Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Book Review: The Big Enchilada

Book Review: 'The Big Enchilda' by L. A. Morse

4 / 5 Stars

L. A. Morse wrote several crime and horror novels in the late 70s and early 80s. One of these novels, The Flesh Eaters, is out of print and difficult to find, but a very worthwhile read, according to a review at the Too Much Horror Fiction Blog.

In the early 1990s Morse also wrote a two-volume guide to low budget movies, Video Trash Treasures Vol. 1 and Vol. II. (the early 90s were still the glory days of the videocassette). 

'The Big Enchilada' (224 pp) was published by Avon Books in February 1982. A sequel, 'Sleaze', was published in 1985.

'Enchilada' is set in Los Angeles in the early 1980s and features rough-and-tough private eye Sam Hunter. Hunter takes the kind of cases that lead him into the down and dirty streets of the city, which is fine with Hunter, who is never too busy to run from a confrontation either with thugs, or crooked cops. Hunter also is never hesitant about providing his more attractive female clients with additional 'services'........... 

As the novel opens, a six-foot-eight, 500 lb former wrestler and psychopath named Mountain bashes his way into Hunter's office and tosses the private eye against a wall, leaving with a threat: Stay Away from Domingo

Of course, Hunter can't ignore a challenge, so he sets out to discover who Domingo is, and why he needs to threaten the life of a low-rent private eye. But Hunter's investigation is complicated by the presence of several additional cases:

High-end housewife Clarissa Acker wants to know if her wayward husband Simon is involved in something shady.

Wealthy magnate George Lansing wants to know if his spoiled brat of a son has been kidnapped.

Mel Perdue is worried about his fifteen year-old daughter, who ran away to Hollywood........and vanished. 

As Hunter delves into the seedy underside of life in LA, he'll discover a thriving network  of felons involved in porn, heroin, and murder........and more than a few of them are criminally insane...........

'The Big Enchilada' is an enjoyable read: fast-paced, with an intriguing cast of characters, all steeped in Southern California culture. Morse's depiction of Los Angeles in the summer, in all its stifling, polluted glory, makes the city a character in and of itself.

And Morse's writing style is so well calibrated for a hard-boiled novel that at times it reads more as a parody than as as an intentional effort at a noir composition:

The sun was starting to get low. This was always the hottest time, when the accumulated sweat of the day seemed to hang in the air and form an almost invisible haze. I didn't understand it, it used to be desert here, but it seemed to be getting increasingly humid. Put together, all the pools must add up to more inland water than the largest lake in the world, and the evaporated moisture couldn't get past the constant level of smog that hung at 2000 feet. This was getting to be a shitty place to live, and I'd go somewhere else if I thought there was any place better.

Morse imbues his action sequences with a crisp violence:

The other one moved at me. His eyes had the crazy gleam of the meth shooter. They showed sadistic pleasure. He rushed, the arm holding the knife straight out in front of him. I sidestepped, caught his wrist and slowly bent his arm back toward him. I covered his hand so that he could not let go of the knife, and as the blade moved closer to his head, the look in his eyes changed to terror. I let the knife blade rest on top of his ear for a second so that he would know what was going to happen. He started to scream as the blade cut into him, and as the ear was severed, warm blood gushed over my hand. He fell to his hands and knees, whimpering, and I brought my heel down hard on one of his hands, crushing it. I rotated my heel before lifting it.

The verdict ?  'The Big Enchilada' delivers as a hard-boiled crime novel; as an often laugh-out-loud satirical treatment of LA's crazier inhabitants; and as a pop-sociological study of the city in the early 80s. It's well worth picking up.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Lovecraft: The Myth of Cthulhu

Lovecraft: The Myth of Cthulhu
by Esteban Maroto
IDW, February 2018

'Lovecraft: The Myth of Cthulhu' (80 pp) was published in hardcover by IDW in February 2018. 

This book compiles three black-and-white comics Maroto first drew in 1982 for a commission from Spanish publisher Editorial Brugera, who was producing a series of illustrated novels. 

Unfortunately, Editorial Brugera went out of business before the book was produced, and Maroto's artwork was never returned to him. In 1985 the comics appeared in the back pages of the Spanish children's magazine Capitan Trueno

But it was not until Moreno found some copies of the artwork among his personal items that he resolved to have the series republished as an 'official' production. So, this English-language edition of his work represents the version that Maroto has approved.  

'Lovecraft: The Myth of Cthulhu' features Maroto's interpretation of three classic Lovecraft takes: 'The Nameless City', 'The Festival', and 'The Call of Cthulhu'. These are done in a 'European' style, which is to say, as illustrations accompanied by narrative text boxes; there are no speech balloons or sound effects.

Maroto is in top form for each of these stories. His artwork is a carefully crafted mix of ornate penmanship, combined with the imaginative approach to panel composition that characterizes the work of the great Spanish comic book artists of the Warren magazine era and its aftermath.

