Michael Crichton/John Lange
Hard Case Crime
October 29, 2013
Reviewed by Brian James Lewis

Hello my friends, and welcome to the Skullcave! Today we’re talking about the Hard Case Crime edition of Michael Crichton’s 1972 suspense novel BINARY. Back then Crichton was writing under the pen name John Lange and in a style that was contemporary for the times. Readers will need to keep that in mind, especially younger ones who’ve never experienced life without a cellphone in their pocket. In 1972, police used walkie-talkies, landline telephones which could be hacked quite easily, car radios, and did a lot of legwork to keep tabs on criminals. Computers were new and awkward to use technology that wasn’t available to the general public. So, get your plaid bell bottom slacks, wide collar shirt, and Dingo boots on. Now let’s roll!

Binary starts off by giving readers a peek into an unusual crime involving a special shipment via rail. The heist is pulled off successfully, but why the interest in two large tanks of pesticide? Some answers arrive with one John Graves, when he arrives in San Diego, California after a long flight. As a government intelligence agent, Graves has become an expert on the eccentric, dangerous, and very rich John Wright. It turns out that they have an emergency on their hands. Not only is John Wright in San Diego but so is the president of the United States. They are both there for a political convention, but with very different agendas. The president is seeking reelection while Wright is looking to correct a lot of things he perceives as wrongs. It is up to Graves and a mashup of law enforcement agencies including the US Marshalls, and local police to stop Wright from achieving his goals. Otherwise, a million people will die horrible deaths. But there is nothing simple about this job. Wright may be twisted, but he’s also genius level smart and loves puzzles. Can Graves figure out his deadly game before it’s too late?

Your old pal Skull enjoyed this fast-moving novel, but there were a few things that just didn’t fly: How many “Johns” do we need in one book? We know that John Lange was pseudonym for Crichton, but then he goes on to name both of his lead characters John, too? The world is full of perfectly good names that would have also worked and been less confusing. I mean I am a Michael Crichton fan, but sometimes things just get a bit too detailed. At the same time, this is also one of his strengths because readers aren’t stuck with a vague concept, they get the complete picture. Another thing I liked about Binary was the absence of gun violence for the most part. John Graves is seeking a solution with the least amount of physical harm being done. After enduring a ton of bombastic novels and movies where every single thing gets blown to hell, it’s cool to see that reason and deduction are still valued. Violence is too prevalent and highly lauded today. We need to start stepping back from that testosterone-fueled approach both in fiction and real life. Overall, Damaged Skull Writer and Reviewer rates Binary by Michael Crichton writing as John Lange a hearty FOUR STARS! Incidentally, I’ve enjoyed almost every Hard Case Crime release with their vintage art covers and plethora of authors, some of whom I was pleasantly surprised by. I’m glad they brought these novels by Michael Crichton back into the public eye, especially since we won’t be getting any new releases from this talented author who was gone too soon. Check ‘em out!

For more information about more Hard Case Crime titles by John Lange and others go to: www.HardCaseCrime.com Also be sure to follow me, your old pal Skull at: www.damagedskullwriterandreviewer.com It’s a great way to find out about independent speculative fiction, poetry, and some unique books by mainstream authors. Thanks for stopping by the Skullcave, see you soon!

Damaged Skull Writer and Reviewer is an inclusive blog where everyone is valued, except for haters who are heartily encouraged to climb into the nearest industrial trash compactor and press start. My human host, Brian James Lewis is a disabled poet and writer with PTSD who has 3 new Beat Generation style poems in Trajectory Journal issue 23, available now! As is issue 22 which contains his terrifying short story Following My Destiny about misguided mass shooter Chance McCandless. If you want to sample Brian’s work for free, check out the Halloween 2023 issue of The Sirens Call E-zine for his short story “Still A Great Night To Be A Kid.” You can also read his poem “Again” which is about living with mental illness, on JMWW. We’re also on Twitter @skullsnflames76 and Goodreads under his name.


