"The Chinatown Death Cloud"
(Reviewed by Tony Ross NOV 16, 2006)
"Let me tell you a story. You tell me where real ends and pulp begins."
Set in 1937 New York, this debut novel is both history of and homage to the classic pulp fiction of that era -- sort of. I say sort of because unlike a proper pulp, the story takes a long time to get rolling and it lacks the direct simplicity that characterizes most pulp. The first third of the book is occupied with the backstories of the major characters, and it's difficult to see how the chapters detailing the life of a poor Chinese boy adopted into a warlord's family are going to tie in with the romantic trials of two rival New York pulp writers. These two real-life figures -- Walter Gibson (creator of "The Shadow") and Lester Dent (creator of "Doc Savage") -- are superstars of the genre who had a falling out years ago, but are brought together by the strange events of the story. In this opening section Malmont does a good job of introducing the reader to the demimonde of pulp writers and how the industry that published them worked.
The story gets rolling with the death of Howard Lovecraft (aka H.P.
Lovecraft, legendary creator of the "Cthulu" stories). Gibson goes to his pathetic funeral in Providence, accompanied by eager-beaver scribe Ron Hubbard (aka L. Ron Hubbard of Scientology fame). There, he learns that Lovecraft may have been murdered, possibly in connection with something he knew about a long lost Army nerve gas. Meanwhile, Dent is investigating an old Chinatown tong murder so that he can rewrite it as a great pulp.
Meanwhile, there are chapters which take the reader away from all this and into machinations concerning the Civil War between Chinese Nationalists, Communists, and the looming Japanese invasion.
Naturally, all three storylines end up converging in a series of action-packed climaxes full of treasure maps, fisticuffs, guns, and quasi-zombies. Along the way Gibson and Dent encounter and are aided by various other real-life literary figures, such as Robert Heinlein (of science fiction fame), Louis L'Amour (of Western fame), and Chester Himes (aka the Raymond Chandler of Harlem), not to mention Orson Welles. It's all pretty good fun (more so if you're familiar with the writers involved and their work), and despite scenes in an opium den and insinuations of steamy sex, Malmont keeps it all well within PG-13 boundaries. Overall, a fairly entertaining romp which may spark some interest in the genre.
- Amazon readers rating: from 48 reviews
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Bibliography: (with links to Amazon.com)
- The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril (2006)
- Jack London in Paradise (2009)
- Astounding, the Amazing, and the Unknown (July 2011)
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- Official website for Paul Malmont
- PopMatters review of The Chinatown Death Cloud Peril
- MostlyFiction.com review of The Astounding, the Amazing, and the Unknown
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About the Author:
Paul Malmont grew up in Washington D.C., Virginia, Taiwan, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, and counts among his ancestors an adjutant to Gen. Washington and the founders of Taunton, Massachusetts.
His first memories are of sneaking backstage during the Chinese operas performing near his parents' army base home in Taiwan. The actors would amuse themselves by painting his face in traditional Chinese theatrical fashion. After returning to the United States, Paul studied opera singing and became an apprentice at a local summer stock theater. He attended Interlochen Arts Academy, and is a graduate of NYU's Tisch School of Film & Television.
Malmont is a Copy Director at an interactive advertising agency in New York. He has written for the Cartoon Network, VH1.com, Pfizer, Ricoh, Microsoft and a host of other corporate clients. His work has also won awards from Communication Arts and The One Show, and has been included in Time Magazine's "Best of..." He has been hailed by aintitcool.com as one of 5 filmmakers "so cool we don't know why they haven't been discovered yet."
Paul has lived in New York for over 20 years and currently resides in Brooklyn with his wife and sons.