THE DOUBLE LIFE OF MIRANDA TURNER, NUMBER 4

(Jamie S Rich/George Kambadais; 17 pages, digital; MONKEYBRAIN COMICS, 2014)

THE DOUBLE LIFE OF MIRANDA TURNER #4

Artist George Kambadais had an idea; he contacted writer Jamie S Rich with details of his idea. A young woman named Lindy Tuner has been murdered, in her superhero garb, as the Cat. Lindy’s spirit visits her younger sister Miranda, who, after digesting the fact that her sister was a superhero and… a dead one, at that, decided to pick up the mantle, hoping to give her sister justice. Rich was intrigued and, a few months later, the first issue of THE DOUBLE LIFE OF MIRANDA TURNER was published by digital comics pioneers, Monkeybrain Comics.

THE DOUBLE LIFE OF MIRANDA TURNER #4, page 3 (written by JAMIE S RICH, art by GEORGE KAMBADAIS)

THE DOUBLE LIFE OF MIRANDA TURNER #4, page 3 (written by JAMIE S RICH, art by GEORGE KAMBADAIS)

Actually, now four issues into the series, this “origin” story takes center stage, as Miranda, with help from Lindy, closes in on the killer. To catch you up, the first issue was kind of a meet and greet, as we’re introduced to novice costumed hero Miranda, in mid-battle with a couple of super-baddies, part of a group known as the Blockheads. The Cat is up to her ears in toy building blocks (sorta like Legos) but, refusing her ghostly sibling’s aid, she works her way out of the problem. Unfortunately, she loses the bad guys along the way. The second and third issues, a two-parter called “If You Have Ghosts,” lays the official groundwork for this issue. These stories are fast-paced, exciting and a really fun read, written to appeal to everyone, aged twelve and up… especially girls. I’m not sure if it’s the subject matter or merely Kambadais’ stylistic art but, I find myself making comparisons to the old Hanna-Barbara Saturday morning cartoon, JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS; it’s sort of an odd style that evokes the work of the great comics and cartoon artist, Alex Toth (who designed characters and backgrounds for most H-B shows in the ’60s, including JOSIE… ), and the artistic team responsible for the amazing look of another animated series, SAMURAI JACK.

THE DOUBLE LIFE OF MIRANDA TURNER #4, page 4 (written by JAMIE S RICH, art by GEORGE KAMBADAIS)

THE DOUBLE LIFE OF MIRANDA TURNER #4, page 4 (written by JAMIE S RICH, art by GEORGE KAMBADAIS)

Kambadais is a master of odd angles and perspectives, as well as an overall intriguing page design; he, like Toth, does so very much with so few lines, allowing his color art (or, as on the “If You Have Ghosts” issues, the excellent color designs of Paulina Ganucheau) to do much of the heavy work. Rich, for the most part, never over-scripts; he seemingly manages to cram two or three pages of exposition into a panel or two… sometimes, in a line or two. To be sure, the premise of …MIRANDA TURNER isn’t a new one. Ghosts, spirits and mysticism of some sort have been a part of comics pretty much since that very first issue of ACTION COMICS (you know the one… the one that starred Zatara, Master Magician and that guy in the red cape and drawers): Deadman, the Spectre, Ghost Rider, Solomon Grundy and – DUH! – the Spirit, among about a jillion others. The difference here is the kitschy slumber party feel of the sisters’ relationship, a sibling rivalry that runs deep, even in death… until someone else starts messing with one or the other. Miranda is determined to find Lindy’s killer while forging her own path as the Cat; Lindy is determined to keep Miranda safe while helping her find the answer to her own murder. I must say that, so far, the experience has been a very pleasant surprise, especially for a guy who’s been reading comics since the early 1960s.

THE DOUBLE LIFE OF MIRANDA TURNER #4, page 5 (written by JAMIE S RICH, art by GEORGE KAMBADAIS)

THE DOUBLE LIFE OF MIRANDA TURNER #4, page 5 (written by JAMIE S RICH, art by GEORGE KAMBADAIS)

If there’s a pre- or early teen girl in your circle of influence, particularly those interested in Manga or Anime, you could certainly do worse than introducing them to THE DOUBLE LIFE OF MIRANDA TURNER. My only complaint is that, in the nearly two years since the debut issue, there have (obviously) only been three more issues published and… well, that twist ending at the end of this issue has me looking for the next installment, like, NOW! All four issues of this great series, as well as the entire Monkeybrain digital library, are available for purchase (99¢ each) at comixology.com; you can check out previews of this and other books at monkeybraincomics.com. There are plenty of titles suitable for every age group. Monkeybrain is the perfect introduction to comics for kids of all ages.


