Monday, 16 May 2022

Summer at the French Café, by Sue Moorcroft

Regular blog readers will know I've been friends with Sue Moorcroft since we first met at the Kettering Writers Group in 1999 (we genre writers were consigned to the back of the room, where we had a great laugh).  Since then she's gone from strength to strength, hitting number one in the Kindle Bestseller charts (with The Christmas Promise) on her way to becoming a Sunday Times Best Seller, while her novel A Summer To Remember won the Goldsboro Books Contemporary Romantic Novel Award 2020.  As well as featuring her a lot on blog (to see more, click this link), I'm also pleased to be one of her beta-readers and thoroughly enjoyed her latest novel, Summer At The French Cafe, which has just been published in paperback and e-book.

Sparkling sun, strolls in the gorgeous French countryside, that first sip of cool, crisp wine – Summer is Kat’s favourite season. And this year should be no exception…

As soon as Kat Jenson set foot in the idyllic French village of Kirchhoffen, she knew she’d found her home.

Now she has a dreamy boyfriend, a delightful dog and the perfect job managing a bustling book café in the vibrant Parc Lemmel.

But when she learns her boyfriend isn’t all he seems, it’s the start of a difficult summer for Kat. Vindictive troublemakers, work woes and family heartache follow, and the clear blue sky that was her life suddenly seems full of clouds.

Then she gets to know the mysterious Noah, and her sun begins to shine brighter than ever. But Noah has problems of his own – ones that could scupper their new-found happiness. Together, can they overcome their many obstacles, and find love again?

The perfect summer read for fans of Trisha Ashley, Sarah Morgan and Carole Matthews.

Katerina ‘Kat’ Jenson manages the the bookshop Livres et Café at Parc Lemmel, on the edge of Muntsheim, in the Alsace region of France.  When it turns out her boyfriend is not only a family man but his wife is a computer whizz who’s perfectly happy to cause havoc, Kat swears off men.  But then she meets Noah - who comes with his own baggage - and finds herself falling for him.

Another winner from the ever consistent Sue Moorcroft, this is a quick and heartening read filled with the usual mixture of romance, raunch, good humour and grit that she does so well.  Sue is very good at creating instantly believable characters and Kat is exceptionally well realised (she reminded me a little of Cleo from the excellent All That Mullarkey. Kat's character never has a false step and she's equally matched by Noah, who's new to the area as he tracks down his mildly autistic daughter Clemence.  It turns out, his ex-wife Florine is being controlled by her new husband Yohan, who wants a new family in his own image and the little girl is caught up in the middle.  

With Kat’s family and the bookshop owners causing their own issues, the summer is a mixture of incidents and excitement and very soon, you’ll be rooting for this well developed couple to prosper.  

Told with a keen eye for detail, a wonderful grasp of location and a pace that is absolutely pitch-perfect, this is a fantastic read that I heartily recommend.


Sue Moorcroft is an international bestselling author and has reached the #1 spot on Kindle UK. She’s won the Goldsboro Books Contemporary Romantic Novel Award, Readers’ Best Romantic Novel award and the Katie Fforde Bursary. Published by HarperCollins in the UK, US and Canada and by other publishers around the world.

Her short stories, serials, columns, writing ‘how to’ and courses have appeared around the world.

Born into an army family in Germany, Sue spent much of her childhood in Cyprus and Malta but settled in Northamptonshire at the age of ten. An avid reader, she also loves Formula 1, travel, family and friends, dance exercise and yoga.

Monday, 2 May 2022

Old School Horror 9: Tendrils, by Simon Ian Childer

The ninth, in an occasional thread, of blog posts celebrating those cheesy, sleazy old-school pulp paperbacks from the 70s and 80s, which are now mostly forgotten.  Yes, we’re not talking great art here but these books have their place - for better or worse - in the genre and I think they deserve to be remembered.

This time around, I'm looking at a novel that relishes being 'sick'...
cover scan of my copy - published in 1986 by Grafton Books

FROM OUT OF THE DRAINS
FROM OUT OF THE SEWERS
FROM OUT OF THE BOWELS OF THE EARTH CAME THE TENDRILS...

