A nasty fellow: Characidae Senatrá

I put this up on Facebook – but I was rather pleased with how it turned out, so I thought I’d put it up here – all in one piece.

A non-human character (totally fictitious) from the 3rd Jarvis Love retro-spy adventure, The Ambrosia Kill is a variation on that time tested spy trope – the piranha fish. At the start of the novel, I thought I’d add some illustrations and this is how I went about it.

Firstly, I sourced a picture of a piranha.

However the picture of a piranha was a little flat (and if you’ll forgive me) – it lacked BITE! So I set about creating my own illustration – this first stage (below) was created in Illustrator – drawing over the top of the photo image.

The image is much clearer and defined, but it has a certain computerized mechanicality to it – rather than illustrative look. Therefore the next step was to convert the illustrator file to photoshop – the intention being to make the illustration look like an old watercolour image, that may be found in a journal or textbook. After applying a few filters (Dry Brush, then Sponge)…

I am rather happy with that. And here’s the finished page. The first part of my literary subterfuge is complete. I have tried to make this look like a journal entry from an old explorer.

And finally, [above] here is a similarly handled image of an orchid – which also plays an important part in the story.

A nasty fellow: Characidae Senatrá

The LIBRIO Defection

Looking for wild and woolly spy thrills? My new retrospy book (writing under the pen name James Hopwood) is now available for Kindle (It will be available as a paperback in a few weeks time).

The story introduces Jarvis Love, a young agent working for the Global Intelligence Network (G.I.N. – for those fond of acronyms). On his first field assignment, Love is sent to Milan to escort Belladonna Librio, the mistress of a Russian violinist who is about to defect, back to England.

However, the Soviets are onto the scheme, and have their own plans for Belladonna. Love finds himself not only fighting to rescue Belladonna, but fighting for his very life.

Regular visitors to this site, would be well aware that I love sixties spy fiction, and The LIBRIO Defection with a stiff-upper lipped hero, and dastardly villains to hiss at, is in the sixties tradition. I had a blast writing it, and I hope you enjoy it!

It’s available from Amazon.

Here’s the spiel:

The LIBRIO Defection

A fast paced novella filled with international intrigue and espionage.

1965: The world’s greatest violinist, Soviet, Alexander Stanislas wants to defect to the West after the violent death of his half-brother. But he has one condition; he wants his Italian mistress, Belladonna Librio to come over with him.

Jarvis Love works for the Global Intelligence Network. He is young, inexperienced and about to be thrust in the explosive world of Cold War espionage for the first time. His assignment seems simple enough; locate Belladonna Librio and escort her back to London.

Major Sacha Vorinski, of the Fifth Chief Directorate has other plans.

Filled with brutal fights and wild chases, The LIBRIO Defection is a white knuckle action adventure which harks back to the great spy novels of the ’60s and ’70s, but infused with the high-octane punch of a modern thriller.

This edition also includes a sneak peek at Jarvis Love’s first full length adventure, The Danakil Deception.

The LIBRIO Defection

The Only Man in Town

Author: Emerson Dodge (Paul Wheelahan)
Publisher: The Cleveland Publishing Co.
First Published: 1977

“We don’t cotton to strangers makin’ free with our womenfolk!”

I have often bemoaned the fact the Australian pulp fiction tradition is dead – but there is one last hold out, and it is Cleveland Publishing. Cleveland caters to a unique niche market, especially for Australia, and that is they publish westerns. And they really are pulp – it’s hard to describe the actual books themselves – they are more like a mini magazine printed on newsprint – only 20,000 to 25,000 words (under a hundred pages) and barely 5 millimeters thick.

Here’s some of the history of Cleveland from their website:

Cleveland Publishing Co Pty Ltd, home of the Cleveland Westerns, is an Australian owned and operated publishing house which was founded in Sydney, Australia in 1953 by Jack Atkins. Having its beginnings in the boom of pulp fiction writing in the 1950s, Cleveland prospered as a publisher of high-quality short stories, principally in the Western genre, and remains as Australia’s most successful and only pulp fiction publisher today.

At its height, Cleveland Publishing printed 18 of its exceptionally popular Westerns each month with print runs for each of its titles peaking at 25,000. The company continues to satisfy its readers’ desire for superior short stories in that genre today with the publication of eight titles, including two new stories under its popular ‘Cleveland’ brand, each month both in Australia and, via its website, internationally.

The story I am reviewing here is called The Only Man in Town, and it was written by Emerson Dodge. A quick Google search reveals that Emerson Dodge was one of the many pen names of Paul Wheelahan – and Australian author who wrote for Cleveland from 1963 to 1997.

