Friday, March 01, 2024

Farscape: House of Cards by Keith R.A. DeCandido


(pb; 2000: television show tie-in. Events in this book take place “towards the end of the second season of Farscape, between the episodes “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and “The Locket.”


From the back cover

“The pleasure planet Liantac was once the greatest gambling resort in the Uncharted Territories. Even now, having fallen on hard times, it remains a spectacle of glitz and greed. Astronaut John Crichton and his fellow interstellar fugitives see Liantac as the source of much-needed supplies—except for Rygel, whose boundless avarice is tempted by the promise of easy riches.

“To discharge the debt, and liberate their ship from the planetary authorities. Crichton, Aeryn, and the others must take on a number of challenging assignments. But all is not what it seems, for treachery and deadly intrigue hides within this. . . House of Cards.”



House of Cards, an original-story novel inspired by the Rockne S. O’Bannon-created, Sci-Fi Channel show, reads like a genuine, unfilmed Farscape episode, with its character-true and sometimes flinty-humored dialogue and behavior, twisty and tight storyline, and possibly devious new characters who may or may not be using Moya and her crew for their own Liantac-centric ends. A fast-paced and hard-to-set-down book, it’s a worthy addition to the Farscape series, one worth owning.

House is followed by two character-/universe-linked sequels Dark Side of the Sun (by Andrew Dymond, published September 2001, said to be wildly inconsistent with the Farscape timeline) and Ship of Ghosts (by David Bischoff, published January 2002, which also has “better than Dark Side” but “bland” reviews on Amazon).

Saturday, February 03, 2024

The Gauntlet by Michael Butler and Dennis Shryack


(pb; 1977: movie tie-in novel, based on Butler and Shryack’s screenplay)


From the back cover

“He was a cop who ‘got a job done.’

“She was a hooker set up by both the law and the mob to have a job done on her.

“They were two people with nothing left to do but run.”



Gauntlet is a fun, comic book-ish movie tie-in that tries to ground its absurd action-fantasy cinematic counterpart in some semblance of reality and largely succeeds. Penned by Butler and Shryack, who also wrote the screenplay, they add small details and background to their lead characters (including a nice meta-crack about “Dirty Harry”), giving some heft to Gauntlet’s leads. Many of its situations, especially in its last quarter, are still ridiculous but they’re less egregious in their execution than in the film, which come as just silly. This book version is worthwhile if you don’t expect too much and are just looking for something violent but relatively light to fill an hour or two. Below is the iconic Boris Vallejo movie poster.

Monday, January 29, 2024

Escape from the Living Dead by John Russo


(pb; 2013: sequel to the 1978 book version of John Russo’s Return of the Living Dead. Third book in Russo’s Living Dead series.)


From the back cover

“In an isolated roadside diner, a desperate group of strangers barricade themselves against a ravenous horde of undead customers who crave something more than the early bird special. They want flesh. Human flesh. With a side order of brains and stomach-turning terror.”



Escape, set sixteen years after the events of Night of the Living Dead (1968) and ten years after Return of the Living Dead (published in 1978), has the same virtues and drawbacks (for some readers) as Russo’s two previous Living Dead books, with a few series-fresh and world-expansive ideas thrown into the mix (e.g., a scientist, Dr. Harold Melrose, who’s infected with zombifying virus but doesn’t “turn”).

If you like blunt action with little nuance, short-lived characters whose pasts are effectively sketched out (to keep the action going at rapid clip), and villains who are repulsive in their outlooks and violence, Escape might be your pulpy, putrescent and gory kick. If I have any criticisms of Russo’s writing, it’s usually this: he makes philosophical statements that take me out of the story unnecessarily—these truths and musings could easily be woven seamlessly into the story, within the characters’ dialogue, actions, and situations themselves; also, some of his characters’ dialogues are stilted, providing awkwardly stated story information and information about their pasts (while talking to people who’ve known them awhile and therefore should already know them).

