Thursday, April 10, 2014

Click the Cover to View on Amazon
I'm happy to say RENEGADE'S REVENGE, my first Western story, is now available on the Kindle store for $0.99, with a Trade Paperback version to come some time in the next couple of weeks. I had a lot of fun writing this 20,000 word novella, and there is a possibility of a sequel if interest is high enough.

At the start of the Civil War, twin brothers David and Caleb Miller found themselves on different sides of the battle lines. David enlisted in a Union cavalry regiment, while Caleb joined a band of Missouri irregulars, the infamous "Bushwhackers".

In the war's last days, Caleb's Bushwhackers ambush David's cavalry unit, but when the Union troopers gain the upper hand, the Confederates are forced to surrender. The two brothers are brought together again mere moments before Caleb is murdered on the orders of Captain McNeil, David's superior officer.

Months after the war's end, David returns home and reunites with his older brother Paul, himself a former Confederate irregular. The two brothers vow to hunt down Captain McNeil and exact retribution for Caleb's murder, but not only will they have to find McNeil, they'll have to fight their way through a score of war-hardened, ruthless veterans in order to bring him to justice.

Renegade's Revenge is a story of duty and brotherhood, revenge and retribution, war and the scars it leaves behind, both physical and emotional. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

MOVIE REVIEW: Sabotage (2014)

When I first saw the trailers for Sabotage, I was enthused but otherwise wasn't expecting much. I've been happy to see Schwarzenegger making a Hollywood comeback, because even in his "retirement" years, he's still a badass. I really enjoyed The Last Stand, and even Escape Plan was a lot of fun, if somewhat goofy.

So, this latest action flick looked to be more of the same. Dudes with guns running around killing other dudes with guns, some chases, some revenge, some shots of Arnold glowering menacingly. Pretty standard stuff, really. Right?


This movie is brutal. I don't mean brutal as in Commando-era Arnold running around hosing down countless pissant soldiers who pirouette and drop to the ground when shot. I mean gruesomely, unrelentingly violent. This is easily the most graphically violent movie Schwarzenegger has ever done, and I don't say that lightly. While his movies have high body counts, and some (like Total Recall) have some messy bits, the graphic, in-your-face nature of the violence in Sabotage is unique to his career. While I can get icked out by torture scenes in movies, graphic violence usually doesn't phase me much...but I was uncomfortable at times with this film, and that's saying something.

Furthermore, this is Arnold like we've never seen him before. There has always been at least a hint that Schwarzenegger is winking to the audience in his movies. The "I'll be back" line, the posing with the guns a la Commando, the corny one-liners, and so forth. We've come to expect it, to the point where we don't even notice it until it's gone. But in Sabotage, there's none of that Schwarzenegger self-referentialism. I won't say he's "acting" better than ever, but he is able to, more than I've ever seen him, put away his Hollywood MegaStar-ness and just play a role as straight as possible, without any mugging or otherwise playing "Arnold".

As for the movie itself, there's nothing truly original or jaw-dropping here. Schwarzenegger plays "Breacher" Wharton, an old, grizzled DEA door-kicker (thus, the "Breacher" moniker) who leads an undercover team of agents who infiltrate drug organizations, then tear them apart. These guys are the DEA version of Delta Force and Seal Team Six, unconventional warfare types who roll with lots of tattoos and facial hair and highly customized kit loadouts. As the movie opens, they're taking down some drug cartel and they hide ten million dollars in cash on the premises, hoping to steal the money for themselves, but when they return for the money, someone's taken it. Whoops.

Come to find out, the FBI was running an operation in parallel with theirs, and knew how much money was in the place, so the fact that ten million dollars is missing doesn't go unnoticed, either by the DEA or the Cartel, who doesn't like losing their money to the government, but likes having it stolen by government agents for their own personal use even less. But of course, the thieves can't tell anyone it was stolen from them without admitting they stole it in the first place. Six months of investigation and interrogation by the DEA, and none of the members breaks, and they're finally - begrudgingly - put back on the job.