It started when a Hertfordshire drilling team struck something funny underground - a space where there should not have been a space.  'Hairs' where there should have been rock.

Then, suddenly, people were dying - eaten away by mysterious acid which gushed out of the ground.

But that wasn't the end of it.  Soon dozens of people were being killed.  Their insides were being dissolved, digested and sucked out until only the skin remained.

From across the boundless wastes of space - millions of years ago, the primitive black TENDRILS had made their way to Earth.  Now they were awake and looking for food - looking for meat to digest.  For the human race, it was to be a close encounter of a truly horrifying kind...

When a drilling company accidentally strikes an alien creature buried deep within the earth it responds by spewing acidic gunk that kills drillers and site protestors alike.  Nobody knows what the thing is and when it moves away, ever closer to London, it leaves a trail of destruction in its wake, reducing people and animals to brittle husks.  The only person who understands the gravity of the situation is a professor who lost his wife to the creature and, teaming up with a young reporter, he tries to stop more death.

Written by John Brosnan and Leroy Kettle (the SIC pseudonym is an in-joke, Brosnan also wrote as Harry Adam Knight - HAK), this slice of Brit horror from 1986 is an almost perfect example of paperback horror from that era.  Told with wit and pace, this has a lot of echoes with 50s horror pulp (you can almost imagine Hammer having a field day with it), with plenty of sex and gore thrown in. 

Using London and the Home Counties as key locations really grounds it and the little vignettes of the victims amp up the suspense and terror but, really, it’s the mayhem that makes this.  Gory, gruesome, funny and occasionally unpleasant (Robin the reporter has something very nasty happen), this races to a thunderous climax and then tops it off with a wonderfully downbeat ending.  

If you like 80s paperback horror, as I do, you’ll likely love it.  If you don’t then, well, I feel sorry for you.

* * *
John Raymond Brosnan was born in Perth, Western Australia on 7th October 1947.  He moved to Sydney in the late 60s and became active in local SF fandom, then traveled with fellow fans to London in 1970, where he settled.  Remaining active in fandom, he began writing non-fiction on SF, fantasy and horror films, most notably in Science Fiction Monthly and Starburst (where I first became aware of him - I wrote about the magazine here and here).  He was also a novelist and wrote science fiction and fantasy under his own name, before branching out into horror (and comics, with 2000AD), utilising several pseudonyms on the way.

* As Harry Adam Knight he wrote Carnosaur (1984) on his own and Slimer (1983), The Fungus (1985), Death Spore (1990) and Bedlam (1992) in collaboration with Leroy Kettle.
* As James Blackstone (in collaboration with John Baxter), he wrote Torched (1986).
* As Simon Ian Childer, he wrote Tendrils (1986) and Worm (1987, with Leroy Kettle).  Worm was published in the US as by Harry Adam Knight.

I haven’t read his sci-fi work, but his horror books fit the times perfectly and their streak of dark humour is reflected in the pseudonyms he chose, with Childer (SIC) and Knight (HAK) reflecting the material.  The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction described Brosnan’s horror work as the “written equivalents of exploitation movies…slightly self-mocking but quite exciting as SF horror.”  In his wonderful piece Torching John BrosnanDavid Langford mentions amusingly that Harry Adam Knight “was praised as "The New Stephen King" in a Starburst movie column whose authorship I shall not reveal)”.

Also a respected film writer and critic, Brosnan wrote James Bond in the Cinema (1972), Movie Magic: The Story of Special Effects in the Cinema (1974), The Horror People (1976), Future Tense: The Cinema of Science Fiction (1978, with a foreword by Harry Harrison), James Bond: For Your 007 Eyes Only (1981, with Tony Crawley - himself a Starburst writer too), The Dirty Movie Book (1988, with Leroy Kettle), The Primal Screen: A History of Science Fiction Film (1991), Hollywood Babble On (1998), Lights, Camera, Magic! (1998), Scream: The Unofficial Guide To The Scream Trilogy (2000) and The Hannibal Lecter Story (2001)

He also wrote most of the film entries for The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (1979), edited by Peter Nicholls and John Clute.

