Friday, August 10, 2012

Undercover Review: TALES FROM THE HANGING MONKEY

TALES FROM THE HANGING MONKEY
by Bill Craig, Joshua Reynolds, Tommy Hancock, and Derrick Ferguson
Airship 27
184 pages
Review by Greg Daniel
[Full Disclosure: Tommy Hancock, one of the authors, is a staff member of NPF.com.]
           
Why Pulp?  It is a question that gets bandied around quite a bit.  As a matter of fact, if you explore this webpage you will see that very phrase as 2/3 of the title of Nancy Hansen’s always interesting column.  To me, that question has always had a rather simple answer … it’s fun!  It is that very phrase that drew me to Tales from the Hanging Monkey.  It’s fun!  Want to know why you should rush out and buy a copy of Tales from the Hanging Monkey?  Give up?  It’s fun!

Any discussion of Tales from the Hanging Monkey would be remiss without mentioning its inspiration, the too short-lived television series, “Tales of the Gold Monkey.”  For a brief time, riding the post ”Raiders of the Lost Ark” television wave, we were able to thrill to the adventures of Jake Cutter, “Bon Chance” Louie, one-eyed Jack and others.  While Raiders got the Gold Monkey on the tube, its origins can be traced back much further, to a variety of ancestors, such as “Only Angels Have Wings” and Louis Lamour (if you have only read his westerns, you have missed out on a ton of great tales).  But enough with the preamble, let’s get to the book.

The Hanging Monkey of the title is a bar, owned by Corky O’Brian, a former boxer from Ireland, which is heralded as, among other things, the first permanent structure on the South Seas island of Motugra.  The Monkey serves as the nexus for an assortment of expatriates, rogues, scoundrels, exiles, wanderers, and even the occasional hero and their various adventures and misadventures.  Rounding out the Monkey staff are Miko, bartender and Oriental lady of mystery, and Khuna, bouncer and (semi)reformed headhunter. Nick Fortune, skipper of the rum-runner Fortune’s Folly, Jimmy Dolan, air cargo pilot, and Grace Thomas, an American reporter, complete the ensemble cast.

The cover by Daniel Ibanez does a marvelous job of attracting and preparing the reader for the exotic adventure that awaits within.  Dolan’s Loosey Goosey ducks under the logo as it prepares to land.  Nick and Grace are side by side at the wheel of his schooner.  And in the center is a mysterious redhead who would not look out of place as the nose art on a WW2 bomber.  Clayton Hinkle provides equally fetching character sketches and interior illustrations.

Joshua Reynolds gets the action started in a big way with “The Devil’s Crater.” The lead-off features Jimmy Dolan as he transports a scientific expedition in search of a missing colleague.  Island-hopping via seaplane, hacking through the jungle, encountering exotic beasts, fearfully wondering what will be found at journey’s end makes for a great introduction to this volume and sets the pace for what is to follow.

Next up is “The Eye of Ka” by series creator Bill Craig.  Craig launches his tale with an opening scene that you might find vaguely familiar and keeps the pedal down as he provides some back stories, introduces (recurring?) villains, and lays the groundwork for future plotlines all while delivering an intriguing mystery.  The complete ensemble is active in this story with Nick Fortune spending most of the time in the spotlight.

Tommy Hancock serves up “Motugra’s Revenge” and this dish is definitely not served cold.  A diabolical madman seeks revenge on the Hanging Monkey regulars, but who and why both drive this tale to an explosive conclusion.  In an interesting twist, Khuna and Miko, both of whom I would consider more of a supporting character, take center stage and both prove worthy of the attention.

You know what they say happens when you assume something, right?  Well, I must admit that I assumed that Derrick Ferguson’s “The Knobloch Collection Assignment” would be my least favorite.  Nothing against Mr. Ferguson, but I knew going into the story that it was not what I considered a South Seas islands adventure nor did it feature any of the Hanging Monkey regulars.  But, boy oh boy, did Ferguson deliver! Meeting the Magician and seeing him in pre-war espionage action was an absolute blast! An exciting new tale and an intriguing new character and both were right at home in Tales of the Hanging Monkey.  Remember, my mantra from the opening paragraph?  Yes, indeed, it was fun!

My trunk is already packed for a return trip to the Hanging Monkey.  I just hope that Airship 27, Bill Craig, and the rest of the crew can arrange for me to travel by something a little faster than a slow boat to Motugra.

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