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28 March 2013

Hadrosaur Press does a good magazine entitled Tales of the Talisman, and in the past year I’ve been happy to find two stories accepted. The first, a brutal weird Western entitled, I shall Do Nothing, is due out shortly. This second sale is of my fantasy noir story, Realities. TotT seems to prefer my more unpleasant themes.

 

 

 

hardcover published Grand Central (Hatchette) November 2012.

I discovered Margaret Marron’s Judge Deborah Knott books by being sent an anthology of legal women fiction back around 2001. An American friend was a book reviewer and thought I’d like his copy once he’d reviewed it. I did. I read the Deborah Knott story (amongst the some 20 others) and loved it. Subsequently I managed to find and buy the previous books in the series during trips to America, and then put in a permanent order for them with my Auckland bookshop. The background is said to be based on the author’s own childhood and area of South Carolina, and there is certainly an evocative richness to it that helps make the stories. The author also writes a different series set in New York and featuring a policewoman. I never liked that series so was initially hesitant when I saw that this book’s plot and characters are a crossover with the other series, and had the policewoman, her mother and grandmother involved in some odd events in the Judge’s territory. However it worked.

The grandmother is dying, and her daughter Anne, and granddaughter Sigrid Harald (the New York homicide detective) are visiting Deborah’s Colleton County to spend time with old Mrs. Lattimore. Also in the area is Mrs. Lattimore’s long-lost nephew, Martin Crawford, an ornithologist researching turkey buzzards. And of course, there’s a mysterious disappearance, when a real estate agent vanishes and is later found murdered. Who did it? One of her clients, her husband, a prowling stranger or someone known to Deborah and her husband the sheriff? Then there’s the young man who became carried away at a local protest, the “accidental death” of a CIA agent at a motel by the airport, and Mrs. Lattimore’s daughter Anne, who is convinced that she’d seen her cousin Martin somewhere before but can’t recall where. In this series Margaret Marron has never written a dud and The Buzzard’s table is no exception. It’s a plot interwoven with family events and characters, less so than some of the other books, but still sufficient to satisfy those who like to meet previous characters. And the mysteries main and subsidiary – are good solid work that tie up ends comfortably. I recommend both the series and this book to those who like a good crime tale with an in-depth background.

 

And subsequent to my last farm report we got real actual rain. Not as much as we’d have liked, but it was sufficient to keep us in the holding pattern of “dry but not impossibly so.” Over two days it dumped 50 mls or two inches on Farside. We’d have liked double or even triple that, but it’s a lot better than the 6 mls we’d had up until then. It looks possible that that may be it for March, which continues to leave us all dry, but it could be worse, a lot worse, and in some areas of the country, it is. I’ll settle for not being them.

18 March 2013

At least, according to the weather forecast we’re getting some this afternoon. But I’m not taking any bets on that. The last half a dozen times that’s been said – there’s been nothing, or a miserable half-ml. In fact that was what we had last night. Not a lot for thirsty pastures, frantic farmers, and parched-looking livestock. I’m glad that I don’t as yet have a real problem. There’s hay in the shed, one whole paddock not yet grazed, and at a pinch the two biggest water-users, mine and my mate’s steers, could go to the butcher, as they were due to do before winter anyhow.

Thunder is happy about no rain too. Mind you, he’d like it a little cooler, but not being pelted with the wet stuff pleases him. And it doesn’t seem to be bothering the geese or hens much either. The flock’s complaint about the heat I dealt with by opening a gate so they can spend the hotter parts of a day under the cow-bail roof in the shade. Mildly inconvenient, because that’s where the hens like to eat their wheat, and with the sheep there, the hens have conpetition. Watching sheep hoovering up small grains of wheat is amusing. Watching the hens physically protest that hoovering (it’s OUR wheat!) is a lot more so. And it will rain sooner or later. What I don’t much like is the suggestion that this could be a pattern for the future. One very dry summer I can live with. Twenty more I won’t be so unbothered by.

John Levitt’s first book Dog Days came out from Ace in November of 2007. And yes, usually the books/authors in this Overlooked series come from a lot further back in time. In this case I made an exception because it looks possible that the four books the author had out between 2007 and 2011 could possibly be it. Why, I have no idea because to my mind they stack up as fully equal to any others in this type of sub-genre. Which is, before you ask, paranormal mystery. Mystery I said, not paranormal romance. The sub-genre into which you can also fit The Dresden Files, the Mercy Thompson series, The Nightside, and and C.E.Murphy’s The Walker Papers. In a couple of those series (Mercy Thompson in particular) while there may be romance, the mystery is the important thing, and while the books can sell in both categories, I feel that if you had to say flatly that they were one or the other, I’d plump for mystery. I picked up copies of the second and fourth books in this series almost by accident – actually recommended to me by a bookshop owner – and having read them I went looking for the missing duo, which, happily, I discovered.

