My Blog

Retirement. Publishers, thank you for the many years of reading pleasure you gave me, but all good things must come to an end. Due to failing eyesight I am forced to retire. I can no longer review your books, and any that you send will be donated to the local library, unread. Do not send any more. I can only read for a couple hours every day, and this does not allow me to finish a book in reasonable time. I will be devoting time to my own books from now on, and reading on a personal level. Books that interest me. I prefer paperbacks and hardbacks, not eBooks. My eyesight has been failing the last few years, and I cannot handle hundreds of review books any more. My books are still available for review. Anyone interested in reviewing any of them, they are found in the Link to Tom’s Books On Amazon. Contact me for pdf copies at

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Agent Nine, G-Man Action

Agent Nine #1: “Agent Nine Solves His First Case” by Graham M. Dean. In this first story of the series, Bob Houston and Tully Ross work as clerks in the archive division of the War Department. Their uncles, Merritt Hughes and Condon Adams are federal agents in the Department of Justice, under Waldo Edgar who is head of the department. Director Edgar calls Bob and Tully into his office, with their uncles. Foreign spies are after new secrets concerning radio that are stored in the War Department, and the Director wants inside men acting as agents of his office. He makes the young men special agents and they are to help Hughes and Adams catch the spies before secret material can be compromised. A nice little mystery that takes place mostly in the archive division of the War Department.

Agent Nine #2: “Agent Nine And The Jewel Mystery” by Graham M. Dean. In this second novel in the series, young FBI Agents Bob Houston (Agent Nine) and Tully Ross are assigned to jewel smuggling case in Florida. Agent 9 is sent to Atelissa, while Tully is sent to Nira, where they are supposed to uncover the operation. Most of the story takes place on train, the Limited, with a few stops along the way. In fact, Tully never makes his destination, being thrown from the train and ending up in the hospital. Agent Nine does make it to his destination in the last fifty pages of this 252-page novel, where a local sheriff helps in rescuing Agent Nine’s uncle, Federal Agent Merritt Hughes, and stopping the gem smugglers. Over all, it was a good story that moved well, though the writing was aimed at young adult boys. Bob Houston and Tully Ross act like two teenagers in competition with each other, instead of mature federal agents. Sadly, the publisher used the same cover on both hardbacks. The author wrote a lot of juvenile series for boys in the 1930s, and was a decent writer. He could have easily turned his hand to pulp stories and contributed to G-Men Detective with more mature action. Still, these are fun and easy reads.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

The Couturier of Milan

The Couturier of Milan (International Thriller)
By Ian Hamilton
House of Anansi Press
ISBN #978-1770899568
Price $23.45
408 Pages
Rating 4-Stars

Ava Lee #9: The Couturier of Milan by Ian Hamilton. Ava Lee and her Three Sisters team are in London promoting their new fashion company, PO, and really bring the house down. Afterwards, The fashion king of Italy, Dominic Ventola, asks Ava and her partners to meet with them in Milan. At the meeting Ventola offers to buy 51 percent interest in the company, taking control of PO, but they refuse. A few days later, Ventola releases a statement to the press that PO is an inferior product, and causes a loss in all their sales and connections to Europe and America. Ava strikes back, stopping VLG’s purchasing and shipments in and out of Asia. Then the battle escalates when Ventola brings in his Mafia partners, and a contract is put out on Ava and May Ling. Ava is left with no other course than to bring Xu, the leader of the Triads in for help.

This was another enjoyable read. However, there is little action in it. Thankfully, the author’s writing kept me involved in the story. Although I wasn’t interested in the fashion industry, the author goes into detail about the fake products and knock-offs being produced in Asia, and then sent to companies in Europe where brand names are placed on the product, offering cheap imitations of the brand names. It was fascinating watching Ava work her magic in bringing the large Italian corporation and Mafia to her way of thinking, and the characters are truly memorable, but the story could have used more action this time.