These minor nits aside, Escape, like Russo’s other works, is a choppy-edit, gory, grim, violent and character-sketched tale, one worth reading if you can embrace the above-stated qualities of his writing, and don’t mind a bit of bleak-humored misanthropy.

Thursday, January 25, 2024

The Girl with the Barbed Wire Hair by Carlton Mellick III


(pb; 2022)


From the back cover

“This is a ghost story.

“It is also a love story.

“It is a story about obsession, desperation, loneliness, and depravity.

“It is not a story that will make you happy.”



Girl is an instantly addictive (in a good way) read, seamlessly incorporating integral facets of Japanese horror (aka J-horror) into a relatively straightforward, sometimes clever-twisty tale: a kind, quiet boy (Yusuke) is thrown into wild situations after helping a strange street girl (Akiko Mori) and, while doing so, attracting the weird-affection attention of his popular, pretty and casually cruel junior high classmate (Narumi Wada). Events spiral out of bloody, community-threatening control when Akiko’s true nature is revealed, playing out in a way that feels true to J-horror and its well-developed character while maintaining a fresh take on it. Girl, Mellick’s sixty-fourth book, is less bizarre in tone and execution, but still a wild, entertaining and standout work, one worth owning.

Saturday, January 20, 2024

Chamber of Horrors by Robert Bloch


(pb; 1966: story anthology)


Overall review

Chamber is an excellent, twelve-story collection by an often-excellent author. All the tightly written and twisty tales shine, even if Bloch-familiar readers guess/sense the character- and fate-based turns within the works. Worth owning, this—a master class in effective, get-regularly-published writing.


Review, story by story

The Living End”: Nobel Prize-winning scientist Herbert Zane is unpleasantly distracted from his groundbreaking work by his shrewish wife (Hilda), in a life-altering way. While some readers may guess how Herbert might be undone, it’s still—especially for the period it was originally published (1963)—effective, clever, and rings true.


The Headhunter”: Otto Kranz, an axe-wielding executioner for the SS (and full of wonder at the mysteries of life and death) risks death to seek answers to nagging, core questions. Good story.


Impractical Joker”: A heartbroken, disgruntled bartender (Teddy), working his final shift at the Fun House (a bar), goes for broke (im)practical joke-wise. For Bloch, this is a relatively gentle work shade-wise, but still moralistic (in a good way) with its twist(s).


Pride Goes—”: Alice Aiken, an adulteress, plots her husband’s murder, and finds even the most no-fuss killing too easily becomes tangled. Masterfully foreshadowed finish, one of my favorite stories in this anthology—and one of my all-time favorite Bloch stories.


The Screaming People”: A post-car accident amnesiac (Steve Edmundson), dream-led by “The Voice,” suspects he might’ve committed a murder. Thankfully, there’s his loving wife (Roxie) and Dr. Carl Wagram (a neuropsychiatrist) to guide him back to complete sanity. . . maybe.

Bloch, again, masterfully mines noir tropes and converts them into pulpy, twisty gold with his deftly placed foreshadowing, gray-shade characters, sly humor and overall excellent writing.


Fat Chance”: A longtime-married husband plots his wife’s (Mary) death after she puts on seriously unhealthy weight and he meets Frances, a stimulating, weight-healthy woman. Readers familiar with Bloch’s writing style and structure may see what “Fat Chance”’s twist-finish is likely to be, but it’s still the work of a superb writer spinning a worthwhile, clever tale.


The Unpardonable Crime”: Sherry,  a desperate, lowlife actress, returns to her husband (Roger, a film director) after disappearing for three years. She hopes to revitalize her career, but things have changed in ways she couldn’t foresee. Fun, Hollywood-dark read, offbeat and excellent twist.


Method for Murder”: Madness—contagious?—dominates this tale about a woman (Alice), sick of her husband’s obsession with his thriller work; she finds an illicit and dangerous way to deal with it. Fans of Bloch’s 1982 novel Psycho II might especially appreciate “Murder.”


Two of a Kind”: A wealthy man (Preston Lambert) offers a young couple (Mary Dexter and her husband) a life of luxury if they’ll work with him on what seems like mad lark. Memorable, great twist-finish in this story.


