Star Trek Discovery arrives “Far From Home”

It’s time for this week’s episode by episode Star Trek Discovery review. For my takes on previous seasons and episodes, go here.

Warning! Spoilers behind the cut! Continue reading

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Retro Review: “Transparent Stuff” by Dorothy Quick

Unknown June 1940

This cover illustration is not for “Transparent Stuff”, but for “But Without Horns” by Norvell Page.

I’m continuing my reviews of Dorothy Quick’s Patchwork Quilt stories with “Transparent Stuff”, the second story in the series, which appeared in the June 1940 issue of Unknown. The story may be read online here. You can also read Steve J. Wright’s review of the story along with the rest of the issue here. This review will also be crossposted to Retro Science Fiction Reviews.

Warning: Spoilers beyond this point!

This time around, Dorothy Quick plunges us right into the story by having her protagonist Alice select another square of fabric of the enchanted patchwork quilt to take her into the past. For those who missed the first story, Alice accidentally came across a magical patchwork quilt owned by her aunt Annabel. Many years ago, a witch assembled the quilt from scraps of fabric with powerful and often terrifying memories attached to them. If someone falls asleep under the quilt while touching one of the squares, they will relive whatever memory is attached to the respective square in their dreams.

“Transparent Stuff” is clearly set some time after the previous story “Blue and Silver Brocade”, for while Alice was terrified by her experience in the first story (to be fair, she did relive a black mass complete with bloody sacrifice and then found herself strangled to death), by now she has become almost addicted to the experiences the patchwork quilt can give her. Considering that the quilt has killed at least one person and driven another mad, this is very risky indeed.

The square Alice has chosen for her latest adventure is made of very sheer, nigh transparent linen, interwoven with golden and silver threads that form a floral pattern. And so, Alice falls asleep with her hand touching the square and suddenly finds herself clad in a gown made of the same transparent fabric and wearing elaborate jewellery. She manages to look at herself in a reflective surface and finds her own face looking back at her, though with very different make-up and hairstyle. So is Alice reliving the experiences of an ancestor this time or is reincarnation in play here?

Alice – and the reader – quickly learns that the body she is inhabiting belongs to a Babylonian princess named Star of Light. Star is the only child of King Mi-Bel of Babylon and she is about to be married off to a man of her father’s choosing. There is a rundown of suitors, none of whom sound remotely promising. One is too old and Star’s cousin besides, another is a drunk and a womaniser and the third is rumoured to consort with demons and engage in black magic. Star is understandably none too thrilled about these marital prospects and so she decides to ask the goddess Ishtar for help, aided by a priest named Abeshu.

Abeshu takes Star to a secret sanctuary inside the great temple and summons the goddess. After some ritualising and incense burning, the goddess Ishtar appears and tells Star that she need not marry any of the suitors vying for her hand and that she may marry the one her heart desires. She also promises Star the gift of eternal love, but warns her that there will be a price.

Finally, Ishtar also grants Abeshu his wish, even though he never utters it out loud. When Star asks Abeshu what he wished for, he gives her an evasive answer, but also asks that Star make him her counsellor. Star agrees, but Alice is sceptical about Abeshu’s motives, for she feels that the priest hates the young princess.

Next, Star and her lady-in-waiting Rima take a tour of the hanging gardens, one of the wonders of the ancient world, in Star’s royal litter. Star’s reverence for the beauty of the gardens is interrupted, when a young boy cries for help. Star signals the litter to stop and asks the captain of her guard to bring the boy to her.

The boy tells star that a man saved his mother’s life, when she was nearly trampled by a horse. However, the horse was injured in the process and now a mob is about to lynch the helpful stranger for harming one of the horses of Khian, Prince of Egypt and one of Star’s unwanted suitors. Star orders her guards to save the stranger. When Star lays eyes on the handsome stranger and his exposed muscular chest, it is love at first sight. Star is thrilled, for Ishtar has kept her word.

The stranger turns out to be an Egyptian mercenary named Belzar who was in service to Prince Khian, but quit, because he disliked the Prince. Star promptly engages his services and as she chats with her new guardsman, Belzar confesses that he loves her. Star responds that she loves him, too, and that it’s all Ishtar’s will. Of course, this is also a very convenient excuse for what romance readers call insta-love. However, a novelette doesn’t offer much space to slowly develop a romantic relationship, so divinely ordained insta-love is a handy shortcut.

Meanwhile, Alice remembers that Ishtar promised Star eternal love and since Alice is Star’s reincarnation and/or descendant, she wonders when she will find a Belzar of her own.

But Belzar also has bad news for Star, because Prince Khian is planning to abduct the princess and thus bypass the other suitors. Belzar, Star and the guard captain inform the King, who plans to set a trap for the kidnappers and hides his own guards and Belzar behind the draperies in Star’s chambers. Nonetheless, one of the kidnappers manages to throw a bag over Star and carry her off. But Belzar stops him with a dagger to the eye and rescues Star who is now even more in love with him than before. They kiss, but are quickly interrupted by the other guards.

However, King Mi-Bel still has other plans for his only daughter. Now that the plot of the treacherous Prince Khian has been exposed, Mi-Bel plans to wed Star to her much older cousin Ditmah. The betrothal will be announced at a great feast to be held that very evening, as Star learns from the duplicitous Abeshu. However, Abeshu has a plan to bring Star and Belzar together after all.

At the feast, Abeshu fills the King up with wine to make him more mellow. Belzar, who has been granted noble status as a thank you for saving Star from the kidnappers, is there as well. Just as the King is about to announce who will marry his daughter, Star stands up and begs the king to grant her to choose her own husband. She also asks that she and her chosen husband be allowed to live in a small palace near the temple of Ishtar. King Mi-Bel, who is well and truly drunk by now, grants her both wishes. So Star names Belzar as her chosen husband.

Mi-Bel is not at all pleased by Star’s choice, for what about all the carefully plotted political alliances that Star has just upset? So he asks Abeshu how to undo this match. This is the moment that the duplicitous Abeshu has been waiting for. He whispers his poisonous advice to the King.

The King now announces that Star shall wed Belzar and that she shall have a wedding feast befitting a princess. She and Belzar will also be allowed to dwell in the palace near the temple of Ishtar, just as Star desired. However, they will be immured inside a chamber in this palace, to be buried alive for all eternity, while cousin Ditmah becomes king of Babylon.

Belzar is surprisingly resigned to his fate – after all, the goddess Ishtar said that there would be a price, but she also promised them eternal love for all time. Star, meanwhile, confronts Abeshu about his treachery. Abeshu tells Star that she is the traitor, for she placed her own desires over her duty to Babylon, because women wanted to choose their own partners with no regard for political alliances – well, next they’ll be demanding the vote, too. And besides, Ditmah no more wanted to marry Star than Star wanted to marry him. Instead, he is in love with Abeshu’s niece and now she will mount the throne instead of Star. But Abeshu apparently has second thoughts about the awful fate to which he condemned the lovers, so he gives Belzar two lockets filled with a poison that will grant him and Star a painless death.

After a weeklong wedding feast, Abeshu escorts Star and Belzar to a small niche inside the palace where they will be immured. They both take the poison and once more proclaim their undying love for each other. Before the last stone is in place and the effect of the poison kicks in, the voice of Ishtar appears, telling Star and Belzar that she will remain true to her promise and that their love shall last forever.

Alice awakens, not at all troubled that she just died for love… again. Because the goddess Ishtar promised Star and Belzar that their love shall last forever. And if Alice is the reincarnation of Star, that means that the reincarnation of Belzar is waiting for her somewhere out there. Will she find him? Maybe we’ll find out in the third Patchwork Quilt story.

Amazing Future Tales from the Past

Sadly, this compilation of novelettes eligible for the 1941 Retro Hugos is the only time “Transparent Stuff” has ever been reprinted.

While the first Patchwork Quilt story “Blue and Silver Brocade” mixed historical fiction with gothic horror and some surprisingly lurid violence, “Transparent Stuff” is more subdued – no black masses and graphic strangulation scenes – but the central love story is no less tragic and once again the lovers can only be united in death and beyond. The Patchwork Quilt stories are undoubtedly romance, but not romance in the modern sense, where a happy ending is required.

The downer ending of the forbidden lovers entombed together reminded me very much of Aida by Guiseppe Verdi, which is set in ancient Egypt rather than ancient Babylon, but ends in the same way, with the titular character, an Ethiopian princess turned Egyptian slave, and her lover, Egyptian general Radames, sentenced to be entombed together, because Radames betrayed his country for Aida. Considering how popular and frequently performed Aida is, it is very likely that Dorothy Quick was familiar with the opera. She also did have a thing for immurement – after all, her 1944 short story “The Gothic Window” features an immured sorcerer haunting a window (or does he?).

I’ve been an opera fan since I was a teenager, an age when most people listen only to pop music. Not that I didn’t listen to and enjoy pop music – I did and still do. However, I also loved operas and operettas, because they combined two things I loved, stories and music. And yes, I adored the melodramatic plots of operas, the more melodramatic the better. Concert performances of operas baffle me, because they omit all the fun stuff. And if I want to listen only to the music, I can do so at home.

Aida was always one of my favourite operas. When I was a teen, my Great-Aunt Metel, upon learning that I liked opera, gave me all the opera stuff that my Great-Uncle Rudy, another opera fan who sadly died before I was born (a pity, because I’m sure we would have gotten along just splendidly, since we both loved Italian opera), had left behind. That opera stuff included not just full orchestral scores of various operas, but also the libretti. And one of those libretti was Aida, which I loved so much that I even organised a spoken word puppet show (because though I had the orchestral score thanks to Uncle Rudy, I couldn’t recreate it on a single piano) for friends and family. And yes, that downer ending was tragic, though most operas ended with everybody dying for love, which my teen self thought was so romantic. So my reaction to the Patchwork Quilt stories is basically, “Wow, these stories very much channel everything my teenaged self loved”, which is unusual in itself, because I certainly wasn’t your average teenager. First we had Angelique, whose adventures I devoured, and now Aida.

All three Dorothy Quick stories I reviewed for the Retro Review project had female protagonists and POV-characters, which is rare in golden age speculative fiction. All three stories also pass the Bechdel test – though “Transparent Stuff” only passes it due to a quick conversation between Star and her lady-in-waiting Rima about the hanging gardens – which is even rarer.

Another thing I find notable about Dorothy’s Quick’s stories is that their protagonists are all women who know what they want in life, romantically and otherwise, and are not afraid to go after it, even if this doesn’t always end happily for them. Star wants to marry for love and not politics and gets her wish, even if it ends with her death. Francoise from “Blue and Silver Brocade” is willing to do literally anything to keep the attention of King Louis XIV of France and the influence it brings and her friend/companion Jeanne is willing to do anything to protect her. Anne from “The Gothic Window” arranges a weekend getaway in a house that may or may not be haunted in order to persuade her own boyfriend to propose, to fix up two friends with each other and protect another friend from her abusive and cheating husband. Unlike Star, Francoise and Jeanne, she even succeeds and does not die either. And finally, Alice, the protagonist of the framing stories linking the Patchwork Quilt tales, decides to explore the experiences the quilt can give her, even against all warnings.

