Every field of work, every career, every fandom, every anything that catches peoples’ interest and involves creative types producing works comes with its own mysteries. Obscure players and disregarded pieces that get lost to history and end up nearly completely forgotten, except for whispers of ‘Do You remember…?’ and tales of ‘Someone told me about…’
Such are the rumors of Vincent St. Germain and his nearly literal flash in the pan self-named pulp publishing company-St. Germain Publishing. Pro Se Productions announces that after exploring the nearly unknown stories and whispers about this extremely short lived publishing outfit, it has licensed from the owner and potential creator’s estate all characters featured in five apparently and two unpublished magazines.
“As little is known about the man St. Germain as is about his alleged almost momentarily St. Louis, Missouri based magazine publishing concern,” says Tommy Hancock, Editor in Chief of Pro Se Productions. “I have uncovered no written records confirming his existence, except potentially a few pieces of paper held dearly by reclusive collectors of such ephemera. No copies of signatures, of his own handwriting, not even of checks issued by his company. This last matter has led to speculation among the few who still discuss St. Germain that he may not have had many employees beyond what it took to physically publish magazines. In other words, there is a belief that Vincent St. Germain, ‘Vinny’ to a very few apparently, may himself have written every story that his company published, all of them under a variety of pen names. This is further potentially supported, based on lists of the works he published, each story by an author that had not published before or since St. Germain Publishing’s one month rise and fall. It is curious, though, that a Vincent St. Germain died in New Orleans, Louisiana in late 1938. Also, other than supposedly eyewitness encounters with the man, the only possible proof that he ever lived are two images, taken a few years apart apparently, that, based on my own personal deductions, are likely Vincent St. Germain.”
“There is even less available evidence of the five single issues, each one the first of a hopeful magazine within the St. Germain line, that the company allegedly released on the same day in the first week of April 1938. I have been allowed access to information and such surrounding the characters and contents of each magazine, six stories in each issue, all intended to be the first in series within each title. If the magazines ever existed, actual issues are either in the hands of the very protective collectors I mentioned earlier or hiding possibly in someone’s basement in a box thrown in the corner. Fortunately, the creator, if St. Germain, or creators, if multiple writers, made detailed notes and character descriptions and synopses, all supposedly at the direction of St. Germain, another way that he stood out from other Pulp publishers of the era.”
Also, there were allegedly two magazines prepared to debut the month after the first five. Though they were reportedly never published, Pro Se does have access to purported notes and details of these two books, and they will also be a part of this project, meaning that there will be seven anthologies featuring new stories starring these characters alleged to have appeared in St. Germain’s works.
The magazines that were supposedly published included ENDLESS MYSTERY, EVERLASTING TERROR, IMMORTAL ACTION, FOREVER WESTERN, and TIMELESS TALES. UNDYING LOVE and ETERNAL FANTASY were the two unpublished magazines. All these titles indicate that Vincent St. Germain was aware of the folklore associated with his surname and the infamous Comte de St. Germain, possibly a relative.
Based on a few notes left by St. Germain, it was intended that every story in each magazine would continue as a series. This did not occur, however, because there was no second issue of any of the five periodicals, or anything else ever published by St. Germain Publishing. The characters in St. Germain’s magazines at least on the surface resembled types made popular in other Pulp magazines. But, upon closer review, it turns out that Vincent was not only revolutionary in how he chose to do business, but he attempted to be tremendously forward thinking in both style of storytelling and crossing certain boundaries.
This has been,” Hancock states, “more than just a research project for a curious publisher, though. In the weeks I’ve invested in putting together the scarce remains of St. Germain Publishing, I have made progress that I did not expect. Pro Se Productions has licensed the characters believed to be included in St. Germain’s seven magazines from the person who currently owns them. To this end, Pro Se intends to bring all seven magazine titles back initially, each one as a book, an anthology. Each will feature a story for all the characters that reportedly debuted or would have debuted in the original pulps in the order in which they first appeared. The intent is to publish these seven new collections over the next twelve to eighteen months, twelve being the target. Following this ‘re debut’, we would then most definitely do novels, anthologies, digest novels, and even standalone digital short stories of the characters and expand them in their own series, hopefully as St. Germain might have intended.”
Pro Se Productions proudly announces that artist Kristopher Michael Mosby has agreed to provide a cover fore each anthology, each one bearing the title of a St. Germain magazine. Also, 42 writers have signed on to be a part of this project. The writers involved are-
Ron Fortier, Melinda Lafevers, E. W. Farnsworth, Adrian Delgado, Ariel Teague, Joshua Pantalleresco, Troy Osgood, Atom Mudman Bezecny, Andrew Butters, Rich Steeves, Raymond Embrack, HC Playa, Davide Mana, Quenntis Ashby, Paul Brian McCoy, Richard B. Wood, Colin Joss, Mark Bousquet, Derrick Ferguson, Sean Taylor, Neal Litherland, Susan Burdorf, Gary Phillips, Barry Reese, Frank Schildiner, Rob Howell, Gordon Dymowski, Richard C. White, Ernest Russell, Thomas Fortenberry, David Farris, Barbara Doran, Aaron Bittner, David White, Erik Franklin, Mike Hintze, Guy Worthey, Emily Jahnke, Mandi M. Lynch, Derek M. Koch, Aubrey Stephens, and Dewayne Dowers.
