Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Favorite Short Stories - The Judges of Hades by Edward D. Hoch

I first turned to 
Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine in the late '70s. They were in the mix and progression of interesting and eclectic things to which I was drawn once the comic books were taken away by the Eckerd Drugs powers that were of the day. 

I met Micahel Morbius on those magazine racks and Doc Savage on the nearby paperback display, so those old Eckerd bean counters nudged my reading tastes, I suppose.

I was unaware of Simon Ark's legacy in that moment. I just started to notice the contributions of Edward D. Hoch in every issue of EQMM and frequently in AHMM. I came to like police detective Captain Leopold and thief-of-obscure-and-worthless-objects Nick Velvet among Hoch's wide mix of characters. 

When Ark came to the pages of EQMM and AHMM a while after, I started reading of him as well. An introduction noted Hoch had written of him for some time, but I just picked up with the newly arriving tales. 

I sadly never ran across the 1971 paperback edition in my used book store dives. I would have snatched it up, of course. Paperbacks sold for half their cover price back then, not collector's prices. I would have snatched up a 1973 re-introduced Weird Tales too that included an Ark story too. It never made it to Eckerd's that I noticed. 

The Judges of Hades cover

Ark might almost have fit in the original Weird Tales alongside Seabury Quinn's Jules de Grandin, I suppose. As explained by Ark's nameless Watsonesque first-person narrator from the publishing industry,  Ark was a Coptic priest, thousands of years old. But his mysteries, while hinting at the bizarre or the mystical, were of the "fantastic uncanny" school. Like The Hound of the Baskervilles or Scooby Doo, while things might seem ghostly or otherwise supernatural, the explanation was rational.

I enjoyed the Ark stories. My old man, who'd take a turn toward less fantastic tastes later in life, read them as well along with other Hoch stories. "Anything by Edward Hoch is good," he declared. 

 SEE ALSO: Favorite Short Stories: The Hospice by Robert Aickman

He liked the clever twists and turns of Hoch's plots, frequently locked rooms with Dr. Sam Hawthorne and more violent crimes with Leopold.  Often, they'd hinge on technology of some sort. I decided Hoch must read a lot about new developments as well as the inner workings of older devices. He was no stranger to minute details in other realms such as myth and folklore either. 

That hint of the arcane in Ark stories probably appealed to me more as my interest in Stephen King and H.P. Lovecraft grew. The delight when Hoch revealed how a man trapped in a revolving door all alone could perish at another's hand grabbed both my dad and me, however.

Things weren't as accessible in those days as they are now. I had to wait for ebooks to bring back early Ark tales including Hoch's first published story, I believe, "Village of the Dead." In that one an entire village plunges lemming-like over a cliff. 

SEE ALSO: Ray Bradbury's October Game

"The Judges of Hades," probably novelette length, is in the Mysterious Press/Open Road ebook of The Quests of Simon Ark as well. It's nice to backtrack a bit now that so much is at our fingertips.

According to this handy list, the story first appeared in the February 1957 Crack Detective and Mystery. It's fun to have a sense at least of a tale's original trappings. 

The story takes Ark's publishing-industry friend plus wife Shelly back to his hometown, Maple Shades, Indiana. Kids are wont to strip Maple S from local welcome signs, but it seems to be one of those quiet picket-fences places, though the narrator's much happier in the canyons of New York. 

The friend's father, Richard, and sister Stella, have died in a head-on collision, each alone in a separate car. 

The narrator's strict father was a strict local judge as well. He and his brother, Uncle Phillip, also a judge, had been dubbed judges of hades by the local press, inspired by vase depicting the mythological Greek guardians of the underworld.

What made either the Stella or the Richard decide to ram the other? Dad had ruled against the sister's husband, but would that have triggered a dark impulse on her part?  

The narrator persuades Ark to look into the matter and his interest is piqued by the mythological reference. Was supernatural evil to blame? And what's up with the fact that there were three mythological judges of Hades?

Ark's interest grows as the potentially spookier side of things becomes evident.

The solution's wrapped up in fifties small town repression and more character texture than usual. All is revealed as the narrator contemplates choices and contrasts between life in Maple Shades with the glitzy life of the city. 

Are there a couple of stretches? Perhaps, but it's all clever enough and anticipates what's ahead for Ark who's a tall and heavy-set man not yet showing some of the signs of age mentioned in later tales. So is he really who he claims to be?

It should be enjoyable to fans for the likes of Carnacki, though he might have found a ghost or a logical explanation.

And, if we'd have run across it while he was alive, I'm pretty sure my old man would have liked it and held to his Hoch contention. We had our tiffs, but we got along better than Ark's narrator and his dad Richard. 