The author has led a hugely varied life, which is great because it allows him to use his own life and work as the background. It gives verisimilitude to the books’ milieu because he knows what he’s talking about, and it allows him to drop little esoteric items that he knows from his own experiences and that give this series a real vibe. Mr. Levitt’s main character, Mason, is a part-time enforcer against the misuse of magical abilities in San Francisco – which the author isn’t quite, although he was a Salt Lake City patrol officer and later investigator. Mason is also however, a musician, which the author is. (You can buy CDs of his work with The Procrastinistas on the site www.jlevitt.com ) And Lou, the iffrit sort-of dog that lives with him, is, I suspect, a mix of the real dogs that share Mr. Levitt’s home. The author has worked as a cop, a roadie, worked in a mountain ski lodge, and now is a writer. Can’t say that he’s in a rut. (My own career swerved from stallion groom to bank teller, from government executive to pony-trekking leader to farmer and cafe worker and that too has always been useful.)

So, Dog Days starts with Mason being savagely attacked one night as he leaves the club where he’s been playing jazz guitar. Lou comes to the rescue and it’s all on. And on, and… someone has it in for Mason in a big way and unless he finds out what’s going on and why, he won’t be playing anything ever again the moment he gets careless. The magic system in Levitt’s series is well developed, understandable, and interesting, as are the characters. Mason is a genuine human, a bit inclined to laziness, casual gear, and screwing up relationships, which makes him believable. He’s also a good friend, loves Lou, cares about people not being abused, and tries to do something about it if he walks into that happening. The end of Dog Days was solidly satisfying with the villain vanquished, but Mason’s relationship has gone down the drain, a good friend has been lost, and a number of those who’d been in the villain’s hands won’t recover. This is not one of those books that end in sweetness and light, it’s realistic within the parameters of its background, and damaged or dead people mostly remain damaged or dead, as happens in real life.

The other three books are New Tricks, an Ace paperback out in December 2008, Unleashed, a paperback published by Ace in December 2008, and Play Dead, from Ace in paperback in February 2011. And there the series stopped. As I understand it, either Ace isn’t publishing more of this series, or for some reason, they’re holding off on the next one. Maybe this darn recession is getting to them as I know it is to a lot of other publishers including a couple of mine. Or it may be that without much romance in the series, they are unable to market the books to both sides (as paranormal mystery and paranormal romance) and feel that this makes for a lower reader base. Whatever the reason, I’m sorry that we may not see more of Mason and Lou, and their friends, enemies, musicians, street people, and others who may be most or none of those. I’ve just read the four books for the second time and find that they hold up very well to that, as I expect will continue. Put simply, I thoroughly enjoyed the characters, backgrounds, and plots, and if there are no more I’ll regret that. A lover of this sub-genre could do a lot worse than to buy the four books while they’re still in print. Maybe an upturn in sales will encourage the publisher to accept more in the series. I hope so, because I thought that four books weren’t nearly enough. Recommended to dog-lovers, paranormal mystery lovers, and rock/jazz music-lovers.

Edited by PDR Lindsay & CC Bye. Available in print or download.

Reviewed by Glenda Johnson.

And yes, they’re right about this. It’s not that different from some horror anthologies that I’ve read, nor did it disturb me to a huge degree. But yes, some of it was still a bit different and slightly disturbing. The trouble with much recent horror that I’ve (unwillingly) read, is that those who write it go over the top. They bring in monsters, lakes of gore, dismembered bodies, and graphic sex. I like my horror low-key, understated, and more about the human condition. In The Speed of Dark I got two things. One was excellent presentation with very good editing, and the other was well-written work that in most cases wasn’t overly graphic, but which was interesting, involving and rarely over the top. Much of it was quietly creepy and therefore very effective. And the editors were intelligent, where an author presented two suitable stories, they didn’t insist on taking only one, and then, finding they needed more work, filling out the anthology with poorer-quality tales. Instead where they were offered two good stories, they took both, so that in a number of cases an author had two stories appear. And I noticed that when that happened those authors’ work was often the work that I really liked. So I’m not going to comment on every story, but that said, I didn’t find any stories that I felt were inadequate. Some I didn’t like that much as a personal preference, but I thought that all of them were well-written and of real quality. I’ve seen a previous award-winning anthology from this stable, and that one too fitted everything I’ve said here. This outfit could be one to watch.

The first story set the tone for this anthology beautifully. What About Mum by E.J.Ruek is horror, not because of anything in-your-face, but from the gradual realization of what this is about as you read it. It ends with a newspaper clipping that ties up the story consistently and neatly, and makes sense of some of the final loose ends. It’s a story you may come across in the newspapers regularly, but the author makes you see it for yourself. Jesse’s Hair by John B. Rosenman is again delicately intrusive. It begins in such a way that you sympathise with the protagonist, understand her pain, and wish people would be a bit kinder. And then you find out what the years of abuse have created. Which is brutally realistic because this type of low-level bullying can produce effects out of all proportion.