Some of his books were filmed, the first being Carnosaur in 1993, from Roger Corman’s Concord Pictures.  Beyond Bedlam (also known as Nightscare) was made in 1994 by Vadim Jean and based on Bedlam (notable only, apparently, for being Liz Hurley’s first starring role).  Proteus (1995) was based on Slimer and directed by make-up effects genius Bob Keen but its disappointing box office meant a sequel - which Brosnan wrote the screenplay for - was never produced.

Sadly, Brosnan battled both depression and alcohol abuse for many years.  He died of acute pancreatitis and his death was reported on 11th April 2005 (after friends became alarmed at his absence over Easter), though it might have been several days earlier.

For a few years now, I've been collecting old 70s and 80s paperbacks (mostly horror), picking them up cheaply in secondhand bookshops and at car boot sales and slowly building a collection.  My friend (and fellow collector) Johnny Mains once told me that charity shops sometimes pulp old books like this because the market for them is so small - I understand why but I think it's terrible.  We might not be talking great art here but on the whole, I think these books deserve to be remembered.

To that end, on an irregular basis (too much cheese isn't good for anyone's diet), I'm going to review these "old-school" horrors (and perhaps include some bonus material, if I can find it).

Monday, 18 April 2022

Nostalgic For My Childhood - Yet More Comic & Magazine ads

For the fifth installment of this long-running occasional feature (you can read the previous entries from 2017, 2019, 2020 and 2021 on these links), here's another selection of print ads from comics and magazines, for the toys and sweets, books, games and badges of our youth.

I still think, as always, there's a certain amount of charm on display here - the ads are often hand-drawn and with muted hyperbole - as well as a lovely sense of wistful innocence, though that might be more the reminder of stamped, addressed envelopespostal orders and things costing pennies.

Here, then, are a few more ads of our childhood, I hope they spark some memories for you...
1975
I liked these a lot, though the fighting action was never as described.  The wooden leg hidey hole was also great, though you didn't get a lot of room in there...
1976
An electronic calculator in 1976 would have been a big deal - I wonder how many got nicked during lessons?
1976
One of my childhood heroes (as I've written about here), I always wanted the repair station but never got one.  I did have the figure though and treasured him.
1977
42 years ago, as I write this and apart from The Wombles, Furry Friends and Paddington Bear, all of those products are still sold.
1978
These ads were little (half-page) ongoing adventures, running across a range of comics.  I always thought they were really cool.
1978
My parents bought me this Star Wars annual (which I still have) before we went on holiday (my sister & I were always bought a magazine to read on the way, usually the Summer Special of whatever comic we liked at the time).  I loved it.
1978
Ah, Corgi Superkings, James Bond and the wonderful The Spy Who Loved Me (which I wrote about here).  Bliss...
1978
Skateboarding was huge in 1978 and so, clearly, were Tom & Jerry.
1980
 "Dad?"
"Seriously son, we're not going anywhere near a National garage..."
1982
Not the most obvious connection, obviously...
1983
Ah, the Sinclair Spectrum and the Commodore Vic 20, fondly remembered (and rightly so) by people of a certain age.  Now sure how far you'd get today with 16k though...
1983
I remember the advertising push for this film (which was competing with Connery's rival Never Say Never Again) and gleefully picked stuff up like this.
1983
Choose Your Own Adventure books were a big part of my childhood reading and one of the first things we teens programmed when home computers became a reality.  I often wrote an adventure in the morning, plotting out the lines and making sure everything linked properly, only to discover - more often than not - that it didn't save properly so I'd have to start again from scratch the next day.  Happy days...
1984
As video tapes began to take a hold (and the whole VHS/Beta battle unwound), lots of places turned into video libraries (especially corner shops).  I remember going into Our Price and checking the rental racks, because to buy your own copy was prohibitively expensive (as you can see here).  That Spider-Man film, by the way, is cobbled together from two episodes of the Nicholas Hammond series, first shown in the late 70s.
1984
You mean we can take our music wherever we like?  Wow, the future truly is here...
The Sony Walkman was expensive, most of us made do with cheaper versions (mine was made by Alba).


