We love Penguin’s leather bound hardcovers. They basically cover good old classics. A lesser known but equally attractive offering is Gollancz’s Big Black Book series. There are just a few big black books in the series, but they offer some excellent compilations.
The Complete Chronicles of Conan by Robert E. Howard – Probably the only complete collection of original Conan stories. You are not a pulp fiction fan if you do not own this.
Conan’s Brethren: The Complete Collection by Robert E. Howard– The most unusual collection. It covers the exploits of the Solomon Kane, Howard’s first barbarian hero King Kull, Bran Mak Morn, Red Sonja and others.
Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales by HP Lovecraft – Unlike the Barnes and Noble edition, this is not a complete collection. However, in terms of presentation, it is vastly superior with excellent illustrations and a comprehensive afterword by Stephen Jones.
Eldritch Tales: A Miscellany of the Macabre by H.P. Lovecraft – Includes Lovecraft’s remaining major stories plus his weird poetry, nonfiction, and the critical essay Supernatural Horror in Literature.
The Complete Lyonesse (Lyonesse #1-3) by Jack Vance – An omnibus edition of Vance’s magnum opus. Like a goodreads review rightly mentioned “If Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings is the greatest fantasy epic of the 20th century, then Lyonesse is surely the greatest fairy tale.”
Tarzan of the Apes & Other Tales by Edgar Rice Burroughs – A selective collection but the best Tarzan stories feature here.
The achievement of Gollancz BIg Black Book series is essentially its atypical selection of works along with great presentation. We have plenty of publishers playing safe with Dickens and Austen. Glad to see some good folks betting on Lovecraft and Howard.
Death Dealer is a 1973 fantasy painting by legendary pulp artist Frank Frazetta. Its popularity led to a variety of spin offs including comic books and novels. The novels were written by James Silke and there were five installments in the series. Though the books were criticized for being too simplistic, Frazetta’s intense touch gave them an eerie feeling. The plots were silly, the characters were underdeveloped, the story was a stereotypical sword and sorcery tale, but to a certain degree, they do bring to life the vivid imagination of Frazetta through brutally rendered imageries and savage emotions. The above cover art evokes a feeling of a nuclear apocalypse though Frazetta himself often denied it. It is not the first in the series but undoubtedly carries the same menace and grittiness of the original painting and of course, it is my personal favorite.
Book 1: Prisoner of the Horned Helmet
Book 2: Lords of Destruction
Book 3: Tooth and Claw
Book 4: Plague of Knives
Book 5: Rise Of The Death Dealer
Cover art: Tor Books (1988), artist — Frank Frazetta
The much acclaimed and prophetic classic by Orwell has stood the test of time. Is it perfect? Absolutely not.
Does it have the flawless symmetry of Austen’s novels? Not really.
Could Orwell delineate the characters like Dostoevsky? Barely.
Does it have the devilish sense of humor so conspicuous of The Animal Firm? No.
Is the plot original? Far from it (check We by Yevgeny Zamyatin).
Does it have a touch of Salman Rushdie’s poetic story telling? Actually, it is more of an essay.
Orwell’s 1984 should be read for reasons of its own. In spite of its flaws, it makes a terrifying future too real for a work of fiction. It could be a Nazi Germany, a Fascist Italy, a so-called socialistic Russia, Napoleon’s despotic France or a combination of all of them. How common are “Big Brothers” in the world as it exists today? “Nothing was your own except the few cubic centimetres inside your skull.” — does this tone seem familiar across socio-economic-political levels? This is not a review of the book, so let the reader be the judge of how imposing Orwell view of the human future is.
“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.” – what follows would possibly change the way you look at any ideology or propaganda and wonder, like Wordsworth said, “What man has made of man.”
Download ebook 1984 by George Orwell (Audiobook) – Click here
Conan the Freebooter Cover Art (Ace Books, 1977) by Boris Vallejo. This cover art is an interpretation of the short story “A Witch Shall Be Born.”
“What did she have in it, shamus, that tempted you to kill her?” he demanded finally.
There was never anything subtle about Retnick. But there’s plenty neat and sublime about Mr James Hadley Chase. And with A Coffin from Hong Kong, JHC delivers one of his very best.
Private eye Nelson Ryan tries to resolve the murder of a Chinese girl at his private office but ends up getting framed for this murder. Things turn interesting when Ryan visits Hongkong to sort things out. A series of twists and turns, riddles and double crosses keep the readers gripped till the very end. Standard PI stuff, huh? Not exactly.
What’s So Good:
Like a typical Hadley Chase novel, A Coffin from Hong Kong features sharp dialogues. Particularly, the dialogues between Ryan and Inspector Retnick are neat and snappy with a twisted sense of humor.
Most JHC novels usually have a standard story line – the protagonist commits a crime, tries to get away and is brought to judgment. This simple frame is presented in an extraordinary way. A Coffin from Hong Kong is an exception with a quite intricate and multilayered plot, which keeps the readers guessing till the final pages. Much like Sheldon’s thrillers, it leaves you hanging off a cliff.
This thriller again deviates from the standard JHC approach with its dexterous characterization. While most of Chase’s characters seem to be talking alike, the ones here are different. The police fella Retnick has to be one of my favorite JHC characters. The protagonist seems macho, confident with a cheesy sense of humor. This isn’t Jane Austen stuff but it’s more than acceptable.
The thriller is brilliantly action packed, seductive and detailed. And yes, JHC has a nose for titles. A Coffin from Hong Kong is straight from 1980s B-grade world.
What’s Not So Good:
The sleazy, semi moral protagonists: you either love them or you hate them. Aren’t they pulpy? The soft porn cover reinforces the feel. But then, isn’t that the point?
Faint trace of racism. Grrrrrrr ….
Should you read or skip it
This was the very first JHC thriller I read so my review could be a bit biased. But personal feelings aside, along with No Orchids for Miss Blandish, this is a first rate thriller from Mr Chase. Is it a timeless noir classic like Maltese Falcon? Definitely not. But it holds you like a magnet and leaves a considerably long lasting impression, which is so deliciously satisfying. Highly recommended.
Download PDF: A Coffin from Hong Kong by James Hadley Chase
Cover art: Panther Books, April 1964
1968 adaptation of King Kong, Gold Key Comics