Thursday, December 31, 2020

Dirty Harry #7: Massacre at Russian River by Dane Hartman


(pb; 1982: seventh book in the twelve-book Dirty Harry series. Sequel to Dirty Harry #6: City of Blood.)

From the back cover

“A lot of grass─the illegal kind─grows in the hills of Northern California. Where there’s marijuana, there’s money. Where there’s money, there’s murder. And where there’s murder, there’s ‘Dirty Harry’ Callahan. In a wilderness where even the local cops are criminal, Harry must live─and kill─by a law higher than the law of the land: his own.”


MASSACRE is an entertaining, waste-no-words and action-focused read, excellent for its hyper-masculine subgenre. This is a near-impossible-to-set-down B-movie book, with its sketched-out characters (aside from Callahan), rapid-fire developments, danger-and-corruption-all-around storyline. MASSACRE does not have any egregious, troubling-in-2020 politics and social attitudes like the giallo-esque The Long Death (third book in the series). This is a blast of a read, worth your time and cash.

Followed by Dirty Harry #8: Hatchet Men.


According to Wikipedia, Dane Hartman is the pen name of “several writers. . . [including] martial arts expert Ric Meyers and Leslie Alan Horvitz.” 

Friday, December 25, 2020

Christmas Babies by Christopher Keane and William D. Black, M.D.


(pb; 1991)

From the back cover

“Dr. Josh Heller can’t explain the alarming rise in difficult labors among his patients at Tampa Memorial Hospital. Many of these women─young, low risk, in perfect health at noon─are dying in the delivery room by midnight.

“And then there are the babies, tiny infants distinguished by wisps of red hair and luminescent green eyes.

“Pat Heller, Josh’s wife and a seasoned medical reporter, begins to unravel the enigma of ‘Christmas Babies,’ and uncovers a dangerous alliance between a Florida senator and a brilliant, psychopathic doctor. They share a deadly secret: a genetic experiment utopian in premise but horrifying in practice. From the seeds of corruption, greed and madness, their fearsome creations are entering the world.”


Christmas is an entertaining, solidly written if melodramatic and largely by-the-numbers medical thriller. Keane and Black deliver a burn-through read, with plot-convenient dumb characters (particularly Josh Heller, who deserves a Bad Parent of the Decade award for leaving his kid with a woman he barely knows─I haven’t seen such dumbf**k parenting since the storyline of M. Night Shyamalan’s 2015 crap-film The Visit).

Christmas sports sly humor as well, e.g., the headquarter address of the ethically questionable, computer-hacking DNA, Inc. is 405 Border Lane. Cute, yes, but still an indication of playfulness.

This thoroughly familiar but fun medical thriller is worth the two dollars I paid for it, a two-hour distraction while I waited for my sleeping pills to kick in─a solid work by a solid writer (or writers, if Black provided more than medical information).

Monday, December 21, 2020

Twins by Bari Wood and Jack Geasland


(pb; 1977)

From the back cover

“A . . . novel of the bizarre lives of twin doctors─bound together by more-than-brotherly love, damned together to a private hell of unspeakable obsessions.”


Twins is one of the creepiest, ickiest novels I have read in a long time. It’s also one of the most memorable. The twin doctors, the outgoing, possibly sociopathic David and the quiet, sensitive Michael, have a relationship that goes to made-this-reader-squirm extremes, especially at the end, which is hauntingly sad after the (morally) stomach-churning events pass.

I read this excellent book in one sitting, staying up late into the a.m. hours─not something I normally do─to see what came next, even though much of the outcome was shown at the outset of Twins. Wood and Geasland did a great job of imbuing even the most extreme characters with a relatable and often-bleak humanity (especially the twins), with events and pacing that made this near-impossible to put down (much like Wood’s 1984 novel The Tribe, which was equally addictive).

This is a great book if sexual taboos don’t put you off too much, with characters you won’t soon forget, and further proof that Wood and (possibly) Geasland are writers to put at the top of your reading list if you like your thriller/horror kicks thoughtful, unsettling and morally icky.


The resulting film, retitled Dead Ringers, was released stateside on September 23, 1988. Directed and co-scripted by David Cronenberg. Co-scripted by Norman Snider.

