Saturday, 18 November 2017

Secret Agent X Pulp Review



After Jim Anthony, now to the second series I discovered when I started my recent pulp binge. I actually discovered “Secret Agent X” well before “Jim Anthony - Super Detective” and read it a good while before the latter, too. Yet, I have started with Jim. I will continue with X, who has neither a name, nor a face.

To be honest, I bought the first volume of the series more or less on a whim. I had been going through Airship 27’s “Sherlock Holmes Consultant Detective” series and somehow Amazon brought up “Secret Agent X” for me. The e-books weren’t that expensive and I was trying to fill up my reserves while fighting with a story I finished at the end of October. Since my first and foremost series, the “Knight Agency” has agents aplenty, I thought a look at a pulp agent would be interesting. I was proven right, otherwise I wouldn’t have bought the other four volumes out at the moment.

One of the early things which endeared X to my heart was his flexibility. Unlike Jim Anthony, X has no fixed look. He makes himself look like whatever person he feels like impersonating, from those he uses often, as the philanthropist and the reporter, to those he only uses once, like a mob boss he turns himself into within thirty seconds to escape a car crash. X has no face and no name - or thousands of both. Yet, he has a steady love interest, even though she doesn’t know his true face, either. Betty Dale actually is an interesting person herself (even though I start to wonder why so many pulp story love interests are reporters…).
X works for a secret organisation and is never short on funds - which actually also goes for Jim Anthony, only he inherited his fortune. He also has a network of helpers, even though none of them know his true face, either. Some stories more or less suggest he’s not completely sure of his own identity any longer, either. He never shows his true face to the public, after all.

With X, even seemingly small matters can turn into something world-threatening and serious and, unlike Jim, he also goes into the supernatural territory. There are situations in which he faces an organisation trying to resurrect one of the Great Old Ones of Lovecraft fame. In other situations, he faces perfectly mundane enemies. For pulp heroes, that is actually unusual, most of them either completely stay out of supernatural things (as Jim Anthony or Sherlock Holmes) or they are immersed in them. With X, it’s not completely sure. The most fitting villain X faced in the stories I’ve read so far, at least for me, of course was an aged Fantomas. Two men who can turn themselves into everyone they want to be make for a very interesting confrontation.

X is settled in the 1930s, too, also in New York City, but in a different one, of course. So far, it seems, the heroes of Airship 27 have hardly met (except for Sherlock Holms and Houdini once). His adventures, however, can take him everywhere, even into the Arabian deserts or a Russian fortress.

Every story of X takes a different turn, there are female villains as well as male ones (something which I really approve of). Even though Betty gets to be the Damsel in Distress a lot, she more often than not frees herself and assists X on his quest.

X, who was a fighter pilot in the first World War, tries his best not to kill his enemies, he works with very advanced martial arts techniques and with sleeping gas in various forms, but if he has no other choice, he will kill his enemies. He also doesn’t always feel the need to save them, if they’re unconscious and in a dangerous situation.

This, together with his ‘facelessness,’ sets him apart from quite some other pulp heroes. He is not the tall, dark-haired, grey eyed man (which seems to have been the shortcut for ‘attractive male’ during the golden age of pulp), because he can be any height and have any eye- or hair-colour. He also has quite a strong conscience which guides him away from possible atrocities which others might have committed.

If you’re expecting another James Bond, you will not find what you’re looking for in “Secret Agent X,” but if you like dangerous villains and complex plots and an ever-changing main characters, you will definitely have a great read.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Jim Anthony Pulp Review



As I mentioned in a recent post, I have been reading a lot of pulp recently. While I’m not (yet) going to review the “Sherlock Holmes Consulting Detective” series (even though I just wish-listed volume 10), I will review some other series I’ve read my way through recently and “Jim Anthony - Super Detective” will go first.

There are currently five new books in that series out from Airship 27, the first volume, though, is only available directly from them. I ran into a little trouble while buying it, but they were very good at solving the problem for me, which makes me want to advertise for them even a little more. Good customer service is a lot rarer than it should be. Anyhow, back to the time between the world wars and to James Anthony.

