; “Well, shucks…they don’t seem very worry about finding these damn kids. And if they don’t care then why should I?”

And that’s where you’d be making the mistake. Because that isn’t the kind of book Cynthia Moyer is writing. Cynthia’s characters are deeply concerned about finding the missing kids. It’s just that life has to go on while they’re looking for them. People still have to go to work. Kids still have to go to school. Dogs have to be fed. Clothes still have to be washed, ironed and folded away.

Cynthia obviously likes these characters a lot and knows her fictional town as well as Michael Jordan knows how to handle a basketball. Yes, there are some characters that wander in and out of the story with no good reason at all save that Cynthia wants them to be there and there’s one character that every time she showed up I wished that the book was a movie I could fast forward through the scenes with her but on the whole, I had a pretty good time with the story and characters. Enough that I’m engaged enough to want to read the sequel. Good job, Cynthia.

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Derrick Ferguson Is Trapped In Mike Baron’s DOMAIN

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About halfway into DOMAIN, the new novel by Mike Baron I was wondering if maybe Mr. Baron hadn’t gotten two versions of the same novel mashed-up together and mistakenly published them as one. Give me a minute and I’ll explain.

In the first version we have Kendall Coffin, moderately successful comic book artist who due to an unexpected financial windfall is able to purchase an extraordinarily lavish and baroque Los Angeles mansion that looks like a cross between 1930’s Art Deco and a Mayan temple. It’s a mansion that was built by an eccentric architect and owned by an even more eccentric Hollywood producer. As in any good haunted house story, the mansion is rumored to have been the location of depraved sexual acts, rampant drug and alcohol abuse, Satanic rituals, pedophlia, necrophila and Great Cthulhu himself only knows what all else went on in that joint. That’s why Kendall is able to buy it cheap.

He settles down to his new life, meeting new neighbors, engages in romantic and business relationships and even gets himself a dog. But as he explores his new house and finds new rooms full of Hollywood memorabilia and remnants of the former owner’s depravities it begins working on his conscious and subconscious mind. Are there spirits of the dead infesting the house and subtly influencing Kendall? Maybe even to the point where he is committing murder without being aware of it?

In the second version Kendall Coffin goes to work for a thinly disguised Disney knock-off as a storyboarder. The studio is moving in a new direction and their latest production is an erotic thriller. While the job pays extraordinarily well, the subject matter is distasteful. And it’s in this version that Coffin wryly and cynically observes and muses on pop culture, comic book culture, Hollywood, TV, The Cult of Celebrity that has infected this country, video gaming, religion, the pros and cons of drug use, mortality and The Meaning of Life.

Don’t get me wrong, the two versions co-exist side-by-side and at times I actually found myself wanting to see more of the version with Kendall navigating his way through Hollyweird, wondering if this is truly the life he wants. There are chapters that are nothing more than Kendall going through his day and rather than being boring they do indeed enhance the story, providing characterization and doing something that a lot of horror stories don’t do; remind us that even though horrible things are happening around us, life does indeed go on. We still have to feed the dog, put out the the garbage and make a living. We still have to deal with loss and we still want to find love and have sex.

This is the fourth novel of Baron’s I’ve read and as always, I enjoy his freewheeling, don’t-give-a-damn prose. Baron writes as if he’s out to entertain himself first and foremost and it’s a tactic I wish more writers would adapt because if the writer is enjoying himself then it can’t help but translate into an enjoyable reading experience. I also like how he’s not afraid to use brand names, the names of real and made up rock groups, movie and TV actors, song titles, movie titles. There’s a name for this, y’know. It’s called “The Fleming Effect” named after Ian Fleming, the creator James Bond. A good case could be made for him inventing Product Placement since he name dropped left and right in his James Bond novels. I like it myself. It gives a novel an added layer when I’m reading about characters eating in the same restaurants I do, reading the same books and watching the same TV shows I do.

 
If you’ve read Mike Baron’s other books then you know what you’re getting and I don’t have to twist your arm. If you haven’t, then I’d recommend you sample “Helmet Head” (which reads like the best John Carpenter movie John Carpenter never made) and “Skorpio” before diving into DOMAIN. But no matter which of his books you decide to start with, you’ll be entertained, trust me. Mike Baron writes in a highly cinematic style that puts me in mind of to best of 1980s movies. True, his books have a lot of build-up but it’s there for a reason and the payoff is always worth the wait. Highly Recommended.

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