Jeremy Irons played Elliot and Beverly. Genevieve Bujold played Claire. Heidi von Palleske played Cary. Barbara Gordon played Danuta.

Stephen Lack played Anders Wolleck. An uncredited David Cronenberg played Obsetrician.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Saga, Volume One by Brian K. Vaughn, Fiona Staples and Eric Stephenson


(pb; 2016: graphic novel, collecting issues 1-6 of Saga)

From the back cover

“When two soldiers from opposite sides of a never-ending galactic war fall in love, they risk everything to bring a fragile new life into a dangerous old world. Fantasy and science fiction are wed like never before in the first volume of this sexy, subversive ongoing epic.”


Saga, thus far, is an impressively imaginative story with equally imaginative and distinctive characters, taking science fiction and fantasy tropes and turning them on their heads with impressive ease. Its balance of humor, romance, action, strangeness and heart is deftly handled and shown, the artwork solid and not off-putting, and its tone relatively light, making for a landmark comic book/graphic novel read. Worth owning, this.

Followed by Saga, Volume Two.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Night of the Juggler by William P. McGivern


(pb; 1975)

From the back cover

“Gus Soltik can’t read, can’t even think straight, but he knows it’s October 15th, the fifth anniversary of his mother’s death. On this day Gus will kill again─slashing young Kate Boyd’s throat. Two men have precious few hours to stop him. But first they must fight each other.”



Juggler is an immediately immersive and excellent police procedural, with characters who are, for the most part, well-developed, driving the action with their personalities and actions. A few characters are narrowly defined and/or odd, probable cannon fodder-type figures by today’s “woke” standards, but in the mid-Seventies they were standard fare (McGivern’s handling of Manolo is a bit over-the-top; that said, Manolo is more than a flashy homosexual, and this is crime novel, not a melodramatic character study.) The action is constant, the pace never lags, and the writing is focused, with a great ending scene between two of the main characters. Worth reading and owning, this.


The resulting film was released stateside on June 6, 1980. Robert Butler and an uncredited Sidney J.Furie directed it, from a screenplay by William W. Norton (billed as Bill Norton Sr.) and Rick Natkin.

Cliff Gorman played Gus Soltic. Richard S.Castellano, billed as Richard Castellano, played Lt. Tonelli. James Brolin played Sean Boyd (cinematic stand-in for Luther Boyd). Linda Miller, billed as Linda G. Miller, played Barbara Boyd. Abby Bluestone played Kathy Boyd.

Dan Hedaya played Sgt. Otis Barnes. Mandy Pantinkin played Allesandro the Cabbie. Richard Gant played “Hospital Cop.” Sharon Mitchell played Susie. John Randolph Jones played “Truck Driver.”

Saturday, October 31, 2020

The Boys from Brazil by Ira Levin

(pb; 1976)

From the back cover

“Scattered throughout the world, ninety-four men. Each one a civil servant. Each one approaching retirement. Each one harmless, unknown to the other. Each one marked for death.

“Hiding in the jungles of Brazil, a Nazi scientist with a diabolical plan to create a new Hitler─and the deadly means to carry it out.”


Boys is an intense, sharp and entertaining B-movie take on horrific world events, with a role-shifting cat-and-mouse game between Lieberman, the avenging Jew, and Mengele, the homicidal scientist, as the structure. Levin’s prose is tight, the characters well-developed, the action succinct and gripping, the pathos affecting, and the scenario─wild as it is─even more plausible when re-read in 2020 (I read it decades ago, when I was a teenager). This is an excellent, memorable thriller, one worth owning.


The resulting film was released stateside on October 6, 1978. Franklin J. Schaffner directed it, from a screenplay by Heywood Gould.

Lawrence Olivier played Ezra Lieberman. Gregory Peck played Dr. Josef Mengele. James Mason played Eduard Seibert. Lilli Palmer played Esther Lieberman. Bruno Ganz played Professor Bruckner.

Steve Guttenberg, billed as Steven Guttenberg, played Barry Kohler. Denholm Elliott played Sidney Beynon. Walter Gotell played Mundt. Rosemary Harris played Mrs. Doring.

Uta Hagen played Frieda Maloney. John Dehner played Henry Wheelock. Anne Meara played Mrs. Curry.

