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Friday, November 8, 2019

GOLF NOIR–THE BIG TOUR

GOLF NOIR–THE BIG TOUR
Recently, in search of something else (which is usually how these things happen), I found instead my copy of this diamond-hard gem of a novel, which was over due for a reread.

As things would have it, I read about golf far more than I play it. In fact, don’t actually play golf. Instead, I play 'at' golf. Once or twice a year, I wack a ball around eighteen holes with a friend, never keeping score and simply enjoying the beauty of being on a golf course. 

However, I have over a hundred sports pulps containing golf stories from the ‘30s and ‘40s, which are all pretty cool, and I have over fifty golf fiction titles on my bookshelves opposite my similar collection of boxing fiction. If there is a new golf novel published, chances are I'll buy it and read it.

That said, golf novels usually fall into three categories–sharp-tongued humor fests featuring wacky characters and wackier situations (usually written by Dan Jenkins or Mike Lupica, both of whom can make me laugh out loud), smalzy, mystical quests seeking to provide salvation through golf (think The Legend Of Bagger Vance), or attempts to cross the golf novel with the mystery genre, which are rarely able to serve both masters (there are a few exceptions, in particular, Keith Miles’ Alan Saxon novels).

When I read Robert Upton’s first golf mystery, Dead On The Stick (the second in his Amos McGuffin private eye tales), I found it mildly amusing, but nothing more than one of the neither fish nor fowl golf mysteries. 

Fortunately, Upton’s standalone novel, The Big Tour, is something completely different–the first golf noir novel, a cocaine fueled lightening jag into the heart of one man's darkness.

The difference in the two books is remarkable. One is a lightweight, disposable mystery, forgotten immediately upon turning the final page. The other is a classic example of hardboiled literature, which I've thought about often after reading it. It was as if Upton went to bed as Agatha Christie and woke up as Cornell Woolrich.

By never letting his characters take the easy way out, and by forcing them to experience the consequences of their actions, Upton drags us over a crude eighteen hole course of betrayal and despair in a foursome with Jim Thompson, David Goodis, and James M. Cain–you just know bad things are going to happen.

Don't expect sportsmanship and Rockyesque endings here–this is a wild ride through the rough where you bet with you life and and every club shaft in your bag is a serpent in disguise.

THE BIG TOUR
This is not your parents' golf game...In the hard-driving world of professional golf, even a golden boy must learn to win...Duff Colhane has just won his first professional golf tournament. It should be the celebration night of his young life. But he'll be spending it in Miami Federal jail.

Son of a barroom-brawling Montauk fisherman, Duff came across as a gentleman born to wealth and privilege. A brash, cocky golden boy and darling of the media they compared to Nicklaus. Golf was his greatest pleasure in life, the one thing he did perfectlyly, a poor boy’s ticket out–pure. Until he saw it played like a rigged game on grass where the only rule was not getting caught and big money was for the taking.

But after a golf lesson Vegas Mob-style all but shatters his pro dreams, Duff struggles desperately to regain the old form only he believes he can recapture. An unscrupulous Dr. Feelgood prescribes a witches’ brew of performance-enhancing drugs, and Duff is bankrolled by his high school sweetheart–a model with no portfolio but plenty of cash and cocaine and some very dangerous friends. If drugs don’t put an end to Duff–she and the Feds will...

Thursday, November 7, 2019

RACING WITH BIKES IN WORDS AND ON FILM


RACING WITH BIKES
IN WORDS AND ON FILM 
Competitive cycling has been the arena for a number of successful sports mysteries. The latest of these is a terrific translation of Mexican author Jorge Zepeda Patterson's The Black Jersey set amidst the Tour de France.

With 2019's real Tour de France crowning the first ever Colombian race winner, Egan Bernal, Jorge Zepeda Patterson is not only timely but somewhat prescient with his Agatha Christie style murder mystery played out against the deadly pursuit of the Tour's coveted yellow jersey.

Marc Moreau, a professional cyclist with a military past, is part of a top Tour de France team led by his best friend, an American star favored to win the current Tour. But the competition takes a dark turn when racers begin to drop out in a series of violent accidents. But as the victim count rises, the number of potential murderers–and potential champions–dwindles. 

By allowing his prodigious knowledge of bike racing to keep the story moving and tie together the non-racing scenes needed to support the mystery, Patterson pulls off the balancing act inherent in the ratio of sport to mystery (and visa-versa) in The Black Jersey, which is the downfall of the majority of sports mysteries.