If you're interested, more of my Nostalgic For My Childhood posts can be found here

Monday, 4 April 2022

Visions Of Ruin is out now!

I'm pleased to announce that my horror novella, Visions Of Ruin, was published on March 30th by NewCon Press.

A week in a seedy caravan at 'The Good Times Holiday Park' is not exactly the holiday sixteen-year-old Sam has been dreaming of, but he knows his mum is struggling and doing the best she can. At least he meets someone his own age to hang out with – Polly – but neither of them is prepared for the strangeness that ensues. 

Beautifully paced and full of deft touches that bring the 1980s setting to life, Visions of Ruin is set during a rainy weekend at a caravan park on the edge of rundown seaside town. 


Me, on a Surrey bike, just outside Holimarine Corton, summer 1986.
Picture by Nick Duncan, who shared a lot of seaside adventures with me back then.
Having spent the last four years writing three mainstream thriller novels (the first two of which, DON'T GO BACK and
ONLY WATCHING YOU, have now been published by The Book Folks), I've only dipped a toe back into horror when people have asked for short stories.  But the genre is in my blood and when Ian Whates asked if I'd like to write a novella for him, I jumped at the chance - I like and respect him a lot and I'm proud to be associated with NewCon Press.

I started writing this just after I finished DON'T GO BACK and the idea took a little while to come together until I realised I could combine two of my apparent obsessions - teenagers in the 80s and a rundown east coast British seaside resort. Once that had clicked in my head I was off and running and the writing process itself (as well as drawing several maps of the caravan park central to the story) was hugely enjoyable and brought back a lot of good memories of holidays in the 80s.

The book is available as ebook and paperback editions and there's also a 60 copy Limited Edition  hardback which I thoroughly enjoyed signing the book plates for.
pictures by Dude
Being published by two companies has meant a bit of a "it's like buses" situation at the moment with my writing but I was really happy to see the early response to this and was thrilled when it hit Number 1 in the Hot New Releases (Teen & YA Ghost Stories) Amazon chart.
Amazon - 31/3/22

When he announced it in the NewCon Press newsletter, Ian wrote: "I am delighted to welcome Mark West back to NewCon Press' publishing schedule. Mark's short fiction has appeared in several of our anthologies over the years, including Ten Tall Tales and Hauntings, but this time he contributes a longer piece, Visions of Ruin, which will be the 9th entry in our NP Novella series. I rate this as Mark's most accomplished work to date, and was bowled over by it on first reading."

“A taut ghost story that transported me back to the 80s, with plenty to intrigue and unsettle along the way. A pleasure to read, with a terrifically neat ending.” 
 Alison Littlewood


Visions Of Ruin can be ordered directly from the NewCon Press website here.

£3.99 (ebook)
£9.99 (Paperback)
£19.99 (Signed Hardback, LTD ED)



Thanks to Ian Whates for both asking for and then enjoying the story enough to want to publish it, Nick Duncan for sharing all those adventures with me on the east coast in the 80s, Teika Marija Smits who helped push me to start, Alison Littlewood for her kind words and, as always, David Roberts & Pippa for the Friday Night Walks and the mammoth plotting sessions. 


Monday, 28 March 2022

Only Watching You, by Mark West

I'm pleased to announce that Only Watching You, my second mainstream thriller published by The Book Folks, is now available.

Cryptic, intimate threats make a woman question everyone close to her…

Claire Heeley has been getting her life back on track after separating from her cheating husband, when she is almost run over.

This is the first in a series of incidents that lead her to believe she has a stalker.

Someone has daubed a hangman symbol outside her home, and each day letters are being added to the game.

Whatever the writing on the wall, something spells serious trouble.

Can Claire find out who has it in for her before a death sentence is written out?

ONLY WATCHING YOU is the second suspense thriller by bestselling author Mark West. Look out for his first, DON’T GO BACK, also available FREE with Kindle Unlimited and in paperback.