The first Patchwork Quilt story, “Blue and Silver Brocade”, has only one named male character, Raoul, doomed lover/killer of the equally doomed Jeanne whose life and death Alice gets to relive. “Transparent Stuff” has more named male characters, but nonetheless it’s still a very woman-centric story. Star’s three unwanted suitors remain cyphers. Cousin Ditmah is the only one who actually appears on the page in a brief cameo. Prince Khian stages a kidnap attempt, but otherwise remains off stage. As for the third suitor, I can’t even remember his name – all I remember is that he is rumoured to be involved in black magic. Star’s father King Mi-Bel gets more screen time, but he also remains vague and indeed, Star notes at one point that her relationship to her father isn’t close, since she barely sees him. And of course, Mi-Bel is a hot candidate for the 1940 Retro Darth Vader Parenthood Award for Exceptionally Horrible Fictional Parents.

Of all the male characters in “Transparent Stuff”, the one who is the most fleshed out is the villainous priest Abeshu. He is also more complex than the average pulp villain, since his motivation is understandable. In many ways, Abeshu is a more sympathetic character than Mi-Bel who is just plain awful.

What’s interesting is that Belzar, Star’s one true love for all time, is not particularly fleshed out either. His role in the story is basically generic love interest/hero. Come to think of it, the love interests in the other Dorothy Quick stories I’ve read were mostly generic hero types as well. In fact, it’s fascinating how woman-centric Dorothy Quick’s stories are, for Quick completely reverses the common pattern of pulp era SFF. Instead of having several at least reasonably fleshed out male characters, while the women are generic love interests or equally generic femme fatales/villainesses, Dorothy Quick features more complex female characters and generic men.

Dorothy Quick is the sort of writer who likes to delve into details and describes clothing, buildings, interiors, etc… And her description of ancient Babylon impressed me with how fairly closely it matches what we know of ancient Babylon today, especially considering how bad Unknown was about historical accuracy otherwise. True, Quick is vague in her description of the hanging gardens, but then we still have no idea what they actually looked like in bloom. So I dug a bit into the exploration history of Babylon and found that the archaeological exploration of Babylon began in the early nineteenth century. Of particular note is the German team of archaeologist Robert Koldewey and orientalist Eduard Sachau, who started their excavations in Babylon in 1897 and found among other things what remains of the hanging gardens as well as the spectacular Ishtar Gate with its blue glazed tiles. The reconstructed Ishtar Gate may be seen in the Pergamon Museum in Berlin (and I recommend that everybody who visits Berlin go and see it, because it’s very impressive). The reconstruction was finished in 1930, i.e. ten years before “Transparent Stuff” was published. Again, it is likely that Dorothy Quick was familiar with Koldewey and Sachau’s work and the Ishtar Gate and incorporated this knowledge into her story.

Though this is only the second of three Patchwork Quilt stories, the central gimmick of an enchanted quilt which can make those who sleep under it relive the past is already well established by now, so well that Dorothy Quick introduces a new element in the form of reincarnation and fated soulmates. It’s a great way to maintain interest in the series. After all, the readers wants to know when/if Alice will find her own fated soulmate, the reincarnation of Belzar. This reader at any rate wants to know. Considering that Unknown seems to have been aimed mainly at the same nerdy young men as its sister magazine Astounding, as Steve J. Wright notes here, I’m not so sure about other readers. And it is notable that the Patchwork Quilt series had only three instalments, the last of which appeared in December 1940, even though Unknown would continue until 1943. So did Campbell drive away Dorothy Quick like he drove away so many other talented writers over the years?

I don’t know, but I’m definitely looking forward to reading the last Patchwork Quilt story. Next to Fafhrd and Gray Mouser, this is definitely the best series to come out of Unknown. A pity that it has never been reprinted.

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Star Trek Discovery Goes Back to the Future in “That Hope Is You, Part 1”

Star Trek Discovery is back for its third season, which means that I’ll be doing episode by episode reviews again. For my takes on the first two seasons, go here.

In spring, I rewatched seasons 1 and 2 of Discovery with my Mom who hadn’t seen them yet for lack of Netflix. And while I initially was very harsh on season 1 of Discovery, I found that I have mellowed somewhat in the meantime, largely because I knew where the series was going and could also appreciate the little hints dropped in regarding Lorca’s true identity. Though the first four episodes of season 1 are still tough going and particularly episode 3 “Context Is For Kings” is really dreadful. And indeed, I had to assure my Mom, “Yes, the first few episodes are bad, but it gets better.”

Now Star Trek Discovery‘s main problem has always been inconsistency, both behind and in front of the camera (two seasons in, Discovery has already gone through three and a half captains and five showrunners). Particularly season 1 felt like about five different shows stitched together, only some of which actually were Star Trek. Season 2 was more consistent and also a lot better, though they were hampered by having to repair the mistakes of season 1, while sticking to established Star Trek continuity. And then season 2 Star Trek Discovery promptly upset the apple cart again by sending the Discovery on a one way trip 900 years into the future in the season finale, opening up the way for entirely new adventures unencumbered by established Star Trek continuity.

So let’s see how season 3 is doing.

Warning! Spoilers behind the cut! Continue reading

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Three New Stories of The Day the Saucers Came…

Well, I told you that there would be more new release announcements in the near future and here is the next one. And this time, it’s even a triple new release announcement for the next three stories in my The Day the Saucers Came… series.

For those of you who don’t know, the premise of the series is that there was a B-movie style alien invasion on June 9, 1956, a.k.a. “The Day the Saucers Came…”. The stories are eye witness accounts by survivors of that invasion and – it is implied – members of the resistance. In most of the stories, an alien invasion is not the worst or most notable thing that happened to the respective narrator on that day.

There are six The Day the Saucers Came… stories altogether. Acacia Crescent is the story of ten-year-old Kenny for whom June 9th, 1956, already was the worst day of his life before the saucers showed up. Lovers’ Lane is the story of sixteen-year-old Betty who first loses her virginity to the boy she believes loves her and then her boyfriend to the flying saucers. Double Feature is the story of seventeen-year-old Judy, who is in the cinema watching a science fiction double feature, when what happens on screen suddenly becomes reality.

The first of three new tales is the story of Rosemary Wilson, a housewife and mother of three who finally decides to leave her abusive husband, when the flying saucers show up.

Azalea Avenue
Azalea Avenue by Cora Buhlert1956: On the surface, Rosemary Wilson is a happily married wife and mother, enjoying a perfect life in the quiet suburb of Shady Groves. But the house on Azalea Avenue harbours a dark secret, for Rosemary’s husband Don is an abusive drunk, who vents his frustrations on Rosemary and their three children.

After nine years of abuse, Rosemary finally decides to leave Don. But her plans of escape are interrupted, first by Don coming home early from a weekend hunting trip and then by the appearance of a flying saucer from outer space in the sky above Shady Groves…

This is a novelette of 10400 words or approx. 38 pages in the The Day the Saucers Came… series, but may be read as a standalone.

Content warning for domestic violence.

More information.
Length: 10400 words
List price: 2.99 USD, EUR or 1.99 GBP
Buy it at Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Germany, Amazon France, Amazon Netherlands, Amazon Spain, Amazon Italy, Amazon Canada, Amazon Australia, Amazon Brazil, Amazon Japan, Amazon India, Amazon Mexico, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, Google Play, Scribd, Smashwords, Thalia, Weltbild, Hugendubel, Buecher.de, DriveThruFiction, Casa del Libro, Vivlio, 24symbols and XinXii.

The next of the new tales is the story of Bernie Stetson, a burglar who experiences a double surprise. First, the house he’s robbing turns out to be not as deserted as he thought. And then a flying saucer shows up as well.

Bernie’s story was a July Short Story Challenge story BTW, inspired by this piece of art by Simon Stålenhag.

Appletree Court
Appletree Court by Cora Buhlert1956: Bernie Stetson is a burglar, robbing suburban homes while their owners are not at home.

Bernie’s latest raid takes him to the subdivision of Shady Groves. But things quickly go wrong. First, the house Bernie is robbing turns out to be not as deserted as he thought. And then, a flying saucer from outer space appears in the sky above Shady Groves…

This is a short story of 3600 words or approx. 14 print pages in the The Day the Saucers Came… series, but may be read as a standalone.

 

More information.
Length: 3600 words
List price: 0.99 USD, EUR or GBP
Buy it at Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Germany, Amazon France, Amazon Netherlands, Amazon Spain, Amazon Italy, Amazon Canada, Amazon Australia, Amazon Brazil, Amazon Japan, Amazon India, Amazon Mexico, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, Google Play, Scribd, Smashwords, Thalia, Weltbild, Hugendubel, Buecher.de, DriveThruFiction, Casa del Libro, Vivlio, 24symbols and XinXii.

The last of the three new The Day the Saucers Came… stories is another July Challenge story. The idea behind this story was “The couple from the painting American Gothic meet aliens.”

Willowbrook Farm
Willowbrook Farm by Cora Buhlert1956: The elderly farmer couple Bob and Mary Graham are crushed by debt and about to lose the family farm to a greedy developer.

But on the day they are supposed to be evicted, a flying saucer from outer space appears in the sky above Willowbrook Farm…

This is a short story of 2700 words or approx. 10 print pages in the The Day the Saucers Came… series, but may be read as a standalone.

 

More information.
Length: 2700 words
List price: 0.99 USD, EUR or GBP
Buy it at Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Germany, Amazon France, Amazon Netherlands, Amazon Spain, Amazon Italy, Amazon Canada, Amazon Australia, Amazon Brazil, Amazon Japan, Amazon India, Amazon Mexico, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, Google Play, Scribd, Smashwords, Thalia, Weltbild, Hugendubel, Buecher.de, DriveThruFiction, Casa del Libro, Vivlio, 24symbols and XinXii.

All The Day the Saucers Came… stories can be read as standalones, but the characters appear in each others’ stories. Acacia Crescent, Azalea Avenue and Appletree Court all happen in the same place, the evocatively named suburb Shady Groves. Lovers’ Lane and Double Feature not only happen in the same small town, the two narrators are also classmates. And in the end, all the characters from the different stories meet up at the same diner.

If you want to read the entire The Day the Saucers Came… series, the cheapest way to do so is via this handy bundle at DriveThruFiction. And in case you noticed that there are some character apearing in the diner scene at the end whose stories have not yet been told, keep watching the skies this space.

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New Podcast Story Available at Simultaneous Times: “Patient X-5”

Simultaneous Times podcast episode 32
Well, I told you that there would be more new release announcements in the near future and here is one for the audio fiction fans among you. Because the latest episode of the Simultaneous Times podcast includes my story “Patient X-5” as well as “Trial in Majority” by Andy Dibble. Simultaneous Times is a fiction podcast produced by Space Cowboy Books, a science fiction bookstore in Joshua Tree, California.

“Patient X-5” is another story to result from the July Short Story Challenge and the first of my stories ever to make it to audio. The story is narrated by Jean-Paul Garnier and Zara Kand with music by Phog Masheen. It’s a great production that really brings the story to life. I particularly like the sound effects for the movements and voice of Patient X-5, “Whirr” to their friends.

