In recent years there has been a low simmer when it comes to reviving pulp-style fiction. It roared back mainly in crime fiction, with some minor percolation in science fiction. Well, with Pat Kelleher’s Black Hand Gang, the occult science fiction genre explodes like a trench mortar over Passchendaele.
Part of the No Man’s World series, Black Hand Gang is the story of the First World War and the battles of the Somme. We are quickly introduced to the officers and enlisted men of the 13th Battalion of the Pennine Fusiliers, a British outfit of experienced soldiers, idealist recruits, disconnected officers and even a mysterious ‘practitioner.’
Black Hand Gang builds credibility with impeccable First World War scenes of life in the trenches and the antiquated, slaughterous method of attrition warfare waged by both sides. But in the great pulp tradition, as the 13th advances on the German trench lines, a strange cloud envelopes them. Not poison gas, not chlorine or Mustard gas hurled by the Kaiser’s forces. No, this is something entirely. Something otherworldly. The men regain consciousness to find their battle blasted piece of mud and barbed wire plucked up and transported to a lush alien world.
The shock is immediate. And yes, some struggle with this mind bending reality. But, what makes the men and unit snap into logical shape is the pin sharp regimentation and stiff upper lip that British military men are known for. No sitting around whimpering or whining. These men are refocused on their task- survive this world and try to figure out if there is a way home. It works brilliantly.
Dealing with several hundred men, with specific focus on a few platoons, means that there are a bulging handful of characters to keep track of. Kelleher creates sharp, postage stamp sized portraits of each man, slightly different than the next to make them stand out and cohese as a unit. Early on Kelleher shows his hand with an evil character in British uniform, setting the occult stage for the rest of the book. A smart move, it allows that supernatural spectre to hang over the coming scenes, waiting for the alien mayhem to start.
Kelleher’s research on British military equipment, tactics & slang are superb! His grasp of the miseries of trench warfare are expertly and unwaveringly portrayed. Remove the supernatural and science fiction elements of Black Hand Gang and you would have a Tier 1 piece of military historical fiction.
Possessing all the attributes of great pulp fiction, but with a 21st century edge, Black Hand Gang is the kind of adventure book we need more of. And luckily, it is just a first in a series of No Man’s World adventures that are sure to bring back rock-em sock-em writing to the masses. Don’t hesitate to grab a copy of Black Hand Gang!
Black Hand Gang by Pat Kelleher was received for free for review by Boston Book Bums