According to the intro of the first volume of the new series, “A Spicy Savage” by Norman Hamilton, Jim Anthony was originally meant to be a copy of Doc Savage, who is far better known, even today. It’s not wrong to describe Jim the clone as a brilliant superman, who has far too many abilities and too much knowledge to be a ‘realistic’ character. However, pulp doesn’t demand realistic characters, so that is okay. He also differed in character, being more hot-blooded and more interested in women (he was part of a line of ‘spicy’ publications, taking things as far as they could dare erotic-wise at that time, after all). What set him clearly apart from the beginning, however, was his pedigree: Jim was part Irish from his father, but also part Native American (or Indian, as it was still called in the 1940s) from his mother’s side. He had ties to the Comanche tribe through her and his maternal grandfather, who sometimes plays a role in the stories (both of Jim’s parents are dead already, a common affliction of pulp heroes).
While the original Jim Anthony, according to the text mentioned above, seemed to have been caught between being a Doc Savage clone and being toned down to a more realistic detective later on, Airship 27 has established the new Jim Anthony as a crime hunter rather than a crime solver, making good use of Jim’s larger-than-life features and challenging him with villains which are just as much above your regular criminal. As a matter of fact, “The Mask of Terror” (vol. 3 of the series) outright introduces Jim as a crime hunter, mentioning that many of those he goes after don’t survive the hunt.

But before I go into detail about the books, I want to start out with my general impression of the series and what sets it apart from my other binge-read series (review coming up soon) “Secret Agent X.”
The most obvious difference, no matter which of the five books you start with (I started with the aforementioned volume 3), is that X tries to avoid killing, if at all possible. Jim, on the other hand, almost regularly kills those he is after, he pays little heed to leaving the villains or their henchmen alive (even though he will go at great lengths to protect the innocent).

Jim Anthony introduces himself and his world pretty quickly in each volume, so no matter where you start, you will always know quickly who the people around him are (mostly Tom Gentry, Dawkins, and his grandfather). There also is no doubt from the beginning that a lot of things will happen around Jim (but then, most Secret Agent X stories also jump into the action, it’s a pulp staple). He is too ‘larger-than-life’ and too much into adventure to just have a calm evening at home or a normal business trip to a town in Maine.
Jim’s relations with the police - he is, after all, hunting criminals, so he does cross paths with the police regularly - are varied. Sometimes, it’s even the police who approaches him for help, in other volumes, they try to obstruct and stop him at every turn.
Not all of the new stories keep to the fiancé which Jim has acquired in latter stories of his original run, some introduce new characters for him to flirt with or find interesting, but sexual adventures happen, if they happen at all, off screen - despite the fact that it would be much easier to add them these days.
The stories I’ve read so far are usually set in the 1930s, which would be before the original run of the stories, but not necessarily before the original stories. A lot of Airship 27’s novels are set in that era, though, so it’s not as if they stick out. Technology, unless it’s been developed by either Jim or the villain of the book, fits with the time. Writing adventure stories seems to have been a good deal easier in the past, when the world wasn’t as closely connected as it is today with internet, smartphones, and cheap plane tickets.
Jim hunts down a variety of people during the five volumes. He tangles with King Kong in volume 2, “The Hunter.” He goes up against an organisation trying to drown the world in anarchy in volume 3, “The Mask of Terror.” He fights several lesser villains in volume 1 and 4 (which have several novellas each). He goes up against a mastermind hiding behind other masterminds in volume 5, “Jim Anthony vs. Mastermind.”
Depending on who is writing the story, as with all of the Airship 27 series, the quality and the style differ, but on the whole, all of the stories are interesting and well worth the time it takes to read them.

With the distance to the original pulp stories, Jim Anthony has actually gained traction for me. He’s less overshadowed by his original these days, since Doc Savage isn’t all that present today, either. The decision to keep more to the adventurous side and to the larger-than-life personality also was a good idea. It makes the novels something of a ‘superhero comic’ read, which I personally find very, very interesting.

There are surely worse ways to spend an afternoon than to read one of the novels. My favourites, if I have to name them, would be volume 3 and 5, since I’m not much into King Kong and the other two books feature several shorter stories each.

Saturday, 4 November 2017

Whodunit

The Cast of "Clue"


Crime and mystery stories are very popular and with good reason. A lot of people like solving a puzzle and that is what every mystery story is deep in its heart. In a mystery or crime story, be it a cosy mystery, a police procedural, or a thriller (or anything and everything in between), the author sets up a puzzle and allows the reader to try and solve it next to the detective. This is why S. S. van Dine laid down the “Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories” a long time ago (I actually wrote a post about that already). I’m not going to rehash my previous post here, though. No, this is a post about a specific type of mystery story known as the Whodunit.

