Saturday, September 29, 2018

Review: Scapegoat

Scapegoat Scapegoat by Adam Howe
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Mike Rawson leaves his wife and baby behind for a weekend to go on a road trip to Wrestlemania III with Lonnie, Pork Chop, and Cyndi-from-the-bar. When they take a wrong turn and find a teenage girl with symbols carved into her body, what brand of hell have they gotten into?

Wrestling fiction is hard to come by and Adam Howe and James Newman have written some of the best. When Adam came knocking with Scapegoat, a book written by both of them, I couldn't turn him away.

While wrestling didn't turn out to be a big part of this, Scapegoat was still a fun read, a B-horror book about rock and roll and the end of the world. It's also hilarious.

Mike is the straight man of the tale, the member of the band that grew up and got a job. Lonnie and Pork Chop, still living in the days of Wrathbone, the band they thought would make them famous, have not grown up in the least. Cyndi-from-the-bar is a whole other animal. When they find a would-be teenage sacrifice, they find themselves hunted by a fundamentalist Christian sect. Hilarity and gore ensue.

Scapegoat was a lot of fun and avoided a lot of the cliches this type of book normally encompasses. Mike's not a hero or a bad ass. Neither are Pork Chop or Lonnie, though they all have their good points. It feels like a lost '80s satanic panic tale Joe Lansdale might have written.

Scapegoat is a funny, gore-strewn good time. Four out of five stars.

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Monday, September 24, 2018

Review: Death of the Territories: Expansion, Betrayal and the War that Changed Pro Wrestling Forever

Death of the Territories: Expansion, Betrayal and the War that Changed Pro Wrestling Forever Death of the Territories: Expansion, Betrayal and the War that Changed Pro Wrestling Forever by Tim Hornbaker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The National Wrestling Alliance, a group of allied wrestling promoters and their territories had been around for decades. With the advent of cable TV, could the territory system survive? Not if one enterprising promoter from the Northeast has his way...

Yeah, the teaser is misleading since we all know Vince won the war. Anyway, I enjoyed National Wrestling Alliance: The Untold Story of the Monopoly that Strangled Professional Wrestling and decided to pick this up. I was not disappointed.

Death of the Territories starts with an overview of the established system, the National Wrestling Alliance, and details various bumps in the road, like Vince McMahon Sr. hijacking Buddy Rogers and leaving the NWA, only to rejoin years later, and promoters running opposition in one another's territory.

Once the cable boom hits, there are a lot of damn pigs eyeing up the whole trough. People paint Vince McMahon Jr. as the devil, and while he's definitely got some bad points, a lot of other promoters would have expanded nationally with the resources to do so.

I've gleaned a lot of this information from various books and documentaries over the years but this time I feel like I got the whole picture. There wasn't any bias. It didn't go out of its way to drag Vince McMahon through the mud and it didn't make him a saint, either, like a lot of WWE-made material does.

All the maneuvering behind the scenes was fascinating. I had no idea about the various attempts of other promoters to go national once cable was readily available. Ever hear of Global Wrestling (not to be confused with the Global Wrestling Federation)? Me either. The book runs through the 1980s and ends when Jim Crockett sells his promotion to Ted Turner, where it becomes WCW and eventually ignites another war. Hopefully Hornbaker will cover that next.

Pretty much every territory I've ever heard of got its due here: Don Owen of Portland, the Von Erichs, Joe Blanchard, Paul Boesch, Eddie Graham, Bill Watts, and a slew of others. Each made their mark but couldn't keep up with the changing times and the Scrooge McDuck-like bank account of one Vincent Kennedy McMahon.

The warts and all presentation made it a gripping read. I read it in two sittings, a rarity for me these days.

Upon finishing, I think partly some of the old promoters going the way of the dinosaur was karma biting them in the ass. The good old boy network helped run people who weren't NWA members or aligned with the NWA out of business during most of the NWA's existence. It's just this time, it was the NWA members that got got. I think the wrestling world would be better off without one horse running the race a few laps ahead of all the others, though.