Monday, April 12, 2021

Biblioholic's Bookshelf - The Green Eyes of Bast by Sax Rohmer - Twenties Horror

Best known as the creator of Fu Manchu, Sax Rohmer, real name Arthur Henry Sarsfield Ward, also produced a host of stand-alone novels. He also penned several other series, Gaston Max, Red Kerry, Paul Harly and Sumuru. 

Sumuru seems to have been an attempt to produce a slightly more enlightened series in the fifties even though his Fu Manchu series, which had generated controversy and charges of racism, continued on paper. 

He also wrote tales of Bazarada based on magician Harry Houdini. The Green Eyes of Bast is more in that vein, a horror thriller from 1920 with a focus on Egyptian magic. It feature psychic investigator Dr. Damar Greefe. This edition is February 1971 from Pyramid.

Green Eyes of Bast Sax Romer Creator of Fu Manchu

Green Eyes of Bast Back Cover


Sunday, April 11, 2021

Cover Stories - Ali Larter was apparently the model for my novel Blood Hunter's Original Cover

Blood Hunter and Ali Larter - cover model

Apparently even if I read reviews, I'm guilty of not reading them carefully. A gentleman named Mark Louis Baumgart was kind enough to write a thoughtful review of my novel Blood Hunter some time back. It was a meticulous piece on Amazon that sought to put the book in perspective on the horror paperback fiction landscape.

I noted it there somewhere along the way, happy to have it, of course, but I only noticed today that he included a bit of trivia several paragraphs deep.


Apparently the cover painting artist on the original Pinnacle Books edition was done by E. T. Broeck Steadman, and a 17-year-old Ali Larter of Heroes was the model for his work. It was before she became an actress. Checking her bio, she must have been a Ford model at the time and just shy of heading to Italy, Japan and a few other places. 

I honestly never knew that. A little googling located the author's website with his note on the work

The character in the painting is a little younger than the character she more or less represents in the book, but it's still kind of fun to know.

I can't recall my original title for the book. Blood Hunter was the publisher's choice from a later list I submitted. 


My original cover idea was a clawed hand and forearm raking its way across the cover, back of said hand and the forearm covered with mud, leaves and Spanish moss as the human creatures in the tale used to form pelts for themselves.

Something similar had been done recently, so the editor asked for another idea. 

I suggested a swamp.

"What's a swamp look like?" she asked from her New York City desk.

I had a Louisiana cypress swamp in mind. By the time notes were conveyed, the swamp took on a more lush look and the character most-closely aligned to the one on the cover lost a few years. 

So it goes, it's still a catchy image for one of my favorites of my early works. 

Order Blood Hunter here

Monday, April 05, 2021

Biblioholic's Bookshelf: Donovan's Brain and Hauser's Memory by Curt Siodmak

Curt Siodmak made significant contributions to the Universal horror canon with screenplays for The Wolf Man, Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man, Son of Dracula and others. 

His novels add dimension to the horror and science fiction realm. This handy edition brings together a couple of his greatest works, both of which were made into films. Hauser kind of expands on ideas in Donovan's Brain, so this makes for a nice package. This twofer is from November 1992 from Leisure Books. 

Noel Carroll examines Donovan's Brain in The Philosophy of Horror in contemplating the overreacher plot, the structure/paradigm in the Frankenstein mold. 

Donovan's Brain and Hauser's Memory

Donovan's Bfrain and Hauser's Memory

Here's an interesting interview with Siodmak.


Sunday, April 04, 2021

Godzilla vs. Kong Review

I occasionally write reviews and other articles for the nice folks at Wicked Horror. 

I did a quick take on Godzilla vs. Kong. You can check it out here

Monday, March 29, 2021

Biblioholic's Bookshelf - Death Trap - John D. MacDonald with a Gothic Adjacent Look

When the paperback gothics were hot in the women running from houses era, many other paperbacks got similar looks, even tales from crime novelists like John D. MacDonald, creator of the Travis McGee series and tough tales with gritty covers earlier from Gold Medal

This stand-alone originally released in 1956 has a distinct gothic look with trees that resemble castle-stone and a flowing overcoat for the woman resembling the Victorian dresses on historical gothics. 

John D. MacDonald Gothic Adjacent Death Trap

Death Trap Back Cover

Sunday, March 28, 2021

In the Arm

I was able to get my first vaccine shot this past week. I have to keep reminding myself I've taken a step. 

I'll feel better after the second shot and the wait for immunity to kick in is up, but I do feel a bit more upbeat, maybe lighter than I realized I wasn't. 

I had grown numb to the sense of existential dread we've been enduring for a year. 

I felt some anxiety leading up to the shot. It was never about the stick. I think I feared the appointment wouldn't hold, that somehow there'd been a mistake and a kink in the supply chain would force a further wait.