You can listen to the episode on podomatic or Apple iTunes or the various other apps where podcasts may be found.

You can also listen right here:

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My Hugo Finalist Pin Arrived

My Hugo finalist pin finally arrived this weekend, together with a nice postcard:

Hugo finalist pin

Hugo finalist pin and postcard

The pin now lives on my summer jacket – sadly just as it’s getting too cold to wear it – together with the Galactic Journey finalist pin from last year, a 100 years of WWI poppy pin I bought in the UK a few years ago and a badger pin I got at a meeting for operators of co-generation units (the badger is the logo of the company).

Hugo pins on jacket

Two hugo finalist pins, a poppy and a badger

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First Monday Free Fiction: The Terror of the Bayou

Southern MonstersWelcome to the October 2020 edition of First Monday Free Fiction. To recap, inspired by Kristine Kathryn Rusch who posts a free short story every week on her blog, I’ll post a free story on every first Monday of the month. It will remain free to read on this blog for one month, then I’ll take it down and post another story.

October is traditionally the month for horror fiction, so this month’s free story is a horror story. Now I haven’t written a lot of straight horror stories, cause for some reason, whenever I try to write horror, it comes out as humor. That probably has something to do with the fact that I haven’t really been scared by a horror movie since I was a teenager either.

This month’s story is called “The Terror of the Bayou” and may be found in the collection Southern Monsters. The title says it all, really – it’s a story about a swamp monster that lives in the Louisiana bayous and snatches a bride on her wedding day and the man who goes after them. It was inspired by my love for the US Gulf Coast, where I lived for almost a year as a child.

So prepare to accompany Remy Theriault, as he faces…

The Terror of the Bayou

Remy Theriault had never really believed in the swamp monster.

True, there had been stories. Stories going back two hundred years, passed on from father to son, from mother to daughter. Stories of the thing that stalked the bayous of Vermilion Parish. Stories of glowing red eyes staring out from the undergrowth. Tales of roots and twigs and pond scum suddenly coming alive to form a crude mockery of the human form. Stories of a thing with razor sharp teeth chasing the unwary through the bayou.

And then there were all those tales of people who had ventured out into the bayou — hunters, traders, runaways and escaped slaves — and never come back. And whispers that they had fallen prey to the thing that stalked Bayou Cramoisi, the Crimson Bayou. Whispers that the Terror had got them. For that was what the locals called the monster. La Terreur. The Terror.

Remy didn’t believe any of it, of course. Growing up Cajun in Acadiana didn’t mean that you automatically had to believe every tall tale told by some old man sitting in a rocking chair on his porch and every superstition whispered by some old woman stirring a pot of gumbo in the cosy comfort of her kitchen.

For Remy was smart, a man of the world, a man of poise and education. He’d been to college, after all. He’d left behind the bayou and the little shack in the village of Leleux where he’d grown up. He’d gotten a scholarship for Tulane, worked hard, studied hard, became a lawyer in New Orleans. He was a man of the world now, yes, he was. And men of the world did not believe in tall tales and superstitions and stories of swamp monsters.

As it was, Remy barely even heard the old stories anymore now that he lived in the big city. And so he mentally slotted them into the same category as the voodoo shops with their windows full of love spells and pincushion dolls made in China or the tours of supposedly haunted houses, haunted by the ghosts of people who’d never lived and certainly never died there, or the fake vampires that roamed the French Quarter by night.

It was all just a bit of quaint folklore for the benefit of the tourists who came to New Orleans, their head full of the stories told by Anne Rice or Charlaine Harris, thinking that it was all real, thinking that just because the city was old, older than most any other on the American continent, it had to be haunted by ghosts and infested with vampires and swamp monsters as well.

Remy politely ignored it all. The city needed the tourists, after all, and many a family in his old home in Acadiana made its living ferrying tourists through the bayous, taking them hunting or fishing or gator spotting. And if the tourists wanted myths and legends and stories, then who was Remy to say anything against that? Money made the world go round, after all, in Cajun country as much as everywhere. But that Remy tolerated the old stories didn’t necessarily mean that he believed in any of them.

Though these days, Remy didn’t come home much anyway. Weddings, funerals, maybe Christmas and Thanksgiving, that was it.

It was the former that had brought Remy back to Vermilion Parish this time around. His cousin Alex was getting married to Belle St. Croix this weekend. Or rather, Alex was supposed to get married to Belle St. Croix, for the wedding had to be called off at the last minute, because the bride had gone missing.

By all accounts, Belle had just vanished into thin air. One moment she was in her parents’ house, getting dressed for the wedding, the next she was gone — poof, just like that — and all that was left were a few drops of blood, a scrap of white lace from her wedding dress and an open window overlooking the Crimson Bayou.

To Remy, it was completely obvious what had happened. Belle, probably experiencing the usual wedding jitters, had taken a good long look at Alex — who, though he was Remy’s cousin and an all around nice guy and gifted car mechanic, had never been the sharpest knife in the drawer — and saw the future life she would lead as the wife of a car mechanic barely scraping by in the Louisiana bayous. And then, in a moment of unusual clarity — for Belle was nothing if not Alex’s intellectual equal — she’d done a runner. Probably tore her dress and hurt herself climbing out of the window, which would account for the blood and the scrap of lace.

So there was a perfectly reasonable explanation for what had happened to Belle. She was probably halfway to New Orleans or Atlanta or Houston or Galveston by now, and more power to her.

But Belle’s parents and Alex and the whole town really, they just didn’t want to accept the truth. The truth that Belle was gone and that she wouldn’t be coming back, if she had even half a brain — which, knowing Belle, was debatable. And so, rather than face the facts, the people started talking of the Terror and how it had snatched Belle like it had snatched so many others before.

It was all bullshit of course. Superstitious nonsense, cooked up by people unwilling to face the hard truth. People like Alex, looking so sad and lost in his borrowed tuxedo that had gone out of style in approximately 1988.

But though he didn’t believe in the Terror, Remy had nonetheless volunteered to go looking for Belle. Dumb as a sack of rocks or not, Alex was family and family looked out for each other. It was simply a matter of duty.

And so here he was, still in his dress shirt, though he’d ditched the bow tie and jacket and swapped his tuxedo pants for jeans, his dress shoes for sturdy workboots, wading through the swamp in search of Belle St. Croix, a search that he knew fully well was futile.

When no trace of Belle was found — as Remy knew there wouldn’t be — the people of Leleux would eventually give up looking for her and chalk up Belle as another victim of the Terror. There’d probably be a nice memorial service and a headstone with her name and the date of her disappearance on it in the cemetery. And soon no one would remember or care that the headstone marked an empty grave, a grave in which nothing but a scrap of bloody lace lay buried.

As far as anybody in Leleux was concerned, Belle St. Croix would be dead, just one more victim of the Terror. Which probably suited Belle just fine. Disappearing without a trace was always easier, when there was no one looking for you.

Hmm, perhaps Belle had even deliberately planted the blood and the scrap of lace to lead the town chasing down the wrong path. Though in that case, she had to be a lot smarter than Remy gave her credit for.

He should’ve done the same, Remy thought, as he sank knee-deep into brackish water, soaking his jeans and his boots. Should’ve done a runner and planted a few scraps of clothing and a few droplets of blood to make it look like the Terror had taken him. That way, he could be sitting on the balcony of his apartment in New Orleans now, a Sazerac in one hand and a good crime novel in the other, overlooking the French Quarter. Not wading through some stinking bayou, chasing ghosts and phantoms and runaway brides.

A twig cracked behind him, followed by the distinctive slurping of water. Remy froze. Someone or rather something was here with him, watching his every move from the dense undergrowth. Not the Terror. Remy wasn’t stupid, after all. He knew that there was no such thing as monsters. But there were plenty of creatures in the bayou, snakes, alligators, snap turtles and even the occasional Louisiana black bear, that were just as deadly and — unlike the Terror — actually real.

Remy raised his shotgun, aiming it at nothing in particular. True, he might not believe that a monster had taken Belle St. Croix, but he’d be damned if he went into the bayou without a gun and a knife. Only an idiot would go into alligator infested waters unarmed.

There were more cracking twigs, more rustling leaves, more slurping water behind him. Slowly, Remy turned around, hand on the trigger of his shotgun.

Behind him, there was nothing, nothing at all. Just dense undergrowth, a bit denser than it should have been considering Remy had just come that way mere seconds before.

Then, all of a sudden, the undergrowth moved, branches swaying and shaking, leaves quivering, water rippling. Almost as if something was trying to break through, something big and deadly.

Remy took a step backwards and then another, keeping his shotgun trained on the undergrowth.

And still the leaves rustled, the foliage trembled and brackish bayou water bubbled up against Remy’s legs. But nothing broke through. Nothing but a bird that fluttered out of the undergrowth and up into the sky with a panicked chirp.

Remy allowed himself to relax a little. Scared by a bird, right. Here he was, mocking his old neighbours for being terrified of mythical monsters, when he himself was scared half to death by a bird.

The undergrowth shook again, leaves rustling and quivering. Probably the bird’s mate, abandoning the nest to follow her beloved. Hell, maybe there even was a whole colony of birds nesting in there.

Remy waited, shotgun still raised, but no further birds emerged from the undergrowth. But the twigs still crackled, the leaves still rustled, the brackish water still burbled like mad.

And then he saw it. A pair of glowing red eyes peering out of the undergrowth, watching his every move.

Remy froze. Fuck, it was the Louisiana black bear. Had to be. On the other hand, did bears have red eyes? But then, what else could it be?

Yeah right, the Terror. Except that Remy did not believe in those stories, no siree, he didn’t.

The undergrowth rustled again. Remy raised his shotgun and braced himself for a close encounter with the Louisiana black bear.

But no bear emerged from the undergrowth nor an alligator, raccoon, possum nor any other critter that inhabited the bayous. Instead, the undergrowth itself was shaking and heaving. Pond scum burbled and leaves, twigs and roots reformed themselves before his very eyes. And gradually, what had only been a patch of dense undergrowth mere seconds before, became something else.

Roots and reeds twisted themselves into two legs, branches, leaves and vines formed a torso and two arms with spindly fingers made from twigs. A head grew upon its shoulders, assembling itself from twigs and leaves, with glowing red eyes and Spanish moss for hair. A mouth opened, studded with rows of razor sharp teeth, and the thing let out a roar that was part the burble of the bayou, part the shriek of a bird and part the growl of the Louisiana black bear. Then, the thing launched itself at Remy, mouth wide open, razor sharp teeth bared.

Remy fired, right into the thing’s wide open mouth. The impact threw the thing back and sent twigs and leaves and bits of Spanish moss flying in all directions. But the thing kept on coming, pond scum foaming at its mouth.

Remy stumbled backwards and fired again. And again. And again. He fired until his pump action shotgun was empty. And still the thing kept on coming.

Remy didn’t have time to reload, for the Terror — might as well call that — was almost upon him. So he used the barrel of his shotgun as a club, slamming it again and again into the Terror’s body. It was a lot like beating on bushes to scare up birds, like he’d often done as a boy.