Tom Johnson

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Adventures of The Scarlet Shroud

"Let Evil Beware... The Scarlet Shroud!" ... He appears like a wraith, stalking the darkness. Emerging from mist to strike fear in the hearts of criminals, The Scarlet Shroud brings justice to New York's deadliest villains! Aided by inventor Miles Hawkins, and his other ally and pilot, Takeshi Harada, Assistant D.A. Alexander Holt wields various gas and smoke devices, along with a pair of blazing .45's, to battle the forces of evil... The creative team of Chris and William Carney bring you a new action hero in the tradition of The Shadow, The Spider and The Phantom Detective. This is the first-ever anthology of four stories starring The Scarlet Shroud, including three stories never before published!

The Adventures of The Scarlet Shroud (New Pulp Mystery)
By Chris & William Carney
Wild Cat Books
ISBN #978-0981081706
Price $11.95
174 Pages
Rating 4-Stars

This book contains four stories: Dark Night of The Leaper, Bitter Night of The Dynamo, Day of The Vengeful Viper, and The Evening of Reflections. Both brothers contribute to the writing, Chris & William Carney, and the interior art is mostly by William, while the cover is by both, I believe. Plus, the interior art is all action, which is really pleasing to see.
         The first story, Dark Night of The Leaper features a crook dressed like the British crook of legend, Spring-Heeled Jack, who shows super-human strength and great leaping ability. He’s after money and jewels, and now one of his victims has died, so it’s time The Scarlet Shroud puts a stop to his robberies.
         Bitter Night of The Dynamo features a killer dressed like the Michelin Man with a machine that shoots lightening bolts at victims. He and his minions are trying to bring one of the richest men in the world down after what he did to the fiancĂ© of his daughter.
         Next up is Day of The Vengeful Viper. Returning from prison, mob boss Luca Malatesta, known as The Viper, wants vengeance over the other mob bosses for their part in causing his imprisonment. He captures Miles Hawkins who had once served a prison term, and The Viper knew he was genius in chemistry and other sciences. He wants Miles to create a poisonous vapor that he can bring to a meeting of the mob and wipe them out, since no weapons will be allowed in the room. It’s up to The Shroud to find his aide before he’s murdered by the Viper.
         The final story, The Evening of Reflections, is merely a reflection of the past. Alexander Holt has Hannah Salem, the reporter up to his apartment for dinner and romance; Takeshi serves their wine; and Miles works on the contraption Spring-Heeled Jack used to enhance his strength and leaping ability. Meanwhile Detective Alphonse goes over all the reports filed on The Scarlet Shroud and comes up with a name.
         Over all the three regular stories were fun; the fourth just a look back more or less. The characters were interesting. Though advertised as a Shadow, Spider, and Phantom Detective clone, I thought it more loosely matched The Black Bat and Green Hornet. The interior art was filled with action, and well drawn by William Carney. The cover also was very nice, also drawn and colored by the Carney brothers. There was a bit too much profanity in the story, which wasn’t needed, but I enjoyed the characters and stories, and highly recommend it to New Pulp readers.

Tom Johnson

Friday, October 6, 2017


Singapore 1968. A terrorist raid on a SAF armory rocks the government's confidence. Then two expatriate VIPS are kidnapped, and one will surely die if denied crucial medication. But worse is to come...this time involving schoolchildren. Chief Inspector Harry Chew knows there is no room for any half-baked response. But everyone is left stunned by the awesome, shattering climax to this truly absorbing confrontation.

Chen (International Mystery)
By Norman Price
Independent Publishing Platform
Price $12.98
292 Pages
Rating 5-stars

“A Fascinating International Action Mystery”

Chen, the leader of a small band of terrorists known as the LASP (the Liberation Army of the Singapore People) robs an army munitions depot, then Chen secretly dumps the weapons in the sea, except for an Armalite sniper rifle. Then he abducts two British nationals to hold for ransom, with certain stipulations.  Chief Inspector Harry Chew is brought in to head the investigation, while Britain sends a team of British SAS commandos consisting of two men, Captain Mark Fairclough and Sergeant Pete Smith.