However, while the central mystery in The Black Jersey is solid (despite the de rigor least likely suspect scenario) and does have a resolution tied directly to the Tour de France, I was far more fascinated by Patterson's insider take on the tour, which raises the novel above the quagmire. The cool stuff I was learning about bike racing and the Tour itself was what kept me turning the pages...actually, hearing to the pages zip by as I listen to the fantastic audio version of the book.

The Black Jersey left me feeling inspired once again by the Tour De France speeding recklessly through the French countryside with all its accompanying hoopla, crashes, and feats of almost inhuman endurance. As a result, I felt prompted to visit my bookshelves and check on my favorite cycling fiction as well as the DVDs of my favorite cycling films. 

Not all of these titles revolve around the Tour de France, but each brings out the reality, agony, and determination of cycling’s two-wheeled speed demons.

Taking the movies first, I have to give my top vote to 1985’s American Flyers. The film stars Kevin Costner as a cycling sports physician with a secret who persuades his younger brother to train with him for a three-day bicycle race across the Rocky Mountains known as The Hell of the West. The racing scenes are well shot and the bonding relationship between the two brothers is worth the price of admission. As in most successful sports films, prepare to cheer while shedding a tear.

1979’s Academy Award winning Breaking Away has obviously garnered more than its share of acclaim. However, this tale of a hardscrabble kid obsessed with Italian bike racers, and the small town clash between blue collar cutters and the much more affluent Indiana University students, is still a delight. If you haven’t seen it, or haven’t seen it in a while, it's time to add it to your Netflix’s queue.

My favorite Sherlock, Jonny Lee Miller, gets his cycling groove on in 2006’s The Flying Scotsman. Mentioning Jonny Lee Miller and eccentric in the same paragraph is perhaps redundant, but the film is based on the true story of the eccentric Graham Obree who rose above a severely abusive childhood to become a champion cyclist, by way of designing his own bikes and his innovations in body-position aerodynamics. Miller as Obree does a good line in paranoia, presaging Obree’s revelations after the film premiered, which shed further light on why he tried to commit suicide on three occasions.

Bring this post back to the Tour de France, the 2004 documentary Höllentour (Hell On Wheels) goes inside the Tour de France to focuses on the trials and tribulations of the T-Mobile team as they struggle to compete on cycling’s biggest stage. There are some heartbreaking moments which bring the whole scope of the race into focus.

My first exposure to cycling fiction came via the bookmobile that visited my elementary school. I remember checking out a battered copy of The Big Loop by Claire Huchet Bishop. I don’t remember if it was the cycling or the author’s last name that made me read this, but I was hooked from the first page of the sepia toned world of the 1950s, in which Frenchmen always win their own Tour, and the old school style of teenage fiction, in which heroes are easily distinguished from villains. Perhaps this is outdated by today’s standards, but years later, I tracked down a used copy, reread it delightedly, and have it sitting proudly on my book shelves.

As noted above, good sports mysteries are hard to come by. Getting the right blend of enough sports action and finding a solid mystery to fit in with the spotlighted sporting endeavor is a very fine balancing act. In Two Wheels, Greg Moody manages to pull off that balancing act without the aid of a net.

Between 1995 and 2002, author Moody produced five cycling murder mysteries featuring bike racer and reluctant sleuth, Will Ross. All are all above average sports mysteries with scalpel-like insights into both cycle racing and the business of cycle racing.

Moody's dive into the bike racing world captures enough of the sport to keep those who are barely aware of the Tour de France each year interested, while also giving enough sporting grist for those for whom bike racing is a commanding passion – and, oh yeah, he also throws in a compelling murder mystery set in the heart of the European peloton.

Jean-Pierre Colgan, the world champion, dies in a horrible toaster explosion. He is replaced on the powerful Haven Cycling Team by Will Ross, an aging American mediocrity. As Ross battles the team prejudice against him and slowly regains his form, he realizes that Colgan's death was no accident, that it is only the first step in a plan to dismantle the entire team, and given that knowledge, that his life isn't worth the tuppence he might find in corners of your mother’s sofa.

Moody five cycling mysteries include Two WheelsPerfect CirclesDerailleurDead Roll, and Dead Aireach of them enjoyable in their own right, each taking on a different aspect of the cycling world.

Two novels by Dave Shields, The Race and The Tour, are as fast-paced as the sprint legs of the Tour de France on which their stories focus. Troubled American racer Ben Barnes has a chance to redeem his honor, keep his word, and overcome the secrets of his past. Both books contain top notch race scenes from an author who learned his craft in the saddle.

My favorite Tour de France book can most likely be described as two-wheeled chick-lit. Yes, I know, many of you will be turned off by that term, but you'll be missing out on what is a terrific insider story. Cat by Freya North features the requisite Bridget Jones style journalistic heroine who sets out to report the Tour de France, inevitably getting entangled with some shaven legs along the way. That said, North’s research into the race and the personalities who ride in it gradually takes over the story giving the reader vicarious experience not to be missed.