I'd been qualified for a while to receive in Virginia, but it was feeling like the day and the opportunity would never come. 

It all went smoothly, though. The pharmacy I went to had things planned well, and I had only a three-minute wait for software to allow me to check in precisely 15-minutes before. Even with Siri's assist, it's hard to calculate drive time. I damn sure didn't want to be late, either.

The guy giving injections asked which arm. 

"My left is to you," I said. 

"It can be in either."

I told him left was fine. I had no side effects on this first one other than the sore arm everyone reports.

I'm not sure how we--all of us--will remember the day as time passes, but it will perhaps be one of those moments we look back on as this long slog becomes a blur somewhere behind us.

My list of things to do after is limited and infinite. 

I'd always had the notion seeing the next Bond movie in the theater might be something to look forward to. I realized if all goes well with the second shot and a two-week wait, the planned release of Black Widow would come just as my immunity should kick in.

Then the date of Black Widow was moved to July, so almost certainly that will be a possibility if local theaters open.

Beyond that, dinner out, visits here or there with less concern, the grocery story. Christine and I have been doing curbside pickup. Browsing in the store and planning meals accordingly seems like something that will be fun. 

Beyond that, what will normal be? I'll have to see. But one step closer's not too bad. 

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

The Nigh Forgotten Private Eye Film P.J.

Apparently I'd never seen the film P.J. (Universal, 1968)I missed the NBC debut, but watched on late-night TV as a kid in the seventies. Word on the 'net--and the new Kino Lorber Blu-Ray commentary track from Howard S. Berger and Steve Mitchell--is that's only a sanitized version with omissions and alternate scenes. Far less gritty.

That must be true. I remember a couple of cool set pieces and George Peppard's turn as down-on-his-luck private investigator P.J. Detweiler, but in re-watching, I see there's more blood and a few steamy scenes including a credits sequence that didn't ring any bells.

On the down side in rewatching, location filming mixes with sound stage footage, diminishing the set pieces a bit.

For much of the film, P.J.'s guarding Maureen Preble (Gayle Hunnicutt), mistress of Raymond Burr's eccentric millionaire William Orbison.

When a car's cut break line sends it speeding out of control as cut break lines were wont to do in P.I. films and TV shows of the era, P.J. has to stop it by side swiping a rock wall with sparks flying. The stunt still impresses, but this is all while he's pressing Maureen behind him. It's 1968 and not every car has seatbelts.

Things get exciting, but George and Gayle are obviously in a simulator if you're watching in 2K. That didn't detract for me in rewatching the out-of-control car in Alfred Hitchcock's Family Plot a while back. Here I found the seams a distraction. 

The other great set piece comes when Orbison carts family and mistress alike to the Cayman Islands. Some exteriors look authentic, but the jungle chase and gun battle fixed in my memory was clearly on a well-designed set as well.

That's all a matter of watching with 2021 eyes in HD and not on an old black and white portable TV, I suppose. 

That's not to say the film's isn't a fun watch. It's surprisingly whimsical early on with an upbeat score and loopy behavior by skinflint Orbison. When not flaunting his mistress, he saves cigar stubs and worries about wasted office paper. 

SEE ALSO: Biblioholic's Bookshelf - Tony Rome AKA Miami Miami Mayhem - Early Sixties Private Eye

The film turns gritty and arguably gets better as a thriller at the midpoint. I don't remember a few flourishes from the tough side of the run time. 

In what today seems a non-PC turn, P.J.'s lured to a gay bar by Preble's stereotypically gay assistant (Severn Darden). It must have been viewed as a edgy variation on the requisite private eye beating in 1968. It definitely reveals American film's attitude toward LGBT characters at the time. Blake Edwards updating of Craig Stevens' hero Gunn (1967) featured a trans character, and Tony Rome (1967) and They Only Kill Their Masters (1972) would include lesbian characters, the latter's not too charitably treated.

The bar here is peopled with more gay stereotypes plus Anthony James, behind the counter once again following 1967's In the Heat of the Night. Everyone in the bar has sharp nails, heavy jewelry or belts with big buckles. All the better to pummel P.J. with, and they do in bloody fashion.

The other steam's delivered in a tame but risqué turn with P.J. and Preble on a pile of cash. 

Still more grit's served up in a subway battle, happily on location with no seams showing. It's a yikes even today.

A final confrontation is also shot on location with blazing guns, interesting angles, twists turns and other surprises. It ends things well.

By the way, you should watch for Susan St. James and Arte Johnson in small roles. 

Really P.J. is like watching two films, and as mentioned it gets better as the murderous conspiracy swirls. Don't except too much of the mystery plot. 

Remember it's not Tony Rome. It's definitely not Harper, but it's worth a look for private eye aficionados. 

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