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 This Just in..News from the Agony Column

03-05-04: The Bookman's Promise: I'll Sell Those Old Books I Don't Need*

John Dunning on Tour

Promise me this will be worth $1,000 just one year from now.
Right. Tell us another one Rick. About a year and a half ago, I was poking through the stacks of a book store in the Outlet Store Center down in Monterey, California. There I stumbled upon three copies of one of the Holy Grails of book collectors; a first edition of John Dunning's 'Booked to Die'. In one of those match-ups that happens so serendipitously, Dunning's debut mystery featuring an antiquarian bookseller has itself become a hotly sought-after collector's item. Now I wasn't lucky enough to stumble across a couple of thousand of dollars worth of books for ten bucks. These are fifth printing remainders, and a quick peek at Bookfinder shows that someone else stumbled across a similar motherlode and they're only asking $35.00 a shot. So, no, it's not the big money. But it is a hardcover first edition that I could read, as that's what I like to read.

All this comes up now, because 1) I am once again in the process of changing the laws of physics so that my house can accommodate more books and 2) John Dunning has a new Cliff Janeway novel out, titled, 'The Bookman's Promise'. Not only does he have a new book, he's on tour, and on his tour, he's conducting a number of free book collecting forums. He owned the Old Algonquin Bookstore in Denver for long enough to know whereof he writes and speaks when he writes --and speaks -- about book collecting. They now have a website that serves both the store and the writer, and you can check there for the times and dates that he's showing up in your town. If I can get an electronic copy of the Q&A they include with the publicity materials they sent around, then I'll post it for my readers. It's pretty fascinating stuff.

In the most recent issue of 'Crimewave', there's a fantastically funny story titled 'Esther Gordon Framlingham' by Anthony Mann. In it the main character is a would-be writer of mystery fiction, searching for a niche he can successfully occupy. This is one of those kinds of stories that re-frames everything you read subsequent to reading it. Now, as I look at mysteries, and especially niche mysteries wherein the sleuth makes use of some specific talent, I'm taken back to Mann's hysterical scenario that appears to be the unpleasant truth: there is no occupation no matter how obscure, no matter how weird that has not been co-opted as the setting for a mystery series. Dunning's specialty is so pertinent, so attention-grabbing to the compulsive book collectors that you know he's done his homework. It's so often said that writers must write what they write because that's the only thing they can write about. And while the growth industry of niche mysteries might be taken to suggest otherwise, my recent experience at Left Coast Crime suggests another reason: there are a whole lot of people who love mystery writing and more and more of them are coming from more and more different backgrounds. The end result is that readers have a genre that's as diverse as reality itself.

*Of course, there's no such thing as "An Old Book I Don't Need".

03-04-04: The Return of Jeffrey E. Barlough, Devereaux's Leisurely Legacy

Barlough is back With 'Strange Cargo'

I know that lighthouse and that ship -- but what's that in between? WOW!
One of my favorite under-known authors is Jeffrey E. Barlough. To my mind, the guy deserves to be right up there with James Blaylock, Tim Powers, and I don't know who else as a pre-eminent inventor of wonderfully weird fiction. Frankly, I thought that after the release of 'The House in the High Wood', we'd unfortunately seen the last of this talented author, and I was quite sad. A unique prose style, a wonderfully imagined milieu, a vision both light and dark marked this writer as remarkably talented. And yet the years went by without a word. I tried quite hard to find out what was coming next and when, but after a few attempts gave up, thinking that unfortunately the author might also have given up.

And so it's my duty to be the bearer of glad tidings and announce a new, yes a new Jeffrey E. Barlough novel, coming in August. I haven't yet got a hold of an ARC, but believe me I'm trying. And let me tell you; if you enjoy Tim Powers (again, sorry), James Blaylock's screwball stuff, Jeffrey Ford, John Keel, or Jeff VanderMeer you certainly want to pick up both 'Dark Sleeper', and 'The House in the High Wood', read them in order and get ready to rock with this latest release, 'Strange Cargo'.

Now while I've loved the prose, the story, the characters and everything about the writing of the Barlough novels, I've never been particularly enamored of the original cover art -- until now. The art for 'Strange Cargo' is intriguing on a number of levels. First and foremost, if what happens is in any way tied to what we see on the cover -- well, just wow. But even if it isn't, at least this time around the cover art conveys the baroque, complex and detailed feel of the author's writing. That in itself is an accomplishment. All one can say is that Barlough is writing some of the most imaginative fantasy you can find today. You can read a column I wrote a couple of years ago, shortly after the release of 'The House in the High Wood', and you can read the review of that title. But whatever you do, order up his first two books right now. You'll want to be prepared for what I predict could easily be one of the best books of this year. Damn having to wait until August -- it's unconscionable!

