Book Review: Murder for Revenge

Book Review: Murder for Revenge edited by Otto Penzler


This is another themed anthology, this time around the concept of revenge.  That’s a pretty loose theme as these things go.  It’s got a big-name author list going for it though.

“Like a Bone in the Throat” by Lawrence Block starts the book off strong with a tale of a man condemned for a crime he certainly did commit.  The death penalty isn’t enough for some people, but who gets revenge in the end?

“Power Play” by Mary Higgins Clark is most notable for starring Mr. and Mrs. Harry Potter (this book came out in 1998, after Philosopher’s Stone came out, but well before the J.K. Rowling series became huge.)  An ex-President visits an old friend in the Middle East, and is kidnapped by what appear to be terrorists.

“Fatherhood” by Thomas H. Cook retells a familiar story from a different perspective, one drenched in revenge.

“West End” by Vicki Hendricks is about a sailing trip with a control freak.  That won’t end well.

“Caveat Emptor” by Joan Hess features a woman in distress who is taken further advantage of by a real estate agent, the story being told by a neighbor.

“Eradicum Homo Horribilus” by Judith Kelman is a bit over the top.  It has a bully of many years trying to trick his favorite victim into coming around for one last humiliation.  Too bad for him she’s taken up botany.

“Dead Cat Bounce” by Eric Lustbader is almost nothing like his usual novels.  On the eve of a wealthy couple’s daughter’s wedding, it’s discovered that the groom has a few dark secrets.  And so do everyone else.

“Angie’s Delight” ” by Philip Margolin has a man facing the death penalty unless he gets a good lawyer, one who can prove he didn’t commit murder.  Luckily, this public defender is a tiger.  Or is it luck?

‘Front Man” by David Morrell is about growing old in the world of Hollywood writing.  Mort Davidson is still a heck of a writer, but the new blood in the front office doesn’t think he can connect with the money-heavy young audience.

“Murder-Two” by Joyce Carol Oates features a relationship between a lawyer and her client that might be the worst thing that fate could have arranged for either.

“The Enemy” by Shel Silverstein is a poem of revenge long-plotted and well-planned.  Revenge served very cold indeed.

The volume finishes with “Mr. Clubb and Mr. Cuff” by Peter Straub.   A financial planner hires hitmen, or thinks he does–their specialty may be a little different.  It’s the longest story in the book, and is the poorer for it–Mr. Straub becomes self-indulgent and goes on and on.  Chilling ending, though.

Overall, a strong collection, worth picking up if you like at least two of the authors (except Peter Straub as this is not his best work.  For a better piece by him, see my review of “Koko” .)


Book Review: Who Died in Here?

Book Review: Who Died in Here? edited by Pat Dennis


Themed short story anthologies are a perennial favorite for genre fiction.  “Best of” collections tend to feature heavy overlap with other best ofs, while single-author collections have to rely on the reader being willing to pick up a particular author’s work.  Themes allow the authors to riff on a central concept, and have readers pick it up because they find the theme interesting or amusing.

In this case, it’s tales of murder and death somehow connected to bathrooms.  As you might expect, there’s a certain amount of toilet humor, but other stories are more interested in the tub or shower.

As with most anthologies, the quality is uneven.  Standouts include: “Hard Working Red”, about a plumber who takes one too many barbs from an electrician; “Nobody Cares”, which is more of a horror story with a victim who honestly gets what’s coming to him; “Caught With His Pants Down”, which has a twist on the jealous stalker story;”Graphic Design”, in which a man reads tomorrow’s news; and “Problem Plumbing”, about a mother who is both pleased and horrified when her son’s potty training finally takes hold.

They’re all quite short stories, suitable for bathroom reading or any other place you have only a few minutes to spare.  Recommended as a gift for mystery fans with a sense of humor.


Comic Book Review: Showcase Presents the Trial of the Flash

Comic Book Review: Showcase Presents the Trial of the Flash by Cary Bates & Carmine Infantino


Barry Allen, the Flash, is finally moving on from his wife Iris’ death, and is about to marry his new love, Fiona Webb.  But on the day of the wedding, Flash learns that Iris’ murderer, Professor Zoom has escaped imprisonment.  In the desperate struggle that follows, Zoom announces his intention to kill Fiona just as he did Iris.  Barry stops Zoom–permanently.  But was it an justifiable act of defense, or a deliberate killing?  That’s up to a jury to decide!

This mid-80s epic is not one of the best Flash stories.  The creative team was tired and it really shows.  One issue in particular is half reprints from older stories apparently to give the writer and artist a break.  But it does treat the issue of a masked vigilante killing a criminal with all the seriousness it deserves, before this became the standard operating procedure for superheroes in the Nineties.

The lack of color in this reprint hurts the story several times, not only because Zoom’s costume is identical to Flash’s with a palette swap, but in that recurring villain Rainbow Raider’s entire gimmick is color (and by this time the writer had stopped having people redundantly mention the colors of things.)

Which is not to say that this story is entirely without merit.  There are some interesting subplots, such as the mystery of Nathan Newbury, and the ambitions of a pompous defense attorney who sees Flash’s trial as a meal ticket beyond compare.  A couple of Flash’s villains put in notable appearances (and the final issue’s villain notes that he’s ,kind of sort of doing Flash a favor, which was foreshadowing for Crisis on Infinite Earths.)