Jeremy Black played Jack Curry / Simon Harrington / Erich Doring / Bobby Wheelock.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Too Much and Never Enough by Mary L. Trump, Ph.D.


(hb; 2020: nonfiction)

From the inside flap

“Mary Trump spent much of her childhood in her grandparents’ large, imposing house in the heart of Queens, New York, where Donald and his four siblings grew up. She describes a nightmare of traumas, destructive relationships, and a tragic combination of neglect and trauma. She explains how specific events and general family patterns created the damaged man and general family patterns created the damaged man who currently occupies the Oval Office, including the strange and harmful relationship between Fred Trump and his two oldest sons, Fred Jr. and Donald.

“A firsthand witness to countless holiday meals and family interactions, Mary brings an incisive wit and unexpected humor to sometimes grim, often confounding excess. She recounts in unsparing detail everything from her uncle Donald’s place in the family spotlight and Ivana’s penchant for regifting to her grandmother’s frequent injuries and illnesses and the appalling way Donald, Fred’s Trump’s favorite son, dismissed and derided him when he began to succumb to Alzheimer’s.”


Too Much is a great, perfect nonfiction book in that its author is clear in her writing, her pacing never lags, she tells you enough to be informative and interesting with no wasted words, and if she makes a claim or says something it is backed up with credible facts. I cannot say I enjoyed its subject matter─the cruelty, abuse and twisted dysfunction that defines four generations of Trumps makes for a sad, depressing, infuriating if excellent read. If you’re a 45 fan, of course, you’ll probably hate this. Otherwise, it might prove to be an interesting book.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Clash of the Titans by Alan Dean Foster


(pb; 1981: movie tie-in novel, based on the screenplay by Beverley Cross)

From the back cover

“He was Perseus, son of Zeus and Danae, born in disgrace, exiled to perish at sea, fated to survive at heavenly caprice─until he met his love, defied the Gods and dared to fight them or die.

“She was Andromeda, enslaved by her own beauty which beggared the heavens and brough a curse upon her city, her home, heart. . . until Perseus accepted the Devil’s own challenge, answered the deadly riddle and rode forth on his winged horse Pegasus to claim his love and to face the last of the Titans, armed only with a bloody hand, a witches’ curse and a severed head.”


Clash is a fun, action-dominated and lightweight-take-on-Greek-mythology read, one that reflects the tone of its counterpart-source film. Foster, no stranger to writing movie tie-in books, penned Clash with well-edited verve, his descriptions appropriately cinematic vivid and his prose and characters lively. If you liked the 1981 film a lot and are looking for a light, quick and familiar-story book, chances are you’ll enjoy Clash.


The film was released stateside on June 12, 1981. Desmond Davis directed it, from a screenplay by Beverley Cross.

Harry Hamlin played Perseus. Judi Bowker played Andromeda. Burgess Meredith played Ammon.

Lawrence Olivier played Zeus. Claire Bloom played Hera. Maggie Smith played Thetis. Ursula Andress played Aphrodite.


There was a remake in 2010, but I have zero interest in it.

Monday, October 12, 2020

The Invention of Sound by Chuck Palahniuk


(hb; 2020)

From the inside flap

“Gates Foster lost his daughter, Lucy, seventeen years ago. He’s never stopped searching. Suddenly, a shocking new development provides Foster with his first major lead in over a decade, and he may finally be on the verge of discovering the awful truth.

“Meanwhile, Mitzi Ives has carved out a space among the Foley artists creating the immersive sounds giving Hollywood films their authenticity. Using the same secret techniques as her father before her, he’s become an industry-leading expert in the sound of violence and horror, creating screams so bone-chilling they may as well be real.

“Soon Foster and Ives find themselves on a collision course that threatens to expose the violence hidden beneath Hollywood’s glamorous façade. . .”


Palahniuk’s latest work is─true to Palahniukian form─a novel with an unconventional structure, each scene an overtly crafted puzzle piece that, upon tale completion, reveals an unsettling, memorable whole. After reading this darkly amusing and horrific satire about Hollywood, reality and good intentions gone terribly awry, I will not view a movie scream or an awards show the same way again.