This is a nob-stop action similar to the author’s previous book, RIDE A CROOKED RICKSHAW, and, again, with memorable characters.  Chen is smart and deadly, but seems not to care what happens to his team, as many of them die from their own mistakes. In fact, we’re not sure if Chen plains on failing himself, but the police team are always a step or two behind him, never getting close before he’s gone again. Nor do they figure out the reason for the missing sniper rifle until too late. The author knows how to build tension, while his characters respond like real people, not just names on paper. Even though RIDE A CROOKED RICKSHAW is still my favorite book by this author, I highly recommend CHEN as a fascinating international action mystery.

Tom Johnson


Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Interview With Author Michael Howard

Michael Howard is no stranger to us, as he was a subscriber to our old FADING SHADOWS magazines along with ECHOES. I had long known he was a fan of the old pulps, but recently was surprised to see a brand new Jimmie Dale novel available from him and beat a path to that book as quick as I could. Although most of pulp fandom should know this author, I thought it was time we introduced him to the rest of our friends. So please make welcome author and friend, Michael Howard.

Tom: Michael, thank you for sitting down with me for this interview. First, how about telling PULP DEN followers a little about yourself, your family, and where you live?

Michael: Hey, Tom. Thanks for having me here. I live in Michigan where I’ve been a Field Agent (popularly known as a Probation Officer) for the Corrections Department for more than thirty years now. I’m married with two daughters and five grand-cats.

Tom: From reading your two novels, it is easy to tell you are an experienced writer. Both novels grab the reader straight away, and holds on throughout the story. In fact, I think they are some of the best-written new pulp stories I’ve read in a long time. How did you get your start, and what is your writing background?

Michael: I’ve been an Olympic class day dreamer all my life but it wasn’t until I reached my twenties that I decided I needed to get some of these characters I’d been inventing for my own amusement down on paper. I wrote about three-quarters of MANHATTAN MASQUERADE and then realized I didn’t have an ending. I’d piled so many dangers onto my heroes that I couldn’t see how they’d survive!  So the manuscript went back into a shoebox for a few decades.  Flash-forward about twenty years and my two intelligent and creative daughters were writing fan fiction stories. It looked like fun and it seemed like a good way to get in some parent-child bonding so I tried it too. Of course in fan fiction there’s no such thing as copyright infringement so I decided to combine the Disney Channel cartoon character Kim Possible (a member of the Wold Newton universe according to Win Eckert), with the TV series ''Gilmore girls'' and the Cthulhu Mythos together into an admittedly rather unconventional novel. I know it sounds like a food-poisoning-induced nightmare but I wrote it as a straightforward save-the-world adventure story rather than a parody. I called it UNDERCOVER and it turned out to be a pretty popular work. The story actually won a few awards and got fan notices from countries all over the world. And once you get people praising you in online reviews you’re hooked for life. I started thinking about what my follow up story would be and then remembered MANHATTAN MASQUERADE. That two-decade pause allowed me to come up with a suitable ending and I finally got it done.

Tom: I know that Gray Seal creator Frank L. Packard must have been a big influence on you, but who else would you add to the writers you read and would like to pattern your writing after?

Michael:  Actually, I’m just a recent fan of Packard’s work. I first learned about him and the Gray Seal many years ago through Robert Sampson’s YESTERDAY’S FACES book series. The Jimmie Dale books sounded interesting but so did all of the dozens of other pulp and proto pulp series Sampson wrote about, so my reading Packard didn't come until many years later. No, the influences for MANHATTAN MASQUERADE were Walter Gibson and Lester Dent. I love both of them and wanted to tell stories that feel like their work. As Saul Bellow said, “A writer is a reader moved to emulation.” But with my own set of sensibilities. Because of my love of history I didn't want to just have a generic Great Depression backdrop for my cast to pose in front of. My novels may feature larger-than-life protagonists of a type you rarely find outside of pulp magazines, but they are still very much historical fiction, firmly set in a specific time and place, with "real" people on the fringes of the action - and sometimes right there on center stage with my heroes.

