Tag Archives: book review

Book Review: Harlan Ellison’s Memos from Purgatory

For ten weeks in 1954, then twenty-year-old writer Harlan Ellison adopted the alias of teenager Phil “Cheech” Beldone and joined a NYC street gang called the Barons all in the name of research—an endeavor that nearly cost Ellison his life on more than one occasion, from the gang initiation ritual to the final savage, bloody rumble against a rival gang in Prospect Park.

Fast-forward seven years to 1961 when Ellison attended a gathering in NYC and encountered an old “friend” named Ken Bales to whom Ellison had loaned a typewriter—which Bales promptly hocked. While at the party, Ellison took the opportunity to demand compensation from Bales. A few days later, two detectives arrived at Ellison’s apartment based on an anonymous report of drug parties and illegal weapons. Was Bales the caller? Ellison seemed to suspect as much.

Known for this vociferous anti-drug lifestyle, Ellison explained to the detectives that there were no illegal narcotics in his apartment and the weapons, taken from a street gang, were now used as part of his popular lectures on juvenile delinquency. After allowing the detectives to search his apartment, Ellison is relieved to learn that no charges will be filed for narcotics—but they will have to arrest him on possession of an unregistered firearm, as a .22 caliber pistol was among the gang weapons.

Memos from Purgatory by Harlan Ellison

Thus begins the second part of this memoir—Ellison’s vivid and dramatic description of his 24 hours in jail. Here is where the narrative runs longer than necessary and I can understand why many readers consider it whiny.

Memos from Purgatory is an unflinching, up-close-and-personal examination of street gangs and the callous NYC legal system of the times. It was one of Harlan Ellison’s bestselling books for nearly 25 years. While the material is obviously dated, the color of Ellison’s honest and raw narrative has not faded. I think the same can be said for most of his work.

Of course, what Harlan Ellison book would be complete with an expository introduction? In this case, my 1983 ACE paperback edition contains three intros, one written for this book and two from each previous printing. Ellison’s commentaries are nearly as enjoyable his stories!



Book Review: Galactic Creatures edited by Elektra Hammond

Galactic Creatures is a fun collection of eleven short stories with a common theme of spaceships or satellites constructed in the form of birds, dragons, fish, and other animals. My favorites included “Dragon Child” by Leona Wisoker, the late, great C.J. Henderson’s “Lawn Care,” and Patrick Thomas’s novella, “Crossing Roads,” which concludes the book.

There were only a few editing issues that caught my attention. On my copy of the trade paperback, both the title and the editor’s name are misspelled on the spine and “Lawn Care” is interrupted three pages before the end by a brief excerpt from what appears to be a story outline that is completely unrelated to the theme of this anthology. Beyond those minor glitches, this is a fine collection of light and quick SF/Fantasy tales.

Galactic Creatures cover


Book Review: The Return of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Ever since I purchased and reread my autographed replacement copy of Nicholas Meyer’s Sherlock Holmes novel, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution, and then went on to read Murder at Sorrow’s Crown by Steven Savile and Bob Greenberger, I felt compelled to go back and indulge once again in some of the original tales by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

It had been so long since l last read this collection that I’d forgotten most of them, although I remembered that at least two—”The Adventure of the Six Napoleons” and “The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton”—were used as source material for the BBC series, Sherlock.

So great was the demand for Sherlock Holmes stories that Doyle, The Return of Sherlock Holmestired of penning tales about the master detective by the turn of the 20th century,  was compelled to resurrect Holmes from the dead after what was thought to be his demise in “The Final Problem” wherein Holmes and his arch-rival, the nefarious Professor Moriarty, had together plummeted from Reichenbach Falls in Germany.

Of the 13 marvelous stories detailing some of Holmes and Watson’s continuing investigations, my favorites include…

“The Adventure of the Empty House,” in which Holmes describes to an astounded Watson how he managed to escape death and travel about Europe and Asia for a few years before returning to London, compelled by an intriguing and high-profile murder of the son of an Earl.

In “The Adventure of the Dancing Men,” Holmes and Watson are called into decipher a series of encrypted messages consisting of dancing stick figures. The messages are being left in chalk on the walls of a nobleman’s manor as well as on notes around the property. Could they be a warning… or a threat?

In “The Adventure of the Priory School,” a frantic headmaster calls upon Holmes to investigate the missing son of a local Duke. Did the boy flee the school of his own accord, or was he led away for a fiendish purpose?

In “The Adventure of Black Peter,” Inspector Stanley Hopkins requests Holmes’s assistance on the peculiar murder of Peter Carey, a former ship’s captain and a miserable drunkard, who built a small cabin on his property where he often stole away for days—until one morning when his body is discovered impaled by one of his own harpoons!

Holmes is once again called in by Scotland Yard when a series of cheap plaster Napoleon busts are senselessly and randomly smashed all over England. However, when one of these incidents leads to murder, Holmes suspects that there is something more to the matter than a mere dislike of the legendary emperor in “The Adventure of the Six Napoleons.”

When an elderly professor’s intern is brutally murdered in the professor’s own study, Holmes and Watson are called into investigate. The only clue to the killer’s identity are spectacles clutched in the victim’s hand and one-way footprints in the grass outside a set of french doors. In “The Adventure of the Pince-Nez,” could the killer still be close at hand?

A college athlete from Cambridge implores Holmes to help find his missing teammate, rugby star Godfrey Staunton. Upon receiving a hand delivered note, Staunton simply disappeared on the eve of their match against Oxford. Holmes and Watson track the missing student to a cantankerous and clever physician who manages to elude Holmes for a short time before he and Watson finally discover the tragic truth in “The Adventure of the Missing Three-Quarter.”

