The Adventures of Coffin Kirk by Arch Whitehouse/Published by Age of Aces * 5/5 stars
This one is a collection of vintage pulp aviation stories, all published in Flying Aces magazine from 1937 to 1941.
I’ll sum it up in one word: fun. Coffin Kirk is pulpy escapism at its best. Our protagonist is Brian Kirk, who as a child witness the murder of his zookeeper father at the hands of the “Circle of Evil.” He escaped at the time with a trained gorilla, Tank.
Now, Coffin Kirk is an adult and he’s flying across Europe and Asia fighting the Circle of Evil in six stories. Tank is now his tailgunner, with Kirk passing him off as a particularly homely human. (Just go with it!)
Writer Arch Whitehouse does a great job with the aviation scenes and his experience as an RAF veteran shows. The villains offer a nice foil without being over the top. It’s clear Whitehouse was also paying attention to the world situation as we see Germans and Japanese soldiers partnering with the Circle of Evil in the years leading up to World War II.
Finally, Age of Aces did a very nice job putting this collection together, complete with vintage illustrations.
This book is identified on the cover as a PulpFest exclusive, but also appears to be available from Amazon.
Operator #5: The Red Invader * 2016 audiobook by Radio Archives* *3.5/5 stars*
Listened to the Radio Archives audio version (5 CDs) of The Red Invader, the first time I’ve listened to one of the Operator #5 stories as an audiobook, so this review is two-fold: the story and the audio presentation/experience
This classic pulp features a solid story with an impressive female spy as the villain, double crosses and international intrigue that of course only Jimmy Christopher can unravel. To my ear, there was little of the uncomfortable racial/cultural tropes that infect some of the earlier Operator #5 novels. But i could have missed them, and that brings us to item No. 2.
This didn’t work for me as an audiobook. The presentation was professional and the narration by Milton Bagby was solid. In the end, I think I would chalk this up to the story not lending itself well to audio. For me, at least, this is a common problem with action-heavy tales. I’d much prefer to read them than try to follow the story as I navigate traffic and weather in the car. Your mileage may vary!
Story: 4 stars/Presentation: 3 stars
Killing Quarry by Max Allan Collins * Publication Date 11/12/19 * 5/5 stars * Published by Hard Case Crime
Everyone’s favorite professional killer is back in Killing Quarry, the 15th adventure of the Vietnam sniper turned hitman by Max Allan Collins.
This adventure falls into the “list” era of Quarry adventures when he is searching out other professional killers and eliminating them — for a fee. It’s a return to the early days of this series that first started in the 1970s, but with a twist. When Quarry tracks this killer, he ends up following him back to his Wisconsin stomping ground and finds that he is the target. It seems someone has figured out his scheme and is tired of their killers and clients getting offed.
As I wrote that last paragraph, I realized just how absurd this premise is. It requires a pretty big suspension of disbelief to accept that Quarry would just happen to track the right killer at the right time. In fact, that points to just what a skilled writer MAC is at this point. Yeah, it bothered me a little at the back of my mind as I read, but the story was moving at such a pace, it’s easy to toss that aside and follow the story.
A female killer from Quarry’s past shows up at an opportune time to help Quarry, and there’s the typical death and sex to keep you reading. Still, what appears to be a relatively straightforward tale has enough twists and turns to keep the story going to a satisfying conclusion.
The decision to have Quarry as the target pays off in some nice ways as it leaves Quarry off his game throughout the book and ups the stakes for our hero(?). That helps to keep the book feeling fresh, something that’s never easy to do in a series that has extended across this many books and more than 40 years.
Speaking of Lust by Lawrence Block
“Speaking of Lust” is Block’s contribution to the anthology of the same name that he edited, but also available in a standalone e-book. It was the first of what Block planned to be seven books, each themed around each of the deadly sins. The series seems to have been abandoned after the second, “Speaking of Greed.”
Lust is the story of five men telling their tales of lust collected over their careers as a priest, policeman, doctor, soldier and “old man,” each offering their own insights into the subject. It’s a quick read, not only because of it’s length but also because of Block’s typical breezy writing style. A great way to pass an hour or so.