For example, Maroto's draftsmanship in the initial pages of 'The Festival' does an exceptional job of giving the story a uniquely 'existential' atmosphere, as the protagonist makes his way through the empty streets of a Rhode Island seacoast town in Winter:

'The Call of Cthulhu' necessarily calls for the artist to render otherwordly monsters and Maroto does an exceptional job here as well. 

I find Maroto's treatment of Lovecraft to be markedly superior to 'The Fall of Cthulhu' and 'Cthulhu Tales', the cartoony incarnations of the Mythos churned out by Boom. It's also a lot more approachable than the more recent, over-written treatments of the topic produced by Alan Moore ('Necronomicon', 'Providence').

Summing up, if you're a fan of the Spanish comic book artists of the Warren magazine era, a fan of H. P. Lovecraft, or just someone who appreciates good graphic art, then picking up 'Lovecraft: The Myth of Cthulhu' is a worthy investment.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Book Review: Seek the Fair Land

Book Review: 'Seek the Fair Land' by Walter Macken

4 / 5 Stars

Here at the PorPor Books Blog, we like to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day by reviewing or showcasing a fiction or nonfiction book that deals with Ireland and the Irish.

For St. Patrick’s Day 2018, we’re reviewing Seek the Fair Land, a historical novel by Walter Macken (1915 – 1967), an Irish novelist and playwright. His 1950 novel, Rain on the Wind, was a Literary Guild selection in the US and brought him renown. Macken wrote Seek the Fair Land (1959) as the first book in what was eventually a trilogy, including The Silent People (1962), set in Ireland during the Famine, and The Scorching Wind (1966), about the struggle for independence in the early 20th century. Macken died of a heart attack at age 51 (he was a heavy smoker).

This Pan Books paperback edition of Seek the Fair Land (300 pp.) was published in 1962. The cover artist is uncredited.

The novel's backstory is based on genuine historical events. Seek the Fair Land opens in September 1649, with the English army of Oliver Cromwell laying siege to the Irish city of Drogheda. Among the defenders is Dominick MacMahon, a young man with a family, and a reluctant soldier at best. When Cromwell’s army overwhelms the city’s defenders, and orders his troops to raze the city to the ground and slaughter its people, MacMahon manages to escape Drogheda with his family.

It quickly becomes apparent that Cromwell’s army seeks to convert the east of Ireland into a vassal state, and those Irishmen who do not submit are to be exterminated. Knowing that his only choice for survival is to make for Connacht province in the highlands of Western Ireland, the ‘Fair Land’ of the book’s title, MacMahon embarks on a perilous journey across the width of Ireland.

With all the roads watched by English soldiers, MacMahon is obliged to travel through the wilderness, seeking shelter among the swamps and forests and relying on wild game for sustenance. Every stranger must be regarded with suspicion, and to be caught in the open by English horsemen is to risk summary execution. Will MacMahon’s friendship with an insurgent fighter named Murdoc O’Flaherty give him the slim chance he needs to secure sanctuary in the Fair Land ?

Seek the Fair Land is one of the better historical novel’s I’ve read. Author Macken lived in Connacht province, and describes its mountains, lakes, and meadows with the attitude of a cinematographer. His prose is clear and direct, and the narrative moves at a very readable pace; indeed, it gives the novel a flavor more reminiscent of an adventure novel than a historical novel.

The lead character, Dominick MacMahon, is one of the ‘little people’ who serve as the protagonists in Macken’s novels. These are the salt-of-the-earth people who normally shy from danger and intrigue, but when faced with tribulation, routinely summon inner resources of courage and conviction to overcome the struggles that lay low seemingly stronger and more privileged personalities.

As the cover artwork indicates, Seek the Fair Land is not meant to be a happy book. The depredations of the English are conveyed in bleak episodes of murder and mayhem, episodes that must have seemed quite explicit back when the book first was published in 1959, and remain unsettling even to modern readers. To his credit, Macken introduces his political commentary in measured doses, usually through the medium of conversation and debate among his characters, and avoids devolving Seek the Fair Land into a diatribe.

Summing up, while I don’t read historical novels all that much, I can recommend Seek the Fair Land as one of the better entries in the genre. It has been reissued in paperback over the decades since its 1959 publication, and these are quite affordable, and available from your usual online sellers.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Black Cross Part Two

Black Cross
written and illustrated by Chris Warner
Dark Horse comics, January 1988
Part Two

Monday, March 12, 2018

Black Cross Part One

Black Cross
written and illustrated by Chris Warner
Dark Horse comics, January 1988
Part One

'Black Cross' debuted in the July, 1986 issue of Dark Horse Presents (DHP), the newly formed comic company's monthly 'sampler' title that provided serialized material from franchised (Aliens) and creator-owned (Concrete, Mr Monster, The Masque) properties. 

Succeeding installments in the series dribbled out over the course of ensuing issues, as Warner juggled efforts on the strip with his duties on other Dark Horse properties. In January 1988 Dark Horse took all the DHP material and packaged it into one black-and-white comic, titled 'Black Cross'.

