Friday, January 20, 2017


THE DOWSER'S DIRTY DOZEN PRESENTS: An interview with author and "reckless traveler," Walter Rhein.

My friend and colleague, 
Walter Rhein, both write for author Janet Morris' Perseid Press. He is the author of Perseid Press release Reckless Traveler, an expat novel dealing with his adventures living and traveling in Peru. In addition to that, Walter runs the blog StreetsOfLima, and also writes for Silent Sports and Singletracks. Not only a very fine writer, he's also extremely tech savvy, a wonderful family man, and a real stand-up guy. So here's a little interview I did with him sharing his thoughts and insights on things literary and cinematic, and of course on traveling to far away places. Ladies and gentleman, I give you Mr Walter Rhein.

 What and who are some of your influences and inspirations?

I’m a big fan of Roald Dahl actually. I think it’s funny that his work is criticized lately, because I sense within his words an understanding of children and a sincere desire to protect them. Perhaps Dahl comes too close to piercing the great deception we’re all seduced into believing, and he proposes a world where wickedness is duly punished and goodness prevails. I’m also a huge fan of Charles Bukowski. His work is very complex but also very readable.

How and why did you decide to start writing?

That’s not a decision really, you just start doing it. Writing helps me make sense of things. There’s something about putting a random sequence of experiences into a narrative that helps create a certain hope of meaning. Also, once I’ve written something down I can often stop thinking about it, which is rewarding too.

What genres and/or literary style do enjoy writing in the most?

Lately I’m finding the most enjoyment of writing things that actually get read. I’ve been doing articles for the local paper and those have been finding their way into the internet stratosphere (this one went viral). It’s fun when you manage to write something that engages other people, no matter if it’s a story or an article or a comment on a meme. It’s not easy to write something that stands out, and on the few occasions I’ve been able to do that, I’ve achieved a great sense of satisfaction.

Tell us about your latest published book, short story or novella. 

My latest book is Reckless Traveler, my expat travel novel about living in Lima, Peru. This book has been doing very well, and I’ve received some lovely reviews. I also write regularly for Silent Sports (I even had a cover image not too long ago). The Silent Sports articles are about running, bicycling and cross-country skiing, but I’m trying to make them a little more literary. I’ve really enjoyed working with the editor Kelly O’Day. He just sent an article of mine back with some magnificent suggestions. It’s so much easier to place your work when the editors who look them over offer golden suggestions. I’m also putting up new content on my blog Streets Of Lima lately. Mainly with that one, I just try to antagonize people in search of shares, but I try to offer a nice paragraph or two on occasion.

Besides the “entertainment factor,” what do you strive for in your writing?

I hope that after reading something of mine a person is more equipped to confront the trials of his or her day. It’s actually quite startling how small a “theme” actually is. Most of my books can be reduced to a single sentence or two. But the magic of writing a novel is that hopefully, by the end, the person hasn’t just accepted the them you were trying to present, but has adopted it into his or her personality. I try to convey the little bits of truth I’ve picked up along the way (through error and hardship mostly). I do this with the best intentions, but the older I get, the more I come to understand that nothing makes people angrier than hearing the truth.

 Would you say that your stories are more plot-driven or character-driven?

I’d be curious to hear how other people who have read my work answer that. I guess I’d have to say character-driven since I like to create characters and then see what happens when I put them together. Sometimes I try to push them down a certain plot path, but I suppose if the characters just won’t go there then I’ll change plot before I change character.

What can you tell us about your latest work(s) in progress?

Perseid Press is in possession of the completed manuscript for the sequel to The Reader of Acheron.” The book is titled The Literate Thief and it follows the same characters from the first book as they go on a semi-reluctant mission to the largest metropolitan area of their region. The book has been through its first round of edits, but I’m curious to hear what Janet Morris has to say about it. I think it’s a good book and I’ll be excited to get it into the hands of some reviewers. If you were a fan of The Reader of Acheron I think you’ll like the sequel, sort of in the same way you liked The Empire Strikes Back after seeing Star Wars.

What are some literary goals you’d like to achieve?

I’d like to write something that a person who is feeling a bit of mental agitation can read, and at the end of reading that work, the person finds peace. I’m not talking about a temporary peace that comes from a couple hours of escapism. I’d like them to feel peace and to be able to take that piece with them going forward and feel better for it.

What genre of fiction have you not yet written for, but plan to in the future?