Caliban and the Clowns

Save those clippings!
I must admit, yes, that it was a strange combination of unfamiliarity, laziness and stupidity that caused me to erroneously omit Robert Devereaux's Leisure paperback release of 'Caliban and Other Tales from my list yesterday. Devereaux wrote to tell me that it includes "Five previously published stories plus a retelling of THE TEMPEST". For an added bonus, go look up the book on and find a review by Andy Fairclough, webmaster of HorrorWorld. And then, buy the book because you must buy any book that includes a cover blurb from none other than Poppy Z. Brite exclaiming:

"I wish I could hope to ever attain one-thousandth of the perversity of Robert Devereaux's least toenail clipping."

I mean really; a hard boiled detective story with clowns ('Ridi Bobo'), a title novella in the 200 page range retelling Shakespeare as only Devereaux can do, and all this in the King of Cheese paperbacks by Leisure? Run, I tell you run; your very life is in danger if you do not read this book. Of course, it's in more danger if you do, but then you love the danger, don't you?

03-03-04: Michael Marshall (Smith) Bonanza

MMS Collections: Bad News for Your Bank Balance, Good News for Your Brain Balance

It's even more neon green than this image suggests. Get out yer eyeshades.
If you haven't twigged to the fact that Michael Marshall Smith is one of the most important and exciting writers to make a break from the confines of the science fiction genre, then now is the time and this is the way. Paradoxically, Smith had to drop the Smith from his name to create his alias, Michael Marshall in order to make a new name for himself as a writer of thrillers in the US. I guess that publishers are going to make sure that MMS fans experience the maximum amount of confusion when trying to obtain his books. Though 'The Straw Men', had the same title in the UK and the US, in the UK it was by "Michael Marshall Smith" and in the US it was by "Michael Marshall". But no -- that wasn't confusing enough. So the sequel is being published as a paperback original in the US in March under the title 'The Upright Man' by "Michael Marshall". You'll doubtlessly buy it so that you can follow the breathless trail left by Smith in the previous work. Then, because you're a completist -- you wouldn't be reading this article if you weren't -- you'll buy a signed edition of the UK hardcover release of 'The Lonely Dead' from Cold Tonnage. (Assuming they get one, and Andy got signed copies of 'The Straw men', so there's no reason to think he won't get signed copies of 'The Lonely Dead'. ) 'The Lonely Dead' -- by Michael Marshall Smith -- looks to be the same book as 'The Upright Man' by Michael Marshall. Will you be able to wait until the hardcover comes out, just because you like to read that big-ol' print? Depends on how your patience/eyesight/compulsion parses. Oh what a tangled web! But wait: THERE'S MORE!

More Michael Marshall Smith.
Like me, you bought Michael Marshall Smith's 'What You Make It', a stellar collection of short stories from HarperCollins UK, which never saw the light of day in the US. And, like me, you bought Michael Marshall Smith's 'Cat Stories' from Earthling Publications. So what do you make of 'More Tomorrow', the new collection of short stories from Michael Marshall Smith (no name change) available from Earthling Publications? Does it contain stories in common with 'What You Make It'? Yes. Does it contain other stories? Yes. Does it contain original stories? Yes. I've mapped it all out for you on this handy chart. The bottom line is buy, buy, buy. Alas. Each of the collections has something to offer that makes it an auto-buy item which boils down to: writing by MMS that you can't get elsewhere.

While you're at it, do yourself a favor and stop by Michael Marshall Smith's excellently done website and more importantly, Earthling Publications Website. They have an absolutely rocking slate of forthcoming work, so large I cannot cover it in this article. I will in the fullness of time. In the interim, better get there fast and order up that Conrad Williams novel. Delectably blood-draining good!

What You Make It
More Tomorrow
What You Make It Only
More Tomorrow Only
Everybody Goes
The Fracture
Diet Hell
The Owner
Foreign Bodies
The Truth Game

More Tomorrow (1996 World Fantasy Award Nominated, 1996 British Fantasy Award Winner)
A Place To Stay
When God Lived In Kentish Town
The Man Who Drew Cats (1991 British Fantasy Award Winner)
Save As...
More Bitter Than Death
Hell Hath Enlarged Herself (Nominated for 1997 British and World Fantasy Awards)
The Dark Land (1992 British Fantasy Award Winner)
What You Make It

Introduction: Alias Smith & Jones, by Stephen Jones*
Being Right*
The Handover
Maybe Next Time
The Book of Irrational Numbers
To See The Sea
Two Shot
Last Glance Back
They Also Serve
Dear Alison
To Receive Is Better
The Munchies*
Not Waving
Everybody Goes
Open Doors*
A Long Walk, For The Last Time
The Vaccinator
Enough Pizza
On Not Writing (An Afterword), by M.M.Smith*

*Indicates stories new to this collection.