John Linwood Grant: I’m an old soul, which isn’t a spiritual statement – I only started submitting short stories at the age of 58. My timing may have been a little off, as I suppose I should have tried this slightly earlier. I’m large, bearded, covered in discarded dog hair, and pretty easy going. I grew up next to sheer chalk cliffs and the cold North Sea, and although I have traveled around Europe and North Africa, I’ve basically lived in Yorkshire all my life; I’m rooted to this Northern land of ours. I currently live on the edge of Yorkshire Dales, with dogs – and occasionally a family.
DF: Where do you live and what do you do to keep the bill collectors away?
JLG: I would like to say that the dogs keep the bill collectors away, but unfortunately, they’re far too friendly. So, I survive through a complicated blend of writing/editing income and various small annuities (I have agoraphobia and a panic disorder, which I presume I was given to add some excitement to my life).
DF: What’s your philosophy of writing? Do you even have a philosophy of writing?
JLG: I’m not sure I do – or if I have one, it’s too deeply buried for shallow minds like mine. Maybe I’m trying to present, and empathize with, different aspects of humanity, in its various glories and failings. People are The Thing, and I’m old enough to have met a lot of people. I suppose you might call my writing humanist – some of it I produce to ask questions about ourselves. I’ve made many mistakes in my life, and believe in exploring purpose and redemption – but let’s face it, other stories are only there to entertain.
DF: What keeps you motivated to write?
JLG: The cost of dog food, and a lack of Impostor Syndrome. I write reasonably well, which is the sort of thing you’re probably not supposed to say, and I enjoy doing it. There are always days when I can’t quite grasp what I’m trying to convey, but there’s always something else at the back of my mind which makes me think, “Hey, that would make a great story.” Usually seven or eight somethings at once. Occasionally I accept that it’s not a topic or theme I myself should be writing. Maybe I don’t have enough insight there; maybe there are other writers who are better placed to express the concepts. I hang back on some ideas, and go full steam on others. If I was sitting in an ancient market square, I would just make up stories for anyone who wanted to hear them.
DF: How would you describe your style of writing?
JLG: I suspect I write weird fiction which isn’t quite fancy enough to be in vogue; horror fiction which isn’t gross enough for horror fans, and adventure which isn’t wild enough for many of the pulp fans. You could say my writing is very character-based, often with limited descriptive elements – I try to capture the ‘feel’ of people and situations at a glance. The tilt of a hat on someone’s head is more important than listing the hat’s material, size, manufacturer and all that stuff.
I love strong imagery and use of language – and playing with those- but don’t go for the unnecessarily thesaurus-hugging nature of some ‘literary’ fiction. The well-placed short word is usually better than the uncommon archaism you have to look up. Oh, and I love pithy and unexpected dialogue. And semi-colons.
DF: Have you found an audience yet? if so, how did you do it? If not, why haven’t you?
JLG: I’ve found several audiences, which reflects my utter failure to plough ahead in only one genre. I reached a lot of people by the simple ploy of putting two or three short stories up on Smashwords for free, and then using them as teasers and seed-fiction. They gave a hint of my style, what people might expect of me, and went down well. After that I went straight for paying markets, being a Yorkshireman. I also started greydogtales.com, a website which was theoretically a promotional platform, but which filled up with nonsense, articles on weird, horror and detective fiction, and lots about dogs. I got bored of talking about me and my work, and just went mad on it, which is probably why the site’s so popular.
My online series “Lurchers for Beginners”, which I did because I love lurchers, became a huge hit entirely by accident (if it helps, a lurcher is a British thing, a very fast dog which is a deliberate cross between a sighthound and a working dog, with a long history over here). It’s fun – and occasionally informative – stuff about the dogs. Much to my surprise, some of the dog people also bought my books, and they’ve been great supporters. To make a site work for you, it either has to be a useful resource or a work of genuine enthusiasm. Greydogtales is both – on a good day.
I also have, inexplicably, a lot of fans who just follow the folklorish Weird Wolds stuff, two thirds of which is based around a mad village called St Botolph-in-the-Wolds. I describe it as Enid Blyton meets H P Lovecraft, with a lot of added very British Girls’ Own fun – Mr Bubbles, the slightly psychotic pony who fights evil; J Linseed Grant, the miserly writer, and a troop of feral Girl Guides who go on metal polish and lemonade fueled rampages. I even got a mention from Ellen Datlow for one of the more serious Weird Wolds stories, which was unexpected.
DF: You definitely have a love for Horror, Weird Fiction, Dark Fantasy, Gothic Horror and related genres. Where does that love come from?
JLG: I grew up in a large converted farmhouse full of ominous furniture, in a village too small to have a church or a pub. I was an avid and precocious reader. I devoured books by Ray Bradbury, Robert Bloch, William Hope Hodgson, Conan Doyle, H P Lovecraft, Saki, and loads of other writers from an early age, and just loved it all. I also wolfed down every EC comic I could find, and the darker folklore stories. I think it all embedded itself, whether I wanted it to or not. I’m not a great one for hack’n’slash horror – I prefer the ominous intrusion of the strange into the real – that shadow in the wrong place on the wall, the woman who says something you don’t understand when you buy the morning paper. Minutiae which form a whole.
DF: What do you say are the main differences in how Brits and American writers view Horror/Weird Fiction?
JLG: Nowadays, I’m not so sure. The lines are blurred. I find it interesting that one of the big yearly events in Britland is Fantasycon, which is in fact a pleasing blend of fantasy and weird/horror fiction enthusiasts. I sometimes get the feeling that Americans see horror as a more specific field, whilst weird is a niche, quite literary zone (in the best sense), and fantasy is something else altogether. The UK can have a wry, nuanced style which I don’t think always travels well, but when it does, it makes a real mark. I’m probably not a good person to ask, because almost all of my work has been published from North America, not Britland. I have no idea why. Maybe Statesiders find my work ‘quaint’ or ‘different’ which is fine if it sells books. Those dog bowls, as I’ve said, don’t fill themselves.
DF: Tell us about OCCULT DETECTIVES QUARTERLY
JLG: We would need a small novel to cover that one. The late Sam Gafford and I co-founded the magazine in 2016, as a mad venture covering the sort of stories we liked, and pretty much everything has gone wrong along the way, though every issue has been well received. It’s again a niche market, hugely popular with its fans and woefully unnoticed by the larger world. The magazine is also not exactly pulp, not necessarily high literature, not quite pure horror, and yet we take all of those if the story’s strong. So you might find a good old-fashioned supernatural mystery right next to a piece of powerful weird fiction, followed by a rip-roaring occult adventure. There must be a mystery, and there must be someone who looks into it, whether that be out of choice, role, or dread circumstance. The lead character might be a world-weary PI, a disturbed young onlooker, a bemused cop, a dubious mystic, an occult expert, or an amateur sleuth – any of those and more.
We’ve been blessed with some very loyal fans, as I say, and some great artists and writers, who have been hugely supportive despite every disaster (our first publisher folded, and then Sam died, for starters). We’re relaunching it this Autumn/Winter from the UK as OCCULT DETECTIVE MAGAZINE, which is still ODQ in all but name and will be our sixth issue – ‘Quarterly’ sounded ambitious, though you never know. Dave Brzeski, a Brit editor and enthusiast who was a vital part of ODQ, is my co-conspirator in keeping the tradition going.
DF: You edit and you write. Which one is harder?
JLG: I find editing interesting but exhausting. Every so often it does bring great pleasure – an exciting project; a completely new writer discovered; a fabulous take on a theme. I prefer Open Calls, to seek out a diversity of contributors and give opportunities to fresh voices, but those do add to the workload. “Hell’s Empire” the anthology I completed earlier this year, was a surprising joy, because the writers were so inventive and co-operative. It’s a terrific and unusual book, though I say it myself.
I’m a writer first, and so it can be hard to be an editor – I see potential in so many stories that aren’t really market-ready, and I often want to do something to help get them across the finishing line. There isn’t usually the time, unfortunately.
Writing itself, on the other hand, is what I do, and there’s a good feeling which comes from every story I finish to my own satisfaction, whether or not anyone else wants it.
DF: Tell us about your upcoming projects. What should be looking for from you?
JLG: I’m pushed in a lot of directions. At the moment I’m finishing edits on a two-volume anthology for Belanger Books – “Sherlock Holmes and the Occult Detectives”. I’m tempted to try another project with my very talented friend writer and artist Alan M Clark – we’ve worked very closely over the last couple of years, and combined two separate novels of ours into the interleaved novel “13 Miller’s Court”, concerning the last recorded victim of Jack the Ripper. It’s not necessarily the take you’d expect, and is very much about the impact on the lives of the woman involved, with little interest in the murderer himself. It also involves Mr Edwin Dry, the lethal Deptford Assassin, who has gained a lot of followers in his own right.
I have an almost finished Tales of the Last Edwardian novel kicking around – murder, madness and the supernatural in the early 1900s. Then a collection of my directly weird fiction is doing the rounds (I might just publish it myself if I get bored). I ought to put out a collection of my 1920s Mamma Lucy hoodoo tales, and maybe a full book of St Botolph’s stuff, which people nag me for. I’ll no doubt write some more Holmes stories, and I want to add to my weird portfolio. It all sounds too complicated and like hard work when I say it.
DF: What is the one novel or story that you would recommend to someone who doesn’t know a thing about you or your work that they should start with?
JLG: If you like strange, cosmic horror type stuff, then “Messages” in Cthulhusattva, from Martian Migraine. If you prefer disquieting contemporary fiction, then “Records of the Dead”, in the recent Haverhill anthology ‘The Twisted Book of Shadows’. My collection “A Persistence of Geraniums and Other Worrying Tales”, from IFD Publishing, is probably the best introduction to my general style, though, and it introduces a number of recurring characters.
DF: Drop some Words of Wisdom on all the aspiring young writers reading this who are thirsting for your knowledge.
JLG: Ha-ha. Perhaps the thing I notice most is that a lot of submitted work simply isn’t ready for consumption, as I mentioned earlier. You can’t see it, and your friends won’t tell you. Develop the ability to sit outside yourself, and read everything you produce as if someone else did it. Read other books and stories a lot, and compare your work to what you read – on the broadest level. Not “Is mine as good as that one by so and so?” but “Is mine actually good enough for the marketplace?” That may sound harsh, but it’s useful. Read outside your own genre to observe craft in action.
Much of what you write will be too long, whether it’s a short story or a novel. Writers indulge themselves. They fall in love with their own ideas, and the pleasure of words and phrases, but some of those just don’t need to be there. I have a terrible habit of drifting into the lives of secondary and tertiary characters, which fascinates me, but sometimes the readers don’t care. They want the story. There are exceptions where the style of delivery is as important as what the story tells, but trimming is frequently in order.
Also, assume lots of things will go wrong in your search to get published. If you start out that way, you get hurt less. Agents will have too much on to give you attention, even if you genuinely deserve it. Editors will not get what you were trying to achieve, or won’t be able to find a slot for you because of other factors. Publishers will merge, go bust, or realize that however much they love your work, their Marketing Department can’t see a way of making money out of you. You will get screwed over on at least one contract, at some point. Once you know these things, they become less personal, and just part of the way things are for many thousands of other writers.
These really apply, of course, if you are deliberately writing to sell and be read by others. I have no beef with those who write purely to express themselves, to get something from their head out onto paper (or screen). You can always write only for yourself, and let the rest of the world do its own thing.
DF: What’s a typical Day In The Life of John Linwood Grant like?
JLG: Extremely badly planned, and constantly interrupted by two large lurchers (the dogs). I spend a lot of time mending the awful plumbing in our house and trying to keep the dogs out of the fridge. In between, I write.
Derrick Ferguson: Anything else we should know?
John Linwood Grant: Nothing I’ve said is necessarily true. I make stuff up for a living.
So, FINALLY, Tommy Hancock over at Pro Se has done his reveal of three author imprints where I got to do the initial logo designs…
The plan was to reveal them over the weekend at the convention that hosts the annual Pulp Factory Awards in Chicago.
Not that I’ve ever been, but I’ve won one to my complete surprise.
So the three authors involved with this part of the reveal were Kimberly Richardson, Frank Schildiner and my good friend and partner-in-virtual crime Derrick Ferguson. All three are authors in something called “New Pulp” but really that’s kind of a narrow definition of their particular brands of storytelling. All three are well regarded, they’re unique in their own rights, they all have their followings who eagerly await their latest projects and all of them have happened to be offered a chance to exercise their prodigious imaginations under their own brands with Pro Se.
And lucky me, I get to contribute by building the first part of that brand with these imprint logos…
So, though you’re probably not asking, how does that work? Well I’m glad you didn’t ask, let me tell you the intricate planning that went into each one of these and the meticulous work we in the independent publishing game go through to make our talent shine…
Last weekend, Tommy hits me up on Facebook with no warning whatsoever and says he needs some author imprint logos for this show in Chicago: “can you do it?” I ask for details because obviously I’m just getting to a party already in progress, and he kicks out the rough ideas for Kimberly and Frank…
…which, BTW, for a guy so full of ideas and stories and plans was woefully light on details just generalities, and he turns me loose after I inform him I’ll talk to Derrick who had already contacted me. Derrick and I do all our stuff more like a couple of guys shooting the breeze on the front stoop on a Sunday afternoon. Yeah we work, it’s just more of a relaxed thing where we kick back and chat and at some point we, usually accidentally, hit on the right thing. I love our process because when we do chop it up, I never fail to end our conversation without a smile at the end and at least two good belly laughs from the soul.
Which is pretty much how his brand POWER PLAY! was done. I, in the course of our discussion run an idea of what I’d like to use as his look and he shows me the very thing I had in mind, which in an odd bit of coincidence was sitting on his desk: a gold clenched fist with that 1960s/70s Soul Brother/grindhouse film vibe as the logo. In my head, what you see as the POWER PLAY! logo was a black light velveteen poster stuck to a ceiling between some mirror tiles with a fish net full of fake starfish.
It was the 70s, you had to be there.
So he was easy and POWER PLAY! was done in one. There are colored variants and, as a last minute thing, I added the tag line “Old School New Pulp” which is what Derrick does. He’s got an updated Men’s Adventure/Action Hero/Thriller feel to a lot of his projects, so it felt right.
Now Kimberly’s came with the most detail from Tommy. Crossed guns, gothic mansion, emboss this, something something that…
So I did that first and like an old “Men On Film” sketch: “Hated it!” It didn’t matter how many ways I crossed the 20 pistols I put together, none of them looked right. So instead I went to work on the manor house bit and abandoned the guns. Nice… but generic. The house was sitting on a cliff, so I pulled the cliff, threw in a really basic shield, colored it all black… better, but still needed something. I uncrossed the guns, used them as a frame and was there.
But then I wanted to make it hers. Any schmuck could build a lady a house but it needs to be HER house. So I took a look at the lady I was building the house for since I’ve never had the pleasure IRL or online of getting to know her. First thing I noticed, which is the first thing I notice about a lot of women in photos, were her eyes…
…that, kids was the hook, she’s got great eyes. I stared at those eyes and attempted to be as accurate as I could be despite simplifying them for an illustration. Stared at them for so long, I think I owe her dinner and one failed rom-com running through the airport scene. I tossed an oversized moon in the background added the eyes and I was in love…
…with the final product.
So PULP GOTHIC gave me the Lady of the House, a touch of Stephen King in the mansion, got the guns in and it all was an echo of the old paperbacks that used to come with the mapback covers telling you about the location of the story.
Last, but not least, came Frank Schildiner. His was done first, I really didn’t like it but I took Tommy’s rough idea too literal. Frank and I aren’t online running buddies, but he and I enjoy decent fight techniques, he’s a martial artist and instructor (in addition to being an author) and I’m immensely impressed by his focus and skill. Unfortunately the logo I came up with didn’t really reflect Frank or his work. It was sort of a hero shot that reminded me of a rejected logo for the old fitness guru Jack LaLanne. It was passable, but it wasn’t Frank. As Friday rolled around I still wasn’t happy with it and it’s hard to put out something I’m not in love with as I send it out. Tommy’s looking for logos and I’m one short. But it was also something Tommy said that sparked an image early on: “Frank’s work goes everywhere.” The image that invoked was pure Jack “The King” Kirby. If you don’t know Jack and his work in changing the face of comics as we know them with Stan Lee…
…move out of that cave so I can get you some help.
So the image I came up with was a complete re-do which is inspired by guys like Kirby and the late Darwyn Cooke and we had something worthy of Frank in particular and his work in general.
And I FINALLY learned how to DIY the famous “Kirby Krackle”…
…yeah, whatever, it’s a big deal to me.
So SCHILDINER’S WORLDS final look is probably more due to Tommy’s summation of Frank’s work than anything else. I had the image in my head, but thought I had to do the other thing based on his explanation of what he said the look should be.
So I did what he said over what he asked.
I submitted both though, as I did with the manor only version of PULP GOTHIC, because you should give a guy options…
I’m glad he chose the ones he did.
Bet you’re wondering where that planning aspect went that I mentioned at the start, right?
Tommy and I refer to this as the “Butch and Sundance”…
If you’ve ever seen how BUTCH CASSIDY AND THE SUNDANCE KID ends for them, you’ll get it.
Sometimes we just have to take a leap, man…
So, if you follow these folks and missed Tommy’s press releases…
…big things are coming from some of your favorite folks…
From the mean streets and crime-ridden boroughs of the modern metropolis to the dusty western wastelands where the only thing more precious than a bullet is a drop of water to soothe a parched throat, Derrick Ferguson takes the reader on journeys as visceral and vivid as a waking dream. Herein find eight stories, written for cash on the barrel to put food on the table. Sail the Seven Seas with Sinbad the Sailor, run headlong into gunfights against overwhelming odds with lawman Bass Reeves, battle against super-villains, and get hard-boiled with two-fisted detective action. Pick your poison. And make it a double.
“The Undercover Puzzle”
“The Knobloch Collection Assignment”
“Sinbad and The Voyage to The Land of The Frozen Sun”
“The Ruckerville Arraignment”
“Unto You Is Born…Rayge!”
“A Town Named Affliction”
“The Bixbee Breakout”
If you’re as well read as I think you are (and you must be…why else are you reading book reviews? You’re looking for something good to read, right?) then you should have some familiarity with the name Mike Baron. Mr. Baron first landed on my radar when I discovered his innovative science fiction comic book “Nexus” which he co-created with Mike Rude. Much like other great comic book pairings like Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, Steve Englehart and Marshall Rogers or Marv Wolfman and Gene Colon, the two of them made magic together and if you haven’t read “Nexus” yet then you should correct that at your earliest opportunity.
Mr. Baron has also written many other comic book titles but in recent years he’s been working in prose, writing some really compelling novels such as “Helmet Head” which I really enjoyed. That’s a book you really ought to pick up as it reads like the lost novelization of a John Carpenter movie. Yeah, it’s that good.
SKORPIO is almost as good. It’s not a roller coaster ride like “Helmet Head’ which reads like a runaway train going downhill from start to finish. Mr. Baron takes his time setting up the situation and the characters before he gets to the guts of his story but I appreciate a writer who has the confidence to take his time to take us where we need to go so he can most effectively deliver the goods later on and yeah, SKORPIO delivers.
Vaughan Beadles is a Professor of Anthropology at Creighton University in Illinois where he enjoys a near rock star status. He’s too handsome for his own good with a gorgeous wife and beautiful baby boy. Beadles is riding high due to his acquisition of relics belonging to a previously lost Southwestern Indian tribe, the Azuma. But all that comes to a screeching halt when Beadles is framed for stealing some of the artifacts. And if that wasn’t enough, one of his students dies from a scorpion sting that he got when Beadles lets the kid get an unauthorized sneak peek at the artifacts.
His life rapidly falls into ruin. His wife leaves him, he loses his job and all of his money goes toward his legal fees. The only way Beadles can see to salvage his life is to find where the Azuma actually lived and prove his theories to be true. In his quest to find the birthplace, Beadles runs into a truly amazing diverse cast of characters. Some of them you’ll wonder what the hell they’re doing in the book but trust me, part of the enjoyment of reading SKORPIO is seeing just how Mike Baron pulls all of these characters together and makes them integral components of the story.
It takes a while for the title character to show up but when it does it’s worth the wait. Skorpio is a vengeful ghost of hideous power who appears in the sunlight, which is a nice twist as ghosts are usually associated with the nighttime. I also liked Mr. Baron’s choice of protagonist. Vaughan Beadles isn’t exactly squeaky clean in his dealings and he’s a bit of an opportunist, always actively looking for an angle to advance his career and fatten his bank account.
In fact, most of the characters in SKORPIO are a little more on the gray side than you might expect but I enjoyed that as it gave the book an unpredictability I found refreshing. There’s never any way to tell what these characters are going to do or say and for me, that’s always welcome in my fiction.
Mike Baron’s prose is as uncomplicated and straightforward as the word “No.” He doesn’t go in for flowery purple prose. He’s a born storyteller who is concerned with only one thing: telling you a good story. He’s not interested in showing off his vocabulary or trying to impress you with his cleverness in turning a pithy phrase. He just wants you to have a good time and I certainly did have a good time reading SKORPIO.
Nah, it’s not a job I’m on, this was just me doodling on my down time inspired by something I read recently.
Occasionally the grind of life gets you down, you’ve gotten in a rut, and it seems like all you do is go do your job so you can go home and wait to go do your job and then go home and…
Well, you get the idea.
Then, out of the blue, you get a call from a guy you know who wants to get together and he can invite you and a couple of other guys out for a trip so wild…
Which is why it helps that the destination that this guy has in mind is…
This is really one of those times where you’re gonna want what happens in Vegas to stay in Vegas. In fact, this situation takes place in the early days of the Strip in 1965, so it’s possible this is the thing that happened that stayed where it happened in the first place.
Which is a breezy primer for Van Allen Plexico’s fun little crime tale VEGAS HEIST.
Now, as I’ve said before: I love heist stories and their second cousins caper stories. Give me a crew of thieves with an eyes bigger than their stomachs crime on the schedule with seemingly impossible obstacles and toss in a couple of twists and I’m good. Toss in some of that classic Sinatra/Rat Pack “Ocean’s 11” and mix liberally with nods to other characters of that era in crime fiction and I’m not only in, I want a window seat. So Mr. Plexico is swinging in the right direction for me right out the gate.
So let’s break down the plot just a little. We start with John Harper, who is in the middle of putting his foot down on a loose end from a job he pulled prior to the start of our story: an associate who feels his take should’ve been bigger. Roughly Harper’s share of that job bigger. Harper disagreed with that assessment of the situation…
As this exchange is going on, Harper gets a call from another associate whom he’s had a more positive relationship with: Saul “Salsa” Salzman, an attorney who occasionally moonlights as a heister, a roper, and an inside man who fingers potential jobs based on keeping his eyes and ears open and seeing an opportunity when it presents itself. Salsa’s got a lead on a job and it would require a first rate planner to work out the angles. Harper agrees to a meet, and gets back to what he was doing. Later, and in as neutral a locale as you can find, Salsa drops the caper on Harper: he’s got enough inside information on a mark that he wants Harper’s help to pull off a heist…
…in Las Vegas.
He has a crew: Bobby Donovan, an old school “jugger” (safecracker) who has been knocking knobs off of safes long enough to be considered one of the best. Besides being their vault man, Donovan also has a way to bankroll and arm themselves for the job without being on the line to another party who’d take a cut as his pay back on the vig, or the principal investment, plus the juice in the form of interest. There’s a catch, but nothing he, Harper and Salsa can’t handle. Plus Donovan brings with him Brett Rooker, a former boxer and wrestler who hires out now as muscle to crews who need it for a cut of the take. Rooker asks few questions, keeps himself to himself to a degree, but he’s hitched up with Salsa’s caper because of the notoriety of this particular crew’s individual reputations.
After they secure their money and weapons, the crew hits the road and move on to Vegas.
And they have a plan to break the bank while they’re there.
Now, I’ll stop there because it was really hard not to spoil the bits of business above with more details, but let’s get down to cases. VEGAS HEIST is a story you’ve seen, heard, read, probably even wrote at some point. It’s a little bit of Sinatra’s “Ocean’s 11”, it’s a little Richard Stark’s Parker, it’s all been done, yes, that too.
…it’s all about execution that lets you know if you’ve got a hack job or really nice piece with the flavor and feel of a nice 1960s era crime flick with enough twists and turns in all the right places. Van hits the latter over the former, VEGAS HEIST is just a lot of fun. It’s a departure from Van’s usual bailiwick of superhero action adventure and space operas, but he really stepped into this genre with an obvious affection for it. If this continues on as a series of stories, I’m going to assume his characters will be fleshed out a bit more. Not too much, I don’t need an origin story or two, but it’ll be nice to see them develop past their obvious inspirational sources into distinct characters with unique voices. Still the way Van wrote these guys you get some subtle insights into how they see the world around them like Salsa’s gregarious nature having him presume that Harper’s a friend, while when he writes Harper’s point of view, Salsa’s more like a reliable associate he can trust not to stab him in the back. Plus, the other characters involved in the plot do have specific and distinct places in the narrative and the action.
And the twists, Lordy lord the twists in this tale are so much fun to see play out. There were plenty of places where I figured out the twist early but then Van would toss in something I took my eye off of and do something you kind of saw coming…
…but not like that.
Folks, Van kind of nails it.
So, VEGAS HEIST was a lot of fun for me, so much so, I decided to fool around with a what if scenario and make up one of those old house style ad like pieces that might’ve made it into a magazine or a movie marquee if HEIST got that kind of traction.
Bobby Nash is a writer that has always impressed me with his versatility. You name it, he’s probably written it. New Pulp, Classic Pulp, Science Fiction, Planetary Romance, Mystery, Horror, Hard-Boiled P.I. Thrillers. And in a variety of formats; novels, novellas, comic books, graphic novels. He’s also acted in a number of movies and television shows. Just going over his resume makes me feel like a lazy bum.
In the interest of full disclosure, this review started out as a blurb Bobby asked me to write for him. I had read SNOW FALLS sometime last year but to refresh my memory before I wrote the blurb I sat down to read it again. And SNOW FALLS at 110 pages is a pretty fast read, thanks to Bobby’s can’t-put-it-down prose. And a funny thing happened…the more I read, the more I started taking notes and before I knew it I said; “Ah, screw it…might as well write a fargin’ review.” That’s how my brain works. Ask me to write a short story and you’ll end up with a novella. Ask me for a novella and you’ll get a novel. Ask me for a novel and you’ve really made an error in judgement because you’ll most likely find a trilogy in your lap.
Undercover agent Abraham Snow is forced to take an early retirement thanks to being shot twice by Miguel Ortega, an international crime lord who must employ the same press agent Keyser Soze uses. After a long and painful period of recuperation he returns to his hometown of Atlanta, Georgia to continue to rest, heal and reconnect with his family. And quite the family it is. Abraham’s grandfather Archer created Snow Security Consultants which has grown from a local security consulting firm to an international one. It’s now run by Abraham’s dad, Dominic. Father and son don’t get along. Grandpa tries to mediate but he’s much better at doing that in the boardroom than with his own family. But Abraham doesn’t really mind all that much that dear old dadums isn’t glad to see him. Baby sister Samantha and baby brother Doug are more than happy that their big brother has returned to the family business.
Abraham insists that he has no such plans. He just wants to rest and recuperate. He’s still not back up to being 100% physically and the psychological effects of being shot are still fresh in a mind continuing to cope with such a frightening event. But an attempt on the life of Owen Salizar, a billionaire biochemist suspected of secretly funding terrorist groups pulls Abraham back into his old life. Good thing he’s got his family backing him up this time around.
SNOW FALLS plays out like the prose version of a pilot for a 1970s action/adventure TV show and Bobby makes no secret about that. And being a lover of 1970s action/adventure TV shows, I had no problem with it. The relationship between Abraham and his grandfather has echoes of the relationship between Lee Horsely and Buddy Ebsen in “Lee Houston” (although I visualized Archer Snow as Dennis Farina). Being a screenwriter as well as a novelist I imagine that Bobby knows exactly what will transfer well from one medium to another.
And I applaud Bobby for giving us a character that is not yet another Mike Hammer clone or a loner ex-cop crippled with guilt, a drinking problem and an ex-wife. Not that I’m against those types of characters but it is refreshing to have a character in this genre who has a different set of issues to deal with. It’s also nice to see a character in this genre who has family that he gets along with (mostly) and who isn’t an orphan. Again, not that I got a problem against those characters. After all, many of our greatest pop culture heroes such as Batman, Superman, Tarzan, Sherlock Holmes and James Bond were orphans. But a hero with family has a different worldview and mindset than an orphan and it reflects in his thoughts and actions.
That’s not to say I’m totally in love with SNOW FALLS. It’s set in Atlanta but I really didn’t get much of a feel of the city or what makes it unique. Oh, Bobby makes Abraham’s love of the city clear but I never got a feel of why. I’ve been in Atlanta many times myself as my sister lived in Covington for about ten years so I would visit her often. Atlanta is a terrific setting for fiction and I’d like to see Bobby exploit it more.