Invention ranks among Palahniuk’s best, naturally linked subversive works, between its character-focused and tight writing and his use of technological facts, conspiratorial “deep state” notions as well as his effective, sometimes stunning twists that leave room for readers’ further speculations. Worth owning, this.

Quest for the Future by A.E. van Vogt

(pb; 1970)


Peter Caxton, middle-man academic film supplier, investigates why the short-subject films he sends out change, boring academic science text and visuals replaced with mind-blowing scenes of outer space and alien creatures. Caxton’s investigations lead him to a time- and character-expanding adventure in time travel and its human and interplanetary limits.

Quest is a blink-and-miss-twists-and-time-jumps book, one that blasts through the usual boundaries of storytelling (and, in doing so, was hard for me to follow). Its quick-cut turn of events did not detract from my enjoyment of the book too much, I just went along for the well-written ride, figuring it was thoroughly mapped by Vogt (a consistently superb and complex author) and it would work out in the end─which it did, dovetailing in an altered and effective way.

To better keep track of the plot and character points, this is likely a read-in-a-short-span-of-time work. I read this over the course of a week when I should have read it in two days or one sitting (which would’ve been easily possible, it’s only 253 pages). Because of this, I might read it again. Either way, this a wonderful, boundary-pushing and often clever read, something I could see as a film, perhaps directed by Christopher Nolan (Inception, Tenet).

Wednesday, October 07, 2020

Star Wars – Thrawn Ascendancy: Chaos Rising by Timothy Zahn

(hb; 2020: first book in the Star Wars – Thrawn Ascendancy trilogy)

From the inside flap

“Beyond the edge of the galaxy like the Unknown Regions: chaotic, uncharted, and near impassable, possessing hidden secrets and dangers in equal measure. And nestled within their swirling chaos is the Ascendancy, home to the enigmatic Chiss and the Nine Ruling Families that lead them.

“The peace of the Ascendancy, a beacon of calm and stability, is shattered after a daring attack on the Chiss capital that reveals no trace of the enemy. Baffled, the Ascendancy dispatches one of its brightest young military officers to root out the unseen assailants─a recruit born of no title but adopted into the powerful family of the Mitth and given the name Thrawn.


“With the might of the Expansionary Fleet at his back and aided by his comrade, Admiral Ar’alani, thrawn begins to piece together the answers he’s looking for. But as Thrawn’s first command probes deeper into the vast stretch of space his people call the Chaos, he realizes that the mission he has been given is not what it seems.

“And the threat to the Ascendany is. . . just beginning.”



Caveat: possible (minor) spoilers in this review.

Chaos is a good, lots-of-political-and-military-maneuvering work, a familiar set-up read for those well-versed in the Star Wars-verse, especially Zahn’s previous Thrawn novels. Thrawn remains a compelling character, with his known quirks (studying alien artwork for psychological insight; his lack of political guile), in this methodical, well-written set-up for the Thrawn Ascendancy trilogy, with other familiar faces (e.g., Anakin Skywalker) making brief or extended appearances.

This time out, Thrawn’s military career is just starting to take off when threats, the first of which is the Nikardun, an aggressive species that is rapidly incorporating other aliens into the Nikarduns’ subjugating culture. The second threat is the Chiss-ruling Nine Families, conservative and arrogant to a dangerous fault, who ignore this threat, and seek to punish anyone who upsets the delicate balance of power within Chiss culture, especially an outsider like Thrawn. Thankfully for the controlled-risk-taking Captain, he has allies who complement his talents, allies he'll need if Chiss culture is to survive beyond its present days.

The smart-minded, climactic battle, brief as it is, is a thrilling pay-off for the deceptions-and-maneuvering gabfest that dominates much of this book. Chaos’s ending is an excellent set-up for the next phase in the Thrawn Ascendancy, one that echoes Palpatine-foreshadowings in a good way.

Note: In the filmic Star Wars timeline, Chaos occurs between the events of Episode II: Attack of the Clones and Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.

<em>Dirty Harry #7: Massacre at Russian River</em> by Dane Hartman

  (pb; 1982: seventh book in the twelve-book Dirty Harry series. Sequel to Dirty Harry #6: City of Blood. ) From the back cover “A lot o...