03-02-04: Satan, Santa, Angels

A Long Strange Trip With Robert Devereaux

A mucus covered angel head a borning.
If they were to give out "What a Long Strange Trip It's been Awards", then to my mind, Robert Devereaux would be at the front of the line to receive one. His first novel, 'Deadweight', was a beautifully written, powerfully drawn tale of absolute corrupting horror, so corrosive that even years after having read it, unpleasant scenes linger in the mind. But that awful power was put to equally good use in all aspects of the novel. The characters were compelling, the prose was understated and beautiful, and the denouement was touching, in a stark, dark, twisted as all get-out manner. This was a major debut by a major writer.

He followed this with 'Walking Wounded', another horrific tale, well wrought to be sure but not unexpected. Then, just to prove that he was from another damn planet, he came out with 'Santa Steps Out', a tale so original, so well written and so totally out there that I bought three, count 'em three copies, certain that if there were any justice, it would win the World Fantasy Award. Ah, naïve old man that I was then! Justice, in this world? As regards literary awards? Perish the thought! So what could a book titled 'Santa Steps Out' be about? None other than Santa himself. Incredibly imagined, this novel re-casts all the fairy tale icons of our childhood -- Santa, The Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny -- as bawdy, bodily incarnations of myths past. From the opening scene involving the Tooth Fairy's disposition of her booty to the sex and violence throughout the book; it's just one jaw-dropping scene after another carried off with the same sympathetic élan that characterized his first novel. Because not only do you get to see Santa Step Out, you get to know Santa as a complex, well-imagined character.

Then he disappears for a while. Now, he's back with 'A Flight of Storks and Angels', a new novel from Five Star Publishers, "in association with Tekno Books and Ed Gorman". Five Star publishes "26 original science fiction and fantasy novels a year", including work by authors Timothy Zahn and Brian Stableford. The jacket flap copy is suitably mysterious, but a quick scan reveals a novel about a novelist who claims to have contacted angels, with the expected result that all hell breaks loose. But the tone here looks a lot gentler than before, though the writing is as strong as ever. And weird -- weird as ever as well. Really weird writing with strong characters is what we're all about here. I sampled storks being born from mirrors, covered in mucus. It's good to know that Robert Devereaux is still writing, still possessed by a muse that will not let him be. A mucus-driven muse; what more can we ask of our writers?

03-01-04: Top Secret VanderMeer, A Fine Headhunting Find

Jeff VanderMeer's 'A Secret Life' Coming from Golden Gryphon

Cover art by Scott Eagle for the new collection by Jeff VanderMeer from Golden Gryphon publishing.

We know that we can look to Golden Gryphon for the finest in short story collections. Their books are always peerless, and one is always overjoyed to see who they've managed to score to write for them. Coming soon, look for Jeff VanderMeer's 'Secret Life', a collection of 23 stories, including a new Ambergris tale, as well as three other tales from Jeff's imaginary city that have not been collected before. 'Secret Life' also collects all the pieces and stories set in the world of 'Veniss Underground'. What more can we ask for? Jeff's classics, including 'The Bone Carver's Tale', 'The Compass of His Bones' and 'Experiment #25'.

For those unfamiliar with VanderMeer's range, this work will be an excellent place to start. VanderMeer is capable of being subtle, psychological and poetic, or over-the-top in his imaginative ability to describe that which should not exist. He's even able to combine these two opposite poles in the same work. Then there's his Borgesian material….ah, my favorite. Or it would be if his monsters weren't so damn good. But then he manages to combine those as well, and his psychological material, in work like 'The Exchange'. Introduced by Jeffrey Ford, 'Secret Life' is the kind of secret that should surely become quite well-known.

Covering every genre, yet restricted to no single genre, VanderMeer writes from a perspective that's utterly unique. He's the reason we reviewers have to haul out the big Fantasy umbrella, that is, to define fantasy as fiction containing the fantastic I any form. And while we may not be able to say precisely what fantastic is, we can certainly say that we know it when we see it!

Not Your Average Recruiter

Yes, DJ tears and some browning. But otherwise quite nice; the book itself looks almost unread.
Long before Thomas Harris discovered the joys of serial killing, three Vancouver lawyers got together to write a little novel about a headhunter loose on the streets that fine Canadian city. Writing under the pen name Michael Slade, Jay Clarke, John Banks and Richard Covell knew wherefore they wrote. In their spare time, they were experts who specialized in the field of criminal insanity. Their first novel was a huge success and they've kept up the ugly drumbeat for the past 20 years, treating readers to such delights as 'Ghoul' (serial killer with an HP Lovecraft twist), 'Burnt Bones' and 'Ripper'.

While I was mi-am-binging about in Logos this weekend, having just enjoyed the lovely documentary feature 'The Fog of War', I stumbled across this first edition copy in a nice Demco jacket. I couldn't resist. Somewhere in my shelves, I have 'Ghoul', which I obtained as a new book back in the day. Due to the cover, I guess, this was shelved with the horror novels and not the mysteries, where I found a nice set of Joseph Hansen mysteries. And have no fear, the scene illustrated on the front cover of this novel is certainly one you'll encounter within!