I don't want to give away any spoilers, because this movie does have a few twists and turns that are definitely worth keeping hidden. Suffice to say, some members of the team start getting killed. Breacher and the surviving members begin to turn on each other, assuming that the Cartel is coming after their money, and they all begin to suspect that someone on the team beat the rest to the money and took it for themselves. We also begin to learn some dark aspects of Breacher's past, as well as seeing the tensions and conflicts within the team. Operators who always live on the ragged edge of right and wrong can lose track of where the line is drawn, and that becomes a very scary place to live.

Badass Digest, one of my favorite film and television websites, wrote a really good review of this film, one that I more or less agree with. This isn't a "great movie", but it is one of the best Schwarzenegger movies, and if you're a fan of his films, you really need to see this. Even after more than 30 years of movie stardom, the big guy can still surprise us.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Sean McLachlan's THE SCAVENGER Free April 4-8

I've read both THE SCAVENGER and Sean's first Toxic World novel, RADIO HOPE, and they're both great stories. Post-Apocalyptic fiction that isn't hyperbolized or filled with zombies (yawn...), these are great stories filled with believable characters and great action. If you're interested, pick up THE SCAVENGER for free between now and April 8th.

Here's the blurb for THE SCAVENGER:

In a world shattered by war, pollution, and disease, a lone scavenger discovers a priceless relic from the Old Times.
The problem is, it's stuck in the middle of the worst wasteland he knows--a contaminated city inhabited by insane chem addicts and vengeful villagers. Only his wits, his gun, and an unlikely ally can get him out alive.

Set in the Toxic World series introduced in the novel Radio Hope, this 10,000-word story explores more of the dangers and personalities that make up a post-apocalyptic world that's all too possible.

Monday, March 31, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Bronson - Street Vigilante: Switchblade

My original assessment of the three BRONSON books was off somewhat. While they are written by three different authors, the third book in the series does not start a new character or storyline - it follows the Richard Bronson of STREETS OF BLOOD. This leads me to wonder if the "reboot" of the second book is a reaction to BLIND RAGE and it's less than sympathetic protagonist, and that this was, in fact, originally intended as a long-running series that simply never got off the ground.

In SWITCHBLADE, the story starts off with Bronson and Jenkins hot on the trail of the Unholy Three, a team of punks that have been performing rapes and stabbings and robberies over the last few months. Jenkins is the detective from STREETS OF BLOOD who agreed to help out Bronson as long as he stuck to just killing violent criminals, and as we saw at the end of the second book, Jenkins has gone from passive observer to someone actively helping Bronson.

Bronson tracks the three punks to a shoe store, and arrives just a little too late. One of the punks is in the process of raping the woman who owns the store, and her husband, a paraplegic Vietnam vet in a wheelchair, has been brutally beaten and threatened. This time around, Bronson comes armed not with a shotgun or his Browning, but with a custom-made switchblade, and he kills two of the punks with it in just a few seconds, then runs down and strangles the last punk, a spoiled rich kid named Herbert Vincent Mardin III. "Herbie" is a rich little turd who gets off on power and violence, and he's recruited a couple other youths, one black, one Hispanic, to commit crimes. In stereotypically racist fashion, the black kid is described as only wanting to rape white women, and the Hispanic is only looking to get cash so he can buy pot and get high. Herbie, of course, is in it for the violence.

So, Bronson bumps off Herbie and friends, then goes home only to discover that Nora, his dead wife's sister, is in town and came by for a visit. Nora bears an uncanny resemblance to Bronson's dead wife, and she is clearly looking to sleep with Bronson, who initially protests before giving in, rationalizing it because his usual lay, the model next door, is out of the country on a photo shoot for a month. Nora is savvy enough to not "fall" for Bronson, but the two do fill emotional holes in each other's lives. Bronson finds Nora similar enough to his dead wife to enjoy her company, and Nora finds Bronson interesting and sexy, estranged as she is from her husband, from whom she is seeking a divorce.