I’d like to write some science fiction. I’ve done some short stories but I haven’t done a science fiction novel. I have a couple ideas.

Name a few of your favorite literary characters and tell us why they are your favorites?

D’Artagnan because he’s a young guy making his way with a bunch of frat boys he admires (although secretly they’re a bunch of jokers). Obi-Wan Kenobi because he’s pretty sincere about doing the right thing and all too aware he’s not up to the task. King Arthur for the same reason as Obi-Wan. Danny’s dad from ‘Danny the Champion of the World’ because it’s very important to him to be a good father, and he does so by actually being one rather than talking about it.

What are some of your all-time favorite films and TV shows?

I grew up on Star Wars and Indiana Jones. I’ve always had an affection for 7 Samurai. I’ve been watching the remastered Star Trek TV series and I really like what they did there. Northern Exposure had a big effect on me when I was little. I like Machette and the Road Warrior. Monty Python is pretty important as are all the films of Terry Gilliam. I just watched the animated version of The Hobbit with my daughters recently and they got a kick out of it. The ‘78 version of Superman is delightfully weird. I saw Pulp Fiction the first day it was released. Big Trouble in Little China is a good one as are all the films of John Carpenter. 

Tell us about your writing habits, such as: Do you outline extensively? Do you create your characters first, or your plot? Do you listen to music while writing, and if so, what kind?

I outline a little bit. I usually just start writing chapters and then when I’ve got enough situations that I want my characters to be in, I start having to diagram a way to get them there. It’s all about solving problems in a reasonable way at that point. The characters are first. I don’t listen to music while writing; I’ve never been a big music guy.

Thanks so much for taking the time to interview me!

And thank you, Walter, for agreeing to be part of "the show," and the first person to be interviewed by yours truly!

Walter can be reached for comments at:

You can find him and his books at:

Saturday, January 7, 2017


I must tell you about Golden Box Books, and the extremely talented author and artist named Erika M. Szabo with whom I've recently had the great pleasure of working with. 

I had decided to go a different route this time in self-publishing my latest book, Mad Shadows II - Dorgo the Dowser and The Order of the Serpent, to have more control over this one. But I needed someone to design a great and striking cover, something different and at the same time still in keeping with the design and theme of the first book in the series. I also wanted someone who could take my original map, poorly executed by me, and give it new life, a new look, and add that special touch I can only describe as "artistic." Then I needed  help with all the technical aspects of publishing: from designing the interior of the book, assigning ISBN numbers, formatting for paperback and Kindle versions, and getting everything set up for me and ready to launch. In short, I needed someone to hold my hand and guide me through the entire process!

That someone turned out to be Erika M. Szabo.

Erika writes and illustrates her own line of children's books, such as: Metoo, The Annoying Little Sister; Look, I Can Talk with My Fingers; and Who Stole Terry's Music Box? 


Erika also writes Young Adult Historical Fantasy, such as her series, The Ancestors' Secrets. And there is more to her writing than just these two genres: Middle-grade novels, romance, and so much more. She is really quite prolific. 

Now, I was introduced to Erika by author and my occasional collaborator, Shebat Legion, and from there the snowball started rolling downhill with a speed that amazed me! 

While I was doing a final proof, edit and polish job on my "manuscript" before sending it off to Erika, I sent her my ideas for the cover of Mad Shadows II. Before I could say The Order of the Serpent, Erika started designing covers, based on a poor, truly old-school "scissors, cut and paste" mock-up I had sent her. First, she incorporated my ideas -- and that  cover was truly a stand-out cover. But then she kept coming up with more and more ideas, faster than I could proof-read my book! It seemed that she was reading my mind every step of the way; she is quite intuitive. I think there were 4 covers in total, before I settled on the last one, which was also her favorite. 

However, Erika was just getting warmed up. She started coming up with ideas for the interior of the book, for fonts, chapter headings and scene breaks. She had told me she worked fast -- and she truly meant fast! Not only that, but she was having fun. She was excited about the project, which was clearly evident by the way she approached the project and the way she worked. As I said, she did everything -- which is what her Golden Box Books is all about. All I had to do was proof, approve everything, and copyright my book. But we weren't quite finished. There was the question of what to do about the map of my world of Tanyime, which appears in the first book, Mad Shadows - The Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser.  