Over the ensuing thirty -odd years, Mark Warner indicated that the title was (at one point in the late 80s) in development as a possible feature film. He also hinted at publishing a mini-series titled 'Black Cross: My War', but this never came to fruition. In 1997, Warner published a one-shot color comic, titled 'Black Cross: Dirty Work', that built off of yet more serialized material, but since then, the franchise has been defunct.

'Black Cross' is set in a near-future USA where the breakdown of the social and political orders has left the country divided into 'zones'; some of these are controlled by the authoritarian provisional government, and others are 'black' zones: free-for-all landscapes where anything goes, and life expectancy is severely curtailed. 

As the series opens, veteran NCO Sgt Conrad (his first name is not disclosed) is assigned to join a team of commandos on an excursion into a black zone. Troubled by the atrocities he has witnessed - and likely participated in - during combat in Honduras, Conrad finds himself forced to make difficult choices when the actions of the commando team cross the line between military operations and killing for the sake of killing.........

'Black Cross' features some very good black-and-white artwork. The plot is communicated through Warner's (admittedly) overly wordy speech balloons, these being necessary to keep the storyline coherent for a serialized presentation. The comic offers some genuine 80s nostalgia due to its being suffused with the kind of macho sensibility that permeated Arnold Schwarzenegger films like Commando and Predator.

I'm posting the complete comic in two consecutive parts. Part one is below.

Friday, March 9, 2018

Book Review: Hero and the Terror

Book Review: 'Hero and the Terror' by Michael Blodgett

3 / 5 Stars

‘Hero and the Terror’ (251 pp) first was published in 1982; this New English Library paperback was issued in 1988 as a tie-in with the Chuck Norris film released that year.

The novel (which differs quite a bit from the movie) is set in Los Angeles in the early 80s. The eponymous Hero is Herrero Fiddleman (!?), son of a Jewish father and Puerto Rican mother. Hero, who is in his mid thirties, has movie-star looks, drives a black 1967 Porsche convertible, owns a dachshund named Stretch, has a model named Kay for a girlfriend, and lives aboard a houseboat anchored at a marina near Venice Beach. Hero is revered by Los Angelenos for being the city’s top cop: tough, brave, and ready to put himself on the line to maintain law and order.

Hero is contemplating retiring from police work and moving with Kay to the countryside, but one loose end continues to occupy his mind: the apprehension of the brutal serial killer known as The Terror. After killing 22 young women in the Venice area throughout the 70s, in 1979 The Terror suddenly ceased his atrocities. Is The Terror truly gone………..or just biding his time before re-emerging to continue his atrocities ?

As the novel opens, another young woman is murderer, and the modus operandi is the same as those used on the victims of The Terror’s previous depredations. It’s up to Hero to resume his investigation of the killer……….but this time, the urgency for capturing the murderer is even greater. For The Terror has laid his eyes on Kay……….and found her eminently desirable…….

‘Hero and the Terror’ contains a bit less porn and splatterpunk content than Blodgett’s earlier novel Captain Blood, presumably because it’s shorter in length. That said, what splatterpunk content is present in ‘Hero’ doesn’t shirk; for example, a brief segment describing a do-it-yourself hemorrhoidectomy will stay with me for a long, long time………..

The opening chapters of the book are the best, as Hero confronts a particularly loathsome and repulsive villain who is something of a brother to Baron Harkonnen from the novel Dune.

Unfortunately, the narrative starts to stall in its middle chapters, as author Blodgett uses seemingly unending flashback sequences and subplots to get the novel to its necessary word count prior to evolving to the grand finale involving the confrontation between Hero and The Terror. Said confrontation is overlong, and at times contrived, which is why I can't award the book more than three stars.

Summing up, as a uniquely deranged character, The Terror certainly delivers in the California Crazy department; it wouldn't surprise me if he was in some regard an inspiration for the character Daniel 'Chaingang' Bunkowski in Rex MIler's 1987 splatterpunk classic Slob. If those types of villains appeal to you, then getting a copy of 'Hero and the Terror' may be well worth your while.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Paloma Blanca by Georgie Dann

Georgie Dann
'Paloma Blanca'

In 1975 a Dutch singer named George Baker released a single titled 'Paloma Blanca' (White Dove). The song became a worldwide hit, was covered by a large number of artists, and in the USA eventually reached # 26 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart early in 1976. 

I well remember hearing the song in heavy rotation on AM radio back in those days.

Georgie Dann (b. 1940) was born in France, but became a singing star in Spain during the 1970s. In 1975 he recorded his own version of the song. A segment of him lip-synching the song was aired for a Spanish TV station's 'New Years Eve 1975' extravaganza.

The video clip of Georgie Dann doing 'Paloma Blanca' is pure, unadulterated 70s gold. Featuring a team of male dancers who adopt 'flying dove' poses, and some fine-looking chicks singing backing vocals, it's something that you will want to bookmark for viewing on those days when you feel like you need a dose of something peppy and upbeat..............