Meanwhile, Herbert Vincent Mardin II, Herbie's father, is in a complete state of denial over the circumstances surrounding his son's death. Rather than accepting that Herbie was a violent psychopath, he considers him an "unfortunate victim of today's society" or some other nonsense. He begins digging to find the vigilante who killed Herbie, and when the police (who are tacitly helping Bronson) don't offer much help, Mardin calls in a few favors (He's a top-level executive in an International Bank) from the CIA, who put him in touch with Matthews, a former CIA operative who's been in the world of cloak-and-dagger operations since the days of the OSS. Matthews shows up with a team of other ex-Agency men, and they agree to track down the vigilante killer for a price.

I don't want to go any further into the plot of this book, but I will say the turns the story took were pretty interesting. Bronson finds himself pitted against not only a rogue cop, but these former CIA agents, as well as a trained assassin. There's a lot of move and counter-move as each side tries to get the best of the other, and overall it's a pretty enjoyable read. There's not quite as much over-the-top violence as in the previous two books, but I think the story works well without it, and there's still a good body count for the action junkie readers. There's also quite a bit of sex, as we follow Bronson, Mardin, and even Detective Harper, the rogue cop, into the bedroom with their respective mates.

One plot thread I did find unnecessary involved a diplomat from some "South American Banana Republic" who is portrayed as a violent, woman-beating, murderous lunatic. A number of comments are made regarding how the diplomat is little better than a "primitive savage who doesn't belong in the civilized world" or some such, giving a really racist slant to a story that didn't need to be in the book to begin with. Bronson and Nora run into this creep at the opera, where the diplomat's bodyguards are physically abusing anyone who gets in his way, and Bronson winds up decking one when the bodyguard shoves Nora. This gets blown up in the media to be an "attempted assault" on the diplomat, although no one knows the identity of the assailant. We later learn the diplomat beats up and abandons a girl along the side of the road after an attempted rape, and later kills and wounds a number of people in a drunk driving incident. Of course, due to "diplomatic immunity" (one of the most oft-abused plot devices ever, in my opinion) no one can do anything to the guy. No one, of course, except a Vigilante. Hmmm...

Overall, SWITCHBLADE was pretty good. I don't know if I enjoyed it as much as the second book, but it was certainly enjoyable. I think the author, whoever he was, tried emulating a lot of Len Levinson's style from book 2, but doesn't quite pull it off. Still, it is something of a shame that, after two books of creating a cast of characters, the series ended.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Dirty Harry #1 - Duel for Cannons

The first three Dirty Harry movies came out between 1971 and 1976. Then, there was a hiatus of seven years, until 1983's Sudden Impact. With the franchise dead going into the '80s, Warner Books decided to begin a series of media tie-in novels (although I doubt they were called that at the time) featuring the eponymous maverick cop and his Smith & Wesson .44 Magnum. The series ran from 1981 to March of 1983, nine months before Sudden Impact was released. The series was written by two authors; Ric Meyers (who wrote the Ninja Master books) and Leslie Alan Horvitz, a writer I'm unfamiliar with. Meyers apparently wrote #'s 1, 3, 5, 8, 9, and 11.

The first book in the series, Duel for Cannons, opens with the line, "Boopsie's head exploded". The unfortunate Boopsie is a guy in a cartoon-figure suit at a knockoff Disney World-esque theme park in California. Boopsie is killed by a gunman who then gets chased by an off-duty San Antonio sheriff visiting the amusement park with his family. The sheriff gets drawn into a running gun battle with the shooter, and is eventually killed. Of course, the deceased is an old friend of Harry Callahan's, and Callahan doesn't take kindly to his friends being killed, even less so when the killer makes it look like the death was actually the sheriff pulling off a mass murder/suicide.

Although everyone else almost immediately dismisses the inconsistencies in the case, Harry pursues the evidence, and eventually uncovers a shadowy killer who seems to be trying to draw Harry to San Antonio. Eventually Harry goes there, and discovers that H. A. Striker, a wealthy business magnate, essentially runs the city, owns the cops, and gets to do whatever he wants. Striker had been opposed by the Sheriff, and one of his underlings, a tactically brilliant investigator named Nash. Harry teams up with Nash to try and bring down Striker, who is actually furious that the assassin - a .44 Magnum-loving killer named Sweetboy Williams -  lured Harry to San Antonio. Striker tries to get Harry arrested or driven off several times, only to get foiled on every occasion.

The story culminates with a ton of gunplay, as Striker tries to use a captured Nash as bait to lure Harry into a place where his bought cops - or Williams - can kill Harry. There's a ridiculous amount of gunfire and stuff getting smashed / shot / blown up, and although the killing isn't too gratuitous, at least one bad guy gets his head "blown clean off". I don't want to give away the details - there are a few twists and turns - but the ending is pretty satisfying, although the middle third of the book does sag a bit, and I found the whole plot a little hard to believe. With the police corruption looking SO blatant and rampant in San Antonio, and with the amount of evidence Nash gathers on Striker's doings, I don't see how he couldn't have just passed the information on to the FBI or some other, larger agency.

But overall, I found Duel for Cannons to be great fun. I've recently re-watched the first three Dirty Harry movies, and this book definitely references his filmic adventures extensively. One minor deviation is that DiGiorgio, an inspector who appears in all three earlier movies, is alive in this book, while (SPOILER) he's killed midway through The Enforcer. I suppose he was too good a secondary character to leave dead and buried, since his chubby, laid-back persona is a great counterpoint to Harry's belligerent, wound-up personality. There's also enough time spent in San Francisco dealing with punks and criminals there, that I'm looking forward to later stories taking place in the city itself. Meyers is able to capture and reproduce a lot of Harry's personality, and I can easily hear Eastwood speaking the dialogue in the book with Harry's typical laconic delivery.

It looks like Amazon has most, if not all of these books available for a somewhat reasonable price used, assuming you're not looking for mint condition specimens. I've already ordered the second book in the series, and I'll review it as soon as I can.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Len Levinson Comments on BRONSON - STREETS OF BLOOD

After reading my review of his entry in the BRONSON series, author Len Levinson was kind enough to write me regarding his experiences writing the novel. I asked if he minded writing me a few comments I could use as a blog post, and he was happy to share the experience with my readers. So, without further ado...

Len Levinson on STREETS OF BLOOD

STREETS OF BLOOD came about through the following chain of events.  One day I received a phone call from an editor at Manor.  He asked me to come to his office and discuss a project.  I knew him when he was an editor at Belmont-Tower, don’t remember his name now.
When I arrived in his office, he explained they were developing a series based on the popular movie DEATH WISH starring Charles Bronson, and wanted me to write one of the novels.  Naturally I said yes due to my constant need for money.  So a contract was drawn up and I signed it.
The DEATH WISH movie was very controversial at the time.  I’d never seen it but had read about it in many publications.  The story was of a self-appointed vigilante killing criminals in New York City.  Many people thought that vigilantism was horrible.  Others thought it was a great idea, because NYC was a high crime city back then, and the NYPD seemed ineffective.
I really got into the novel because I’d been a crime victim numerous times, mugged in front of a bar in the East 60s, mugged on the subway, held up at knife point in the East Village, and a few of my apartments had been burglarized.  It was a great pleasure to kill criminals in my imagination, like I was getting even at last.  Regarding the plot, mine was entirely original except for the basic vigilante premise.
I’m very grateful for Jack’s insightful review.  I especially appreciated his comments on sex in novels.  Some writers go the straight porno route with lots of anatomical details.  Others try to rip-off PLAYBOY or James Bond.  I tried to be true to life.  I’m glad Jack thought I was successful.

Friday, March 14, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Bronson - Street Vigilante: Streets of Blood

As can be read in my review of the first BRONSON book, BLIND RAGE, I was somewhat disappointed with the first of this weird, unconnected, three-book series. I found BLIND RAGE to possess a main character who was not only unsympathetic, but downright loathsome, and there were tones of strong racism and homophobia that went beyond mere character PoV.