Dead and Breakfast by Gary Buller

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gary Buller
June 19, 2020
Reviewed by Brian “Skull” Lewis

Hello again you wicked whackdoodles, it’s your old pal Skull with another cool title from independent speculative fiction publisher Unnerving! Dead and Breakfast by Gary Buller is book number 11 of Unnerving’s REWIND OR DIE series, and a most excellent choice of reading material. What we get is one of my favorite approaches to a book: stories within a larger story, which is perfect for modern times, short attention spans, reading on the train and anywhere else. Let’s get to it, shall we?
Punk rockers Eddie and Banksy are on their way to a party which is going to be one hell of a good time. Unfortunately, they get massively offtrack and find themselves in the middle of nowhere with a tire that’s way beyond flat. If that’s not enough, a frigid rain chases them to the only shelter available, an ancient stone cottage straight out of a horror flick. But any warmth and shelter is better than none, right? Eddie feels a bit unsure as he hands over payment for the night’s lodgings at Sally’s Dead and Breakfast, wondering if he heard her right. No matter how creepy she is, a warm fire blazes in the lounge beckoning the soaked travelers. While the kettle is on, Sally regales them with a tale called Cords about a village that operates somewhat on the scale of Shirley Jackson’s The Lottery except in Sally’s story the sacrifices are everyone who hits their 35th birthday. They must go to the fissure and if they don’t, evil things make sure they do. Cool mix of futuristic in a derelict almost Victorian landscape.
After that creepy story, there’s at least some tea and possibly a telephone to get the hell out of this crusty inn. But tea’s not ready yet and “sorry dearies, no phone”. There are more stories though. The Brace is a terrifying tale of domestic abuse and the power of ghosts to help a young boy in a time of desperate need. Sally is quite the weird wordsmith and trots out her story The Weight of Nostalgia for her captive audience. Eddie and Banksy don’t want to hear anymore but where can they go? This speculative tale starts with an unseen narrator following a young boy who appears to be enjoying a day at the local sweet shop. Warm waves of nostalgia abound among the penny candies, original formula Coca-Cola, and ice-lollies, but something is amiss here in the land of almost reality. A strange government program that enables test subjects to recreate the past and a family cursed with cancer make us wonder if all life is just a trap that leads to suffering.
Finally, Sally brings tea to the now weary and bewildered travelers who hope this means an end to the horrors she’s been heaping upon them. But she’s got one tale left and it’s a doozy called The Greyfriars Transcripts. A caller to a radio show is looking for some advice about a very grim situation he’s stuck in. His day started normally enough until the baker making his breakfast told him a strange story about the train he planned on boarding. “They say the Greyfriars route is cursed” But the narrator just rolls his eyes and heads off to the train station. Whether that was a good choice or not is something you’ll need to grab a copy of Dead and Breakfast to find out, along with the fates of Eddie and Banksy. Your old pal Skull says it’s a winner!
Damaged Skull Writer and Reviewer rates Dead and Breakfast a very scary FIVE STARS. I’ve been fortunate to know Gary Buller for many years and have enjoyed his ability to make readers both chuckle and scream with his decidedly English writing style. Bottom line, his stories hold up with a timeless quality to them that keeps you turning the pages and feeling a bit sad when you’ve finished. Combine that with Eddie Generous’ vision for Unnerving-an inclusive, anti-hater press and person, who knows how to scare the hell out of readers and make them think. Anybody can jump scare someone at least once, but to have something more to say afterwards AND be a supportive member of the diverse community that horror writers are, you have to be someone special. Maybe just a bit crazy too, but aren’t we all if we’re honest about it?
For more information about Gary Buller, visit him on Twitter @garybuller
For more information about UNNERVING go to: @UnnervingBooks on Twitter
And don’t forget to follow me, your old pal Skull, at: www.damagedskullwriterandreviewer.com It’s a great way to help your favorite independent authors, poets, and publishers. Damaged Skull Writer and Reviewer is an inclusive blog where everyone is valued, except for haters who are heartily encouraged to climb into the nearest industrial trash compactor and press start. My human host, Brian James Lewis is a disabled poet and writer with PTSD who has 3 new Beat Generation style poems in Trajectory Journal issue 23, available now! As is issue 22 which contains his terrifying short story Following My Destiny about misguided mass shooter Chance McCandless. We’re also on Twitter @skullsnflames76 and Goodreads. See you soon!

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