But the Terror was no bird. And if shots didn’t stop it, then clubbing it with an empty shotgun sure as hell wouldn’t.

The shotgun landed in the water and then the Terror was upon him, twig fingers clawing at his body, vines twisting themselves around his arms, legs and throat. Breathing was already hard and the thing seemed to be determined to drag him under and drown him in the bayou.

Remy struggled, but the grip of the thing holding him was too strong. He could not get free. He’d die here, mourned as yet another victim of the Terror. And this time, the townsfolk would even be right.

His hand brushed against the hilt of his knife, a hunting knife his grandpa had given Remy for his tenth birthday. His fingers curled around the hilt and he began hacking at the vines and twigs that held him.

The Terror screamed in pain and rage, sap spurting from its wounds. Encouraged by the creature’s reaction, Remy continued hacking at it. He was a Theriault, after all, and a Theriault never went down without a fight.

Then suddenly, the battle was joined, as someone else attacked the Terror from behind, slashing and hacking at it with a determination to match Remy’s.

But this new combatant’s weapon wasn’t a knife. It was a shoe, a white stiletto-heeled shoe of the sort that brides wore on their wedding day.

He’d found Belle St. Croix. Or rather, Belle had found him.

Together, Remy and Belle kept hacking and slashing at the Terror, until the creature disintegrated into its components and became trees and shrubs and undergrowth once more.

Remy and Belle looked at each other, both panting with exhaustion. Belle’s wedding gown was in tatters, her body covered in scratches. Bits of twigs and leaves were tangled in her blonde curls.

Remy didn’t look much better. His jeans were torn and his dress shirt had been reduced to a rag, the once white fabric stained green and brown with pond scum and mud.

“You… you’re Alex’s cousin, aren’t you?” Belle stammered, “The one who’s a lawyer in New Orleans.”

Remy nodded and held out his hand, well aware how absurd it all was. “Remy Theriault at your service, Mademoiselle.”

Belle took his hand. Her faux fingernails had broken off and tattered lace gloves clung to her fingers like cobwebs.

The formal introductions were interrupted by a sound behind them. Cracking twigs, rustling leaves and burbling, slurping water.

Belle and Remy spun around as one, just in time to see glowing red eyes watching them from the undergrowth. Vines snaked, pond scum bubbled, leaves and twigs moved to reassemble themselves into a crude, vaguely human form.

“Fuck,” Remy exclaimed, before he remembered that there was a lady present. Besides, given the circumstances, he doubted that Belle would mind. “How many of these damned things are there anyway?”

“I… I think we’d better leave now,” Belle stammered, her face turning pale under her smeared make-up, “Before we find out.”

Remy nodded. “Great idea.”

And so they ran, hand in hand, splashing through the brackish water as fast as they could. When the bayou became too deep for Belle, Remy swooped her up in his arms and carried her the rest of the way, until they reached higher, drier ground.

In the distance, they could make out Remy’s pick-up, a spot of bright red among the greys and greens and browns of the bayou. They sprinted the rest of the way, Remy in workboots and Belle on bare feet.

As soon as they’d scrambled into the car, Remy gunned the engine.

“Look,” Belle cried in the passenger seat beside him.

Remy turned and saw the Terror emerging from the undergrowth. It had grown since their last encounter and was the size of a cypress tree now. And judging by its howl and its wide open mouth, it was angry.

Remy stepped down hard onto the accelerator. The pick-up sped away, splashing water and mud as it went.

Behind them, the Terror howled, drowning out the roar of the engine.

***

And so Remy Theriault brought back Belle St. Croix, the stolen bride. The entire village had turned out to celebrate the hero who had conquered the Terror and rescued the maiden — well, sort of — and Alex, glad to have his bride back, assured Remy of his undying gratitude.

Since everything was ready — the church, the priest, the band, the buffet and now the bride and groom as well — the wedding could take place after all. And since Remy had rescued the bride, he even got to serve as Alex’s best man. Someone even found a new shirt for him to wear with his tuxedo.

Belle was a radiant bride and grandma’s old wedding dress fit her almost perfectly. The vows went off without a hitch — well, another hitch — and then it was time for the party to begin.

Remy ate a lot, drank a lot and danced a lot with every single bridesmaid. And with one of them, a redhead named Marie who’d been friends with Belle at school and was now studying law at Tulane, Remy danced more than once.

Finally, when the clock was nearing midnight, Remy took a break from dancing and found himself standing at the buffet, his plate loaded down with gumbo and jambalaya and cornbread and crawfish pie.

“You did good today, boy,” a voice beside him said, “Ain’t many men who’ve fought the Terror and lived to tell the tale.”

Remy turned around and found himself standing next to his grandpa. “I just did what everyone would’ve done,” he said, “And besides, I got lucky. Real lucky.”

Grandpa chuckled. “Modesty’s always a good trait for a men to have.” He helped himself to some red beans and rice. “By the way, I see you’ve been dancing with Marie Delacroix.” Grandpa nodded. “She’s a nice girl and smart. And she caught the bouquet.”

Remy could see where that particular conversation was heading, so he quickly changed the subject. “About the Terror… have you seen it before?”

Grandpa nodded. “Aye, I have, back when I was a young lad like you. I was out fishing in the bayou, when I saw it. Glowing red eyes in the undergrowth, shrubs forming themselves into something. Never waited around to see what, but paddled away as fast as my arms could carry me.”

“Smart choice,” Remy said, “And besides, it’s damn ugly anyway.” He hesitated. “I never believed it was real, you know?”

“I know. You weren’t shy about telling us either. What was it you called it? Superstitious nonsense and old wives’ tales.”

“About that…” Remy shifted from one foot to another. “Well, I’m sorry.”

“No need for that, boy. No man believes in the Terror until he sees it with his own eyes. Still, you’ve got quite a tale to tell your big city friends in New Orleans.”

Remy shook his head. “Actually, I’d rather not. I know what happened and I know I saw. But when I go blabbering about swamp monsters in New Orleans, I’ll get laughed out of the bar association.”

Grandpa regarded him thoughtfully. “Probably for the best,” he finally said, “There’s some truths big city folks just cannot take. And now get yourself back on the dancefloor, my boy, cause that nice Marie Delacroix is standing there all alone and unattended.”

The End

***

That’s it for this month’s edition of First Monday Free Fiction. Check back next month, when a new story will be posted.

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A new Sword and Sorcery Story, a new Helen Shepherd Mystery and the Pegasus Pulp Sampler

I’ve been busy lately, editing and proofreading stories, designing covers, formatting e-books and generally working through the backlog of unpublished stories resulting from the July Short Story Challenge(s). So there will be more new release announcements in the near future.

To begin with, I want to announce the first two stories from the 2020 July Short Story Challenge to be published. These are also the two longest stories to come out of the 2020 July Short Story Challenge, since both have crossed the novelette mark.

The first of these two stories is a sword and sorcery tale, though it’s not a Thurvok story, because it just didn’t fit into the Thurvok series. Because the story requires the protagonist to be a king. And Thurvok is happy being a wandering adventurer and has zero interest in being a king and Meldom, much as I like him, should never be put in charge of anything. So I came up with a new character called Kurval, a barbarian from beyond the sea who became King of Azakoria and has problems getting the people to accept him.

But King’s Justice also wouldn’t have fit tonally into the Thurvok series, because the Thurvok stories sit on the lighter end of the sword and sorcery spectrum, in spite of plenty of monsters, skeletons and resurrected corpses, and are closer to Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and Gray Mouser (though there are plenty of dark Leiber stories as well) than to Conan and Jirel of Joiry. “King’s Justice” is more Robert E. Howard, particularly the Kull stories and The Hour of the Dragon/Conan the Conqueror. Though the ending is happier than what Howard or Moore would have written.

Initially, King’s Justice was supposed to be a standalone, but since I like Kurval and I can tell stories with him that I cannot tell with Thurvok and his friends, you’ll see him again eventually. I’m publishing the Kurval stories under the Richard Blakemore byline, because Richard already has an established name as a sword and sorcery writer.

So follow Kurval, as he prepared to mete out…

King’s Justice
King's Justice by Richard Blakemore and Cora BuhlertIn the year of the forked serpent, Kurval came from beyond the sea, slew King Orkol and became King of Azakoria.

But Kurval’s reign is not an easy one. The people of Azakoria despise him as an uncouth barbarian, the nobles plot against him and assassination attempts are a frequent occurrence.

One day, a hooded assassin tries to stab Kurval during an audience. Kurval is shocked, when the assassin is revealed to be a young woman, Nelaira, daughter of a minor noble. But why would a girl of nineteen throw away her life on a futile assassination attempt?

As Kurval investigates Nelaira’s motives, he finds that he does not want to hang her. But he is king now and a king has to do his duty. Or does he?

This is a romantic novelette of 9000 words or approx. 30 print pages in the Kurval sword and sorcery series, but may be read as a standalone. Includes an introduction and afterword.

More information.
Length: 9000 words.
List price: 0.99 USD, EUR or GBP
Buy it at Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Germany, Amazon France, Amazon Netherlands, Amazon Spain, Amazon Italy, Amazon Canada, Amazon Australia, Amazon Brazil, Amazon Japan, Amazon India, Amazon Mexico, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, Google Play, Scribd, Smashwords, Thalia, Weltbild, Hugendubel, Buecher.de, DriveThruFiction, Casa del Libro, Vivlio, 24symbols and XinXii.

***

The second new story I have to announce is the latest Helen Shepherd Mystery. Even though A Grave Case is already the fourteenth Helen Shepherd Mystery I have written, it is the first to be written during the July Short Story Challenge.

The inspiration for this story was a news report about thefts and robberies on cemeteries. It’s not even the first crime story I have written that is set on a cemetery and features someone robbing elderly widows. Loot is another, though it’s much more lighthearted. Though the robber gets his comeuppance in both cases.

So follow Detective Inspector Helen Shepherd and her team, as they solve…

A Grave Case
A Grave Case by Cora BuhlertWhen the elderly widow Maureen Pettigrew is found bludgeoned to death on the grave of her late husband, the case seems clear. Maureen is the latest victim of the cemetery mugger who has been terrorising Kensal Green cemetery for several weeks now.

However, the only suspect – a young man in jeans and a battered leather jacket – is a phantom no one except the cemetery caretaker has ever seen.

Can Detective Inspector Helen Shepherd and her team find the young man in the leather jacket? And does he even exist?

This is a novelette of 7700 words or approx. 26 print pages in the Helen Shepherd Mysteries series, but may be read as a standalone.

More information.
Length: 7700 words
List price: 0.99 USD, EUR or GBP
Buy it at Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Germany, Amazon France, Amazon Netherlands, Amazon Spain, Amazon Italy, Amazon Canada, Amazon Australia, Amazon Brazil, Amazon Japan, Amazon India, Amazon Mexico, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, Google Play, Scribd, Smashwords, Thalia, Weltbild, Hugendubel, Buecher.de, DriveThruFiction, Casa del Libro, Vivlio, 24symbols and XinXii.