Untouchable”: Race Harmon, an arrogant and racist filmmaker in India, goes stir crazy beyond his usual, drunken actions and slurs (which are language-explicit and may be shocking for sheltered/sensitive readers). This being a Bloch tale, there’s a heavy price to be paid for such behavior. Nasty, blunt and excellent story.


Beelzebub”: A fly torments a Hollywood writer (Howard). Fun story.


‘Frozen Fear’”: Walter Krass realizes that his Cajun wife (Ruby) intends to kill him, so he tries to respond in kind—but murder isn’t always the answer, nor is it the end of certain situations. Good, solid work.

Monday, January 15, 2024

Poison Flower by Thomas Perry


(hb; 2012: seventh book in the Jane Whitefield series)

From the back cover

“James Shelby has been unjustly convicted of his wife’s murder. To save him from prison or death, Jane orchestrates his escape from the heavily guarded criminal court building in Los Angeles. Within minutes, imposters posing as police officers shoot Jane, take her away, and tie her to a mattress in a small, dark room.

“Jane’s captors are employees for the true killer, who believes he won’t be safe until Shelby is dead. His henchmen will do anything to break Jane’s mind, body, and spirit to get her to reveal Shelby’s hiding place, yet Jane endures their sadistic torment using techniques passed on via her Seneca warrior ancestors. Jane is alone, wounded, thousands of miles from home with no money and no identification, hunted by both the police and her ruthless captors. In an unrelenting cross-country battle, Jane must use all her cunning to rejoin Shelby, get them both to safety, and unmask the real murderer. And when at last Jane turns to fight, her enemies face a ferocious warrior who has one weapon they don’t.”



One of the many strengths of Perry’s Jane Whitefield series (and overall writing) is that he, a prolific author, regularly switches up the plot structures and setups of his books, often within the same series, so that each book stands out from (most of) his other works. This is especially true of Poison Flower, which focuses not on Jane guiding her clients to safety, but her trying to escape kidnappers and, having done so, making sure that she and those she cares about are safe from them—even if it means her engaging in an activity she reluctantly engages in: revenge.

Poison, like other Jane Whitefield novels, is a fast, entertaining work, making for another thriller that feels fresh and familiar while expanding ongoing characters and Jane’s world. The emotional gravitas of the dangers Jane and her friends and family face are immediate, engaging, action-brutal and often hair-raising (especially after Jane is kidnapped by Daniel Martel’s auction-minded killers). This is an excellent work, not shocking considering its creator, fast-moving but not so slick as to lack memorability or emotional heft. Followed by A String of Beads.

Friday, December 29, 2023

“Moon Knight” Omnibus Vol. 1 by various artists and writers (Part 1 of 2)


(oversized hb; 2020: graphic novel. Collects Werewolf By Night #32-33, Marvel Spotlight #28-29, Defenders #47-50, Spectacular Spider-Mani #22-23, Marvel Two-in-One #52, Moon Knight #1-20, and material from Defenders #51, Hulk! magazine #11-15, 17-18 and 20, Marvel Preview #21 and Amazing Spider-Man #220.)


From the inside flap

“Soldier of fortune Marc Spector. Millionaire playboy Steven Grant. Taxi driver Jake Lockley. All three are aspects of the same man; together, they are Moon Knight! Spector’s fighting skills, Grant’s resources and Lockley’s street smarts combine in the form of Marvel’s strangest vigilante—aided by his loyal pilot, Frenchie, and Marlene, the woman with whom he shares all his lives.

“Meet him in the pages of Werewolf By Night, where he is hired by the shadowy Committee to hunt the lycanthropic Jack Russell. His crescent cape soon glides him across the Marvel Universe as he fights alongside the dynamic Defenders, tussles with the Thing and shares the first of many encounters with Spider-Man. But Moon Knight is no ordinary costumed crimefighter, and his co-creator Doug Moench showed exactly why in the Hulk! magazine, of all places—beginning a character-defining collaboration with superstar-in-the-making Bill Sienkowicz.