Retrovirus by Clayton Clifford Bye was clever. It took an aspect of our computerized society and moved it into a new space and a new form of the ‘post holocaust’ sub-genre. Micky Peluso’s Death of the Spider is both horrific and sad, while Lyn McConchie’s Little Girl Lost is savage in a way that makes the reader like it. I was prepared to be horrified at the topic until I was almost at the end and realized what was happening, then I smiled, I do like evil to get its comeuppance. Unbreakable fetters of Admantine by Jim Secor is an interestingly surrealistic tale, it winds and confuses but ultimately satisfies. While Across the Tracks by Tony Richards has some of the same factors although with a very different background and protagonist but with an ending that is equally as effective. Clayton Bye’s title story, The Speed of Dark is plain creepy, a little sickening when you see where this is going, and very well handled as a theme. TakingCare of Mother by Mary Firmin is unpleasant, it has something to say about society’s attitudes towards those marked in our minds as either ‘less fortunate’ or ‘the dregs of society,’ and just how wrong we can be in some of our assumptions. It may also be a warning about being patronizing.

Lyn McConchie’s Sowing On the Mountain is all too realistic in some ways, and delicately drawn fantasy in others. And yet, the fantasy element is sketched in so lightly the reader is uncertain as to whether it really existed anywhere but in the protagonist’s head, an aspect of the story that enhances it considerably. And the final story, Plastic People, by Lisa Lane chronicles a descent into the darker places of the mind and is exactly the right note on which to conclude. All in all the editors have done a fine job on this anthology which only confirms my impression of the previous one the publisher had out. Take a look at the site, http:shop.claytonbye.com Buy this anthology, and maybe copies of the previous one as well. I think it would be money well spent.

Addendum from Lyn: the anthology has also been reviewed on the Horror World site by Mario Guslandi who said this about my story “In the very horrific and vivid  “Little Girl Lost” by Lyn McConchie a pedophile gets a terrible punishment for alluring (sic) and raping a little girl who actually is not quite what she appears to be. “

 

 

 

6 March 2013

Yes, it’s moving on towards official. If we don’t get solid rain in the next few weeks Farside will have a drought. The geese are annoyed about it, the council (who have to keep fiddling about with water pressure) are annoyed about it, and since I have to keep fiddling about with the water inlet at my gate, I too am annoyed about it. We had a whole 5 mls the other day, sufficient to fill Thunder’s container in his cat park, and to fill the gaggle’s water trough – both under downpipes. But not remotely sufficient to do much for the land. This has been an old-fashioned summer, day after day of lovely sunny weather, but what we need now that everyone is back to school or work, is rain. Send ‘er down Hughie, it’s time. (That said, please send ‘er down in steady drizzle for the first few days, or what we’ll have are floods, and that’s not a lot of help either…)

Lucky Break magazine is a useful venue as well as being an excellent magazine to read. Frankly I despise most of the celebrity magazines in which all you read about is people who are famous for being famous, and who behave stupidly, criminally or disgustingly. With LB (and That’s Life, a similar Australian magazine) you get stories about real people and a host of interesting competitions. Much more bang for your buck. Recently I’ve had or sold two short items to Lucky Break, one on “what makes a good date,” and the other – to appear shortly – on “why you shouldn’t always listen to doctors”. I’ve been writing the occasional item published in LB since they started some years ago, and as it’s one of the few NZ venues that pays well, treats contributers well, and does a nice production, other kiwi writers out there could do a lot worse than to consider this market.

Paperback published ACE, September 2012. Third in a series.

Due to various circumstances this only arrived in my mailbox a few days before Christmas. I opened the padded envelope, and pounced on the book, reading it immediately and doing this review to file and run once I had time. Dream is the third in the Ghost Finders series about JC Chance, Melody Chambers, and Happy Jack Palmer, who provide one of the Carnaki Institute’s teams, which is sent out to investigate supernatural occurrences. As the author has done in the previous two books, the first section forms a separate adventure before they move on to the main event. In that first section an old portion of railway line and the railway station for it are being renovation by a club who intend to run steam engines there again. The strange disappearance of an entire train over a hundred years ago from that section of track appears to be causing reverberations in the present and JC, Melody, and Happy discover that some returns aren’t always happy.

In the main story which takes place immediately after the events of Bradleigh Halt, the team is called urgently to a disused theatre. Again it was intended to reopen the venue, and stage live plays, beginning with one written by a couple of middle-aged actors. However the workmen upgrading the theatre despite being very well paid have all downed tools and refused to return to work until the odd events there have been stopped.

The team arrived at the theatre , set up Melody’s ghost-investigating gear, and with the aid of the two actors, begin to explore what may be behind the odd phenomena. The theatre behind and below the main stage, is both very large and a complete rabbit warren. People, beings, ghosts, and strange sounds proliferate in corners. And the team is hard pressed to unravel what is behind the threats. There are a couple of subtexts that, while not hampering the main plot, continue to form sub-plots that carry through the three books to date and provide additional interest for the series reader. I enjoy almost all of Green’s series, (Deathstalker being the only one I didn’t like for personal reasons) and I recommend this series, as well as pretty much anything else that he’s written.