As the Tour itself heads out over the Pyrenees, cycle enthusiasts can get out on the road themselves or used the above recommendations to settle back into a visual or literary peloton.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

THE CRIME ANTHOLOGIES







THE CRIME ANTHOLOGIES

PAUL BISHOP PRESENTS
BANDIT TERRITORY
Ten New Tales of
Murder and Mayhem
In bandit territory, writers can think the unthinkable and then put those thoughts into words on paper—words to chill their readers’ souls...
Bandit Territory is a place you don’t go unless you are alert, armed, and have plenty of backup...

There is plenty of bandit territory in corporation boardrooms, political campaigns, or high stakes poker rooms—a place where the rules don’t apply, where the knives come out, and fortunes and lives can be destroyed in a heartbeat. The most dangerous bandit territory, however, is in the mind...This deviant and deadly psychological bandit territory is also where crime and mystery writers thrive. It is here they hatch plots, dare to think the thoughts others would find abhorrent, and ask ugly questions of themselves and their characters.

Includes Stories by Paul Bishop, Nikki Nelson Hicks, Nicholas Cain, Richard Prosch, Wayne D. Dundee, Mel Odom, Ben Boulden, Jeremy Brown, Hock Hochheim, Scott Dennis Parker, and Jason Chirevas.

PAUL BISHOP PRESENTS
DISORDERLY CONDUCT
Another Ten Tales of 
Murder and Mayhem
Disorderly conduct is the gateway drug to crime. It’s not far from here to yonder—disorderly to uncooperative to resisting, then on to physical assault, assault with a deadly weapon, armed robbery, to wanted dead or alive. 


Disorderly conduct is the rabbit hole of violence. It’s the writing on the wall and it’s the spark of ideas for crime writers everywhere...In Disorderly Conduct, bestselling author and crime fiction maven Paul Bishop has once again locked up the criminally minded among us—Not those who would actually do the crime (most of us couldn’t do the time), but brilliant purveyors of criminal visions. Enjoy these ten tales of murder & mayhem and may the words spur your own inner world of imagination.

Stories by Paul Bishop, O’Neil De Noux, Wayne D. Dundee, Brian Drake, Mike A. Baron, James Hopwood, Bill Craig, Bobby Nash, Jean Rabe, and Nicholas Cain.

PAUL BISHOP PRESENTS
CRIMINAL TENDENCIES
Ten More Tales of 
Murder and Mayhem
Criminal tendencies lie dormant within the labyrinth of all our psyches. Most of us keep them firmly repressed. But what about those individuals who choose to follow their darker impulses.

Bestselling author and crime fiction expert Paul Bishop has again brought together top crime fiction writers and rising stars to share ten devious tales about criminal tendencies too powerful to ignore...If the dark side of life is your beat, or if your own criminal tendencies are barely restrained, read on...

Stories by Paul Bishop, Nikki Nelson-Hicks, Richard Prosch, Brian Drake, Mark Allen, Mike Faricy, Michael A. Baron, Jack Badelaire, Ben Boulden, and Eric Beetner...

PAUL BISHOP PRESENTS
PATTERN OF BEHAVIOR
Ten Tales of
Murder and Mayhem
Every story is a gem of crime and punishment...Bestselling author and crime fiction expert, Paul Bishop brings together ten tales of murder and mayhem from the devious imaginations of both top crime writers and the genre’s rising stars...Filled with unforeseen twists and turns, these tales range from dark to deadly, each one designed to snatch your breath away.

Includes Stories by Paul Bishop, Eric Beetner, Nicholas Cain, Ben Boulden, Brian Drake, Christine Matthews, L.J. Martin, Richard Prosch, Robert Randisi, and Nicole Nelson-Hicks.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

NEW WEST—GUNSLINGER


GUNSLINGER #1
KILLER’S CHANCE
Mel Odom writing as A.W. Hart
Fourteen-year-old Connor Mack dreams of a life adventure while stuck plowing, doing all the chores, and being treated as a slave on the half barren family spread in East Texas. He plans to one day flee the beatings delivered by his hulking older brothers and lazy pa. But he knows if he does, he must take his twin sister Abby—who is not always right in the head—with him. He gets his chance when River Hicks, a man wanted for the murder of a policeman in Fort Worth, rides in with a pack of bounty hunters on his trail. When the gun smoke clears, Connor has killed men for the first time, but he also knows this is his and Abby’s time to escape their life of abuse…Knowing the law will soon be on their heels, they follow Hicks—an outlaw driven by his own demons, and by deep secrets which somehow involve the Mack twins…Conner has a lot of learning and growing up to do—and he has to stay alive to do it. 