The Whodunit sets a few very specific rules for the author to remember. It can be done in different ways and there are a lot of good ones around for reading. Personally, I’d recommend “Murder on the Orient Express” or “Evil Under The Sun” for reading and “Clue” and “Death by Murder” for watching, even though the two movies are parodies of the genre rather than simple mystery stories (“Death by Murder” more so than “Clue”). Agatha Christie produced quite some Whodunits in her time (“Death on the Nile” or “And Then There Were None” also qualify as some). Edgar Wallace did quite some as well.

What, however, are the rules?
First of all, there’s limitation. Limits in space and in suspects. Usually, the Whodunit is set in a closed-off area. An old mansion in the countryside. A train stuck in a snowdrift. A house on an island. A ship in the middle of a river or ocean. This limit also means that there is no
‘outside’ perpetrator. There is no way a killer can have come and gone. One of those around must be the one who did it. Sometimes, there is a countdown of sorts (as in “And Then There Were None”). People are being killed and the survivors need to figure out who the murderer is before they’re all dead. Bringing people together for the reading of a will is a good way to bring about such a situation.
Then there’s a lot of reasons for killing the victim (or the victims). Everyone in that place (not just guests, often also personnel or inhabitants) has at least one reason to wish the murdered person ill. The detective might even not be above suspicion themselves. The Whodunit is a crime genre which works well with all kinds of possible detectives (professional, semi-professional, or amateur), because the locked-off premises give a good reason why the police can’t or won’t arrive there any time soon.

If you look at “Murder on the Orient Express,” probably the most prominent entry on my list, you will find all of this: the train is stuck in the middle of nowhere in a snow drift. Police can’t come there, no murderer can have gotten away unnoticed. The murderer must still be in the train. Because there was no access to the first-class carriage, the murderer must be one of those who have slept there. That gives Poirot, who is on the train by coincidence, a good reason to start investigating (but as a member of police turned private investigator, he counts as a professional detective). He works his way through the other guests, untangling a plan which was very new and unusual when the book was originally written (today, everyone knows the ‘all of them did it’ variety, which is why Randall Garrett didn’t use it for his version, “The Napoli Express”). One of the three solutions of “Clue” actually is a similar ‘you all did it’ thing.
If we stay with Christie and look at one of my personal favourites, “Evil Under The Sun,” we see a different setting, but a limited one as well. Here, we have a hotel on an island which is only cut off from the mainland at high tide. At the time at which the murder happened, nobody could just have come to the hotel, so outside perpetrators are out. But everyone else seems to have a perfect alibi. The most obvious suspects, the husband of the murdered woman and the wife of her current love affair, have solid alibis. The love affair does so as well. Everyone has, one way or other, snatched an alibi for themselves, no matter what. All people on the island who had a reason to wish Arlena Marshall ill are accounted for. Until Poirot realizes that someone played with the time of death and unravels a very sophisticated plan - which would totally have worked, if it weren’t for that meddling Belgian detective.
“Clue” was written so cleverly it could in the end present three suitable solutions for the murders: everyone did one, the butler did them all, or one of the guests did all of them. In the current DVD version (which is also broadcasted sometimes), all three solutions are stuck together at the end, but originally, every movie theatre was given one at random. Here we have six blackmail victims being invited to a dinner with, as it turns out, the man who blackmails them. What was meant to turn the tables on the blackmailer, turns into a free-for-all where not only the blackmailer himself perishes, but also five people who helped him gain the information he needed. Six weapons were given to the guests, each of them kills one of the victims. Everyone could have gotten them from where they were hidden. Everyone was alone for a bit.
“Murder by Death,” on the other hand, presents a murder with nobody around who would actually want to do it. The victim, who claims to know in advance who will kill him and how and why, has no enemies in the house. The detectives invited (the movie has more than enough of them, every type of classic sleuth is around) are at the same time the suspects and possible victims, since all of them are almost killed - as are, in addition to the victim, the maid and the butler. As with “Clue,” we have a lot of solutions presented, but none of them all that logical, to make fun of the way quite some crime authors just pull the solution out of the hat at the end, not giving fair clues to the audience beforehand. Nevertheless, “Murder by Death” is a very amusing movie with a lot of top-class actors. (The same also goes for “Clue.”)

Setting an interesting Whodunit can be a challenge, but this type of mystery story is a classic who can still hold people captive today. And there are too few being made these days, so it would be nice to get more of them again.