However, I knew that Len Levinson - a veteran writer of more than 80 books under countless pen names - wrote STREETS OF BLOOD, and so I gave this second volume a try. None of the three BRONSON books are related in any way beyond the premise that a guy named Bronson becomes a vigilante after his family is killed by criminal scum. In SoB, Bronson is a high-powered businessman living in a penthouse apartment in Manhattan, after moving his business to New York several years ago, when his wife and children were killed by muggers.

Unlike the Bronson of the first book, this Bronson is a war hero, a former Captain in the Green Berets who'd served with distinction in Vietnam. He's smart and capable and ruthless to his enemies, but he also fights to protect and defend the other innocents out there. While the first Bronson really didn't care about anyone else, and was fine with collateral damage, SoB's Bronson hunts criminals not for revenge, but to clean the scum from the streets so they can't harm anyone else. This change in characterization goes a long way towards making him a more sympathetic character while still maintaining a badass attitude.

Also unlike the first book in the series, the point of view shifts between Bronson, Jenkins - the detective who first suspects Bronson of being a vigilante - and several other minor characters, such as Rinaldi, a crooked cop, as well as various victims and criminals. Some readers dislike this kind of PoV switching, and I think it can be handled badly at times, but here it works pretty well, and I think it is a trademark of many Levinson novels. It works best, in my mind, to build the rich atmosphere of the seedy 1970s New York City that the story is set in, a place Levinson knows very well. You can smell the exhaust, taste the cheap liquor and greasy food, and feel the gritty pavement underneath your feet. It goes a long way towards immersing the reader in the story.

As for the plot, it is pretty straightforward. Bronson kills four rapists in Central Park with a sawn-off shotgun, then eacapes, but is stopped by Jenkins. He's questioned, but since Bronson looks like a well-to-do businessman, Jenkins lets him go, figuring this guy couldn't possibly be a vigilante killer. But when the victim of the rape describes her savior as someone who matches Bronson's description, and later changes her story after Bronson visits her in the hospital and asks her to help conceal his identity, Jenkins becomes suspicious. As Bronson continues to kill and Jenkins closes in, he has a change of heart - Bronson is skillful and disciplined, and he doesn't harm innocents. Jenkins makes the decision to just let Bronson do his thing, as long as no one gets hurt who doesn't deserve it. While this does sound ludicrous, consider that the original DEATH WISH has a similar outcome - both the book and the movie - where the cops tacitly agree to look the other way, to one degree or another.

However, things go sour when one of the hoodlums Bronson kills is the nephew of Scarlotti, a mob boss with a lot of weight. Scarlotti's sister demands justice, so he begins to hunt down the vigilante, and eventually learns of Bronson's identity. There are some attacks and counter-attacks, and as things come to a head, Jenkins actually teams up with Bronson to take out Scarlotti, after the mob boss has a cop killed. This was a pretty cool, unforeseen turn of events, since before, Jenkins came off as something of a jerk. But when he goes "rogue", he develops a lot more of a backbone.

I also can't review this book without talking about the sexual content that pervades the novel. Levinson is great at maintaining a semi-sleazy vibe throughout the book, but it is never gratuitous or offensive. Characters have sexual drives, and sometimes those drives influence their behaviors. Bronson gets seduced by his next-door neighbor, a young woman who is a professional model. Bronson is reluctant at first, having remained faithful to the memory of his dead wife for years, but he finally comes to the conclusion that she wouldn't want him living alone and lonely for the rest of his life. Jenkins also has a brief extra-marital affair with a woman who tends bar at one of Scarlotti's joints, and we learn a little about the mob boss' own sexual appetites. Levinson's characters live in a world where both the bad guys and the good guys check out women, and occasionally get checked out themselves, and that's okay. I find it adds a layer of reality that's often missing in Men's Adventure novels, where the characters are either bizarrely chaste or outrageously promiscuous.

In conclusion, this was a fun read, and a welcome change of pace from the first BRONSON title. The third and final book, SWITCHBLADE, is on its way to me as I type this, and I'll be sure to review it as soon as possible.