I took the original, black and white, 11 x 17 map to the good people at Office-Max, who scanned it and put it on my flash drive in PDF format. Then I sent it off to Erika. She said it was going to take a few hours of hard work, but she would do her best. Well, before I knew it, she sent me a black and white version, in its original horizontal form, that simply blew my mind. I couldn't believe it was based on the same map I had drawn: the lettering had been greatly improved and made more elegant, landmarks such as mountains became excellent drawings, and then she added her own little touches, like waves in the oceans, artistic representations of forests, brush and scrub, and even images of towns and villages! I loved it!  

But wait . . . Erika wasn't quite done yet. She had another idea: for the paperback, she would enlarge the grey-scale map and put it on 2 pages -- left (even numbered page) and right (odd numbered page) -- whereas for the Kindle version of the book, the map would be on one "page" in horizontal form. However  . . . she had yet another idea: for the Kindle version, she would "antique" the map, adding some aging color to it. And here is the final version. 

As you probably have guessed, I am extremely happy with how Erika saved and improved my map.

Now . . . how long did all this take? Well, from the moment I sent her my Word doc file, until the Kindle version went live on January 5, 2017 . . .
the entire process took about 8 days! The paperback version should be available within 3 to 5 days following that date. 

Erika's enthusiasm, insight and level of professionalism matches the speed at which she works. She is supportive, kind and extremely easy-going and patient. These are the hallmarks of  her Golden Box Books, and the people she has working with her -- editors, proof-readers, etc -- all share her work ethic. Golden Box Books has many publishing packages and services, and I found their prices to be very reasonable and right in line with what I could pay for having so much work done for me. They offer marketing services, promotional videos, and many other services, as well. 

This was truly a wonderful, enjoyable and pleasant publishing experience for me. I learned so much, I am certainly planning on working with Erika again in the future, especially when the third volume of Mad Shadows is ready to go. 

You can see for yourselves what Golden Box Books has to offer by visiting their website at:

You can also visit their Facebook page, Little Book Corner, at:

You can find Erika M. Szabo's website at:

And just for kicks, check out my page in her online magazine:

If you're interested in self-publishing, at having a professional-looking, artistically designed book, look no further than Golden Box Books. 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

BROKEN HALO, by Rheanon Nicole: My Review

This is a novel that should be read by anyone who loves the paranormal and a good, supernatural romance. A daring novel for its themes and structure, this book has it all: ghosts, a Gypsy curse, a werewolf, a vampire, Angel/Human interaction, Unseen Visitors in the night, voices from Beyond, tragedy and heartache, and a strong heroine in the story’s main character, Adelay. A solid story, engaging and well-written, with a solid cast of supporting characters. It has a truth and beauty all its own. There is also a power and complexity in this highly intelligent story that I found totally captivating. This novel was carefully crafted and well plotted. Author Rheanon Nicole does a splendid job of creating a world of shadows, a world that will welcome you with open arms and spin you around. And I must make mention of the striking black and white cover designed by Dan Feldmeier, who confirms what I’ve always believed: a well-done cover in black and white can be a stand-out on any bookshelf.

Friday, April 22, 2016


Reckless Traveler is a wonderful book. I highly recommend this book to anyone who likes to travel, to all of us armchair travelers, and to everyone who likes to read a great story. Walter Rhein took off one day from the Wisconsin badlands and spent nearly a decade living, traveling and working in Lima, Peru, and traveling throughout the country. A couple of years ago he chose to write of his adventures . . . but in the form of a novel. So what we get here is no dry travelogue, but a real story featuring the people he encountered and worked with, the young students to whom he taught English, the friends who visited him and the many friends he made, such as Kyle, another American teacher with whom he played basketball; Roberto Carcelen, a cross-country skier who became Peru's first winter Olympiad; and Bronze Medalist Martin Koukal, from the Czech Republic. Then there's Luz Marie, his Spanish teacher with a quiet humor and gentle nature; plus such friends as Julia, Annika and Marisol. These are all people anyone would be happy and fortunate enough to know. 
        For all the trials and tribulations he had to endure during his travels and years in Peru, the story Walter tells is very lovely, and I came away feeling good after reading his book, getting a sense of the soul-expanding and mind-enlightening experience he had being an ex-patriot for a while. Oh, there are a few hairy moments where he encountered some unsavory-looking soldiers armed with AK-47s, a rough bout with blisters on his feet, a battle with kidney stones, and the ordeal of coping with the interesting medical and pharmaceutical practices of Peru, as well as the frustrations of acquiring anti-malaria medications, faulty internet cafes, and the BS one has to put up with when dealing with the bureaucracy of another country. Walter made me smile with fond remembrance when he talks about living on peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and made me sad when an old friend from the United States who spent his leave from the military with him, and later died serving his country. 
Walter Rhein's prose, his style in telling his story is spot on, and he tempts us with his words to visit Lima . . . making at least this reader envy him his courage and daring for just taking off for another country, another continent, another world. He description of Machu Pichu alone is worth the price of admission, and it is pure poetry. 