HOUSEBOUND

(XLRATOR MEDIA/SEMI-PROFESSIONAL PICTURES (111 minutes/Unrated); 2014)

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So, you know those cute, little (occasionally out-of-context) blips in movie advertising that say “Wicked fun!” or some such exclamated proclamation exhorting you to spend money on whatever movie they’re hyping? Well, that one is mine… “Wicked fun!” and, the publicity people handling the horror/comedy flick HOUSEBOUND are more than welcome to add it to the ever-growing list of expletives regarding said flick. But, just like all of those other quotes about all of those other movies, that’s just one phrase plucked from an entire review about the film… I don’t think that the guy from TIME or ROLLING STONE could get away with a review that said simply, “Heart-stopping thrills!” or “Madcap murder and mayhem!,” although I would definitely go see whatever film the latter was tagging. But, I digress (regress?). Likewise, my review would have to be something a bit more substantial than “Wicked fun!,” even if that capsule statement sums up the matter rather effectively.

HOUSEBOUND (Glen-Paul Waru and Morgana O'Reilly) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

HOUSEBOUND (Glen-Paul Waru and Morgana O’Reilly) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

After a string of bad decisions (the last one involving an attempt to purloin an ATM or, at the very least, the funds located within), Kylie Bucknell (sardonically portrayed by Morgana O’Reilly) is placed under house arrest. Here’s the catch: The house the judge remands her to for the next eight months is a musty old place occupied by her ditzy mother, Miriam, and befuddled step-father, Graeme… a place she hasn’t visited for a few years because, well, that’s where her ditzy mother, Miriam, can be found. Miriam (the gloriously over-the-top Rima Te Wiata) flits about the house and around Kylie like a hyperactive squirrel on speed (just let that imagery soak in for a bit), glad to have her errant child back home and continually fretting over her well-being; Graeme (a delightfully somnabulistic Ross Harper) just stands back, hoping that he is well out of the line of fire. Glen-Paul Waru appears as the bumbling tech specialist Amos, who is responsible for activating Kylie’s ankle monitor and running her to ground when the alarm goes off. Regarding said monitor, Miriam notes, “It’s such high tech, isn’t it? Aren’t you lucky, Kylie, having all that fancy technology on your foot?” You can understand why Kylie would rather have spent the eight months in a prison cell.

HOUSEBOUND (Morgana O'Reilly, Rima Te Wiata and Ross Harper) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

HOUSEBOUND (Morgana O’Reilly, Rima Te Wiata and Ross Harper) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

Strange happenings are afoot in the house, as various electronic devices go haywire and electrical wiring and outlets are causing major disruptions to the trio’s way of life. Miriam, in typical fashion, is convinced that the house is haunted; Kylie, in typical fashion, is convinced her mother is insane. When a power outage sends Kylie to the basement to check for a blown fuse, a noise has her believing that someone has broken into the house; when she is grabbed by a skeletal hand, she is definitely starting to come around to her mother’s way of thinking. As it turns out, the incident damages the monitor, eliciting a visit from Amos, who is definitely down with the thought that a spirit or other-worldly entity may be causing the electrical problems at Casa Bucknell. Things get weirder as Kylie begins to dig into the history of the familial abode, discovering that, at one time, it was a “halfway house” for wayward teens (rather like a younger version of Kylie herself) and the scene of a brutal murder. As she becomes more immersed in the mystery, her court ordered therapist (Cameron Rhodes) shows up for their first session. Kylie, uncharacteristically, starts to open up to Dennis, the analyst and, naturally, the recurrence of unexplained activity heightens. From this point forward, the scares and the laughs come fast and furious, leading to a completely implausible ending that is as satisfying as any haunted house movie in recent memory.