When the brutal and abusive Sir Eustace Brackenstall is murdered in his mansion, Holmes and Watson are once more called in by Scotland Yard. However, by the time they arrive, Inspector Hopkins seems to have the case already classified as a burglary gone wrong. As it happens, a trio of master thieves had already been seen in the area and the Lady Brackenstall identified them as the ones who bound and gagged her before murdering her husband. However, a cursory inspection of the crime scene leaves a nagging doubt in Holmes’s mind in “The Adventure of the Abbey Grange.”

In “The Adventure of the Second Stain,” a former British Prime Minister and the Secretary for European Affairs seek Holmes’s help in recovering a stolen letter from a foreign potentate that, if exposed, could lead to war in Europe. However, Holmes comes to learn that the situation is far more personal to the Secretary than the young man realizes.

A Marvelous Review from the Land Down Under!

I just happened across this recent Goodreads review for my novel By Your Side from a reader in Australia. It made my weekend!

Indy Fernandez rated it Five Stars – It was amazing

Shelves: read-2017
This book has chills, thrills, suspense and even light hearted humour. Will keep you engaged from start to finish, a very well written novel, I applaud the author Phil Giunta as the story is intriguing with characters that are portrayed with so vividly you are caught up in their nightmares.
By Your Side by Phil Giunta



Book Review: The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

In an effort to win the heart of a fickle young lady, intrepid newspaper reporter Edward Malone volunteers as a member of an expedition to South America to seek proof or otherwise debunk the wild claims of arrogant and intractable paleontologist Professor George Edward Challenger.

Upon returning from South America many years prior, Challenger claimed to have discovered prehistoric life still thriving atop a plateau deep in the jungles of Brazil. Unfortunately, his camera was damaged during a boating accident, leaving him with scant and inconclusive photographic evidence and only the sketchbook of one Maple White, a poet and artist who died of severe injuries shortly after escaping this supposed land of dinosaurs.

During a contentious interview, Challenger permits Malone to peruse the sketchbook, wherein White had drawn numerous mundane flora and fauna—until the final image of an impossibly large reptilian creature. Malone, however, remains unconvinced.

Despite his unadulterated aversion toward the press, Challenger sees some potential in Malone and invites him to a meeting of the Zoological Society where Professor Challenger, living up to his name, disrupts the guest lecturer when mention is made of the extinction of the dinosaur before the dawning of man.

Challenger’s claims of eyewitness accounts of pterodactyls in Brazil draws ridicule from both the audience and his peers, including one botanist and zoologist Professor Summerlee.  By the end of the raucous evening, a new team of explorers agrees to travel to Brazil and put the matter to rest. In addition to Malone and Summerlee, famed adventurer and big game hunter Sir John Roxton offers his considerable skills.

Shortly thereafter, the trio embark for South America and are surprised by the appearance of Professor Challenger himself once they reach Brazil. Challenger naturally assumes the role of team leader and guide as the adventurers, along with a number of local hired hands, begin their voyage along the Amazon into the realm of the unknown—where they encounter far more than any of them ever imagined possible.

The story is told from the POV of the reporter,The Lost World Book Cover Edward Malone, as he journals the team’s adventures through this unfathomable—and unmistakably treacherous—domain.  It had been at least 30 years since I’d last read The Lost World, yet so many elements remained with me since then, such as the cantankerous and haughty Professor Challenger, the fearsome ape men, the pterodactyl pit, and a few other vivid details. After reading it again this past week, I found myself just as enthralled as I was the first time. This should come as no surprise since much of Doyle’s work, most notably Sherlock Holmes, has soundly withstood the test of time.



Book Review: Sherlock Holmes-Murder at Sorrow’s Crown by Steven Savile and Bob Greenberger

In London during the summer of 1881, and still early in their now legendary partnership, Doctor Watson schedules a number of appointments for bored, brilliant detective Sherlock Holmes, who has been unable as of late to find a case worthy of his considerable talents. After the string of potential clients are turned away one by one, an unscheduled caller arrives—bringing with her an intriguing case, naturally.

Hermione Frances Sara Wynter, an elderly widow, has been unable to obtain a satisfactory answer from the Admiralty as to the whereabouts of her son, Lieutenant Norbert Wynter. Norbert was due home one month previous aboard the HMS Dido after fighting in the war against the Boers in South Africa.

However, all of Mrs. Wynter’s initial inquiries to the Admiralty went unanswered until finally, they revealed that Norbert had been classified as missing in action and a deserter. His mother, of course, refused to believe such an outlandish accusation.

Holmes accepts the case and, together with Watson, sets forth to interrogate, beleaguer, and otherwise annoy the Admiralty into providing information on Lieutenant Wynter. Soon, it becomes clear that something is amiss, especially since Wynter was listed as missing in action in February, yet continued to receive a paycheck until July.

When Holmes and Watson are attacked on the street by men sent by someone at the Admiralty, the detective is certain that a government cover-up is at play and, as Holmes is often quoted as saying, “The game is afoot!”

An investigation into the missing officer leads Holmes and Watson to a web of conspiracy that involves the death of former Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, the now defunct East India Company, and much more.

Savile and Greenberger deftly capture the characters and relationship of Holmes and Watson in a plot that was well-conceived and unfurled at a perfect pace. I was pleased to see the inclusion of Holmes’s “street Arabs,” aka The Baker Street Irregulars, as well as Scotland Yard Inspector Gregson over the more famous Lestrade, the latter making only a cameo appearance.  I have absolutely nothing against Lestrade, of course, but I appreciate the nod being given to the more minor recurring Gregson.

Sherlock Holmes Sorrows Crown Cover