Barry makes a couple of mistakes early on that compound his trouble.  First, he still hasn’t told his bride to be his secret identity, which leaves Fiona with no reasonable explanation when Barry Allen disappears permanently.  This causes a mental breakdown that renders her useless or worse than useless for the remaining two years of the story.  (And then shuffled offstage before the actual ending.)

The other is his decision that he must fight Professor Zoom alone, even actively telling the Guardians of the Universe to keep any other heroes from helping him.  This leads directly to killing Zoom being the only way to stop him, precipitating the entire trial plotline.

Again, not the best Flash story, and a bad place to start reading about the Barry Allen Flash.  (And a worse place to start reading about the Wally West Flash, who’s barely in these issues and whose spotlight is the aforementioned reprint issue.)  But for fans of the Barry Allen Flash on a budget, this is most of the end of the run in one low-price package.

For a volume with the beginning stories of the Barry Allen Flash, see this review:

Comic Strip Review: Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy, Volume 13 1950-1951

Comic Strip Review: Chester Gould’s Dick Tracy Volume 13: 1950-1951


IDW, through the Library of American Comics imprint, has been reprinting the long-running Dick Tracy comic strip in over-sized volumes, starting from its 1931 beginnings.  This volume covers the turn of the decade from the 1940s to the early 1950s.

We begin with a callback to the classic Flattop story, by introducing the criminal’s equally criminal brother Blowtop.  (The family name is Jones.)  As the name suggests, he’s got both an explosive temper and a fondness for demolitions.  When we meet the Lee Marvin lookalike, he’s already pulled off a brilliant robbery with one hitch–the money is marked.  While figuring out how to launder the funds, Blowtop figures out a plan to avenge his brother’s death.

This leads into a terrifying sequence in which the Tracy house goes up in flames, and Junior is missing, presumed dead.

Blowtop is followed by T.V. Wiggles, a disgraced former professional wrestler (this was back in the day when at least some people believed pro wrestling was unscripted) who has turned to running a protection racket involving bar televisions.  He decides to move up to the big time by extorting money from Vitamin Flintheart, who was then the agent for child star Sparkle Plenty.

Wiggles puts on a show of being charming and likable, but his heart is black indeed, and he has no compunctions about killing children if they get in his way.  There’s a long and melodramatic sequence in which one of his nearly-dead victims struggles for life.

This is followed by Dr. Plain, who doesn’t look too grotesque–until he reveals his flamethrower arm.  In his short career, Dr. Plain manages to rack up a comparatively high body count.

“Empty”, M.T. Williams, returns to the easily spotted deformity style of villain, with a literal hole in his head where part of his skull has been removed in a lifesaving operation.  He is very much the small-time hoodlum working out of his depth, as he attempts to hijack a truckload of furs and ends up with diapers instead.  Each move he makes after that just digs himself deeper until he meets his grisly end.

After the low comedy surrounding the birth and naming of Tracy’s first biological child, Bonnie Braids, a new menace is introduced, Crewy Lou, a baby photographer and early adopter of the mullet.  Tracy’s run into gangs that use photography as a cover before, so he’s instantly suspicious, but Crewy Lou and her partner the Sphinx have a bit better plan than most.

The story gets complex from there, with marital discord, organized crime, stolen diamonds..and it doesn’t end in this volume, as Crewy Lou winds up kidnapping Bonnie Braids.

Lots of exciting action, good Gould art, some excellent villains–about the only disappointing part is that the Sundays are in black and white for production cost reasons.  Highly recommended along with the earlier volumes in the series.

For my review of the more recent version of the strip, see

Book Review: They Talked to a Stranger

Book Review: They Talked to a Stranger by Len O’Connor

Not actually a picture from the book.

This book is centered around ten interviews with juvenile delinquents by then-radio reporter Len O’Connor in 1950s Chicago.  Each of the boys is identified with a nickname, some their actual nickname, others chosen to protect their identities.    They’re asked how they got into a life of crime, a bit about their home situations, what kind of reformatory or jail experience they’ve had, and so forth.

“Moustache”, for example, is a cop killer.  It’s more bad luck and bad choices than something he planned to do, but a cop killer none the less.  “The Loner” is an Israeli citizen, “Joy Ride” just likes stealing cars for the thrill (and his capture on a petty theft charge keeps him from being indicted for murder with the rest of his gang) and “One-Arm” is going to find it hard to continue his burglary career after his laundry machine accident.

It’s pretty strong stuff, and would have been even stronger when it was published back in the 1950s.  Most of the boys are clearly doomed to continue being criminals in adulthood; even the Army won’t take them.  The one ray of hope is “Boot Straps”, an uneducated black man who one day decided that stealing was getting him nowhere and quit cold turkey, turning his life around despite every hardship.

There is discussion of racism as one of the contributing factors of juvenile delinquency.  Several of the boys talk about rape, but none of them admit to it.  (There’s a fair amount of casual sexism both from the delinquents and from Mr. O’Connor.)  Homosexuals are seen as disturbed, and the concluding chapter makes a disconnected suggestion that homosexuals = sexual deviants = child killers.

The concluding chapter has other thoughts on the problem of juvenile delinquency in Chicago.  Suggested fixes include strong positive relationships between fathers and sons, free athletic programs to keep active young men busy, and better enforcement of curfew laws.

This is an interesting look at crime by minors in a bygone decade; it is disheartening to see how little has changed in some respects.  I got my copy from a library discard sale, and reprints appear to be very rare.

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