The Blackbirder by Dorothy B Hughes
We start the book in New York, in the company of Julie Guille, an escapee from Nazi occupied Paris. She bumps into an old acquaintance from her Paris days and when he is murdered outside her apartment she goes on the run rather than get mixed up in any investigation. Julie entered the USA illegally, via Cuba, and is a habituated fugitive. What follows is her trying to cross the country to meet with the one man she feels can help her whilst pursuit is always a possibility, from the law and from the Gestapo. This is a book that from page one is tense with a goodly dollop of suspense and paranoia & it has an utterly believable and sympathetic female protagonist. Recommended for pulp & noir fans.
Overall – Good WW2 drama from the Femmes Fatales: Women write pulp series
Blackbirds by Chuck Wendig
Miriam Black can see how someone dies just by touching flesh to flesh. Obviously this has turned her into a pretty damaged character. From trying to stop the deaths she soon becomes fatalistic and takes what she needs from those destined to die soon in a peripatetic existence rattling round the USA. When she is targeted by a con man and gets involved with an organised criminal gang things start to go awry. This is a dark and bleak story but is blackly amusing with some great turns of phrase, it’s what you’d expect from Wendig really if you follow his blog or twitter. I enjoyed it but think it may not be for everyone, there is also a strange lack of women populating the world of Blackbirds, 90% of the people Miriam meets are men and Miriam and the other main woman character are basically men with breasts which could piss you off. I’m willing, based on the writing to forgive it some but this drop its rating.
She puts her hands on her hips and cocks them this way, then that. With the back of her hand, she wipes away a smear of lipstick from where Del kissed her.
“The lights need to be on,” she says to nobody, foretelling the future.
She clicks the lamp by the bed. Piss-yellow light illumines the ratty room.
A roach sits paralyzed in the middle of the floor.
“Shoo,” she says. “Fuck off. You’re free to go.”
The roach does as it’s told. It boogies under the pull-down bed, relieved.
Back to the mirror, then.
“They always said you were an old soul,” she mutters. Tonight she’s really feeling it.
Overall – Smart, sassy first book in an interesting series, I will read the sequels despite problems with the first
And God created zombies by Andrew Hook
John has just been dumped by his girlfriend because he’s too self-obsessed. He has few friends. Worked in finance, until the meltdown and is now basically sat on his bum with nothing to do. When he does a favour for a someone and they drive to his house they accidently run over a man in an alleyway. When they discover that he is both already dead and also still moving John is drawn into the usual zombie apocalypse story development. However that is all well-trodden so Hook decides to go off-piste and treats us to something a little different, something a bit more intelligent and interesting. This is a very brief book, novella length really, and effective because it doesn’t feel the need to belabour the point.
Overall – Interestingly philosophical take on the zombie genre, something a little different
Soul Screams by Sara Jayne Townsend
Thirteen stories from crime and horror writer Townsend covering 20+ years of published and unpublished stories. As with all short collections there are stories that work for you, and ones that don’t. The first story, the 13th floor is one of the better stories, although does have a couple of flaws. I also really liked Blue eyes, a story about passion and obsession as well as Jimi Hendrix eyes, about betrayal and cigarette burns about abuse. Mainly because I prefer psychological to overt supernatural there were a couple of stories that didn’t gel with me, especially the guitar (about a haunted guitar, I just found that concept a bit silly really), but thankfully the stories that were good far outweigh those I didn’t get on with.
Overall – Mixed collection of shorts from 20+ years’ worth of writing
Lost Cat by Jason
A private eye finds a lost cat and returns it to its owner only to be drawn into a deeper mystery. Typical Jason art & odd story. Very odd.
Overall – another wtf from Jason, this is one of his more weird pieces, which is saying something
Shanghai Sparrow by Gaie Sebold
Eveline Duchen - Evvie Duchen, sharp Evvie, Evvie the sparrow, a spry little fringe-dweller alone in the crowd of them, always scraping for a crumb, always with one eye open for a bigger bird, or a cat, or a cruel boy with a stone is introduced to us whilst she is casing a posh house for a possible burglary. She is working for a female Fagin figure and feels it is much better to con and steal than it would be to sell her body. How she ended up being an orphan and street urchin means that certain gentlemen in the British government have taken an interest in her, and her education, and how she can affect the fate of the British empire, and the world.
A good blend of Dickens (you can’t help but compare to Oliver Twist), Folk tales (always nice to see Chinese trickster foxes), spy schools and a light steampunkness - there are steam hansoms, airships (of course) and the plot revolves around “Etheric science”. However the steampunk is very much a background, a plot device for sure, but this story is much more a character journey and the character is really engaging. What was really refreshing for me was that there were poor people in this & Sebold manages to turn a story that is basically about a 15 year old girl going to boarding school into an enthralling read. There are few off notes (although I think the ending felt a little too neat) and I’d really recommend this to anyone, whether you’re a fan of steampunk or not. There are hints that this is a world that the author may visit again in the future and if she does I’d be willing to revisit too even though I’m still hoping for another Babylon Steel book….
Overall – Intelligent & fun steampunk. Worth a visit.