Here’s a snippet from a 2005 interview with Wheelahan on Reader’s Voice by Simon Sandall.

The Cleveland westerns were just under 100 pages long, in 10 chapters. Paul Wheelahan could turn out these 100 page westerns at a rapid rate.

“During my three books a month period at Cleveland I used to take four or five days,” he said.

“… Sometimes on the Monday I’d get up and I wouldn’t have a synopsis, and I’d write a synopsis, and then start the story and I’d take it in on Friday afternoon in the car, get there about 10 minutes before closing time, and then go to the pub. I don’t know how I did it.”

Read the whole article and interview here.

The Only Man in Town concerns Harlan Chadd, a mysterious no-nonsense stranger who rides into the town of Assembly. He immediately locks horns with the spirited owned of the Cressida Hotel, Etta Cassidy. Etta was the oldest of four sisters, and when their mother died, she assumed the responsibility of getting the girls married off to prosperous men. Adopting a pompous and snobby attitude, Etta only associates with the finest and wealthiest people of Assembly. Chadd, as a grubby unkempt horseman is an unwelcome.

Unbeknownst to the good people of Assembly, somebody has been buying up all the property in a line from the end of the railroad, to the river. Those who have refused to sell have either been bullied and threatened, or become victim to freakish accidents. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that the railroad intends to come through the town.

Naturally, one of the properties on the proposed path, is the Cressida Hotel, and Etta has no desire to sell. She figures her wealthy friends will stand beside her when push comes to shove. Of course they don’t, and it is Harlan Chadd who comes to her aid when things turn ugly.

The Only Man in Town is quite predictable, but that doesn’t detract from the enjoyment this fast paced story has to offer. If I have a criticism, it is the resolution is wrapped up in about two pages – which seems a tad abrupt after such a prolonged build up. However, for the price of a pot of beer, this tale delivers everything it should.

I was delighted to find out Cleveland Publishing is still going – putting out the same type of stories it has for nearly sixty years – and I hope it continues to do so.

The Only Man in Town

Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves

Author: Matthew Reilly
Publisher: MacMillan
Published: 2012

Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves is the fourth outing for Captain Shane Schofield, after Ice Station, Area 7, and Scarecrow (it’s the fifth if you count the novella Hell Island which was given away for free as a part of the Books Alive campaign in Australia – that’s the one where the ‘apes went apeshit!’).

This story concerns a villainous cadre of soldiers known as the Army of Thieves who take control of an old Soviet scientific installation known as Dragon Island. As well as being a research facility, Dragon Island was also a super weapon, designed to set fire to the atmosphere and destroy most of the earth (obviously it was a last strike weapon – in the event of, and after losing a nuclear war).

The Army of Thieves start pumping out a flammable gas into the atmosphere from Dragon Island and the countdown to doomsday begins. An Army Unit goes in to stop the Thieves, but they are cut down in a hail of machine gun and rocket fire. With time running out, the only team close enough, are a small research team in the Arctic, headed by Shane Schofield. He is sent in with three other Marine, two civilians, and a robot, to do what an Army unit couldn’t do – save the world!

Of course, from the outset it is one wild and woolly set piece after another, with Schofield and his team being chased, shot at, bombed, and every other possible thing – as they try to beat the deadline, and stop the earth’s atmosphere being incinerated (For another airport fiction take on the atmosphere being set alight, check out Bill Napier’s Revelation).

While I enjoyed Army of Thieves, I thought it was not up to the standard of the Jack West adventures that Reilly has written most recently (Seven Ancient Wonders, Six Sacred Stones, Five Greatest Warriors). In some areas, some prudent editing would have improved the flow of the story too. But ultimately, picking on a Reilly novel is like kicking a dog. It is just mean spirited. Reilly writes fast paced thrill fests designed to entertain – and Army of Thieves certainly does that, as long as you are prepared to suspend disbelief.

The key to Army of Thieves (and most of Reilly’s novels, for that matter) is the ‘how are they going to get out of that’ factor – and how close to death the main characters can come – and still manage to survive. Or not! In fact, and this may constitute a minor spoiler, but not really for anyone who has read a Reilly novel – the story really is about how many times the characters can be killed and come back to life. Scarecrow dies once, his loyal second-in-command Gena ‘Mother’ Newman dies twice, and a new character known as Baba dies three times (and the robot twice).

If you’re a Reilly fan, and fast paced thrills are your thing, then Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves will fit the bill nicely. If you want a little bit more meat on the bones of your action adventure stories, you may have to seek out James Rollins, or revisit some vintage Cussler.

Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves

Striking Force

Author: L. K. Jackson
Publisher: Horwitz
Published: 1965
Book No: 32

Striking Force is another men on a mission title from Australian publisher Horwitz. This tale is pretty grim, focusing on the fear of going into battle – and author L.K. Jackson does quite a good job of ratcheting up that tension. Almost too good of a job, because the following action passages don’t manage to live up to the build up.

The book could have done with some hard editing also. There is a lot of repetition, often within the space of a few paragraphs.

As you would expect from a book of this age, the Japanese soldiers portrayed in the story are a bit on the crude side. Not quite out-and-out racism, but certainly negative Japanese stereotypes are used, such as ‘little yellow skin’, and ‘the only good Jap is a dead Jap’ etc. I don’t think I have to elaborate any more.

The story is told from the point of view of an un-named Sergeant. And the mission under the command of Lieutenant Braddock and Captain Mannion, is to follow and meet with General Stilwell. Stilwell ventured into the jungle two months earlier, and nobody has heard from him since.

From the very beginning, the Japs are on the brigade’s trail, and when Mannion foolishly leads them down a river, the unit is set upon from all sides.

The climax, where the brigade, who have been split in two groups, assault a Japanese airbase is rousing, vigorous and well written – and on the tougher side of boys-own-adventure. It is more like Saving Private Ryan than Where Eagles Dare (if that makes sense – it’s more about surviving than blood and bullet heroics). It would not surprise me if I learnt that the author was a vet.

I can find no information on author L.K. Jackson, but it would appear that Striking Force was also released by Trojan Paperbacks (which appear to be a UK company) – but with an American soldier on the cover.

Front: With a burning zeal and blazing barrels the Chindit brigade captured the vital Jap airfield.

Back: Fools or heroes

Lieutenant Braddock’s men were trapped deep in Japanese held territory.

They were sick and tired, hunted like rats in the fetid jungle.
The Sergeant and his gallant six proposed an ingenious rear attack as a last ditch stand.

The Lieutenant considered it absolute suicide.

Striking Force

A Mouth Full of Blood

Author: Eric Beetner
Published: July 2012

I have to admit I am biased. It is no secret that I have written a Fight Card novel and have spent the last six months reading fight fiction and watching boxing movies. Therefore one could reasonably say, that my objectivity on A Mouth Full of Blood is compromised. I beg to differ. I think it means that I have now read and watched the best and the worst, and that puts me in the perfect position to comment on the strengths and weaknesses of such material.

Without a word of a lie – and this is a pretty big claim – I think Eric Beetner’s latest addition to the Fight Card series, A Mouth Full of Blood is the best in the series so far. Like I said, it’s a big claim, because there have been some damn good stories in the series (humility forbids that I talk about how King of the Outback stacks up against the others – I will leave that to other critics).

A Mouth Full of Blood is a perfect balance of action and drama, and the characters are believable. Furthermore you actually care about them, willing them to come through at the end. The hero, Jimmy Wyler first appeared in Split Decision (which was released last November). However, no prior knowledge of the events in Split Decision is required to enjoy this tale.

A Mouth Full of Blood finds Jimmy back in his home town Chicago, working as a dishwasher at a small diner. One of his co-workers is a fifteen year old boy, Leo – whose home life is monstrous. His father is an abusive alcoholic, and his sister has failed to come home for the past five nights.

Leo explains she has been taken by a villainous pimp named Flip, aided and abetted by his gang of switch-blade minions. They intend to turn her out onto the streets as a prostitute. Jimmy decides to help Leo and his family to get her back.

The fight scenes in the novel are vivid and well described (almost cinematic), and it is easy to follow the action. However a fight scene is nothing without the characters having a strong motivation to fight, and the human drama in this tale is top rate, making the stakes inside the ring, all that more important.

And maybe that the key to A Mouth Full of Blood. I have talked about it being fight fiction, which it is – however it is the human drama that makes the story work, and therefore I think you don’t have to be a boxing fan to enjoy this story at all. It is about the characters, one of whom, just happens to be an ex-boxer. So if you have been tip-toeing around the Fight Card series, thinking that you’re not that interested in reading about sweaty men slugging it out in a ring, then this may very well be a book for you. Yes, there is fighting in it, but at heart, it’s just a great story. I think author, Eric Beetner has delivered a slab of first class entertainment regardless of genre. Highly recommended.

A Mouth Full of Blood is available form Amazon as an eBook or Paperback.

A Mouth Full of Blood