Friday, July 07, 2006

Recommended Reading for Thrill Seekers

Summer has barely begun, and I've already discovered and read my fun summer thriller: The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril by Paul Malmont. This well-written and stunningly researched homage to the pulp era is for anyone casting about for something in the vein of Carter Beats the Devil or The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Malmont, blandly described on the dust jacket as someone who "works in advertising," has produced a novel that's full of action, atmosphere, and mystery; it's the perfect read for a warm summer evening. The only thing that could top it would be to listen to a live radio performance of the plot, preferably with the lights out.

It is 1937. Walter Gibson (who, in real life, wrote The Shadow thrillers) and Lester Dent (creator of Doc Savage) are our protagonists. They are the number one and number two writers of pulp fiction in the world, respectively, and serious rivals. Gibson is drawn into the mysterious death of an acquaintance of his, an obscure writer named H.P. Lovecraft who penned stories for the lowly "shudder and menace mags." Did Lovecraft truly die suddenly of cancer, or was he murdered? Dent, meanwhile, begins investigating an old Chinatown legend and is drawn into the deadly world of the tongs and Chinese revolution. These two men don't realize it at first, but their adventures are closely tied to one another's and will soon become lethal. They are aided and abetted by a number of other pulp writers of the time, including L. Ron Hubbard (in a not terribly flattering but intriguing portrait), Chester Himes, and others whose identities I dare not give away. Reading this book is kind of like watching a movie with a lot of unbilled cameos: you never know who is going to turn up in the next scene, but you can be sure it will be a pleasant surprise. New York City, where most of the action is centered, is described in affectionate detail, particularly mysterious and exotic Chinatown. My only complaint is that the summer now stretches out before me, and I doubt I'll be able to find another thriller I will enjoy anywhere near as much.

Paul Malmont will be at Vroman's to talk about and sign The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril on Wednesday, July 19, at 7 p.m. Treat yourself to both a great read and what is bound to be a fascinating discussion.

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