GUNSLINGER #2
KILLER’S FUSE
Eric Beetner writing as A.W. Hart
While waiting for his quarry to arrive in the mining town of Willimet, Hicks joins a pair of outlaws with a scheme to find a lost cache of gold…With Hicks gone, Conner and Abby are welcomed into the home of a local widow—the richest lady in town with a deadly secret agenda. When the widow develops an unnatural attachment to Abby, and her three unbalanced sons turn deadly, the beautiful mansion on the hill turns into a possessed house of horrors. Connor can feel Abby slipping away as the house and the widow put a spell on her. When he uncovers the family’s secrets, he knows he’s in a desperate race to save Abby…The fuse has been lit and it’s burning down fast for both gunslingers. Can they join forces again and get away before it all blows up in their faces? 

GUNSLINGER #3
KILLER’S CHOICE
Mike Black writing as A.W. Hart
An ostensibly simple, but hazardous job of delivering some much-needed nitroglycerin components to a burgeoning railroad town in the Arizona Territory proves problematic for the trio of River Hicks, Connor Mack and his twin sister, Abby…Along the way they rescue a Chinese man on the verge of being lynched by a pack of crooked deputies. Moved by the Chinese man’s tale of his quest to free his beautiful fiancée from the savage grip of human traffickers, they are surprised and dismayed to find the girl is being held in the town of Woodman, which is their own destination. The town is run by a brutal, self-aggrandizing strongman who has taken over and renamed the town after himself. This self-anointed Duke also has ties to a mysterious financial backer who, unbeknownst to everyone, has enlisted an unscrupulous Pinkerton detective and a professional killer, known as The Regulator, to track down and kill Hicks, Connor, and Abby…All trails unite in the dusty streets of the small, Arizona town where Hicks, Connor, and Abby come face to face with the vicious array of killers for a final showdown they soon realize has become a killer’s choice.

 
   
 

NEW WEST—AVENGING ANGELS


 AVENGING ANGELS #1
VENGEANCE TRAIL
Peter Brandvold writing as A.W. Hart
Saddle Up For A Heart-Pounding, Bullet-Burning, Bible-Thumping Western Series Like None You’ve Ever Read Before…Reno Bass and his sister Sara are young, blond, blue-eyed twins from western Kansas. Raised right in a good Christian family, they’re pure as the driven snow. But when their family is massacred, they ride the Vengeance Trail to fulfill their father’s dying request—to purge the earth of the Devil’s spawn in the name of God.

In the first book of this shocking new series, Reno and Sara’s farm is burned and their family murdered by a group of ex-Confederate soldiers known as the Devil’s Horde. These ex-Confederates—led by Major Eustace The Bad Old Man Montgomery and Major Black Bob Robert Hobbs—have a chip on their shoulders, and they’re burning a broad swath across the Yankee north, murdering, pillaging, and raping their way to the Colorado Territory…But when they burn the Bass farm, they find out not every follower of God is a sheep. Sworn to vengeance, Reno and Sara become black-winged avenging angels on a mission from God. Hounding the Confederate devils’ every step, these black-winged angels begin efficiently and bloodily killing them—one by one and two by two—reading to them from the Good Book while sending them back to Hell.

AVENGING ANGELS #2
SINNER’S GOLD
Wayne D. Dundee writing as A.W. Hart
After avenging the brutal slaughter of their family at the hands of Hell-spawned cutthroats, twins Reno and Sara Bass continue their quest to purge the West of the Devil's minions who prey on the vulnerable and unsuspecting…When they reluctantly accompany the hapless Brenda Walon to Hatchet, Nebraska, it quickly becomes clear Brenda is in deadly danger. The seemingly quiet town of Hatchet has many dark secrets—including the legend of hidden gold and the greedy desires of those willing to kill for it!

Sara and Reno realize not all of the Devil's horde ride roughshod and bloody in the open. Now it's up to the Avenging Angels to protect the innocent by flushing out Hatchet's human demons and sending them back to Hell!

AVENGING ANGELS #3
DAY OF CALAMITY
Richard Prosch writing as A.W. Hart
Having survived the massacre of their Kansas home, Reno and Sara Bass now ride the vengeance trail for bloody justice and lucrative bounty. When two stolen angels and a preacher’s dark secret lure them to the violent train town of North Platte, shooting their way out isn’t just an option—it’s the Avenging Angels’ only choice.

Hunted by the law, the army, and a shotgun named Pike, Reno and Sara land in a crucible of frontier fire that shakes their faith to the core and tests their gun hands like never before...