Following an acrimonious separation, Claire Heeley joins a local social group meaning to start a fresh chapter in her life.  But as she begins to make new friends, other areas of her life take a sinister tone.  As well as seeing hangman images wherever she goes, with one game seemingly to use her name as the answer, she’s being followed by a mysterious stranger and terrifying messages are left on her car.  When the persecution increases, Claire must protect her family as she strives to uncover the truth.





Tell all your friends!

Monday, 21 March 2022

Nostalgic For My Childhood - Poster Magazines part 3

When I blogged about "poster magazines" before (you can read the 2019 post here and the 2020 post here), it certainly struck a chord but I was surprised to find people my age had never heard of them.  So, here's a few more...

Me, in 1978, with my hero
Poster magazines were essentially A4 glossy colour magazines which folded out into a (large) A1-sized sheet.  One side would be the magazine (with articles and plenty of photographs) while the reverse would be a giant poster and, depending on what you’d bought, the image might be a person, an action scene or the film poster.  I had several and most kids I knew had at least one huge poster on their wall.

The possibilities were endless.  Dez Skinn (before he created Starburst magazine)  produced Monster Mag which featuredgory movie stills from the likes of Hammer Films and Amicus.  Music was a big draw (singers and bands alike, as well as musical styles - my friend, the writer Mark Morris, remembers having punk ones on his wall).  You could pick up magazines devoted to TV series like Star Trek (a whole run of them), The Six Million Dollar ManDoctor WhoSpace: 1999The ProfessionalsThe HulkBattlestar Galactica and Planet of the Apes.  Film tie-in's were especially popular - if it was a blockbuster (and the 70s and 80s were full of them), there'd be a poster magazine on the newsagents shelves sooner rather than later (featuring the likes of Star WarsSuperman and James Bond).

spacemonstersmag reckons the magazines died out in the 1990's, which is a shame.  I still have a few in my collection (though not on the walls of my study) and think they’re great fun, another nostalgic item for film and TV fans of a certain age.

Did you have any?  Which ones were on your wall?
1974
1978
1978
1978 (clearly a bumper year for Poster magazines!)
1979


1980
1981
1982
1984
1984

You can check out the previous posts, from 2019 and 2020 here

Monday, 7 March 2022

Don't Go Back update

As hard as it is for me to believe, my debut mainstream thriller Don't Go Back (published by those good people at The Book Folks) has been available for a fortnight. And what a two weeks it's been!

Having come out of the UK small press I wasn't entirely sure what to expect but the reaction has been better than I could have imagined. People - some my friends from real life and Facebook, others I had never interacted with - were hugely helpful and supportive, sharing my posts and tolerating me talking about the book a lot and letting their friends and followers know that Don't Go Back was out there.

The book went straight into the Hot New Releases Chart in the top twenty and as I write this on Sunday 6th it's currently sitting at #31 which I am really happy with - after all, if I'm known for anything at all, it's as a horror writer, not a thriller writer. Even better, the book charted in the US, Australia and Canada which is hugely gratifying, especially for a novel that is set in a very typical English seaside town.

Reviews and ratings have been very good and we're showing a 4.5/5 on Amazon and 4.39/5 on Goodreads (and Steve Bacon was good enough to blog his review too). People seem to have taken well to the dual timeline which is pleasing because the writing process for that and trying to get it all tied together seemed - at times - to be a never-ending headache.

So if you're one of those people who bought, rated and/or reviewed Don't Go Back then I want to thank you (with a special mention for Ross Warren). Like most writers, I create the stories because they're in my head and I enjoy the process of getting them out onto paper but to know that someone else derives pleasure from it makes all those painful parts (why won't this character do what I want her to, why isn't this part working, why on earth did I think it was a good idea to have a dual timeline?) worthwhile.

And if there's anyone you think might like a dual timeline thriller novel set in an English seaside town with some funny bits, a few scary bits, a couple of sad bits and a whole lot of suspense, please tell them all about Don't Go Back.
 