After finishing Reckless Traveler I came away with a gift Walter gave me: he showed me that people are pretty much the same all over the world. The people of Lima come across as being more than willing to embrace strangers and visitors, welcoming them and making them feel at home. There is a certain magic to this book that has stayed with me nearly two weeks now since finishing it. Walter's grand adventure left me feeling good inside, and except for the fact that hiking up and down mountains is not my thing, he made me fall in love with Peru and its people. PBS should pick this book up, read it, and send Walter back to Lima, to do a travelogue for us staycationers. 

Once again, this is a lovely book that I think everyone will enjoy.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Andrew Paul Weston's HELL BOUND: My Review

           HELL BOUND, by Andrew Paul Weston, published by Perseid Press. 464 pages. Copyright © 2015 by Janet Morris and Andrew P. Weston. Cover art and cover design by Roy Mauritsen. Cover design copyright © Perseid Press.

            Hell Bound is the latest novel by Andrew Paul Weston, best-selling author of The Guardian Series, The Cambion Journals, and The IX. Hell Bound is also the latest novel in the shared-world universe, the Heroes in Hell series, created by author/publisher Janet Morris.

 The main character in Hell Bound is Daemon Grim, Satan’s bounty hunter, also known as the Reaper. Not only does he hunt down any damned soul in Hell who gets on the wrong side of His Satanic Majesty, he has the power to visit our world and harvest those who belong in Hell, souls Satan wants in Hell now. Grim can travel between Earth and Hell using a special sickle or scythe that can open portals between the two realms. This scythe also possesses a powerful weapon called God Grace’s, which gives Grim the ability to utterly destroy souls. Since there’s no death in Hell as we know it, (the Damned are already dead) there is instead Reassignment, a twisted version of resurrection handled by an unsavory character known only as the Undertaker. However, there is Oblivion — total obliteration into non-existence. Grim’s weapon gives him the power to send souls howling into eternal nothingness.

The plot concerns Grim’s mission to track down Doctor Thomas Neill Cream, the English physician who in real life was the brilliant and infamous Lambeth Poisoner. Cream has been stealing long-hidden relics and angelic weapons from the Time of the Sundering, when Satan and his followers were cast out of Heaven. All history and knowledge of the Sundering is banned in Hell, but Cream may have illegal access to Satan’s bureaucratic network. Thus he and his crew of cohorts, including Frederick Chopin, have been able to steal these ancient artifacts, one by one. Cream is clever and manages to stay one step ahead of Grim, always avoiding capture and Reassignment. Cream is playing a cat and mouse game with Grim, leaving clues in place of each stolen artifact — clues written in the form of poetic riddles, which Cream must unravel. The first of these clues included a piece of carbonized bone from a Heavenly angel who was destroyed in the original battle of the Sundering. How did Cream get his hands on that? What are his plans? What is his ultimate goal?
 This is the mystery Grim must solve in order for him to bring Cream to justice (or “injustice,” as it’s called in Hell), and we aren’t privy to what’s going on until he unravels each clue and each riddle. We know only what Grim knows.
So Grim gathers his Hell Hounds and they set out to nail Cream. Among his Hell Hounds is Nimrod, one-time ancient King of Shinar, who’s almost as deadly in battle as Grim himself. Then there’s Grim’s female assistants, especially his l'amour de sa vie, the Inquisitor Strawberry Fields, a/k/a Red Riding Hood. Grim also encounters Nikola Tesla, from whom who he gets a “multi-phasic portal generator.” Although it’s glitch-free, it was designed to function only twice before self-destructing. Anyone using it is invisible to surveillance, which aids Grim in his search for Doctor Cream. Just envisage where you wish to go and — shazam, you’re there! There are gizmos and gadgets galore in Hell Bound, all adding to the fun of this novel. One of these is the Scroll of Divergent Union, which is an “acoustic seraphim incantation” that causes the veil drop between all the realms of Heaven, Hell, and Earth. At one point, Grim visits the Sphincter, a top-secret storage facility where artifacts from the Time of Sundering are housed — and where Cream has somehow managed to get past all the high-tech security. But how did he manage to do that? Using one of Tesla’s many inventions?