HOUSEBOUND (Rima Te Wiata and Morgana O'Reilly) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

HOUSEBOUND (Rima Te Wiata and Morgana O’Reilly) (photo courtesy: XLRATOR MEDIA)

First time director (and scriptwriter) Gerard Johnstone has taken a pretty stale premise and given it a new car shine, with witty dialogue, an ingenious twist and brilliantly gloomy lighting. The chills are quite convincing; the relationship between Kylie and Miriam is, alternately, hilarious and very touching; the underlying mystery is as much fun to unravel as an episode of CASTLE or BONES. Of course, all of these, along with a great cast, make HOUSEBOUND wicked fun. (I bet you thought I’d forgotten that one, huh?)


BLACK LOTUS

(K’wan; 128 pages; INFAMOUS BOOKS/AKASHIC BOOKS; 2014)

BLACK LOTUS

Halfway through the first chapter of K’wan Foye’s new novella, BLACK LOTUS, I knew that this story must be made into a movie and that the lead character, Detective James “Lone” Wolf, is destined to be a franchise hero. The edgy, no nonsense persona immediately put me in mind of a cop with a cool Odafin Tutuola (Ice T’s LAW AND ORDER: SUV character) vibe with a hair-trigger anger-management problem like Fin’s SUV colleague, Elliot Stabler. Toss in the swaggering confidence and well-earned street cred of a John Shaft and this character is a no-brainer superstar property; in fact, almost immediately, my mind’s eye put Richard Roundtree in the role of Wolf. Wolf’s backstory puts him at the top of the anti-hero heap and, of course, it doesn’t hurts that BLACK LOTUS is an absolutely riveting read.

BLACK LOTUS author K'wan (publicity photo)

BLACK LOTUS author K’wan (publicity photo)

The story opens with the brutal murder of a well-loved priest, an action that sets in motion a series of events that will force Wolf to face the demons that have haunted him since his last case as a homicide detective, the disappearance and murder of a small boy. Wolf had since moved to the narcotics division and, having just busted (and busted up) a few dealers in and undercover sting, his mentor and former captain in homicide contacts him for help in tracking down the priest’s killer. The detective reluctantly agrees, but only after the captain promises to make some of Wolf’s questionable past actions disappear from his record, specifically, the stigma that he murdered his former partner (a claim which was unsubstantiated and, of which Wolf was ultimately cleared). From that point, Wolf is thrown into a web of lies, deceit, betrayal, political intrigue and the answer to the murder of the little boy so many years before. Along the way, the Black Lotus killer leaves a trail of mayhem and retribution. The story is an edge-of-the-seat nail-biter that packs a surprising amount of action and character development into the short 128 pages. With no shortage of suspects, the twists and turns lead to an unexpected ending that, ultimately, is one of the most satisfying in recent memory.

INFAMOUS BOOKS founder Albert Johnson, AKA Prodigy (publicity photo)

INFAMOUS BOOKS founder Albert Johnson, AKA Prodigy (publicity photo)

BLACK LOTUS is the fourth title from the Infamous Books imprint, which is curated by Albert Johnson, better known as Prodigy, of the iconic hip-hop group, Mobb Depp. He brings a street level grittiness to an audience that has never before been afforded a viable voice in the literary world. And, make no mistake about it… this is literature – a uniquely American form of literature that should be read and treasured. BLACK LOTUS and other Infamous titles are available at all the usual places or direct from akashicbooks.com. Treat yourself… you won’t be disappointed.


MATT MORING: PULP MASTER GENERAL

Altus Press logo

PART 1: AN INTRODUCTION

I grew up in the ’60s and ’70s. I loved the comics then, especially the early 1970s Marvel stuff. I used to make the 20 mile trip to the closest comics repository to buy every Marvel (and, eventually, every DC) title the day they came out. THE AVENGERS is and always will be my favorite book, but there was a lot of – for the time – cutting edge material being released back then, also. Some of my other favorites included books based on characters and series from the age of pulp, an art form that was – if not the father of the comic book, then at least, the cool uncle. These comics based on the pulps included Robert E Howard’s CONAN THE BARBARIAN (and, later, KULL THE CONQUEROR) and DOC SAVAGE from Marvel and THE SHADOW and TARZAN (and other Burroughs characters and worlds) from DC. During that same period of time, paperback publishers like Bantam, Ace, Lancer, Del Rey and Tor were reprinting a lot of the original pulp stories and, naturally, I had to have those, too. Of course, I knew that those few characters weren’t the only ones to ever star in pulp magazines. It was just that I had no access to any of the other stories or series. Now, obviously, I’m older, but I still love those old comics and those old pulp stories and, thanks to publishers like Altus Press, a whole new world of pulp adventure has opened up to me.