Tom: Tell the readers about Frank L. Packard, and why you wrote this new novel, ALIAS THE GRAY SEAL, following his five published books in the series.

Michael: To put it succinctly, Packard's Gray Seal was the first superhero. The character has borrowings from Edwardian Age heroes (or anti-heroes) like A. J. Raffles, the Scarlet Pimpernel, and Arsene Lupin, but Packard broke new ground by combining them into the first masked hero to battle crime in the big city. That concept not only directly influenced 1930s figures like the Shadow and the Green Hornet, it also played a huge role in the comic book explosion that followed. Even today, on television and in multimillion-dollar Hollywood epics, writers are still using the basic (super) heroic template that a forgotten Canadian author pioneered way back in 1914.  

Anyway, a year or so ago I saw the first Gray Seal book was available through Project Gutenberg and I thought, okay, I'll take a chance on it. Now understand I am a voracious reader, finishing two books a week on average, but I like variety. Typically I follow a fiction book with non-fiction, a mystery with a western, and so on. I never read two books in a row featuring the same characters. But with Jimmie Dale I did just that, plowing through all five novels rapid-fire. I liked Dale a lot. He's heroic, surprisingly compassionate, gifted - both physically and mentally - yet completely human. But as for the Tocsin, the mysterious woman of a thousand faces who commands the actions of the Gray Seal in a never-ending war on the underworld, I think I fell in love with her even faster than Jimmie did. She's an incredible character who I had to know everything about. Her real identity and how she did all those amazing things. Packard's five Gray Seal books answered many of those questions but not all. And as Toni Morrison said, “If there's a book that you want to read, but it hasn't been written yet, then you must write it.” So I started on JIMMIE DALE, ALIAS THE GRAY SEAL.

Tom: I always love a good ending, and this is explained at the very beginning of your new Jimmie Dale novel, he and The Tocsin are finally married. Throughout the series, she was finding crime and crooks for him to uncover. And they were falling in love early on. When he discovered her identity I thought it would change, but the stories continued on as usual. True, in your current novel, the story begins in 1920, I think, then they start looking back to 1912, when the current story takes place. So your novel is something of a “look back” yarn, and is a fantastic read. I think my question is, if you write more stories of The Gray Seal, will they be after marriage, or prior to their marriage?

Michael: Definitely both. While it's true the basic structure of the series continues on through the five book series that Packard wrote, the relationship between Jimmie and the Tocsin itself alters drastically. At the start he is a clueless Harry Vincent recruited by an oh-so mysterious Shadow-like faceless figure whose orders he has to obey. But by Book Five they've become (nearly) equal partners, bantering and teasing each other very much like Nick and Nora from the Thin Man movies. Both those stages have their own charms and attractions for me.

Tom: Your novel, MANHATTAN MASQUERADE, was set in a similar period as the Jimmie Dale yarns, but had some very interesting characters never seen before; some spies, some private detectives, and some true pulp heroes and heroines. The readers will want to know more about them and this story, so please fill them in without giving too much away.

Michael: The main hero of MANHATTAN MASQUERADE is Galen Slaughter. Of course the name is an homage to Doc Savage but it was actually a line in Robert Sampson's Shadow study, THE NIGHT MASTER, that lead to Slaughter's creation. Speaking of The Shadow's intelligence activities in World War One, Sampson notes that a skillful secret agent would no doubt find it very difficult to ever completely cut his ties with his own government. Well - ping! - a light bulb went off in my head over that line. Publicly, Galen Slaughter is known as a World War One veteran who survived years of trench fighting with the Foreign Legion and then distinguished himself as a fighter pilot. Secretly however, he was at different times during that war reluctantly recruited by the French, British, and eventually the American Intelligence Departments (Codename: Peacemaker) for undercover missions that even G-8 might have blanched at. To completely quit the espionage business he had to exile himself from America for a full decade. When circumstances finally forced him back to the U. S. he discovered a lifelong friend had left the New York Police Department and started his own investigative business. That's the Greater Gotham Detective Agency, which Slaughter eventually joins ("flying spy turns private eye"). But, as the events of MANHATTAN MASQUERADE show, Slaughter was not able to permanently escape the morally grey world of the intelligence operative.