“Moench and Sienkowicz began building the strangest rogues’ gallery in comics, pitting their silver-clad vigilante against lethal threats, including Lupinar the Wolf, the Cobra and the haunting Hatchet Man. Then, as Moench and Sienkowicz continued the adventures in the first Moon Knight title, they explored Spector’s past to reveal his true origin, his bitter rivalry with the bloodthirsty Bushman and his uncanny connection with Khonshu, the Egyptian god of the moon! From there, they continued to mix super-heroics with the supernatural, plunging Moon Knight deep into New York’s darkest corners and introducing evermore bizarre adversaries, such Arsenal, the one-man army; the nightmarish Morpheus and Stained Class Scarlet, the nun with a crossbow!”


Overall review

Caveat: (possible) minor spoilers in review. Part 2 of review is here.

Moon Knight is one of the stranger comic book anti-heroes with his dissociative disorder as well as his often out-there villains, creepy and street-gritty storylines and settings (usually New York City), and overall unsettling feel and endings—the overall feel is one of somewhere between for mature audiences and teen friendly comics (if they are into dark stuff), leaning more toward pulpy for mature audiences fare. On occasion, this grittiness lent itself to insensitive language (the rare use of the words “pansy” and “slut”), but given the context of their usage, it makes sense. His guest appearances are good introductions to Moon Knight [MK], and the series was an excellent and crazy-in-tone expansion on his character and the characters surrounding him.

Moon Knight’s original run went from 1975 to 1984; his second run went from 1985 to 1990.

Worth owning, this, if you like your super-heroics gritty, dark, disturbing and sometimes hallucinogenic.


Review, issue by issue

Werewolf By Night: “The Stalker Called Moon Knight” (#32): While Buck Cowan—seriously injured in issue 31 of Werewolf—fights for his life in a L.A. hospital, Jack Russell, moon-transformed, fights for his life after The Committee hires a mercenary (Marc Spector, aka Moon Knight) to bring Jack Russell, in werewolf form, to them. In Haiti, Raymond Coker (last issue seen in issue 21) gets bad news from “Jeesal of de thousand years”.


Werewolf By Night: “Wolf-Beast vs. Moon Knight” (#33): Jack Russell’s full-moon battle with Moon Knight continues. L.A. detective Vic Northrup lands in Haiti, continuing his search for Raymond Coker, who tells “Jeesela of de thousand years” about an undead threat that killed his aunt and uncle “in a small village north of Mirebalais” and terrorized his seven-year-old cousin (Banita).


Marvel Spotlight: “The Crushing Conquer-Lord!” (#28): After foiling a Watergate-style break-in, Moon Knight [MK] tangles with theft architect (Mr. Quinn, aka Conquer-Lord, a pointy-headed, orange-and-blue spandex-wearing villain). Cliffhanger finish to this issue.


Marvel Spotlight: “The Deadly Gambit of Conquer-Lord!” (#29): MK, as Steven Grant, discovers that his new valet (the effeminate Merkins), is Quinn/Conquer-Lord’s spy. MK engages in a bizarre, deadly chess match to save Marlene (Grant’s live-in girlfriend) from being eaten by crocodiles, while the mayor, shot by Conquer-Lord in the previous issue, is rushed to the hospital.

Caveat: Some readers, especially sensitive to sexual preference slurs—remember, this issue came out in August 1976, before political correctness—might take offense to Grant/M.K.’s use of the word “pansy”.


The Defenders: “Night Moves!” (#47): Misperceptions between key characters (MK, Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D.) occur when Fury tries to kidnap Frank Norriss, a man with vital information.

One of the Defenders, Hellcat, visits the Avengers’ headquarters, where Wonder Man—no longer an Avenger—searches their database for vital information. Hellcat and Wonder Man briefly fight. Other notable characters in this issue: Valkyrie, The Hulk, and Nighthawk.


The Defenders: “Who Remembers Scorpio? Part One: Sinister Savior!” (#48): Wonder Man, Valkyrie, Hellcat and Moon Knight turn Jack Norriss over to Nick Fury, unaware that Fury is under the sway of Scorpio.