A captivating thriller about a woman whose past suddenly catches up with her

When Beth receives news that a once-close friend has died, after years away she reluctantly returns to the seaside town where she grew up.

Beth becomes increasingly unsettled as she attends the funeral, encounters people from her past, and visits her teenage haunts.

She is forced to take herself back to the awful summer when she left for good. Yet it is not just memories that are resurfacing, but simmering resentments.

Someone else hasn’t quite so readily put their past behind them, and unwittingly Beth will become the key to their catharsis.

As she puts two and two together, the question is: whatever possessed her to return?

DON’T GO BACK is a truly nail-biting read that will appeal to fans of Claire McGowan, Vanessa Garbin, Teresa Driscoll, Linwood Barclay and Anna Willett.

This is the best book you’ll read all year!






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Monday, 21 February 2022

Don't Go Back, by Mark West

I'm pleased to announce that Don't Go Back, my debut mainstream thriller published by The Book Folks, is now available.

A captivating thriller about a woman whose past suddenly catches up with her

When Beth receives news that a once-close friend has died, after years away she reluctantly returns to the seaside town where she grew up.

Beth becomes increasingly unsettled as she attends the funeral, encounters people from her past, and visits her teenage haunts.

She is forced to take herself back to the awful summer when she left for good. Yet it is not just memories that are resurfacing, but simmering resentments.

Someone else hasn’t quite so readily put their past behind them, and unwittingly Beth will become the key to their catharsis.

As she puts two and two together, the question is: whatever possessed her to return?

DON’T GO BACK is a truly nail-biting read that will appeal to fans of Claire McGowan, Vanessa Garbin, Teresa Driscoll, Linwood Barclay and Anna Willett.

This is the best book you’ll read all year!

* * *

The book is set in Seagrave, a British seaside town that feels very much like Great Yarmouth and is, indeed, just down the coast from Lowestoft, the novel is told in two timelines and was great fun to write.  It was written during the lockdowns and plotted out with my good friend David Roberts on one of our Friday Night Walks. It took a few twists and turns in its progress from idea to finished tale and the novel features tension and suspense, some scary parts, some funny bits and a few sad moments too.  I'm really proud of it and very pleased it'll start my career with The Book Folks.





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Monday, 7 February 2022

Visions Of Ruin, from NewCon Press

I am pleased to announce my forthcoming horror novella, Visions Of Ruin, is now available for pre-order at the NewCon Press website. It will be published on March 30th 2022.

A week in a seedy caravan at 'The Good Times Holiday Park' is not exactly the holiday sixteen-year-old Sam has been dreaming of, but he knows his mum is struggling and doing the best she can. At least he meets someone his own age to hang out with – Polly – but neither of them is prepared for the strangeness that ensues. 

Beautifully paced and full of deft touches that bring the 1980s setting to life, Visions of Ruin is set during a rainy weekend at a caravan park on the edge of rundown seaside town. 


I wrote the novella last year, after finishing Jenny Was A Friend Of Mine (coming very soon from The Books Folks, as I wrote about here) and I'm really proud of it. Combining two of my apparent obsessions - the 80s and rundown British east coast seaside resorts - this mixes quiet supernatural horror (which, I hope, is chilling) along with hints of a teenage romance.

“A taut ghost story that transported me back to the 80s, with plenty to intrigue and unsettle along the way. A pleasure to read, with a terrifically neat ending.” 
Alison Littlewood

Visions Of Ruin is available in paperback and Limited Edition signed hardback and can be ordered directly from the NewCon Press website.

£9.99 (Paperback)
£19.99 (Signed Hardback, LTD ED)


Visions Of Ruin is also available as one quarter of the NewCon Novella Bundle 3, along with stories by Stephen Deas, Stewart Hotston and Ida Keogh. More details here.


Thanks to Ian Whates for both asking for and then enjoying the story enough to want to publish it, Nick Duncan for sharing all those adventures with me on the east coast in the 80s, Teika Marija Smits who helped push me to start and, as always, David Roberts for the Friday Night Walks and the mammoth plotting sessions. 