Tom: At the end of MANHATTAN MASQUERADE, you hint at some very intriguing plot threads that really fascinated me. As topnotch as the first story was, this one sounds just as exciting, if not more so. When can we expect this one to be in print?

Michael: MANHATTAN MASQUERADE is a completely self-contained novel. Our heroes discover a plot that threatens New York City and (spoiler alert) ultimately overcome it. But yes, at book's end the reader is introduced to certain developments that will play out in future installments of the series. Actually they will affect Slaughter's life all the way through to the end of the Second World War (some twelve years into his future at this point) but the two books that follow MANHATTAN MASQUERADE will bring a kind of a resolution to the situation.

Tom: What do you find to be the most exciting part of the creating process to either novels or short stories?

Michael:  Okay, last quote I'm going to inflict on you, I promise, but it's one of my absolute favorites. Dorothy Parker said, ''I hate writing, but I love having written.'' Writing is hard work for me and I'm very slow at it. But, looking back on the finished product, novel or short story, is immensely satisfying. And having your work out there for the public is a form of immortality - one in which you don't even have to lead a good or moral life!

Tom: Are you working on anything right now, perhaps a sequel (I hope) to either The Gray Seal or Manhattan Masquerade?

Michael: I have plans for both but the very next thing I'm going to put out is a complete reprinting of the Gray Seal series in an annotated and illustrated edition. He is important enough - and entertaining enough - to warrant that kind of treatment. There will be a detailed chronology of the series as well, because I can't let Rick Lai have all the fun that goes with trying to somehow wrestle a half-million word series of books written over twenty plus years into a coherent and feasible time line.

Tom: Besides family and writing, tell us about any hobbies or community services you may be involved in, and any other activity you would like to mention.

Michael: Old books, old movies, old radio shows - is a pattern starting to form here? Oh, and old music too. I'm not sure if any readers have picked up on this but in my novels I like to use songs from the time period the stories are set in as chapter titles. And if I'm not at my day job, sleeping, or reliving the past in some manner, I'm usually working at a local animal shelter. Just because.

Tom: What advice would you give other aspiring authors hoping to break into the writing field today?

Michael:  I'm the very last person to give out that kind of advice. The only thing I could share with beginning authors is my collection of rejection notices from various New Pulp publishers!

Tom: Where can fans find – and buy - your stories, and do you keep copies on hand for autographs? Please include website and Blogs.

Michael:  My published books are on Amazon. Naturally. And my Kim Possible/Gilmore girls/H. P. Lovecraft concoction is over on the Fan website. The concept of autograph requests hasn't come up yet so I'll leave that for the (far) future. I don't have a blog of my own but do run two Facebook pages. One is devoted to my own writings while the other is for Frank Packard and the Gray Seal. The latter attempts to redress the sad and inexplicable neglect for that important author and character by offering relevant quotes, reviews, links, and even photos. I invite all of your readers/followers to come check it out.

Tom:  And finally, I have heard rumors of discovered new material of Frank L. Packard. Would you care to elaborate on that?

Michael: Yes, it may sound unbelievable but some seventy-five years after Packard’s death there really are Jimmie Dale stories that have never been published before. I've seen the original manuscripts, held them in my own two hands. And someday, somehow, copyright deities willing, they are going to be released in an unexpurgated format. Del Rey Conan not Lancer!

Tom: Michael, thanks for sitting down with me for this Interview on PULP DEN. Following is a list of Links to Michael’s books and other important Pages.
Links to Manhattan Masquerade:

Jimmie Dale, Alias the Gray Seal:

My Facebook Author Page:

A Facebook page about Packard and the Gray Seal:

And finally a link to a free story of mine that I mention in the interview: