Book Review: Moscow Bound by Adrian Churchward

moscow-bound-coverI enjoy modern-day political thrillers as much as the next guy, but it’s always chancy when you’re dealing with a first-time novelist. I’m happy to say that Adrian Churchward delivers in spades in his new thriller, MOSCOW BOUND.

Some mild plot spoilers follow.

Scott Mitchell is an idealistic British human rights attorney who has already made an enemy of the Russian government through his past defenses of some of Moscow’s Chechen opponents in the European Court of Human Rights. He has a rocky return to Moscow after his latest legal victory – the Russians are happy to put the fear of God (or Putin) into the guy – and is soon contacted by Ekaterina Romanova, a mysterious and beautiful (is there any other kind?) woman who asks for Mitchell’s help in locating her father, a man she’s never met. He was said to have been dragged off to a gulag and murdered decades before, but Ekaterina has new evidence suggesting he’s been alive, somewhere, all these years. Mitchell reluctantly agrees to help, but all of the people who might be able to shed light on the matter have a way of ending up dead before they offer much help. The pair soon run afoul of a general in Russian military intelligence who seems determined to prevent them from locating Ekaterina’s father because their investigation seems to tread dangerously close to a Vietnam War-era operation that has been ongoing for the last four decades. That seems like it should be ancient history, so why are people so willing to kill to prevent the truth from coming out?

I hesitate to reveal the exact nature of the mystery and why people are coming out of the woodwork to prevent the secret from getting at (it really is the core of the book’s plot). Suffice it to say that while MOSCOW BOUND’s plot hangs together just fine as a stand-alone novel, it is labeled as the first volume in the forthcoming “Puppet Meisters” trilogy (will the Germans inexplicably become involved at some point?). I hope to see the central mystery that is revealed at the end of MOSCOW BOUND (I won’t spoil that ending here) expanded, as it came in a bit of a rush. Some elaboration on the implications of the mystery at the core of this novel would help.

Churchward understands what it’s like to live and work in contemporary Russia, and necessarily navigate the complexities of Russian law, bureaucracy, and abuses of state power. While we have all the archetypal characters of this kind of “Ludlum” style political thriller – idealistic crusader; woman with a mysterious past; clever, tough, implacable foe, etc. – Churchward does a good job of bringing his characters to life. At times the pace dragged a bit, and I found myself wanting a dramatis personae to help keep all the names straight at times, but it’s an engaging story.

Recommended for those interested in thrillers set in contemporary Russia. I will be curious to see where Churchward and his characters take the story in the rest of the Puppet Meisters trilogy.

Buy the book on Amazon

Review copyright © 2014 J. Andrew Byers

Book Review: Vixens, Vamps, & Vipers: Lost Villainesses of Golden Age Comics by Mike Madrid

193525927X.01.LZZZZZZZAuthor Mike Madrid is no stranger to Golden Age comics, having written two previous books on the subject, THE SUPERGIRLS: FASHION, FEMINISM, FANTASY, AND THE HISTORY OF COMIC BOOK and DIVAS, DAMES & DAREDEVILS: LOST HEROINES OF GOLDEN AGE COMICS. In many ways, Madrid’s latest book, VIXENS, VAMPS, & VIPERS: LOST VILLAINESSES OF GOLDEN AGE COMICS is a companion book of similar format to DIVAS, DAMES & DAREDEVILS. Instead of focusing on the heroines of Golden Age comics, this volume examines the villainesses with some textual analysis along with complete black and white reprints of the comics in which they first appeared.

Kuskin, an equally good if all-too-brief introduction, a conclusion, and introductory text in each of the four major chapters (Vicious Viragos, Beauties & Beasts, A Rainbow of Evil, and Crime Queens). Each of the chapters includes reproductions of the complete Golden Age comic origins of female villains, all from the period 1940-50. If you’re a casual fan of Golden Age comics like me, you’re unlikely to be familiar with many of these characters (and to be clear, most were one-shot villains, either being killed off or imprisoned at the end of their origin stories). The characters included were: Madam Doom, Texa, Idaho, Fräulein Halunke, Red-Haired Kate, Her Highness, Lady Serpent, He-She (very gender-bendy), Nadya Burnett, Beauty, Skull Lady, The Figure, Nang Tu, Queen Tuana, Veda the Cobra Woman, Mava, Madame Butterfly (not the one from Puccini), Belle Guness, Madame Muscles, Winsome Wanda Bailey, Mable Reine, and Shoebox Annie French. As was typical for the era, they are a real mix of just-plain-nasty-but-otherwise-normal people and those with some kind of strange origin that gives them some ability beyond the norm.

I have to admit that I was surprised at how violent or dark some of the stories were (nothing particularly graphic by twenty-first century standards, of course). Most are pretty hokey; that’s probably to be expected from the 1940s, but some actually hold up fairly well. The individual stories’ art also varies considerably, with a few being on the crude side, with most actually pretty darn good. All the stories are interesting as historical artifacts in any case.

I read an advance uncorrected copy for this review, but I’d just like to briefly note that the scans of some of the comics need to be cleaned up for the final version as they are a bit muddy or indistinct in places. The quality is not so bad that it makes it impossible to read and enjoy the comics, but it does detract. It’s understandable that undoubtedly many of the comics surviving this period are in relatively rough shape, but there is always the possibility for post-scanning clean-up, so I hope the publisher makes an effort to do that.

Recommended if you’re interested in early depictions of female antagonists in comics or a big fan of Golden Age comics in general.

Buy the book on Amazon

Review copyright © 2014 J. Andrew Byers