***

The final release I have to announce is not so new anymore. It’s The Pegasus Pulp Sampler, a collection which offers stories, usually the first one, from all my series. I initially intended for the sampler to be a Worldcon exclusive, but since it was doing well, I left it up. However, since the Sampler was only supposed to be available for a limited time, I never announced it here and then just forgot.

Still, if you want to try my various series (all of them), this is the cheapest and easiest way to do it.

The Pegasus Pulp Sampler
The Pegasus Pulp Sampler by Cora BuhlertGet an overview of the works of Hugo finalist Cora Buhlert and her one-woman small press Pegasus Pulp Publishing.

Space opera, military science fiction, alien invasions, hostile planets, sword and sorcery, pulp thrillers, men’s adventure, murder mysteries, cozy fantasy, historical romance – we have all that and more.

Meet Anjali and Mikhail, soldiers on opposite sides of an intergalactic war, who fall in love across enemy lines. Follow along with the rebellion against the Fifth Human Empire. Explore what happened on June 9th, 1956, the day the saucers came. Follow the people on the planet Iago Prime as they try to maintain old world traditions in their new home. Watch Alfred and Bertha, an ordinary married couple, as they live their marvellous twenty-first century life. Follow Detective Inspector Helen Shepherd of the London Metropolitan Police and her team, as they solve crimes. Watch Two-Fisted Todd Donavan, international troubleshooter, as he travels the world in the 1960s to solve other people’s problems. Meet Richard Blakemore, hardworking pulp author by day and the masked crimefighter known only as the Silencer by night, as he fights crime and corruption in Depression era New York City. Follow Thurvok the sellsword and his friends, as they seek treasures, fight monsters and help those in need. Visit Hallowind Cove, the permanently fog-shrouded seaside town, where strange things keep happening.

Enjoy twelve novellas, novelettes and short stories in five genres.

Contains the following stories:

  • Evacuation Order
  • Baptism of Fire
  • Mercy Mission
  • Acacia Crescent
  • Valentine’s Day on Iago Prime
  • The Four and a Half Minute Boiled Egg
  • The Cork and the Bottle
  • The Crawling Death
  • Countdown to Death
  • The Valley of the Man Vultures
  • The Revenant of Wrecker’s Dock
  • The Kiss of the Executioner’s Blade

List price: 2.99 USD, EUR or GBP
Buy it at Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon Germany, Amazon France, Amazon Netherlands, Amazon Spain, Amazon Italy, Amazon Canada, Amazon Australia, Amazon Brazil, Amazon Japan, Amazon India, Amazon Mexico, Kobo, Barnes & Noble, Apple iBooks, Google Play, Scribd, Smashwords, Thalia, Weltbild, Hugendubel, Buecher.de, DriveThruFiction, Casa del Libro, Vivlio, 24symbols and XinXii.

***

As I said above, there are more new release coming. Next up, are not one, not two, but three new stories in the The Day the Saucers Came… series.

Also upcoming are new stories in the In Love and War series, more Thurvok stories and some spooky short fiction.

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Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month for September 2020

Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month
It’s that time of the month again, time for “Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month”.

So what is “Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month”? It’s a round-up of speculative fiction by indie and small press authors (as well as the occasional Big 5 book) newly published this month, though some August books I missed the last time around snuck in as well. The books are arranged in alphabetical order by author. So far, most links only go to Amazon.com, though I may add other retailers for future editions.

Once again, we have new releases covering the whole broad spectrum of speculative fiction. This month, we have urban fantasy, epic fantasy, Asian fantasy, fairytales, sword and sorcery, paranormal mysteries, paranormal romance, fantasy romance, science fiction romance, science fantasy, space opera, military science fiction, young adult science fiction, young adult fantasy, weird western, horror, non-fiction, literary criticism, vampires, werewolves, ghosts, sirens, monsters, necromancers, barbarian kings, star kingdoms, space mages, space marines, space pirates, xenoarchaeologists, haunted drive-ins, crime-busting witches and much more.

Don’t forget that Indie Speculative Fiction of the Month is also crossposted to the Speculative Fiction Showcase, a group blog run by Jessica Rydill and myself, which features new release spotlights, guest posts, interviews and link round-ups regarding all things speculative fiction several times per week.

As always, I know the authors at least vaguely, but I haven’t read all of the books, so Caveat emptor.

And now on to the books without further ado:

The Jonbar Point by Brian AldissThe Jonbar Point: Essays from SF Horizons by Brian Aldiss:

The Jonbar Point collects, for the first time, two major essays on science fiction which Brian Aldiss published in the two issues of his and Harry Harrison’s critical journal SF Horizons. Christopher Priest contributes a new introduction.

“Judgement at Jonbar” (1964) is a lengthy analysis on several levels of Jack Williamson’s pulp-era classic The Legion of Time, which gave SF the term “jonbar point” – where alternative timelines diverge. This essay is described in the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction as “one of the most penetrating studies yet written about a pulp-sf novel”.

“British Science Fiction Now: Studies of Three Writers” (1965) examines the work of the contemporary authors Lan Wright, Donald Malcolm and J.G. Ballard – treating the first two somewhat cruelly (though very entertainingly) and the third with measured admiration. This, based on his early work to 1965, was the first substantial critical study of the later very famous J.G. Ballard.

Brian Aldiss himself, one of the most distinguished SF authors of the twentieth century, should need no introduction. The Jonbar Point: Essays from SF Horizons is published by permission of The Estate of Brian Aldiss.

King's Justice by Richard Blakemore and Cora BuhlertKing’s Justice by Richard Blakemore and Cora Buhlert:

In the year of the forked serpent, Kurval came from beyond the sea, slew King Orkol and became King of Azakoria.

But Kurval’s reign is not an easy one. The people of Azakoria despise him as an uncouth barbarian, the nobles plot against him and assassination attempts are a frequent occurrence.

One day, a hooded assassin tries to stab Kurval during an audience. Kurval is shocked, when the assassin is revealed to be a young woman, Nelaira, daughter of a minor noble. But why would a girl of nineteen throw away her life on a futile assassination attempt?

As Kurval investigates Nelaira’s motives, he finds that he does not want to hang her. But he is king now and a king has to do his duty. Or does he?

This is a romantic novelette of 9000 words or approx. 30 print pages in the Kurval sword and sorcery series, but may be read as a standalone. Includes an introduction and afterword.

Fortune's Fool by Jeff BoydFortune’s Fool by Jeff Boyd:

He digs through the past to unearth his future. But will rocketing into the expanse blast him into deadly trouble?

Xenoarchaeologist Mark Fortune just needs one big find to be set for life. Roaming the post-apocalyptic galaxy in search of riches, the pragmatic loner believes he’s finally made the breakthrough of his career when he activates an ancient portal. But when he’s catapulted onto an unknown planet, he’s followed by a revenge-driven skybiker out for his blood.

For the sake of survival, Mark and the motorhead form an uneasy alliance until they can escape the strange and unforgiving world. But the only path back home pits them against a ruthless warlord in a flying space fortress armed with pre-holocaust tech and a horde of killer robots…

Can Mark tear down a dictator before his newest discovery is otherworldly death?

Fortune’s Fool is the first book in the edgy Fortune Chronicles science fiction adventure series. If you like throwback futurism, gritty action, and expansive worlds, then you’ll love Jeff Boyd’s interstellar doorway.

Layers of Force by Lindsay BurokerLayers of Force by Lindsay Buroker:

The exciting conclusion to the Star Kingdom series!

Even though Professor Casmir Dabrowski has been fighting for months to help the kingdom and humanity as a whole, few people in positions of power have appreciated his unorthodox methods. Now he’s a captive of the king and being taken back to his home world without his friends or the crushers he relies upon to protect him. The king believes Casmir is responsible for the prince’s death and plans to have him publicly executed.

But bigger troubles are brewing for the Star Kingdom, and Casmir may once again be needed to find a creative solution to save his people—and reshape the entire future of the Twelve Systems.

First, he’s got to escape and survive. No easy feat for a man stripped of his allies and marked as a rebel and a traitor.

Order now to find out what happens in this final installment of the series.

Acceptable Losses by Rachel FordAcceptable Losses by Rachel Ford:

Victory is reserved for those who are willing to pay its price.

The Union is engaged in a bitter war on multiple fronts. Old enmities are resurfacing daily, threatening further cracks in the already fragile planetary alliance. But there are some who are willing to pay the price, whatever it is, to keep the Union intact.

When the Black Flag is ambushed en route to a rendezvous, privateers Katherine Ellis and Captain Magdalene Landon find themselves fighting a losing battle against a superior force. And when they need them most, the Union is nowhere to be found.

But there’s more afoot than overtaxed lines and being in the wrong place at the wrong time. To the admiralty, a handful of privateers is a small price to pay for victory.

As Katherine and Magdalene discover that their plight might not be a product of happenstance after all, they determine to live long enough to get answers. Because losing the Black Flag might be acceptable to the brass, but they’re not willing to die as pawns.

Sanctuary by Chris FoxSanctuary by Chris Fox:

Join Us, or Die and Join Anyway

I hate necromancers. They’re sneaky, and underhanded, and…damned effective. My father’s ghost is going to be reshaped into an assassin sent to kill my mother unless I dance for Necrotis, an unliving goddess and ruler of the Maker’s Wrath.

A storm rages across the void, with winds upwards of two thousand kilometers a second in some places, the Catalyst known as Sanctuary. The Unseen Fleets lurk somewhere within, and emerge to harvest miners working the asteroids and moons flung out of the storm. Necrotis wants me to fly inside, find a city that predates the Great Cycle, and find a way inside when no one ever has before.

No pressure, right?

If I didn’t need enough incentive here’s some more. My mother promised the Confederate Pantheon that I’d fly into the storm to find answers while they marshal their forces for war. No one asked me, or my crew. I wish I could give them the middle finger, and take the Remora and run, but if I do?

Well… I have a feeling the whole galaxy is going to burn. I need to save my father. I need to find out what’s hiding in that storm, and then turn it on the people trying to use me. I’ll get answers all right, but not the ones they want.

Dryker's Folly by Chris FoxDryker’s Folly by Chris Fox:

Before the Void Wraith. Before the Eradication.

Captain Dryker is a washed up vet mining on the fringes of the Kupier belt. He loads rocks into the Folly’s railgun, and fires them back to his corporate overlords on Earth. Boring, just the way he likes it. Until one day it isn’t.

An alien signal bursts from Pluto, which as it turns out is neither a planet, nor a planetoid body. It is an ancient defense satellite that has activated because it detected the return of the Vuka Spectra. The Void Wraith.

Dryker is the closest ship on the scene, but not the only one vying for the prize. Hostile aliens have somehow emerged from our sun using something called a Helios Gate. The savage Tigris have come not just for the satellite, but to conquer Earth.

Dryker’s only hope is finding something, anything, within the installation to counter the alien’s superior technology and save mankind.

The prequel to the Void Wraith Saga. Learn how it all began…

Reach of the Colossus by Nicole GrotepasReach of the Colossus by Nicole Grotepas:

If the old power was bad, this new one? Absolute evil.

Holly Drake and her crew can hardly guess what the new shadow forces will do. Trying to stay a step ahead of them hardly seems like the answer. But what choice do they have? Bargaining for information from the corrupt underworld, facing down new foes, and pulling side-heists to fund their larger goals is chaotic at best. But, well, it’s the least they can do.