Monday, 31 January 2022

The Mystery Of The Laughing Shadow, by William Arden

2014 marked the fiftieth anniversary of The Three Investigators being published and, to celebrate, I re-read and compiled my all-time Top 10 (safe in the knowledge that it would be subject to change in years to come, of course).  I posted my list here, having previously read all 30 of the original series from 2008 to 2010 (a reading and reviewing odyssey that I blogged here).

Following this, I decided to re-visit some of the books I'd missed on that second read-through, without any intention of posting reviews of them but, as if often the way, it didn't quite work out like that.  Happily, this is on-going and so here's an additional review...
Collins Hardback First Edition (printed in 1970 and never reprinted), cover art by Roger Hall
Slowly the massive gate swung open on creaking hinges.  The boys froze.  Suddenly, as if from nowhere, a grotesque, humpbacked shadow towered over them, its head jerking wildly.  Then an evil laugh shattered the night…

A tiny Mexican statue and an ancient message written in blood put The Three Investigators on the track of the priceless Chumash treasure hoard, lost in the mountains for two hundred years.  In a desperate race against time, Jupe, Pete and Bob battle to find the jewels…

illustration from the Collins Hardback edition (there
are no illustrations in the paperbacks).
Jupe & Bob hide from the Yaquali Indians at the
Vegetarian Society House, the sequence right before
the one shown on the format a paperback cover.
Bob Andrews and Pete Crenshaw are on their way home from a day spent in the mountains and, as they pass the old Sandow Estate, hear someone call for help.  After investigating, they find a small gold statuette then see “a tall, twisted, humpbacked shadow with a beaky nose and small jerky head.  It utters a wild, shattering laugh.”  Terrified, they race back to Rocky Beach but when they tell Jupe the next day, they realise neither of them heard exactly the same thing.  When a young Englishman, Ted Sandow, calls at the Junkyard offering Uncle Titus to rummage through some old barns, it seems as though the boys were seen and some people are very keen to get their hands on the statuette - or what was inside it.

The first official entry in the series by William Arden (the pen-name of prolific mystery writer Dennis Lynds) even though he'd already written the excellent The Mystery Of The Moaning Cave (credited to Robert Arthur), this proved the boys were in safe hands, with his assured style working just as well here.

The central concept - the laughing shadow - is a good gimmick but little more than that, similar to how The Mystery Of The Flaming Footprints captures the imagination but doesn’t really sell the story.  This features kidnapped Yaquali Indians, suspicious Englishmen and the long-lost treasure of Magnus Verde, the Chumash Hoard and is great fun.  Arden sets up some decent set pieces and gives the lads different things to do, allowing them to show their strengths all the way through the piece.  As with Moaning Cave, Arden makes great use of the Californian mountains, with plenty of action taking places on hills and in box canyons, creating a wonderful sense of bleakness to them.

Alfred Hitchcock has a decent part to play - setting the boys on the path to finding out about the Chumash Hoard - as do Aunt Matilda and Uncle Titus.  Worthington makes a welcome return and it’s always nice to see Mr Andrews (we even get a cameo from a sleepy Mrs Andrews).  As well written as you'd expect, with some gripping action sequences, this also has a nice line in humour.  One of the key supporting characters, Mr Harris, runs the Rocky Beach Vegetarian Society who operate from a fantastic Gothic house on Las Palmas Street ('It was the last house on the block, located right on the edge of town. The dry brown mountains came straight down to the road on the other side.').  After an incident there, Jupe asks, “Could one one of your assistants have told them?”  “No,” Harris tells him, “they’re old friends and staunch vegetarians.”

Good fun, told with wit and pace, this is very much recommended.
Armada format a paperback (printed between 1973 and 1980), cover art by Peter Archer
(cover scan of my copy)
Armada format b paperback (printed between 1982 and 1984), cover art by Peter Archer
(cover scan of my copy)

The internal illustrations for the UK edition were drawn by Roger Hall, though they only appeared in the hardback edition for some reason.

Thanks to Ian Regan for the artwork (you can see more at his excellent Cover Art database here)