 Weston has not only expanded the scope of the Heroes in Hell series, he has introduced new themes and concepts, and new characters. He creates a fresh vision of Hell and presents to us a seedy underworld uniquely his own. Grim lives in Olde London Town, a macabre mockery of our earthly London. Rather than make up strange-sounding, nearly unpronounceable names, and because Hell is a twisted echo of Earth, Weston (as do all those who write for Heroes in Hell) comes up with names and titles that bear a warped familiarity to places and things we know. For example: Paris is Perish, Seine River is River Inseine, Drury Lane is Dreary Lane, Piccadilly Circus is Icepiccadilly, Westminster in Westmonster, and so on.

 That’s all part of the fun, part of the gallows humor that is inherent in Hell.

 Everything on Earth has its infernal counterpart in Hell.

Things in Hell often relate to things on Earth. Hell is Earth’s wicked and perverted mirror’s image. Not only do we go through the looking glass and down the rabbit hole when entering Hell, we also enter another, diabolical dimension where not only pain and torment and suffering rule, there’s also a grand touch of irony to everything that happens in the underworlds. Hell mimics Earth is a fiendish way, and if you think things can get messed up on Earth . . . just wait. Hell may give you what you want and what you need, but these things are never quite what you asked for. Hell is not what you’d expected, so always expect the unexpected. Hell gives and Hell takes away, and in Hell the Damned get just what they deserve.
 Hell Bound is an epic and fast-paced adventure. Part Gothic, 19th century-style mystery, part sword and sorcery, and part horror with elements of science fiction. This is a grand tour of Hell. It’s a manhunt throughout “Infernity,” brought to life by Weston’s literary style and prose that often reach poetic levels of grace. But the heart of the story is Daemon Grim, a character who works for Satan, a character who is supposed to be evil and villainous, but often comes across as heroic and valiant. Walking that fine line is part of Weston’s talent.

 Grim has his own code of ethics and morals to which he clings tenaciously.

 Grim is an enigma.

 Grim is one soul you don’t want to cross swords with. You can’t reason with him or tempt him. He feels no pity, sorrow or remorse. And yet, he has a wicked sense of humor, very good manners, never lies, and he values truth, honesty and loyalty. These make him a paradox, and part of the mystery. We’re never told exactly who or what he is — or was. Fallen angel? Demon? Human? A Heavenly angel, who has been captured, corrupted and enslaved by Satan? Perhaps he is the Grim Reaper — Death himself? But not even Grim knows: he can’t remember anything before his awakening in Hell . . . and that final revelation will no doubt eventually play out in future novels. As powerful, ruthless and deadly as he is, Grim is also very much a human character, with flaws and virtues — yes, even in Hell, the Damned can have virtues. This is part of the fun and part of the puzzle of Hell Bound and why I enjoyed it so much. Daemon Grim carried the story on his shoulders and kept me reading to the last page. What’s more, you need not be familiar with any other books in the Heroes in Hell series in order to enjoy Hell Bound . . . but it will add to enjoyment if you are.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

THE HAUNTED EARTH, by Dean R. Koontz

THE HAUNTED EARTH, by Dean R. Koontz. This edition: Lancer Books, 1973.
Copyright © 1973 by Dean R. Koontz. 192 pages. 95 cents.

Last time out, I did a “look back” review of Koontz’s early 1970’s science-fiction murder mystery, A Werewolf Among Us. This time around, I’m looking at another of the genre mysteries he wrote early in his career, The Haunted Earth. I enjoyed it when I first read it in 1973, and I enjoyed it again, 42 years later. For those of you who are familiar with Clifford D. Simak’s Out of Their Minds and The Goblin Reservation, as well as the works of Ron Goulart, most notably his The Chameleon Corps, Koontz’s The Haunted Earth has much in common with those: wild imagination, fast-paced narrative, interesting characters, and plenty of humor.
The premise is this: in the “future” year of 2000, Earth is visited by a race of Lovecraft-inspired, benevolent aliens called the Maseni. Not only were we introduced to these tentacle-wearing ETs, they brought with them their supernatural brothers. Furthermore, the Maseni showed us how to “release from bondage” our own mythological and supernatural entities. Thus, Mankind now shares the Earth with vampires, werewolves, minotaurs, dryads, trolls, etcetera, etcetera. All our myths, beliefs, legends and fairytales are real, and because Mankind created them, they look, sound and behave in accordance to our beliefs. To quote one Maseni character: “As you know, the supernatural is at the mercy of human creation, just as humanity is at the mercy of the spirits’ creation. It is a closed circle. God created us, yet we created God, sort of like your riddle: Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”

Get the picture? I’m sure you do.

