Thursday, September 19, 2019

recent read; SGT JANUS RETURNS by Jim Beard

I will try to avoid spoilers, but the big one can't be avoided. If you're reading SGT JANUS RETURNS, then you know Jim Beard killed off Roman Janus in the previous volume. (Or, more precisely, made him disappear with near certainty of death.)

Though Beard shifts to a single, Watson-esque, narrator for this book, if you're expecting a straight "Hurrah! He's back!" (a la THE RETURN OF SHERLOCK HOLMES) in the opening pages, Beard wisely creates further mystery instead.

An amnesiac woman appears in a small village and solves a ghost problem. Thereafter, she whisks young Joshua Hargreaves into a life of adventurous "spirit breaking." As time passes, "Lady Janus" adopts more of Janus's habits and manners. Who is she? Is she possessed by Janus? Is she Janus reincarnated? Will we ever truly learn the nature and details of Roman Janus's disappearance?

These stories are much more tightly linked than the stories in the first volume. Beard builds a great sense of mystery and suspense as the stories stack on top of each other, creating further complications, rushing toward a thrilling conclusion.

With SGT JANUS RETURNS, Jim Beard has created the best kind of sequel. The book is its own story, with a familiar feel, but not falling to routine or re-treading the first volume.

Highly recommended for fans of pulp mystery and occult detectives. Just be sure to read SGT JANUS, SPIRIT-BREAKER first!

Monday, September 9, 2019

recent reads; Joseph Payne Brennan

Dover have reissued two hard-to-find horror collections by Joseph Payne Brennan. I'd been waiting to get a hold of THE SHAPES OF MIDNIGHT for a long time. Happy that NINE HORRORS AND A DREAM showed up, too.

These collections are a master class in writing short fiction. The stories contained in NINE HORRORS AND A DREAM are not flash fiction but with a few exceptions, they are short shorts. Brennan gets in, gets to the core of the tale, and gets out. The stories are lean and trim. The stories in THE SHAPES OF MIDNIGHT are slightly longer but still short overall.

Each volume is short. NINE HORRORS AND A DREAM is 106 pages. THE SHAPES OF MIDNIGHT is 124 pages.  (And they are printed in a decent sized font, too.)

My favorites were "The Willow Platform," "Canavan's Back Yard," and "The Mail for Juniper Hill."

If you are a horror or classic pulp horror fan, you owe it to yourself to add these to your collection and read them.

A few notes on these editions;

These are bare-boned editions. There are no introductions. Given that Stephen King wrote an introduction for the original THE SHAPES OF MIDNIGHT, and the fact that Brennan passed away in 1990, an introduction to the writer and his work would have been a value--especially for readers discovering him for the first time. (There is a Wikipedia page for Brennan, if you're curious.)

There is no information about the original appearances of the stories (where and when.) This might be the case with the original editions, I don't have them to compare. Not a deal breaker but I'm always curious about that.

Originally these collections appeared decades apart, so two stories overlapped. They have been cut from this edition of THE SHAPES OF MIDNIGHT but are included in NINE HORRORS AND A DREAM

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

recent read; SGT JANUS, SPIRIT-BREAKER by Jim Beard

Yup! Another entry from Derrick Ferguson's 75 New Pulp Book To Get You Started list. (which, you should keep handy.)

If you enjoy occult detectives, like Carnacki, Sgt. Janus needs to be added to your reading list.

Janus is a mysterious character. His use of rank title and manner of dress suggest a military background. Some people are convinced he is a charlatan. He tangles with ghosts and other occult manifestations.

Beard has a clever twist on the presentation. Rather than sticking with a single chronicler (e.g.; Doctor Watson,) Janus requests that his clients provide written reports of the incidents. This allows different points-of-view and adds variety to the tales.

Further variety is provided by Beard's plots. Some cases are undertaken in the field. Others take place in Janus's sprawling house in the country, where clients come to him.

The stories have wonderful atmosphere. Each story works alone, though there is a definite arc threaded through the collection. Clearly, this is a set of stories written to be presented together.

I'll be rushing to read the sequel, SGT JANUS RETURNS!