Pulp magazines were so called due to the quality of the paper they were printed on. The same paper used for comic books, by the way. The stories (more like novellas, actually) offered exciting adventures, exotic worlds, charismatic and mysterious heroes (and villains) and set the standard for 20th Century horror, sci-fi, detective, fantasy, western and crime stories. The list of those writers who toiled for the pulp magazine publishers reads like a who’s who of popular fiction: Howard and Burroughs, mentioned above, as well as Dashiell Hammett, Sax Rohmer, L Ron Hubbard, F Scott Fitzgerald, Louis L’Amour and HP Lovecraft. These men (and others like them) have placed their indelible marks on every form of entertainment since the early 1900s, from movies to radio, from television to comic books. Sadly, however, like early comics, these magazines weren’t intended to be kept and cherished by fans of a particular genre, writer or series. They were cheaply made and totally disposable. Thankfully, some forward thinking individuals saw the inherent beauty within the pages of such fare as WEIRD TALES, SPICY DETECTIVE, AMAZING STORIES, and DOUBLE DETECTIVE. Thank you, all!

PART 2: AN INTERVIEW

There are several publishers dealing in reprinting classic pulp stories (aside from the major writers, like Burroughs, Lovecraft, Howard, and others). None, however, had convinced me that what they had to offer was worth spending money on. Altus Press changed that. I became intrigued with the Green Lama when I purchased the first Dark Horse Archive edition of the character’s comic series, based entirely on the artwork of Mac Raboy. As I read the blurb on the volume’s back cover, it became evident that I would have to search out the source materials – in short, those DOUBLE DETECTIVE stories. A quick web search led me to the Altus Press site and an amazing array of some of the best characters, stories and collections of the pulp era. Obviously, I knew immediately that had to begin my relationship with Altus by ordering hard cover copies of the first two volumes of THE GREEN LAMA: THE COMPLETE PULP ADVENTURES.

Matt Moring receives the 2012 Munsey Award (uncredited photo)

Matt Moring, on the right, receives the 2012 Munsey Award (uncredited photo)

A little more digging and I had a quick history of the publisher. Matt Moring, a long time fan of the genre, started Altus Press in 2006 as an outlet for reissues of several out-of-print pulp histories and “new pulp” stories. Since then, Mister Moring has published more than 100 titles, including a very popular series of new Doc Savage novels. Matt is the 2012 recipient of the annual Munsey Award, awarded to the person who has done the most for the betterment of the pulp community and presented at PULPFEST, the genre’s equivalent to San Diego’s COMIC-CON. He will be presenting the award to another deserving person at this year’s convention, scheduled for July 25 through July 28 at the Hyatt Regency in Columbus, Ohio. The Mule is proud to present the Matt Moring interview.

THE MULE: These magazines, like comic books, were cheaply produced and deemed disposable at the time of their publication. Obviously, though, someone thought enough about them that they took care to preserve them. Now, with publishers such as your own Altus Press, many of these exciting stories are finding new life and a whole new audience. What drew you to these amazing magazines and stories and how did you become involved in the reprinting of these series in book form?

MATT: I’ve long been a fan of the pulps. I think I was first turned on to them when my parents were pushing me to start reading something besides comic books all the time. So one day at the antiquarian bookstore I bought many of my old comics, I saw a copy of this incredible-looking paperback called THE FLYING GOBLIN. That Bob Larkin cover really drew me in and that purchase really started me on the path I’m on now. It was cemented even further when I saw all those seemingly unobtainable pulps in THE STERANKO HISTORY OF COMICS. At the time, they looked so foreign, so old, that I was certain I’d never get the chance to own one. But, that eventually proved not to be the case.

THE MULE: What was your favorite pulp magazine, series or character, who was your favorite writer – the ones that made you want to read and explore more?