The United Nations even drafted rules and regulations and contracts for all of us to abide by, so we could live in peace and harmony. Not all of the supernatural creatures are happy about their new freedom, however. Even a vampire is apt to resent the interference when he’s stopped in mid-bite by the precise wording of the Kolchak-Bliss Decision, which was handed down by the United Nations. We learn just about everything we know about this future world, and this U.N Decision in the opening scene.

We first meet the main character, Jessie Black, a Private Eye hired by the husband of Renee Cuyler to spy on one Count Slavek, a vampire. Slavek is in the act of seducing Cuyler’s wife Renee, a most willing victim, when Blake interrupts him. The Count can’t bite her until he reads her rights to her, and she fully understands and agrees to what lies in store for her. Blake’s timely interruption (or untimely interruption, depending on your point of view) ticks off Slavek, making him Blake’s enemy, and the vampire will play a role later on in the story.

 Jessie’s partner is Brutus, a Hell Hound who was once a very infamous man, who assisted in the murder of a Roman emperor and gave a very famous speech. Yes, that Brutus. Blake has another partner, a gal Friday who’s also his lover . . . the buxom Helena. Koontz does not beat us over the head with it, but he does let us know that Helena has a thing for Brutus, as well; there’s also ménage a trois going on with this crime-solving trio. Hot stuff for a 21 year-old reader (at the time) with tender sensibilities!

Here’s a little backstory on Jessie Blake. (Could he perhaps the “inspiration” for Laurel K. Hamilton’s own supernatural investigator, Anita Blake? Just musing out loud.) Blake was bored with life and the same old, routine cases. But when the Maseni came to Earth with their supernatural brethren and then introduced us to our own supernatural kinfolk, his life did a 360 and became more interesting, dealing with human/supernatural, human/alien, and human/alien/supernatural affairs involving everything from robbery and blackmail, to kidnapping and murder. Life was good again and Blake was one happy gumshoe.

 The plot begins when a Maseni named Galiotor Fils hires Blake to investigate the mysterious, “of natural causes” death of his brood-mate, or brother, Galiotor Tesserat. (There will be no spoilers here regarding what really happened to Tesserat.) But I will tell you this: the Maseni and their supernatural brothers are peace-loving beings and entities. They live by a code of non-violence. So, when a new species of supernatural appears on the Maseni homeworld, a creature which does not fit into their mythology or the mythologies of any of the races they’ve come into contact with, the ectoplasm hits the fan. This new creature of the supernatural has killed Maseni flesh and blood citizens. On top of that, it has also dissipated the ethereal essence of a number of Maseni supernatural beings. The Maseni, their supernatural brethren, and even the earth-born supernatural entities want the secret of this new creature kept quiet.

Thus, the intrepid Jessie Blake, Brutus the Hell Hound and the sexy Miss Helena agree to investigate these murders, and they’re quickly shuttled off to the Maseni homeworld.

 The Haunted Earth is a quick and fun read, filled with plenty of action, some very imaginative creatures, plenty of wisecracks and gallows humor, and a plot that keeps twisting and turning. Not only are we treated to a mad, mad, mad, mad future Earth, and get to visit the Maseni homeworld, we are taken into the bowels of both human, Maseni and the supernatural underworld, where we meet a cast of shady and unsavory characters. Koontz’s prose is lean, clean and mean: he doesn’t waste words. He creates an interesting mash-up of fantasy, science fiction, and film noir style of pulp fiction. There are also a few wonderful touches that I thoroughly enjoyed, such as the Netherphone, which is used to call the supernatural world — and it’s a rotary dial phone, to boot! There is a great scene where God is interviewed on the Pritchard Robot Show. Not only is this hilarious and insightful, the interview makes perfect sense — at least to me it did.