Four out of five turnbuckles. Get cracking on that Monday Night Wars book, Tim!

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Sunday, September 23, 2018

Review: The Night Before

The Night Before The Night Before by Wendy Walker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Rosie's sister Laura moved in with her and her husband after a bad breakup. When Laura tries to reenter the dating world, she goes out with a man she met on a dating website and doesn't return home the next day. But are Rosie and Joe afraid of what her date did to Laura or what she did to him?

I was invited to read this on Netgalley and took St. Martin's up on the offer. I'm glad I did.

The Night Before is a tale of secrets, obsession, and the past acting as an anchor. Or is it? Laura is a woman on the run from her past, a past that saw her high school boyfriend beaten to death with a baseball bat and a mentally ill man convicted of the crime. But is that what really happened? As one of the characters says "You never really know what's lurking inside someone" or something to that effect.

The story is split into three timelines: Laura with her therapist months before, Laura on the night of, and Rosie after Laura has disappeared. It wound up being a great tool for building suspense. Misdirection is one of the hallmarks of a good thriller for me and I think Wendy Walker had my number from the first page. I made all the wrong assumptions based on the trail she laid down, just like most of the characters. I had an inkling something was amiss but couldn't lay my finger on it until it was way too late.

I'm a gumshoe from way back. I've read a few hundred mystery and suspense novels over the years. There's nothing I enjoy more than having an author pull the wool over my eyes and make me feel like a rube. Wendy Walker accomplished just that. Four out of five stars.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Review: Dinosaur Jazz

Dinosaur Jazz Dinosaur Jazz by Michael Panush
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Sir Edwin Crowe is a guide on Acheron Island, a South Pacific Island that is home to dinosaurs. When Selwyn Slade comes to Acheron, he means to own it all with only Sir Edwin Crowe and his Ape-Man friend James standing in his way...

I got this from Netgalley.

Dinosaur Jazz is a pulp adventure tale set on an island populated by dinosaurs in the 1920s. Sir Edwin Crowe, son of Horatio Crowe, the man who discovered Acheron Island, is the last male of the Crowe line and living as a dino-guide with his best friend and adopted brother, James the Ape-Man. When capitalism in the form of Selwyn Slade arrives, Edwin has some tough choices to make. Well, the choices aren't that tough. Edwin is a good guy and Slade and his friends are villains.

I love the setting of this book and pulp stories are always fun. I think maybe this book would do better with a different title, though. This one makes me think of a jazz quartet composed of dinosaurs.

Anyway, it's a fun popcorn sort of book, harkening back to Indiana Jones and Doc Savage. My one gripe with it was the narrator and his tone. The book is told by Sir Edwin Crowe, who is a well-mannered Englishman. His tone yanks me out of the action, a little too mannerly, a little too wordy. I had the same problem with Fury From the Tomb earlier this year.

Dinosaur Jazz was a fun read but I'm not sure I'll be reading the next book in the series. Three out of five stars.

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Sunday, September 9, 2018

Review: King of Strong Style: 1980-2014

King of Strong Style: 1980-2014 King of Strong Style: 1980-2014 by Shinsuke Nakamura
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

King of Strong Style covers Shinsuke Nakamura's life from 1980 to 2014.

The book has a structure I've never seen before in a wrestling biography. It's basically one long interview, giving it a laid back feel.

Things start off in Shinsuke's childhood. He was a sensitive kid, into drawing and things of that nature before the wrestling bug bit. From there, it's amateur wrestling, MMA, pro-wrestling and unparalleled success as a rookie in New Japan. Nakamura talks about some people he had friction with, making excursions to the United States, Italy, and Mexico. His rivalries with Tanahashi and Shibata are detailed to some extent.

While I like how the interview structure helps the book stay focused, I think a lot of sections would have been better with more detail. Interesting topics are only given a couple sentences. The book also doesn't go into much detail with the actual matches, like Shinsuke and the unidentified interviewer are trying not to break kayfabe.

It's breezy and interesting but King of Strong Style isn't a top tier wrestling book, not for me anyway. Three out of five stars

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