MATT: That FLYING GOBLIN paperback led me to eventually collect all those Doc Savage paperbacks, and the Avenger ones, too. Doc will always be a favorite, thanks to Lester Dent, but in recent years I’ve really gotten a lot more enjoyment out of the genre titles like SHORT STORIES, ADVENTURE, ARGOSY, and detective titles like DIME DETECTIVE and DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY.

DIME DETECTIVE MAGAZINE, MAY 1947

DIME DETECTIVE MAGAZINE, MAY 1947

So I’ve been buying and collecting pulp material since my teens. Of course, apart from the Doc, Avenger, and occasional Shadow or Spider paperback, there wasn’t much to buy. And in the days before the internet, it was really tough to find information on other material coming out. The only place I knew to look was an occasional article in THE COMICS BUYERS’ GUIDE, which led me to the PULP VAULT fanzine. Still, not a lot of cohesive reprints were coming out. However, I kept in touch with what fandom there was from afar.

THE MULE: For each successful pulp series or writer, there are probably three less successful or marginally successful. What and who are some of the lesser known series and writers that you discovered later on?

MATT: There were a lot of successful pulp series, but there are many more that are inventive enough or by good writers that they deserved to be returned to print. I’ve tried to concentrate on these more than anything else, so finding more gems is what I always look forward to. My favorites include Old Thibaut Corday of the Foreign Legion by Theodore Roscoe, The Griffon by Arch Whitehouse, and The Whirlwind by Johnston McCulley. I should qualify these series, though: I’d consider those series I mentioned as “successful,” as they all ran for many installments… they’re just not well-known in 2013.

THE MULE: What prompted you to jump into the publishing business?

Matt Moring (uncredited photo)

Matt Moring (uncredited photo)

MATT: Fast forward a number of years. I’d been working as a designer for a number of years, and I read an article about some low-cost online printers specializing in print-on-demand publishing. I’d long considered doing some collections of pulp material, but I didn’t want a basement full of unsold books. With this new option, I could handle all the production on my own and assemble the type of collections I personally wanted on my bookshelf. So with a few projects in mind, I reached out to some other pulp fans who were much smarter than I to help put these together. I was determined to make the kinds of books people would be proud to display on their bookshelves, and that meant not just good design, but also including new, authoritative introductions and articles. The pulp fandom world is filled with so many generous, kind, and enthusiastic members… really, these books are from them, not me.

THE MULE: How much work – editing, layout, design, etc – goes into each book you publish? Run us through a basic timeline from decision-making to publishing.

MATT: Every book’s timeline is different. Sometimes things take years; conversely, there was a recent book that was assembled in just two days. Then there are other things that take more planning… for example, when planning a complete reprinting of a series. Take Frederick Nebel’s Cardigan series from DIME DETECTIVE. It ran for 44 installments, many of which were really tough to track down. There’s that aspect. Then there’s the scanning, OCRing, and initial proofreading. Cardigan turned out to be almost half a million words, so that was a task in itself to go through all that material. Once that was done, I had a book design in mind, and I blocked that out. At about the same time, I needed to commission a new introduction. And then there was an issue of locating a quality photo of Nebel himself… all those that had seen print weren’t the best. So there’s a lot of research that goes into these, too. Once the books were laid out, I had to have them proofread by careful people who are much more detail-oriented than I. Proofreading is a really under-appreciated art. Once that’s done, then they’re ready for release.

THE MULE: More recently, Altus Press – and you – have been involved in a new series of Doc Savage adventures. How did that come about? What obstacles – licensing and so forth – did you encounter leading up to the publication of that first new story? Do you have plans for more originals featuring other characters?

DOC SAVAGE: SKULL ISLAND (cover by JOE DIVITO)

DOC SAVAGE: SKULL ISLAND (cover by JOE DIVITO)

MATT: Publishing new Doc Savage stories is a dream come true, especially when I reflect on that FLYING GOBLIN paperback. Author Will Murray had been shopping the new stories around for some time before we came to an agreement on publishing them. I’m quite pleased with how they turned out, and they’ve generally been received with glowing reviews and feedback. In packaging them, I tried to keep some echoes of the Bantam editions that most of us read, but also bring in some of the original pulps’ influence in order to play up the “wild” part of the “Wild Adventures” tagline on the series. I also got to do a new, de facto Doc Savage logo, which was a privilege.

THE MULE: Where can our readers purchase Altus Press books? What’s next for Matt Moring and Altus Press?

MATT: What’s coming up for Altus Press? We’ve got dozens of titles in various states of completion… from initial planning to actual production. We’ll continue to put them out as long as people like them.

You can always find our books at www.altuspress.com. The softcovers and e-books can also be found at Amazon.

Thanks, Matt. The man has been working overtime on a whole slew of new Altus Press titles for the 2013 edition of PULPFEST. Here’s the list of 13 books that will debut the final weekend of July:

HIDDEN GHOSTS: THE LOST STORIES OF PAUL S POWERS

HIDDEN GHOSTS: THE LOST STORIES OF PAUL S POWERS

DOCTOR THADDEUS C HARKER: THE COMPLETE TALES
ADVENTURES ON HALFADAY CREEK
HIDDEN GHOSTS: THE LOST STORIES OF PAUL S POWERS
THE COLLECTED TALES OF SANGROO THE SUN-GOD
SKULLDUGGERY ON HALFADAY CREEK
THE SAGA OF HALFADAY CREEK
DOC SAVAGE: HIS APOCALYPTIC LIFE
WORDSLINGERS: AN EPITAPH FOR THE WESTERN
THE MASKED DETECTIVE OMNIBUS, VOLUME 1
THE COMPLETE ADVENTURES OF HAZARD AND PARTRIDGE
THE COMPLETE TALES OF DOCTOR SATAN
THE COMPLETE CASES OF MAX LATIN
THE MASKED RIDER ARCHIVES, VOLUME 1

Oh, my! Looks like I’m gonna hafta start savin’ up for some of those hardcovers… they’re looking pretty good! Keep checkin’ the Mule for reviews of these and other releases from Matt and Altus Press.


MASTERS OF THE GALAXY

(Mike Resnick; 216 pages: PS PUBLISHING, 2012)

Masters of the Galaxy cover

MASTERS OF THE GALAXY is Masters… Jake Masters. Okay… that was lame. Jake Masters is a hard-boiled private dick with a heart of gold and a not-too-well-hidden soft spot for the underdog, much in the vein of Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade or Mike Hammer. The difference here is that Jake works on an out-planet of a galaxy-wide Democracy and his clients tend to be alien governments, alien crime lords, or just your average everyday alien. This book collects all four Jake Masters novellas (roughly 50 pages each) and a brand new short story to sweeten the pot.

Guardian Angel” introduces us to former cop turned detective Masters, as he’s hired by a distraught mother to bring back a wayward son. The father, the head of a criminal empire exiled on another planet, is the most logical place for Jake to start his search. Once our hero figures out that the son has very good reason to hide (in an interplanetary circus, no less) from both Mommy and Daddy, he takes the young man under his protective wing. It is, as they say, all down hill from there. “Guardian Angel” is an excellent way to kick things off as the detective work is believable, the action exciting and the outcome… not even close to what I was expecting!

Some of the detective and mystery genre’s best tales come from stories called “locked-room mysteries.” Even though “A Locked-Planet Mystery” works on a much larger scale, the feel is the same. A retiring corporate head has been murdered at his solitary retreat on an otherwise uninhabited planet. The solar system’s sole police force is located on the only inhabitable planet, four worlds away and they don’t even know what a murder is. The head of the police force, a being characterized by the detective as “a purple beachball with legs” comes to Jake for help. Everyone at the retreat has good reason to want to see the murdered being dead and, with the help of the beachball (who has an unpronounceable name that Jake shortens to “Max”), ferrets out the murderer in the best “locked-door” manner. Max is a fairly likeable character and since, as mentioned above, Jake Masters is really a softy, he takes the alien under his wing and makes him his partner. The fact that he was kind of a blank slate and an entertaining sidekick makes the third story, “Honorable Enemies,” a bit of a let down, as the case sends Jake to the “Alien Quarter” of his home planet, Odysseus, to search for Max’s killer. Along the way, he meets an alien crime lord and a potential rival kingpin, a human from a planet called New Warsaw. As both vie to have Masters as an integral piece of their empire, Jake only cares about avenging the death of his friend. There are plenty of twists and turns in “Honorable Enemies,” as alliances are made and broken on almost every page.

If the Frame Fits… “ is a very entertaining piece of political intrigue, as a primary peace negotiator of a planet outside of the Democracy is murdered at a Democracy embassy on a planet nicknamed “Purplehaze.” Security issues and a general distrust by and of the three distinct life-forms at the embassy make Jake’s job even harder than the close-mouthed bureaucrats who hired him. As he is wont to do, Masters enlists the aid of a being from each of the alien races involved in the peace negotiations. The story is rather fast paced and, like the rest, is one fun read.

Mike Resnick (uncredited photo)

Mike Resnick (uncredited photo)

Author Mike Resnick has truly captured the feel of those old mystery books and film noir movies, as well as the essence of a really great science fiction yarn with this series. As such, I really wish that he’d fleshed out the new short story, “Real Jake,” more. As you can probably guess from the title, there’s a Jake Masters imposter leaving a trail of upset life-forms in our hero’s home base of Homer. The story’s good, I just wish there was more! For a fast-paced mash-up of sci-fi and detective mystery genres, you absolutely cannot go wrong with MASTERS OF THE GALAXY.


THE SHERLOCKIAN

(Graham Moore; 350 pages; TWELVE/HATCHETTE BOOK GROUP; 2010)

the sherlockian

I picked this one up for next to nothing from the close-out/overstock section (kind of like a cut-out bin, but for books) of a large national book repository. Let me say here and now that next to free, this is my favorite way to acquire stuff. It allows me to take chances on things (usually records, but also books, DVDs, comics and certain food stuffs) that I otherwise wouldn’t touch with a medium-sized poking instrument. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose but, at the end of the day, those losses are minimal with a huge potential for the win keeping me coming back (kinda like a junkie or an habitual gambler). The first line of Graham Moore’s debut novel, THE SHERLOCKIAN – “Arthur Conan Doyle curled his brow tightly and thought only of murder.” – had me convinced that I’d totally blown nearly three bucks here. 350 pages later, I closed what turned out to be a thoroughly enjoyable – if somewhat predictable – murder mystery, encompassing three centuries and two continents.

To be more precise, THE SHERLOCKIAN is actually two separate mysteries, one based marginally on fact (a lost diary of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes, and a murder believed to be prompted by the discovery of that same diary) and set in the present; the second is a fictionalized account of Sir Arthur’s early 20th century consultations with Scotland Yard (in the form of a serial murderer sought by Conan Doyle and his friend, Bram Stoker after the Yard drops the investigations, believing they have solved the initial crime). The lost diary plays an integral part in both plots, obviously, or this book would have been presented as two shorter stories, unconnected by anything but vague subject matter.

Graham Moore (Sterling Andrews)

Graham Moore (Sterling Andrews)

The stories that Mister Moore weaves are certainly intriguing. Without giving away too much, I’ll tell you that the fictionalized history (and contents) of the very real lost diary involves Conan Doyle and Stoker’s ultimate solution to the 1900-era murders and a threat to Sir Arthur’s life. The modern part of the story involves members of the Baker Street Irregulars, a worldwide organization of Sherlock Holmes enthusiasts (called “Sherlockians,” thus the title). As they are holding their annual meeting, everyone is excited about an upcoming presentation by one of their better known members, who claims to have the lost diary – the Holy Grail of Sherlockian lore – in his possession. This inevitably leads to his demise and sends the Irregulars’ newest member, Harold White, off to solve the mystery, side-by-side with a beautiful journalist. Along the way, they are followed by shady characters and confronted by Conan Doyle’s grandson (in reality, Sir Arthur’s children had no offspring, so the character of Sebastian Conan Doyle is completely fictitious). Both stories take twists and turns that would make Conan Doyle proud (and maybe a little dizzy) and are, ultimately, more fulfilling than my initial perception would have allowed me to think possible. The historical data and the use of the Baker Street Irregulars backdrop make the intertwining stories much more enjoyable, as they lend a feeling of realism and truth to what is essentially a work of fiction.

To date, I believe that this is Moore’s only novel, though he does seem to be highly sought-after in the movie industry. For more on Graham Moore’s THE SHERLOCKIAN, check out www.thesherlockian.com.