Category: Thriller

Derrick Ferguson Listens As SNOW FALLS

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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.

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SNOW FALLS and many other fine books by Bobby Nash can be found here

Derrick Ferguson Is Certain That THE DAME DID IT

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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.

Get your copy of THE DAME DID IT right HERE

 

 

 

The Spirit of Wakanda

If you’re among those who saw BLACK PANTHER this past weekend and loved it…

…and if you didn’t love it I’m not sure we can still be friends. But I digress…

…you’re probably salivating and looking forward to more adventures of King T’Challa and wondering how you’re going to fill your entertainment hours with more of the same. You desperately crave for more fantastic tales of black heroes and heroines to feed your stimulated imagination now that your creative juices are flowing and your soul seeks to enrich itself with legends and stories of heroes and heroines who can stand shoulder to shoulder with T’Challa, Princess Shuri, Nakia, Okoye and M’Baku.

Look no more.

There’s a legion of staggeringly creative black writers and artists that have been working like gubmint mules for years producing just those kinds of stories. Some of their names you know. Charles Saunders. Milton Davis. Balogun Ojetade. Gerald L. Coleman. Valjeanne Jeffers. Jeff Carroll. Nicole Givens Kurtz. Toi Thomas. Alicia MCalla. Thaddeus Howze. Brian W. Parker. Ronald T. Jones. Mshindo Kuumba. Jarvis Sheffield.

Some names you don’t. But that’s okay. There’s two places you should start to learn the names you’re not familiar with.

One is here: Black Science Fiction Society

And the other is here: The State Of Black Science Fiction

So now you don’t have to wait. Because there is more wonder and adventure out there than I think you didn’t know existed. And I envy you the discovery. Wakanda is not just a country. It is not just a warrior spirit and code. It is not just a technology. Although it embraces and celebrates all of these.

Wakanda is also a family of imagination. Because we can dream our future into reality.

And in this…we are all this day and forevermore citizens of Wakanda.

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“Wakanda will no longer watch from the shadows. We cannot. We must not. We will work to be an example of how we, as brothers and sisters on this earth, should treat each other. Now, more than ever, the illusions of division threaten our very existence. We all know the truth: more connects us than separates us. But in times of crisis the wise build bridges, while the foolish build barriers. We must find a way to look after one another, as if we were one single tribe.”

-King T’Challa, Sovereign of Wakanda

Three Examples of New Pulp TODAY

I’m gonna start this off with trying to explain to you the main problem us New Pulp writers have when we’re trying to explain New Pulp to folks who have no idea what Pulp is. Much less New Pulp. See, we go on and on with our explanations of Pulp and what it means to us as writers and what it is as a genre and as a style of writing…

…and then we’ll get the Classic Pulp crowd chiming in with; “Pulp isn’t a genre! It’s the paper the original magazines were printed on!”

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Well, you Classic Pulp guys just hold on. I’ll get to you another time. Believe me. But right now, I’ve got more interesting fish to sauté.

Anyway, we try to explain to The Average Reader Who Is Just Looking For Something Good To Read what New Pulp is. And they will listen most earnestly and patiently and attentively and they will then say; “Okay, I get what you’re saying…but why and how is New Pulp different from just plain ol’ Action Adventure? Or Horror? Or Science Fiction? Why can’t you guys just label what you do as that and get it over with?”

And The Average Reader Who Is Just Looking For Something Good To Read does have a valid point. And before you start with that tired old felgercarb about how you don’t like labels and you don’t see why anything has to be labeled…tell you what we’re gonna do. We’re going to take all the labels off the canned foods in your local supermarket and let you guess what’s inside those cans the next time you go shopping.

 

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Because much as you would like to think otherwise, labelling does have its place. And my feeling is that one reason why it’s so hard to label New Pulp is because over the years there have been so many TV shows, comic books and movies that have adopted the tropes of Classic Pulp that it’s become so ingrained in Pop Culture that most folks don’t even realize they’re watching Pulp. Still don’t believe me? Sit back while I hit you with three examples of New Pulp you watched and enjoyed and didn’t even know was New Pulp. Ready? Okay:

24 (2001-2010): For 8 Seasons we watched Counter Terrorist Unit Special Agent Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) defend Our Country against supervillains, terrorist attacks and shadow government conspiracies. Each season followed Jack Bauer on a Really Bad Day, each episode taking place in Real Time over the course of one hour. Before each commercial break, a clock would appear on screen to show us how much time had passed and each episode would end with Jack Bauer or another member of the cast in dire peril. You had to come back next week to find out how Jack or whoever got out of whatever death trap they had gotten into.

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24 is one of the primary examples of New Pulp I love to hold up as it’s the Ultimate Saturday Morning Serial. A Serial was an extended movie broken up into chapter plays which enjoyed their major popularity during the 1930’s and 1940’s. The chapters were shown in movie theaters in 10 or 15 minutes segments before the main double feature. They ended with a Cliffhanger in which the hero or another member of the cast found themselves in dire peril. Sound familiar? 24 quite successfully adapted the Saturday Morning Serial in an innovative way. Sure, the episodes were now an hour long instead of 15 minutes but thanks to terrific writing and acting, they kept us on the end of our seats. And as a character, Jack Bauer has a whole lot in common with both Jimmy Christopher aka Operator #5 and The Spider.

Hudson Hawk: Is the most blatantly Pulp of my three examples and maybe that’s why it was the least successful. I dunno. All I know is that the very first time I saw it in the theater, I think I knew what director Michael Lehmann and screenplay writers Steven E. de Souza and Daniel Waters (based on a story by Bruce Willis and Robert Kraft) were going for. Eddie Hawkins is a master thief known professionally as Hudson Hawk. Upon being released from prison he attempts to go straight but is blackmailed by the CIA, The Mafia, the psychotic Mayflower twins (Richard E. Grant, Sandra Bernhard) and even his own partner-in-crime Tommy Five-Tone (Danny Aiello) into a complicated series of heists to steal the components of the La Machinnia dell’Oro, the greatest invention of Leonardo da Vinci, a machine that can convert lead into gold. The scene where Bruce Willis and Danny Aiello pull off a heist that is perfectly timed to their singing “Swinging on A Star” is one of my favorites in the movie. You can read my review of Hudson Hawk here at The Ferguson Theater.

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The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou (2004): Wes Anderson is not a director that anybody by any stretch of the imagination would associate with Pulp New or Classic. But I’ve watched The Life Aquatic With Steve Zissou four times now and the more I see it, the more I’m convinced it’s a New Pulp Adventure. Bill Murray plays Steve Zissou, an oceanographer/adventurer who sees his best friend and partner eater by a Jaguar Shark, a species of shark that had been previously considered to be mythical. Steve Zissou vows to hunt down and destroy the shark.

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Aboard his massive research vessel/home, The Belafonte, Zissou and his eccentric crew, which includes a Brazilian musician who sings David Bowie songs in Portuguese, Anne-Marie Sakowitz who insists on walking around topless and a bunch of college interns from the University of North Alaska he sets out on what may be his last and greatest adventure. The adventure is flavored by Steve having to deal with Ned Plimpton (Owen Wilson) who just may be his illegitimate son and the tagalong reporter Jane-Winslette Richardson (Cate Blanchett) who is attracted to both Steve and Ned.

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It’s a movie that I consider New Pulp because of Steve Zissou, an aging adventurer who is trying to hold onto his life of adventure even though everybody and everything is telling him he has to conform to the modern world. But Steve believes in a different world. Halfway through the movie it turns into an almost straight out action adventure where Steve and his crew have to dig back into the day when they were badasses in order to track down and take out a band of pirates that have attacked  The Belafonte and taken some of the interns hostages.

Steve Zissou’s crew are just as talented, skilled and eccentric as Doc Savage’s Iron Crew or Buckaroo Banzai’s Hong Kong Cavaliers. And if you have any more doubts about the intention of this movie, check out the end credit scene where Steve Zissou and his crew march to their boat. Wes Anderson himself has said that is a deliberate homage to the Banzai Strut done during the closing credits of “Buckaroo Banzai”

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The thing all these movies (and TV show) have in common is that there are various elements of Classic Pulp that the creators adapted successfully for modern audiences. Matter of fact, they did them so well that modern audiences have no idea that they’re watching Pulp.

And don’t get me started on how Scandal is a modern-day version of The Avenger and Justice, Inc or how Person of Interest is in a lot of ways like The Shadow…we’ll leave that for next time…

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 Hires HUGH MONN, PRIVATE DETECTIVE

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The hard-boiled private eye genre is one I dearly love. The trench-coated shamus with a cigarette dangling from his lip, .45 automatic or .38 revolver in a well-worn shoulder holster, fedora pulled down low over his forehead, the faithful gum-chewing secretary and even more faithful fifth of scotch in the desk drawer. Using his experience of having lived a tough life and insight into human nature to solve mysteries, not fancy computers and DNA. it’s a genre I never get enough of.  And since television and movies have apparently abandoned the P.I. it’s up to writers like Lee Houston, Jr. and books like HUGH MONN, PRIVATE DETECTIVE to give me my fix.

Let me explain; even though Hugh Monn lives and works on the far distant planet of Frontera interacting with many different species and using advanced technology, the tone and feel of the character and the eight stories in the book are pure 1950’s.  Lee drops in a mention here and there of some bit of sci-fi such as a character having green or purple skin or Hugh’s weapon of choice being a Nuke 653 Rechargeable but that’s just throwaways Lee lobs at us once in a while to remind us that we’re not on Earth.  But he doesn’t go into any real detail as to how this future civilization operates or how the technology works.  When the subject of detective stories crossed with science fiction comes up, I usually mention Larry Niven’s stories and novels about Gil The Arm or Roger Zelazny’s “My Name Is Legion” since in those stories, the science fiction is integral to the story.  Take out the science fiction and you wouldn’t have a story.  Not so with Lee’s Hugh Monn stories.  They could easily have been set in 1950’s Los Angeles or New York with a little rewriting.  But I digress…let’s take HUGH MONN, PRIVATE DETECTIVE for what it is, not for what it isn’t.

Hugh Monn is a Human and yes, he freely admits to his clients that his name is a gag.  But one he prefers to use as he’s got some pretty big secrets in his past he’d prefer to keep to himself. As a detective, Hugh is capable, sharp, principled and dogged in his determination to solve his cases and get to the truth.  Hugh isn’t a pain-in-the-ass who rebels against authority and isn’t a lone wolf who doesn’t play by the rules.  Matter of fact, Hugh conducts himself as a total professional.  He doesn’t shoot when he doesn’t have to, he’s polite to everybody he meets and he co-operates with the authorities.  In particular, Lawbot 714 who he runs into in a couple of stories and who I wouldn’t mind seeing become a regular if Lee gives us more Hugh Monn cases.  He doesn’t smoke, doesn’t drink, he likes kids; he holds open the doors for old ladies.  I think you can tell where I’m going with this.  Hugh’s a fine detective but as a character I found myself wishing that once in a while he’d haul off and slug a suspect for no good reason other than he doesn’t like the fact the guy has eight eyes.  Hugh could stand to be a little rougher and not so polite.

The story “Shortages” is a good example of how Hugh Monn solves a case using his understanding of both humans and aliens and his powers of observation.  It also introduces the character of Big Louie, a Primoid.  Big Louie is the main suspect in a series of thefts being committed at a high security pier.  It’s a pretty good locked room mystery and the relationship between Hugh and Big Louie is the primary attraction in this story, as in “At What Price Gloria?”  Hugh and Big Louie have to rescue Big Louie’s wife Gloria and stop an assassination attempt.  I only wish more of the stories had been as suspenseful as this one.  In some of them, the mystery really isn’t that hard to figure out as there’s a lack of suspects so the solution comes down to either being this one or that one.  And I never got a sense of Hugh being in any real danger in any of these stories.  But Lee should be commended for trying different types of stories such as “For The Benefit of Master Tyke” which hinges more on the healing of a family than the solving of any real crime.  I picked up halfway through “Where Can I Get A Witness?” is intended as a homage to the 1944 film noir “Laura” and I enjoyed it until the very last paragraph where it felt to me as if the writer had stepped in to give his opinion of his own story and didn’t allow his character to do so.

So should you read HUGH MONN, PRIVATE DETECTIVE?  As this was his first book, I’m inclined to give Lee a pat on the back. There’s a lot to like in his writing style.  He does know how to keep a story moving but he shouldn’t shy away from rolling in the dirt and giving his characters some sharp edges. I wouldn’t mind seeing Hugh Monn tackle some more cases but I also wouldn’t mind seeing Lee Houston, Jr. strip away the political correctness and explore the real darkness of Frontera.

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