Scorpio, within his “Zodiac Chamber, the Theater of Genetic”—a wild-looking lab—hopes to punish mankind and cleanse the natural world. Meanwhile, MK, trapped in Scorpio’s drowning pit, must find a way out. Effective twist-finish in this issue.


The Defenders: “Who Remembers Scorpio? Part Two: Rampage” (#49): In order to draw a recalcitrant Hulk to Scorpio’s lab in New Jersey, where they hope to stop Scorpio’s lab-created army, Valkyrie, Hellcat and MK engage in skirmish-and-run tactics.

In his lab, Scorpio tells Jack Norriss about Scorpio’s relationship with brother (Nick Fury), whom he hates. All the while, Scorpio preps to unleash havoc on mankind.


The Defenders: “Who Remembers Scorpio? Part Three: Scorpio Must Die!” (#50): The gathered Defenders and MK wage all-out war with Scorpio and his lab-created Zodiac army.

Scorpio is a quirky-weird character, obsessed with beer (Schlitz) and hanging out with is super-human fighters; he’s also obsessed with his ambivalent relationship with his brother, Nick Fury LMD. This is an above-average, especially fun issue.


Spectacular Spider-Man: “By the Light of the Silvery Moon!” (#22): The “revitalized” (according to MK) Maggia gangsters target him—they know his secret identity, thanks to their access to Conquer Lord’s file (Marvel Premiere #28 and 29). While MK thwarts a Maggia trap and Gena’s diner (The Other Place), Spider-Man—mistaking MK’s intentions—fights him. Surprise, to-be-continued ending to this one, with fun, multiple-character foreshadowing and development in this tightly penned issue.


Spectacular Spider-Man: “Guess Who’s Buried in Grant’s Tomb!” (#23): Cyclone, an assassin with the ability to create man-sized, hurricane-force wind, is hired by the Maggia to kill MK and Spider-Man. (Cyclone, seeking revenge on Spider-Man, was recently sprung from prison by his boss (“the big M”) after the events of Amazing Spider-Man issues #143-44, whose crimes in those issues landed him there in the first place.


Marvel Two-in-One: “A Little Knight Music!” (#52): A red-costumed, ex-CIA brainwasher (Crossfire, aka William Cross) tries to use his foul talents on The Thing (aka Ben Grimm), with MK also caught up in Crossfire’s violent scheme: to end the spread—and lives of—superheroes.


The Hulk!: “Graven Image of Death” (#11): MK’s investigation into a series of street murders draws him and Marlene Grant into a mystery involving a key, possibly erstwhile murderers and greed. Cliff hanger finish to this one.


The Hulk!: “Embassy of Fear!” (#12): Continuation of The Hulk #11. MK, also utilizing his Steve Grant/millionaire persona, and Marlene (his personal secretary-lover) take on a murderous, foul-mouthed museum curator (Fenton Crane), a Chilean U.N. ambassador (Alfonse Leroux) and their security forces—all of whom are looking for a priceless jade statuette of Horus.


The Hulk!: “The Big Blackmail!” (#13): Informed by Conquer Lord’s in-depth file on MK and his various personas, a wealthy swordsman “Lupinar. . . the Wolf!” (crime lord) and one of his info men (Smelt) prepare to battle MK.

Meanwhile, MK’s investigation of recent murders—begun with reporter Jim Poulhaus’s violent demise in The Hulk! #11—twists into a thwart-a-nuclear-capable-terrorist situation, forcing MK to resurrect his Marc Spector, merc-for-hire persona.

Artwork in this issue is uneven, distracts from the story.


The Hulk!: “Countdown to Dark” (#14): The story arc begun in The Hulk! #11 concludes.

Marc Spector (aka MK) battles an impostor MK during a plutonium/terrorist heist while Lupinar, afflicted with “hypertrichosis—the ‘hirsute disease,’” and mastermind of the heist (as well as a nuclear ransom-threat to NYC), preps for his meeting with the real MK.