Monday, 30 October 2017

Update



Here is another update for my work. Finally, “One for Sorrow,” originally known as “The Dresden Collier,” has been finished. It will, most likely be released in May or August next year (depending on when and how I will release the first volume of “John Stanton - Agent of the Crown”). In November, I will be editing “Death Dealer,” the sixth Knight Agency novel and novel #7, current work title “Grave Diggers,”  will be started in December (or a little earlier, depending on my progress with editing “Death Dealer”).
In addition to my ‘official’ work under the name Cay Reet, I am also working or releasing my first Erotica, which will be published under a different, yet to be disclosed name. November or December might mark the release of the first of them, “Damsel in no Distress.”

My current publishing schedule looks like this:


  • “Death Dealer” - November 2017
  • “Going Legal” - February 2018
  • “One for Sorrow” - May 2018 (or August 2018)
  • “John Stanton - Agent of the Crown Vol. 1” - August 2018 (or May 2018)


Other projects in the back of my mind are some novellas (John Stanton will also be a collection of three novellas) and a ‘not-cinematic’ universe of one kind. But those are not even written or started yet, so I will not even try to give a publishing date for them. Let’s say I dived into pulp for a bit and there might be new stuff coming out of that, too.

My website is up and about again, now as a Google Site and not under Quittersink.com. I’m still trying to figure out how to get that to work from one end.

I am trying to be more regular when posting information on FB, so following my author’s page there might also be a good idea.

In addition, I have revived my Twitter account and tweet little conversations with my characters there under the hashtag #charactersaredifficult.

I also have plans to post more in this blog again, but who knows how that will work out? Things are moving and I try to get them all to work out.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

About Laziness



Being lazy can be productive. It sounds weird, but it is true. What I mean is this: there will always be times at which you might have it hard to write. You just can’t think of something, you’re stuck in the story, you lack the idea you need to finish everything off neatly with a bow and everything. Those are times to be a little lazy. Or you just finished a story and are about to start another one. Give yourself a few days off, be lazy.

Being lazy means not actively working on a story, not writing another line, another sentence, another chapter. It doesn’t necessarily mean not doing anything at all. Humans actually have it hard enough to really do nothing at all. Our brains work whether we want it or not.
While you’re being lazy, you’re free to do everything which is not connected to writing your story. Write something else, perhaps a little experiment. Read. Go for a walk. Talk with your friends or family. Watch a movie or binge-watch a series. Gather new impressions, fill up your internal reserves. It’s not just ‘doing nothing’ at all.

Sometimes, as I did recently, you need to work hard. You need to push yourself. I did it to dampen the pain of losing a good friend who had always supported my writing. I pushed myself into finishing several more chapters of “One for Sorrow” in a short time. I’m nearing the end now, which is good, because writing this story was difficult for me. Somehow, I’m still not completely inside the head of Tom and Inez Crowe, the main characters. I hope to be in it soon, though. You might have to push yourself to meet a deadline or something like that. Or because you need to do things in real life and won’t have time to write for a while.
Today, I took a day off, I was lazy. I didn’t write, didn’t even check the chapter I wrote yesterday. I took the day for myself, read a little, and played a new computer game I’d bought. Now I feel much better and hope to finish the story by the end of the weekend. I have three more chapters to go, so if I do one every day, I can take a few days off next week and start editing “Death Dealer” at the beginning of November. With my schedule, I have no time for NaNoWriMo, because November is an editing month for me. But even if I had the time, I’d probably not do it, either. Don’t misunderstand me - I could probably make it, I can write a chapter a day, that would be roundabout 90,000 words in 30 days, if I took no break, or 60,000 words in a month, if I took a day off here and there. But I have to edit and I don’t just write one month a year. I write every month - unless I’m editing. I sometimes even get some writing in during the months during which I edit. I don’t need to challenge myself with churning out a novel (well, its first draft) in a month. I did two in one and a half months once, I know I can do it, if I’m properly inspired and know what to go for.

If you don’t take time off for yourself, though, if you don’t play around, enjoy some books, enjoy life, you’ll run yourself dry. You will find that a day off can actually pay off very well. Inspiration doesn’t come out of nowhere. Whatever you see, hear, read, experience will give you new ideas. It will wake the muse from her sleep and she’ll cooperate more readily. Just never wait for her to turn up. After a few days of rest, go back to writing, even if you have to force yourself at first. It gets easier after the first few lines - at least for me.

Yes, I’m lazy sometimes and it’s good. Being lazy is important and you shouldn’t not be lazy for too long. Give your mind and soul the time to recharge and you’ll find writing much easier afterwards.