 

Legend of the Black Rose by A.W. HartLegend of the Black Rose by A.W. Hart:

A GRITTY, VIOLENT ADVENTURE FOLLOWING ONE WOMAN’S SEARCH FOR VENGEANCE.

Catalina Cristiana Rivera’s aristocratic life is shattered by a heinous raid on her father’s prominent West Texas rancho.

But at the convent in Santo Tomas redemption and the violent secrets of her past confront Lina with an even more dire challenge. A challenge that gives rise to the legend…and dark vengeance of the Black Rose.

With her razor-sharp urumi whip-sword and the help of a deputy U.S. Marshal, Lina’s alter ego carves a new legacy in the annals of Western adventure.

With high adventure, fast action, and an underlying sense of comradery and duty, The Black Rose joins a pantheon of masked heroes blazing her way across the early 20th century desert landscape.

Ghostly Camping by Lily Harper HartGhostly Camping by Lily Harper Hart:

Harper Harlow’s romantic life is perfect, her wedding is in the works, and now she’s decided to enhance her business standing by attending a haunted campground opening. If she enjoys herself, publicly endorses it and the owner, then she’ll open up a brave new world.

Unfortunately for Harper, old ghosts die hard and a fresh murder taints what is supposed to be a quiet weekend.

Harper’s happy foursome – her fiancé Jared Monroe, her best friend Zander Pritchett, and his fiancé Shawn Donovan are all along for the ride – turns into a nightmare when the group must pretend to solve a fake murder while actively hunting clues regarding a real murder. On top of that, Harper and Zander don’t have as much fun “roughing it” as they thought they would … well, despite the s’mores.

Four urbanites go into the woods. Will any of them come out alive? It’s going to take everyone working together to solve an old mystery and ease the fresh hell that has emerged.

Get ready for adventure, because it’s going to be one heckuva trip, and there’s a big wedding right around the corner for those who survive.

Interrupting Starlight by Kyndra HatchInterrupting Starlight by Kyndra Hatch:

The human composed a song in his heart, a pull he couldn’t ignore, a draw that demanded further exploration—

When he answered a distress call, L’Den hadn’t expected to find one of the Invaders waiting for him. The tug he feels on his soul is even more surprising, drawing him closer to the woman, in spite of her humanity. Both his second-in-command and A’rch, his companion mogha, seem fine with leaving her behind and letting the desert deal with the problem, but he’s not so sure.

Tessa has spent the last two years hoping for a way off the harsh desert planet where her research vessel crashed, watching her friends die one-by-one, and befriending a strange creature of the sand. But when a rescue ship does arrive, she realizes she might have been better off lost. The Korthans, savage aliens bent on the destruction of humankind, aren’t happy to find her. And yet, despite her fear, she can’t deny the pull she feels towards one of them.

Korthans only have one chance to find a true mate, but chasing after the human could risk the safety of the colony he’s sworn to protect. Even though the call of a mating bond demands a higher loyalty, L’Den never expected to have to choose.

Windstorm by A.L. HawkeWindstorm by A.L. Hawke:

Believe in witches, for sometimes you need magic to ward off the evil in darkness.

It was my junior year at Hawthorne University when Mira dealt me a reversed Lovers card. That meant trouble in paradise. I thought nothing of it until Alondra introduced me to a new witch from outside our coven—Enora. Enora’s precisely the sort of witch you’d call wicked. Even worse, she used to be in love with my boyfriend.

I just wanted a normal year. But as our leader fought illness, I fought with my friends trying to hold the Hawthorne coven together. I felt abandoned. And my loneliness dropped me into trances where I wandered the dark forest alone. These altered states were created by my magic, but I learned that they were spurred on by something far more sinister.

Where did this evil come from? The wicked witch? The old devil? I had to find out because it threatened the people I love.

Burning Roses by S.L. HuangBurning Roses by S.L. Huang:

Rosa, also known as Red Riding Hood, is done with wolves and woods.

Hou Yi the Archer is tired, and knows she’s past her prime.

They would both rather just be retired, but that’s not what the world has ready for them.

When deadly sunbirds begin to ravage the countryside, threatening everything they’ve both grown to love, the two must join forces. Now blessed and burdened with the hindsight of middle age, they begin a quest that’s a reckoning of sacrifices made and mistakes mourned, of choices and family and the quest for immortality.

Guardians of the Sky Realms by Gerry HuntmanGuardian of the Sky Realms by Gerry Huntman:

Maree Webster?an “almost-emo” from the western suburbs of Sydney?hates school, has few friends, and is obsessed with angels and fallen angel stories. Life is boring until she decides to steal a famous painting from a small art gallery that has been haunting her dreams: swirling reds, greys and oranges of barely discernible winged figures. There, she meets a stranger who claims to know her and stumbles into a world where cities float in the sky, and daemons roam the barren, magma-spewing crags of the land far below. And all is not well?Maree is turning into something she loves but at the same time, fears. Most fearful of all is the prospect of losing her identity?what makes her Maree, and more importantly, what makes her human. Guardian of the Sky Realms takes the reader on a journey through exotic fantasy lands, as well as across the globe, from Sydney to Paris, from the Himalayas to Manhattan. At its heart, it is a novel about transformation.

Assassins of Brush and Blade by J.C. KangAssassins of Brush and Blade by J.C. Kang:

When a shipment of magic Dragon Art commissioned by the Emperor goes missing, it’s up to the Black Lotus Clan to track it down and punish the thieves.

Assassins of Brush and Blade originally appeared in the Complete Tales of the Floating World. It can be read as a prequel to Thorn of the Night Blossoms.

 

 

Dark World: Oblivion by A.R. KingstonDark World: Oblivion by A.R. Kingston

You can run, but you can never escape from who you are.

Alex thought moving to East Ashland was going to give them a clean start, be a palace where they can be accepted for who they are, but she was wrong. Upon moving back to his sleepy hometown of Fall Harbor, Jay’s past catches up to him, and he becomes the gossip of the entire town. At the same time, unexplainable headaches begin to plague Alex and she exhibits powers far beyond those of a pure-blood mage in their world. And, if things were not bad enough, an extremist group lurks in the dim alleyways at night, waiting for their chance to strike. With everything accumulating into a perfect storm, can Jay and Alex survive, or will there be no place left for them to run?

The Cipher by Kathe KojaThe Cipher by Kathe Koja:

Winner of the Bram Stoker Award and Locus Awards, finalist for the Philip K. Dick Award, and named one of io9.com’s “Top 10 Debut Science Fiction Novels That Took the World By Storm.” With a new afterword by Maryse Meijer, author of Heartbreaker and Rag. “Black. Pure black and the sense of pulsation, especially when you look at it too closely, the sense of something not living but alive.” When a strange hole materializes in a storage room, would-be poet Nicholas and his feral lover Nakota allow their curiosity to lead them into the depths of terror. “Wouldn’t it be wild to go down there?” says Nakota. Nicholas says, “We’re not.” But no one is in control, and their experiments lead to obsession, violence, and a very final transformation for everyone who gets too close to the Funhole.

Midnight Horror Show by Ben LathropMidnight Horror Show by Ben Lathrop:

It’s end of October 1985 and the crumbling river town of Dubois, Iowa is shocked by the gruesome murder of one of the pillars of the community. Detective David Carlson has no motive, no evidence, and only one lead: the macabre local legend of “Boris Orlof,” a late night horror movie host who burned to death during a stage performance at the drive-in on Halloween night twenty years ago and the teenage loner obsessed with keeping his memory alive.

The body count is rising and the darkness that hangs over the town grows by the hour. Time is running out as Carlson desperately chases shadows into a nightmare world of living horrors.

On Halloween the drive-in re-opens at midnight for a show no one will ever forget.

Proudly brought to you by Crystal Lake Publishing—Tales from The Darkest Depths.

Cut to the Crone by Amanda M. LeeCut to the Crone by Amanda M. Lee:

Scout Randall needs answers on a past she can’t remember … and when an associate introduces her to an individual who claims to have known her family way back when, she believes those answers might finally be accessible. That falls by the wayside, though, when a tanned vampire lands in her backyard in the middle of the night … and he has a magical teenager in tow.

Sami Winters is all mouth and determination … and she’s looking for her parents. Scout wants to help, but handling a teenager like Sami isn’t as easy as it looks on the surface. By the time her wayward parents catch up with her – including a mother who is rumored to be the most powerful mage in the world – Scout finds herself knee-deep in a new adventure.

It seems female shifters in the area are going missing and rogue vampires from areas unknown are on the prowl. Sami Winters is a hybrid, part-wolf and part-mage, and she’s a coveted ally in what’s being described as a coming war. Scout has no choice but to join with the newcomers to figure out what’s going on.

Vampires and werewolves working together is unheard of, right? Maybe not. If the signs are right, it seems a new enemy is brewing, and Scout is going to need help taking down an entire army of paranormal foes.

At the end of the day, she just wants to know who she is and where she came from. The answers might be closer than she ever imagined.

Salvation by Caryn LixSalvation by Caryn Lix:

When Kenzie and her friends find themselves trapped on a strange planet, they must risk everything to save themselves and Earth in this thrilling final book in the addictive Sanctuary trilogy!

Fall down seven times, get up eight.

These are the words Kenzie has always lived by. The problem is, she’s fallen down too many times to count.

Kenzie and her friends have already escaped two vicious alien attacks—not to mention the corporate bounty hunters sent to capture them. They’re haunted by the friends they’ve lost and the hard choices they’ve had to make in this war they never asked for.

And now, thanks to superpowers she received from the very aliens she’s fighting, Kenzie has stranded everyone on a strange planet with no way off. She just wanted a safe place from the monstrous creatures terrorizing her world, but this new planet has dangers of its own, and Kenzie will have to uncover its secrets if she has any hope of ever making it home again.

Sacrifice is nothing new for Kenzie. She’ll do anything—anything—to destroy the aliens that killed both of her parents. But how can Kenzie save Earth if she can’t even save the people she loves?

My Song's Curse by Poppy MinnixMy Song’s Curse by Poppy Minnix:

Ultimate control has its downside, especially when it comes to romance. But will it be enough to keep them together?

As a siren Lula Aglaope can bend anyone to her will with the smallest whisper, but she’d give up her power for one meaningful, honest conversation.

She wants a normal life, like the open, true connections the humans seem to pull off with such little effort.

When she meets Alexiares, God of Warding off Wars, all thoughts of normalcy fly out the window. The beautiful demigod cannot be controlled! He’s frustrating, irresistible…and utterly off-limits.

Alex has watched Olympus slowly fall apart. The old gods continue their archaic control of the Universe, denying the progress of humans and other deities. But Alex has plans to repair the damage, and Lula is a major player.

She just doesn’t know it yet.

Falling for her is the worst idea. And just when things move in the right direction, danger arises that no one expects, plunging the sirens into the deadly Olympian spotlight.

With Lula’s sisters missing, and a pile of broken laws surrounding them, will Alex and Lula change the Universe for the better or destroy it?