Frenchie tries to contact N.E.S.T. (Nuclear Emergency Research Team) about the location of the about-to-blow terrorist nuke. Marlene shows a lot of skin (again), more than usual.

As with the previous issue, the artwork is spotty, distracting in a bad way. Aside from that nit, solid issue.


The Hulk!: “An Eclipse, Waxing”/”An Eclipse, Waning” (#15): MK and the Hulk, in passing, tangle with three bungling criminals during a full moon on an eccentric millionaire’s (name: Jase) estate. Fun, standalone issue.


The Hulk!: “Nights Born Ten years Gone—Part I” (#17): A nurse-slaughtering, Halloween mask-wearing madman (The Hatchet-Man) prowls benighted NYC—could he be Marc Spector’s traitorous, gone-insane ex-merc partner, Rand, from a decade ago?

MK and Marlene, the latter nurse uniform-clad bait for Hatchet-Man, set a trap for the killer, with tragic results.There’s some seriously specious/circumstantial logic going on in this first-chapter story, especially on Steven Grant/MK’s part—not one of the better Hulk!/MK stories thus far.


The Hulk!: “Shadows in the City—Part II” (#18): With Marlene seriously injured by the Hatchet-Man (previous issue), MK continues stalking and fighting the increasingly dangerous madman, revealed to be Randall (“Rand”) Spector, Marc’s merc-serial killer brother. This issue, story-wise, is an improvement on the previous issue.


The Hulk!: “A Long Way to Dawn” (#20): MK, still reeling from the events of the past night*^—Marlene getting shot and stabbed, battling his now-dead brother (Randall Spector, aka Hatchet-Man)—waits through the metropolis-prowling night to see if Marlene will pull through at the hospital. Effectively pensive, tender, and memorable finish to the tri-part Hatchet-Man story arc.

          [*^shown in Hulk! issues 17 and 18]


Marvel Preview: “Moon Knight—The Mind Thieves”/”Vipers” (#21): The corpse of Amos Lardner, a former CIA colleague, is delivered to Steven Grant’s mansion, sending Grant/Spector/MK on a mission to find out what’s going on and to stop a mind control experiment (“Operation: Cobra”), their aim to create remote control assassins.

Accompanying MK are his sexy secretary/lover (Marlene, often seen with little clothes or mostly nude) and Frenchy, his right-hand man/helicopter pilot.

The artwork (racy when Marlene is present) and themes are a bit mature for children, but it’s entertaining and intriguing—that is to say, good.

In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash by Jean Shepherd


(hb; 1966)

From the back cover

“Shepherd’s wildly witty reunion with his Indiana hometown, disproves the adage ‘You can never go back.’ Bending the ear of Flick, his childhood buddy—now local bartender—Shepherd recalls passionately his genuine Red Ryder BB gun, adolescent failure in the arms of girls, and relives a fishing story of man against fish. From pop art to The World’s Fair, the subjects speak with a universal irony and are deeply grounded in American Midwestern life. A wonderfully nostalgic impression of a more innocent era when life was good, fun was clean, and station wagons roamed the earth. For many years Jean Shepherd was a cult radio and cabaret personality in New York City, and the creator of the popular film A Christmas Story, which is based in part on this book and has become a holiday tradition on the Turner Network.”



Warm, witty, mixing childhood wonder with brief adult-world (but still charming) cynicism, this chatty, sometimes over-the-top revisiting-your-small-town back and forth between past and present is a good, vivid read, with some zinger lines in the mix. Worth reading, this.

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Fer-de-Lance by Rex Stout


(pb; 1934: first book in the forty-six-book Nero Wolfe detective series)

From the back cover

Fer-de-lance. As any herpetologist will tell you, the fer-de-lance is among the most dreaded snakes known to man. When someone makes a present of one to Nero Wolfe. Archie Goodwin knows he’s getting dreadfully close to solving the devilishly clever murders of an immigrant and a college president. As for Wolfe, he’s playing snake charmer in a case with more twists than an anaconda—whistling a seductive tune he hopes will catch a killer who’s still got poison in his heart.”



Fer-de-Lance is often charming, funny and sometimes maddening (the corpulent, comfort-ruled Wolfe works at his own pace, and won’t be rushed, even when situations dictate haste)—it’s also consistently interesting, bordering on suspenseful (especially when the plot comes down to the wire), with eccentric Nero Wolfe and often-sarcastic, lady’s-man narrator Archie Goodwin’s relationship at the heart of the action. This is a great, hard-to-set-down read, and a promising introduction—with a dark, mercenary, character-true finishto Stout’s Nero-based seventy-four works (encompassing thirty-three novels and forty-one novellas and short stories). Followed by The League of Frightened Men.

Monday, December 18, 2023

Because the Night by James Ellroy


(pb; 1984: second book in the Lloyd Hopkins/L.A. Noir trilogy)

From the back cover

“A botched liquor store heist leaves three grisly dead. A hero cop is missing. Nobody could see a pattern in these two stray bits of information—no one except Detective Sergeant Lloyd Hopkins, a brilliant and disturbed L.A. cop with an obsessive desire to protect the innocent. To him they lead to one horrifying conclusion—a killer is on the loose and preying on his city. From the master of L.A. noir comes this beautiful and brutal tale of a cop and a master criminal squared off in a demented death match.”



This edited review was originally published on this site on October 4, 2006. That review has since been deleted.

Set shortly after the events of Blood on the Moon, Hopkins begins investigating the disappearance of a decorated (later unfairly disgraced) cop, Jacob “Jungle Jack” Herzog, whose secret, questionable affiliations lead Hopkins to a psychiatrist and cult leader (Dr. John “The Night Tripper” Havilland) whose followers are committing seemingly crazy murders at his behest. It’s mano a mano time as the two driven juggernauts clash in an increasingly intense who’s-crazier-than-the-other showdown. Caught between them is Linda Wilhite, a former patient and Hopkins’s lover, her life—of course—on the immediate line.

Because, with its fully fleshed key characters, excellent pacing and edgy-like-Blood tone, shows Hopkins acting in a slightly more reasonable capacity, his Blood troubles in his rearview mirror. He still hopes to get his wife (Janice) and two daughters (Penny, aka “Penguin,” and Caroline) back, but he more balanced, even as he and Havilland hurl toward each other like explosive-carrying trains. Excellent, character-progressive sequel, this, followed by Suicide Hill.

Saturday, December 16, 2023

Runner by Thomas Perry

(hb; 2009 – sixth book in the Jane Whitefield series)

From the inside flap

“After a nine-year absence, the fiercely resourceful Native American guide Jane Whitefield is back. . .

“For more than a decade, Jane pursued her unusual profession: ‘I’m a guide. . . I show people how to go from places where somebody is trying to kill them to other places where nobody is.’ Then she promised her husband she would never work again, and settled to live a happy, quiet life as the wife of a surgeon in Amherst, New York. But when a bomb goes off in the middle of a hospital fundraiser, Jane finds herself face to face with the cause of the explosion: a young pregnant girl who has been tracked across the country by a team of hired hunters. That night, regardless of what she wants or the vow she’s made to her husband, Jane must come back to transform one more victim into a runner. And her quest for safety sets in motion a mission that will be either a rescue operation—or a chance for revenge.”



Runner takes place several years after the events of Blood Money. In the now, a hit team bombs the hospital where her husband, Carey McKinnon, works—they do this to snatch an on-the-run, older and pregnant teenager (Christine Monahan) who’s fleeing her ex-lover/former employer (Richard Beale) who’s into some shady dealings. Christine is there, trying to engage Jane’s services, which might require some technological updating.

Keeping with previous Jane Whitefield entries, there’s plenty of hateable bad guys, great character development (new and returning characters), action, an engaging story and solid pacing, as well as enough variation in its structure and storytelling to offset it, make it stand out from earlier Whitefield novels. Worth owning, this.

Followed by Poison Flower.