 Like I said, The Haunted Earth is a fun novel: short, sweet and sticks to the point of its story. I have no idea whether or not a second edition was ever published, but you can no doubt find a copy of this edition at used book stores, and I do know that it’s available from Amazon. If you haven’t read it, give it a shot. I think you’ll enjoy it.

*This retro-review originally appeared in Black Gate e-Magazine, 12/8/2015

Sunday, November 29, 2015


Reading one of Thomas McNulty's westerns is always a huge treat for me. Coffin for an Outlaw is the fourth one I've read and reviewed, the others being Trail of the Burned Man, Wind Rider, and Showdown at Snakebite Creek -- all published by Robert Hale of London, under the Black Horse Western banner. These are lovely, hardcover volumes with the title, author's name, and illustration printed right on the hard cover: no dust jacket whatsoever. At roughly 150 pages or so each, they read like 90-minute or 2 hour movies. And indeed, each of McNulty's westerns would make excellent western motion pictures. Directors like John Ford, William Wellman, Raoul Walsh, Budd Boetticher, Burt Kennedy, John Sturges . . . any of these greats could have made these into wonderful films. Are you listening, Clint Eastwood?

Now, in Coffin for an Outlaw, we meet Chance Sonnet -- a former Texas Ranger turned bounty hunter. He's a good man who lost his wife and son to fever, a man consumed by grief and pain. He's also a fast gun who is believed to be dead, but who had changed his name and settled down to lead the quiet life of a carpenter. But when a young woman whom he has come to think of as a daughter kills herself, he's forced to strap on his guns again and take action. Sonnet has learned that a man named Eric Cabot is somehow responsible for the young girl's suicide, and Sonnet is a man who believes in accountability. Sonnet doesn't give a hoot in hell that Cabot comes from a wealthy and powerful family, or that his father is a state senator. Sonnet wants Cabot to account for his part in the girl's suicide, and so he sets out for Dodge City . . . with a coffin for the outlaw, Eric Cabot.

Word spreads that Sonnet is alive and well, and after him. So he does the only thing he can do: he hires a gang of killers to go after Sonnet. Along the way a struggling reporter, Jenny Connolly, hears the story of Sonnet and the coffin destined for Eric Cabot, and she takes off in pursuit of what she knows will be a great story. Another character who hears of Sonnet's quest is Captain William S. Walsh, a retired Texas Ranger who was one of Sonnet's closest friends, back in the day. Walsh arms himself, saddles up, kisses his wife goodbye, and sets out to find Sonnet and make certain that he doesn't "cross the line between justice and vengeance."

Besides Sonnet, Jenny, Walsh, Cabot, and a host of gunmen on Sonnet's trail, there's a would-be gunslinger named Toby Grapewin. Toby is a naïve and almost hapless young man who's seeking to earn some quick money and make a name for himself when he signs on the Cabot payroll. Along with several other gunmen, they attack Sonnet, who is not an easy man to kill. Sonnet wounds Toby during a shoot-out, but rather than leave him to die, he saves the boy, and the relationship that builds into a friendship between them is a nice touch, perfectly illustrating what kind of man Sonnet is: decent and caring, but with a strong sense of justice and again, accountability. When Jenny and Walsh finally join up with Sonnet, old friendships are renewed and a new relationship is born. And then the sparks of gunfire begin to fly and clouds of gunsmoke fill the air as Eric Cabot and his men close in on Sonnet and his friends. Will killing Cabot assuage Sonnet's pain and grief? That's the heart of this action-packed and character-driven novel? How and why Cabot is responsible for that girl's suicide is something we don't learn until late in the story, and I'm not giving that away here. And the ending was something I did not see coming, for among all the twists and turns of plot and character, that was the most surprising.

Once again Thomas McNulty has show us that he is a master of the western genre. His prose is as crisp and clear as mountain air: you can smell the sagebrush, taste the sparkling waters of a mountain stream, hear the creak of saddle leather, feel the heat of the western sun and the cold of a night spent in the woods. There is plenty of action, gunfights and fistfights, and dialogue that rings true and genuine for the genre . . . dialogue that moves the story forward and reveals character, the way great dialogue should. The novel is nicely-paced, too, and there is a sense of old-school sensibility, a comfortable familiarity of setting and theme that plays out in a well-constructed plot that is pure McNulty . . . uniquely his own style. I certainly will be reading more of his westerns.