I also like a bit more description in my prose. Bobby works hard at helping us visualizing his characters and defining their relationships. And his prose is wonderful to read. It sounds very natural and there are passages where Bobby doesn’t tell you who is talking to whom because after a certain point, he doesn’t need to. I could tell from the dialog who was talking. But there were spots where I was fuzzy on where the events were taking place and I could have used some help in orientation.
But then again, SNOW FALLS is meant as introduction to Abraham Snow and his world and at 110 pages it’s a solid introduction that makes me want to dive into the sequels right away. Give SNOW FALLS a try and I think you’ll feel the same. If you’ve never read anything by Bobby Nash before, this is an excellent gateway drug to his work. Enjoy.
I know what you’re thinking; “Damn, Derrick…this thing came out back in 2015 and you’re just now getting around to reading and reviewing it?” Well, I did read it back in 2015 and fully intended to write up a review of it back then as I am an avid fan of the work of Joel Jenkins and Percival Constantine. But as so many of my editors/collaborators know, I’m so easily distracted by bright shiny objects. But thanks to Christofer Nigro (who I’ve since also become a fan of) I revisited this book and ta-da…here at last is the review. I hope it’s worth the wait.
“Black-Hearted Killers: A Monica Killingsworth Story” by Joel Jenkins. Monica Killingsworth is one of Joel’s favorite characters. I can tell because of my firm belief that if a writer is truly having fun writing a story/novel then that fun can’t help but be translated to their prose. He’s written several stories about Monica, all of which I recommend. The story itself is in Full Tilt Boogie Action Movie In Prose Mode from start to finish. The only drawback I can point to here is that for somebody like me who has read other Monica Killingsworth stories and so am familiar with the character and her background so that I was able to fill in the gaps from memory. But for somebody who is coming to the character cold they might be a bit bewildered by exactly who these people are and what’s going on. But if all you’re looking for is plenty of shootouts, wiseass dialog and eccentric characters, you should give this one a try. I especially liked how the ending turned out to be a real surprise.
“The Damsel of Disaster” by Christofer Nigro. Christofer does a good job of setting up the scene, letting us know where and when we are. I like that he sets the story in Buffalo as it’s a good reminder than organized crime was operating everywhere and not just in New York City and Chicago. But I do question as to why one mob boss would bring along his daughter and the other one would bring along his girlfriend to a sit-down where they are going to discuss things that are best not discussed with potential witnesses in the room. He’s got good characters and a solid plot but everything feels compressed and rushed and just shoved into too small a space for events to happen organically. Too many moments in the story feel like they happen just because Christofer wanted them to happen and not because they came from the interaction of the characters and the decisions that they make. But overall, it’s a well-paced story that doesn’t slow down for a bit and it does the job it’s supposed to do; tell a hard and brutal story about hard and brutal people and on that level, it succeeds.
“Tragic Like A Torch Song” by Shannon Muir. If I had to categorize the stories so far, I’d say the first one is 1980s Action Movie while the second is 1930s Warner Bros Gangster. This one is firmly in the arena of Film Noir. I could easily visualize this story in nourish black & white while reading it. Torch singer Hazel Atwood agrees to do some amateur detective work for her manager Frank who thinks his wife is cheating on him. The manager is skeptical but Hazel’s father used to be a P.I. and she persuades him that since she knows Hazel, Frank’s wife won’t be suspicious if she does her snooping around. When Frank turns up dead shortly afterwards, everybody is not only suspicious, they’re suspects as well. But Frank’s murder isn’t the only mystery to be solved. There’s also the secret of Hazel’s parentage that gets coiled up in Frank’s murder and she needs to unravel the both of them. Out of all the stories in the book, this is the one you’ve got to pay the most attention to because the solution to both mysteries is both tricky and convoluted. I’m not ashamed to admit that I had to read the ending twice to make sure I understood how and why everybody and everything was connected.
“Shikata Ga Nai” by Percival Constantine. Know what I miss? Private eyes who keep a bottle of booze in their lower right-hand desk drawer, a loaded .38 revolver in the pocket of their trench coat and who solve their cases with experience and knowledge of human nature along with sheer brainpower instead of computers and DNA results. Private investigator Kyoko Nakamura is just such a private eye. In a relatively short story, Kyoko comes to life and Percival uses the location of Osaka, Japan almost as another character in the story. The missing person case Kyoko accepts at first appears to be a fairly easy one. But that’s before the Yakuza gets involved and soon Kyoko has a hired killer stalking her. This isn’t a twisty, convoluted mystery where you have to really work to make sense of what is going on but it is an excellent introduction to the character of Kyoko Nakamura and her world (Note to Christofer Nigro: go read this story for the dialog. THIS is how people in this kind of story talk)
Even though it was published in 2015, this could be the perfect time for THE DAME DID IT to be discovered and find an audience as we’re seeing strong women characters in prose, TV and movies stepping into the spotlight in all manner of fresh, new and exciting ways. A book of stories, all with female protagonists kicking ass and taking names may have been ahead of it’s time in 2015 but in 2018 it’s right on time. Enjoy.