Rip Tide by Michael NewtonRip Tide by Michael Newton:

GIDEON THORN IS BACK IN ANOTHER DARK AND MYSTERIOUS HARROWING ADVENTURE!

An unidentified monster wrecks a paddle steam on the Mississippi River, killing all but one crewman. Newspaper reports of the incident and others draw Thorn to Natchez to confront the beast. Gideon Thorn investigates while negotiating the pitfalls of race and politics in post-Reconstruction-era Mississippi.

Thorn seeks to verify, identify and eliminate the aquatic predator, while thinking about Dinah Pilcher’s recovery. Meanwhile, Natchez natives struggle within the Mississippi’s rigid white supremacist “closed society,” ex-slaves are seeking equality, while racist whites refuse to acknowledge losing the Civil War.

Ghost Nemesis by Andy PeloquinGhost Nemesis by Andy Peloquin:

Never go scope-to-scope with a Silverguard sniper.

Nolan’s enemies had learned that lesson the hard way, and he had the kill count to prove it.

But when his old Warbeast Teammates drag him into a surgical strike on a former soldier-turned-gunrunner, he’ll find the true limits of his skills tested when facing off against a sharpshooter a match for his cunning, ruthlessness, and elite martial training.

Life and death hangs in a split-second decision, the tiniest twitch of a trigger finger.

If Nolan fails to be faster, better, and smarter, he might find himself locked in a battle he won’t walk away from.

I Want the Stars by Tom PurdomI Want the Stars by Tom Purdom:

THEY WANTED THE STARS…

Eight hundred years from now, Earth is a paradise. Humanity has faced its greatest challenges…and won. Every wish is fulfilled. Every need is met. But is that enough? Jenorden wants more, wandering the galaxy with his friends as he seeks the answer. He knows his life is missing something. But what? And when aliens from another galaxy appear, offering to answer any question and reveal any secret, are their motives sinister…or sincere?

On the Loop by J.D. RobinsonOn the Loop by J.D. Robinson:

How can 30 crew members just vanish into thin air?

One last month in paradise before an 8,000-year journey. That’s what the Company had promised before whisking Alina Andra and her entire crew of 500 to tropical Tilulipu, where it had built a luxurious resort just for the occasion.

Only the rooms of the entire executive team now stand empty, and Alina’s crewmates turn to her to make sense of their predicament. So why have a handful of her more dubious colleagues decided that the mass disappearance is part of an outlandish plot? And why have they named Alina as a co-conspirator?

Now thrust into a less glamorous spotlight, Alina heads a search for the truth. But while the answer she discovers may explain the missing crew members, it may also put Earth’s first crewed extrasolar mission in jeopardy.

Slow Pint Glass by Bob ShawSlow Pint Glass by Bob Shaw:

Slow Pint Glass is a huge collection of Bob Shaw’s other fan and fan-adjacent writing not already included in The Enchanted Duplicator (1954 with Walt Willis; much reprinted; TAFF ebook May 2015), The Serious Scientific Talks (TAFF ebook November 2019) and The Full Glass Bushel (TAFF ebook June 2020).

Cover art by Jim Barker, a July 2020 reworking of his memorial piece for Bob Shaw first published in Tyne Capsule (March 2015; TAFF ebook September 2019).

The collection, compiled by Rob Jackson and David Langford, contains 167,000 words of fine fanwriting – more than The Serious Scientific Talks and The Full Glass Bushel put together – ranging from the early 1950s to the 1990s. First published as an Ansible Editions ebook for the TAFF site on 30 August 2020.

Colony X by William TurnageColony X by William Turnage:

The ambush came out of nowhere.
Our fleet was decimated.
We were flung deep into uncharted space on the far side of the nebula.
Then the signal came—a mysterious distress call from an unknown planet.

I’m Space Marine Corporal Jeremiah Helgerson and my job is simple. Find the source of the distress call and save whoever is still alive. Get in, get out. Easy work for a space marine. But no matter how well trained you are, missions never go as planned, and this one was a disaster from the start.

Now we’re stranded, and they’re hunting us.
Those nightmares.
Ferocious, unstoppable.
And so very hungry.

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Indie Crime Fiction of the Month for September 2020


Welcome to the latest edition of “Indie Crime Fiction of the Month”.

So what is “Indie Crime Fiction of the Month”? It’s a round-up of crime fiction by indie authors newly published this month, though some August books I missed the last time around snuck in as well. The books are arranged in alphabetical order by author. So far, most links only go to Amazon.com, though I may add other retailers for future editions.

Our new releases cover the broad spectrum of crime fiction. We have cozy mysteries, small town mysteries, animal mysteries, historical mysteries, Regency mysteries, Jazz Age mysteries, 1930s mysteries, hardboiled mysteries, humorous mysteries, paranormal mysteries, science fiction mysteries, police procedurals, crime thrillers, spy thrillers, action thrillers, police officers, amateur sleuths, private investigators, spies, journalists, sports agents, archaeologists, crime-busting witches, crime-busting socialites, crime-busting bakers, crime-busting cats, crime-busting ghosts, vampires, werewolves, Bigfoot, murdered Santas and much more.

Don’t forget that Indie Crime Fiction of the Month is also crossposted to the Indie Crime Scene, a group blog which features new release spotlights, guest posts, interviews and link round-ups regarding all things crime fiction several times per week.

As always, I know the authors at least vaguely, but I haven’t read all of the books, so Caveat emptor.

And now on to the books without further ado:

The Cat's Sure in the Rye by B.K. BaxterThe Cat’s Sure in the Rye by B.K. Baxter:

Bodies are piling up, and I’m in charge of figuring out why.

I can’t help it! There are innocent people being accused.

And don’t get me started on the heat and humidity in Beulah.

The thick cloud of death is only surpassed by the constant hot flashes induced by the weather.

I could keep going. I should actually.

After almost being killed by a history-obsessed realtor that wanted my inherited house for herself, I’m ready to get out of Dodge.

Unfortunately, this new situation is a bit more personal in nature.

A guy that disappeared a decade ago was discovered dead in this new case. Where has he been for the last ten years?

And one of my friends just happens to have the murder weapon. You can’t make these things up. Not even in the pages of a good mystery novel.

Speaking of books, my new book club is at the center of my thoughts as the judgmental kitty and I traverse this new mystery.

The members of the club are fan-girling over the town’s new resident, but the man is up to no good! I can feel it.

With all this craziness, it isn’t easy being a sleuth right now, but Chonks will help me navigate the twists and turns of this gritty mystery, as long as we’re home in time for his dinner.

That is a must.

Old Sins Never Die by Daniella BernettOld Sins Never Die by Daniela Bernett:

While in the Lake District, journalist Emmeline Kirby and jewel thief/insurance investigator Gregory Longdon overhear a man attempting to hire international assassin Hugh Carstairs, a MI5 agent who went rogue. They race back to London to warn Philip Acheson of the Foreign Office and Superintendent Oliver Burnell. But it’s a devil of problem to prevent a vicious killing, if the target is a mystery.

More trouble brews as Emmeline pursues a story about shipping magnate Noel Rallis, who is on trial for murder. Rallis is desperate to keep the negative publicity from exposing his illicit schemes, especially something sinister called Poseidon. Lord Desmond Starrett, whose dark past made him easy prey for blackmail, is getting cold feet about their dubious partnership. Hovering in the shadows of this ugly secret world is a Russian mole buried inside MI5. Scorned prima ballerina Anastasia Tarasova makes the fatal mistake of threatening to reveal all she knows. The hunt for the answers takes Emmeline and Gregory up to Scotland, where they learn that the truth has lethal consequences.

A Grave Case by Cora BuhlertA Grave Case by Cora Buhlert:

When the elderly widow Maureen Pettigrew is found bludgeoned to death on the grave of her late husband, the case seems clear. Maureen is the latest victim of the cemetery mugger who has been terrorising Kensal Green cemetery for several weeks now.

However, the only suspect – a young man in jeans and a battered leather jacket – is a phantom no one except the cemetery caretaker has ever seen.

Can Detective Inspector Helen Shepherd and her team find the young man in the leather jacket? And does he even exist?

This is a novelette of 7700 words or approx. 26 print pages in the Helen Shepherd Mysteries series, but may be read as a standalone.

A Lonely Little Death by Beth ByersA Lonely Little Death by Beth Byers:

Georgette Dorothy Aaron is a busy woman. She’s gone from being a lonely old maid to the matriarch of an growing family. Her writing career has expanded and for some reason the women in her life turn to her for advice. She’s not sure she’s qualified to help, but she does what she can.

Only a series of letters reveal that she’s become important to someone else. Someone she doesn’t know. And they’re asking for help–before it’s too late.

Now, she’s racing to piece together clues and find her pen pal before it’s too late.

A Masked Murderer by Beth ByersA Masked Murderer by Beth Byers

All Hallows 1926

Violet and Jack have been invited to a masquerade by someone who doesn’t name himself and gives no details other than all the guests are coming under the same circumstances.

They know something is afoot, so they aren’t even surprised when there’s been a murder. What surprises them is the invitation to all those in attendance to solve the crime.

 

On Borrowed Time by Adam CroftOn Borrowed Time by Adam Croft:

Each morning, the first train of the day leaves Oakham station and thunders through a tunnel under the village of Manton. But today the driver sees something that changes his life: A dead body hangs in the tunnel’s exit.

DI Caroline Hills knows this isn’t a suicide. It’s murder. And when a second apparent suicide appears in Rutland, Caroline uncovers a shocking link: the victims knew each other.

As Rutland Police fight to catch the killer, a group of friends is left with an even more shocking realisation. One of them is the murderer. And one of them will be the next to die.

The $3 Million Turnover by Richard CurtisThe $3 Million Turnover by Richard Curtis:

In the cutthroat, glamorous world of professional sports, one man works behind the scenes to fix his superstar clients’ biggest problems: agent Dave Bolt.

Officially, Dave Bolt is a sports agent, representing professional athletes in basketball, football, baseball, hockey—you name it. Unofficially, he is a kind of undercover operator, a troubleshooter for a number of pro sports organizations.

Bolt’s walk on the dark side starts with one phone call concerning the hottest basketball prospect in the country. It ends with a hairline fracture of his cheekbone, temporary blindness, a scrotum full of someone’s knee, and the loss of the most promising marital prospect since his divorce. Oh, and a commission of staggering proportions.

God Save the Spy by John EllsworthGod Save the Spy by John Ellsworth:

The story of a spy escaping from the Soviet Union in 1962. It continues even today.

Moscow learns KGB officer Nikolai Semenov is spying for the British in London. He is kidnapped and flown to Moscow, where a bullet awaits unless the British can get him out. Moscow is notoriously difficult to exfiltrate: the airport is crawling with KGB, no waterways to speak of, shipping and rails hopelessly monitored by KGB, leaving automobiles the only way out. Only MI6’s secret Operation TINKER might save him. Nikolai grabs his daughter and runs into the night, fiercely determined to make the rendezvous.

It is the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis and President Kennedy desperately needs the war plans that only Nikolai has seen. He awaits Nikolai’s call, which will come once he reaches freedom. It is October 22, 1962, the day the Russian and US navies will collide at Cuba’s outer waters. Can Nikolai escape with his daughter and the intel Kennedy must have?

The Mystery of the Missing Heiress by Riana EverlyThe Mystery of the Missing Heiress by Riana Everly:

It is the summer of 1811 and Fitzwilliam Darcy is consumed with worry. His sister and her new companion were expected at Pemberley three weeks ago, but they seem to have vanished into the air. Is Georgiana safe? Is she even still alive? And is Mrs. Younge a victim in some nefarious plan or is she behind the disappearance?

Darcy’s friend Ecclesford tells him of a smart young investigator who might be able to help… and at the same time he might help Ecclesford with a romantic problem of his own.

In this prequel variation to Pride and Prejudice, private investigator Alexander Lyons makes his debut and sets his remarkable intellect to work to help Ecclesford win his bride and to solve the mystery of the missing heiress!

This is a novella of about 19000 words.

Dream House by Mike FaricyDream House by Mike Faricy:

P.I. Dev Haskell is minding his own business, looking out the window, when a pink Mercedes convertible pulls to the curb. His old flame, Barbie Dahl, a surgically enhanced Barbie Doll look alike, gets out of the car. Barbie Dahl, the same woman who dumped Dev on a trip to Las Vegas. Now, she’s back in town and needs Dev’s help. Apparently her extensive Barbie collection is missing, along with Arnold Wazinski, AKA Ken Carson, Barbie Doll’s significant other…

Fortunately, Dev comes up with a plan. But then Barbie gets involved and decides ‘Ken’ is going to pay, BIG TIME!

Another hilariously delightful Dev Haskell tale.

Sit back, enjoy, and realize things in life could be worse… A lot worse!

Ghostly Camping by Lily Harper HartGhostly Camping by Lily Harper Hart:

Harper Harlow’s romantic life is perfect, her wedding is in the works, and now she’s decided to enhance her business standing by attending a haunted campground opening. If she enjoys herself, publicly endorses it and the owner, then she’ll open up a brave new world.

Unfortunately for Harper, old ghosts die hard and a fresh murder taints what is supposed to be a quiet weekend.

Harper’s happy foursome – her fiancé Jared Monroe, her best friend Zander Pritchett, and his fiancé Shawn Donovan are all along for the ride – turns into a nightmare when the group must pretend to solve a fake murder while actively hunting clues regarding a real murder. On top of that, Harper and Zander don’t have as much fun “roughing it” as they thought they would … well, despite the s’mores.

Four urbanites go into the woods. Will any of them come out alive? It’s going to take everyone working together to solve an old mystery and ease the fresh hell that has emerged.

Get ready for adventure, because it’s going to be one heckuva trip, and there’s a big wedding right around the corner for those who survive.

Foreign Interference by Ethan JonesForeign Interference by Ethan Jones:

Played like a pawn…

Fresh off an operation that sent shockwaves across Europe, CIS covert operative Carrie O’Connor is dispatched down under. Her assignment is to identify the meddling of a foreign power in Australia’s internal affairs that could wreak havoc on their democracy.

Working with untested partners with dubious motives, Carrie discovers the extent of the political interference reaches higher than anyone had expected. With her efforts thwarted at every step by shadowy figures, she’s uncertain who she can trust and has to question even her closest allies.

Tested as never before, Carrie must infiltrate the powerful network pulling the strings. She’s taken on the CIA, terrorists, and her own past, but she has never come across something as powerful as this… What will she need to do to stop this deadly interference from spreading beyond the continent and across the globe?

Cut to the Crone by Amanda M. LeeCut to the Crone by Amanda M. Lee:

Scout Randall needs answers on a past she can’t remember … and when an associate introduces her to an individual who claims to have known her family way back when, she believes those answers might finally be accessible. That falls by the wayside, though, when a tanned vampire lands in her backyard in the middle of the night … and he has a magical teenager in tow.

Sami Winters is all mouth and determination … and she’s looking for her parents. Scout wants to help, but handling a teenager like Sami isn’t as easy as it looks on the surface. By the time her wayward parents catch up with her – including a mother who is rumored to be the most powerful mage in the world – Scout finds herself knee-deep in a new adventure.

It seems female shifters in the area are going missing and rogue vampires from areas unknown are on the prowl. Sami Winters is a hybrid, part-wolf and part-mage, and she’s a coveted ally in what’s being described as a coming war. Scout has no choice but to join with the newcomers to figure out what’s going on.

Vampires and werewolves working together is unheard of, right? Maybe not. If the signs are right, it seems a new enemy is brewing, and Scout is going to need help taking down an entire army of paranormal foes.

At the end of the day, she just wants to know who she is and where she came from. The answers might be closer than she ever imagined.

Mayhem and Mistletoe by Amanda M. LeeMayhem and Mistletoe by Amanda M. Lee:

Avery Shaw has the world at her fingertips … and a pile of dead Santas near the railroad tracks. Interestingly, she’s more focused on the Santas than her personal life, but only because she’s been warned that a proposal is imminent from her live-in love Eliot Kane and she needs to look somewhere else – anywhere else will do – rather than accept what he’s trying to offer.

Avery never pictured herself married but it appears it might be happening … no matter how she tries to dodge and weave. The Santas make an enticing distraction, so Avery throws herself in with gusto.

Tracking the Santas isn’t easy because Macomb County Sheriff Jake Farrell doesn’t want the names released. He lets one slip, though, and that leads Avery on an adventure … all the way down to a halfway house in Detroit.

It’s a big world and some crimes are worse than others. The only common thread Avery can find when chasing this story is a drug ring, and when she pulls that particular thread, everything comes toppling down.

The drug world is dark and seamy and Avery is going to need her guile and wits to survive this one. Even if she comes out on the other side – and that’s a big if – then there’s a proposal waiting.

It’s finally time for Avery Shaw to grow up … at least a little bit. Come along for the ride, because the big moment is finally here. There might even be a murder to solve along the way.

The Last Review by Lucas PogrzebnyThe Last Review by Lucas Pogrzebny

TRUTH BECAME FICTION.
FICTION BECAME… DEATH.

Back in his native Buenos Aires, Polo Levington, a.k.a. “Levin”, a young freelance writer with a hidden phobia and an addiction to coffee, is tasked by an old employer with one last job—writing an article about The Last Farewell, a movie about to wrap shooting. The assignment is simple: he has to go to the studio and write about what he sees. Sounds easy enough, so he reluctantly agrees…

But what starts with typical behind-the-scenes drama—with two aging stars returning to the spotlight after a fatal tragedy decades prior—quickly spirals out of control when an actor is stabbed while the camera rolls…

Soon, between the props, make-up, and deceptions, death follows—and with it, a chilling descent into madness and an unsolved murder of a famous actress many years ago. Under the masks that the cast and crew all seem to wear, something dark lurks, bending the worlds of fiction and reality before Levin’s very eyes.

A crafty killer, capable of masking murder as fiction; a mysterious honey-eyed actress eager to solve the riddle as bodies pile up; a world-weary homicide detective, one case away from promotion.

And among them all is Polo Levington, seeking the truth—even if it brings him dangerously close to the trauma that has marked him for life.

All the while, Levin must ask himself: Is it ever too late to face your fears?

On the Loop by J.D. RobinsonOn the Loop by J.D. Robinson:

How can 30 crew members just vanish into thin air?

One last month in paradise before an 8,000-year journey. That’s what the Company had promised before whisking Alina Andra and her entire crew of 500 to tropical Tilulipu, where it had built a luxurious resort just for the occasion.

Only the rooms of the entire executive team now stand empty, and Alina’s crewmates turn to her to make sense of their predicament. So why have a handful of her more dubious colleagues decided that the mass disappearance is part of an outlandish plot? And why have they named Alina as a co-conspirator?

Now thrust into a less glamorous spotlight, Alina heads a search for the truth. But while the answer she discovers may explain the missing crew members, it may also put Earth’s first crewed extrasolar mission in jeopardy.

Black Frost by Willow RoseBlack Frost by Willow Rose:

Emma Frost is tied up in a murder mystery that seems out of this world.

When a young girl disappears one night from the park, then turns up again the next morning in a different place on the island, people start to talk about her.

Was she drunk and just doesn’t remember what happened?

Did she go home with a guy and won’t admit it?

What happened to her, and why is she insisting that she doesn’t know?

Emma Frost is fighting for Victor’s best friend, Skye.

Emma is trying to get her back from the people who took her in the night, but having no luck when a guy falls into her arms in the street and dies a few minutes later.

The autopsy shows he has frozen to death, but it doesn’t seem possible. When a young boy from Victor’s school turns up frozen as well, and things start to get cold around her own house, Emma begins to fear for her loved ones’ lives.

Once again, Willow Rose has written a story so compelling that it leaves the reader in almost unbearable suspense until the surprise ending is revealed.

Puff Love by John SladekPuff Love by John Sladek:

Puff Love is John Sladek’s final novel, completed just before his early death in 2000. A mystery story with the traditional elements of a discovered corpse, a crowd of suspects and a reluctant sleuth with an unusual sidekick, Puff Love has all the qualities associated with John Sladek’s best work: a gentle parodic wit, inventive ideas and a wholly original way of looking at modern life.

 

 

Murder at Tregowyn Manor by G.G. VandagriffMurder at Tregowyn Manor by G.G. Vandagriff:

Winter of 1935 finds Oxford archaeologist, Sonny Nichols, under arrest for the theft of a priceless Roman relic from a dig in Cornwall. Catherine Tregowyn and her sleuthing partners Harry and Dot go to his aid. Almost immediately an anonymous telegram threatens Catherine’s life. Dot’s cousin has involved himself in something deadly.

Undeterred, they motor down to the dig in Cornwall which is on Catherine’s estranged father’s estate. Shortly after their arrival, someone viciously attacks Catherine, nearly killing her. The next morning, one of the archaeologists is missing, and more artifacts have been stolen. The attacker is clearly desperate. Is this only simple greed or are there other factors at work here?

When murder intervenes, Catherine, Harry, and Dot must dig deeper. Is the murderer the charismatic student who has forsaken his aristocratic birthright? Or the misanthropic and penniless professor who seeks to advance his career? Could it be the charming and glib young Irish peer who loves Greek dancing or the ruthless student who needs to reverse his family’s fortunes?

When the truth finally comes out it is on a scale none of them could possibly have imagined…

Folk Tales and Fudge Brownies by A.R. WintersFolk Tales and Fudge Brownies by A.R. Winters:

When popular Bigfoot skeptic Kevin McNight is murdered, Jean Williams refuses to believe Detective Wheeler’s explanation that the killer was just a bear – she believes there was a human involved, and she’s determined to find justice for Kevin.

With the local Bigfoot festival just days away, there many who stand to benefit from Kevin’s death – from the well-known Sasquatch believer Roy Turner, to the event organizers who profit from the festival each year, to the Bigfoot “researchers” who despised Kevin.

In between working at her aunt’s bakery café, Jean finds time to slip into the woods and the festival campground in her quest to uncover the truth. But will her hunt lead her straight into a bear’s den – or worse, into the hands of a killer?

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