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The Stein and Candle Detective Agency Volume 1 by Michael Panush

Morton Candle is a tough guy. 

He grew up on the streets of Brooklyn, dodging from mobster-ruled neighborhoods to reform school before the army snapped him up and sent him to Europe to fight Hitler. That’s where he met Weatherby Stein, the scion to one of the greatest occult families of Europe. Weatherby and his parents were being held prisoner by the Nazis, forced to use their supernatural knowledge to aid the Third Reich’s war effort.

Morton Candle got Weatherby to safety, but the kid’s parents didn’t make it.

Now it’s the 1950s.

Weatherby’s a teenager, with his father’s knowledge and a chip on his shoulder from the indignities of the modern world. Morton bumps into him again and they decide to go into the only business they can – paranormal private detectives.

This time, Weatherby and Mort have cases that will take them from a vampire’s decaying mansion to the mob-controlled streets of Havana. They’ll take on roadside attractions gone wrong, hordes of the living dead, and ride against the devil in a high speed car race to the death.

Between them, Weatherby and Mort have a small arsenal and a deep knowledge of matters arcane and bizarre. They’ll need brains and brawn to survive in a world where horror, action and hardboiled noir come together in a cataclysmic mix.

This first collection brings together seven short stories from the Stein & Candle case files.

  • The Bloodsucker’s Goodbye: In rural Nebraska a vampire, Baron Exham, and his wife Lenore are having a tough time with the local biker gang. It’s up to Stein and Candle to sort things out, if only there wasn’t a group of renegade Nazis to contend with as well.
  • Black Havana: Nothing could spoil the tropical Cuban paradise of Havana except perhaps a kidnap gone wrong, a zombie horde and some nasty communist guerrillas with a grudge.
  • I Rode in the Devil’s Hot Rod: The Devil enjoys a competition as much as the next man, but when Weatherby Stein’s old sister, Selena, gets involved there is going to be hell to pay. Muscle cars and dark deals on the back roads of America. Fans of the 1950s are going to relish the petrol-head references in this story.
  • Monsters of Mallet: Stein and Candle visit foggy old England (as an aside I can confirm that yes, it really is like that all the time) and the set of the latest Mallet Films production. Their latest magnum opus, Curse of the Witch Queen, has been plagued by problems of a supernatural nature. Hmmm, Mallet Films who could that be an homage to I wonder? Add just a dash of Herne the Hunter and smidge of Sawney Bean (14th Century Scottish cannibal fact fans) for a bloody monster movie mash up.
  • Zombies in Paradise: Picking up for the after the events of Black Havana Stein & Candle face off against another horde of zombies in a desert resort. This time, however, the zombies are a lot more violent and a good bit faster than before. Just what is Project Lugosi and who is behind it all? Government conspiracies, more angry gangsters than you could shake a stick at and a big old explosion, cracking stuff.
  • War Stories: For the second to last story in this collection its back to the last days of World War II and the first meeting of Sgt. Mort Candle and an eight year old Weatherby Stein. It seems entirely appropriate that we finally get to learn the backstory of the young Weatherby Stein and the tragic circumstances of how he lost his parents in the war.
  • Roadside Rampage: Travelling Route 66 Stein and Candle come face to face with the mysterious Wild Man but who is he and why are the Roadside Mafia so keen on tracking him down?

The Stein and Candle Detective Agency Volume 1: American Nightmares won me over right from the get go. This is the first time I have ever read and of Michael Panush’s writing and he deftly captures the sights and sounds of the American post-war era. This is a world of made men and government spies, gamblers and ex-Nazis. Add to that an assortment of supernatural staples like vampires, werewolves and zombies and you can guarantee a sense of horrific fun on every page. Each individual tale has a marvelous B-movie-esque quality that works very well. I was also pleased to note that as the individual plots unfolded I was also getting a sense of how they all tied in together. There is a properly established timeline and everything slots neatly into place.

If I had to pick a favourite (I just knew you were going to ask) I would probably have to go with Monsters of Mallet. C’mon, how could I not, I’m a Brit after all.

A hard-boiled slice of Americana with a supernatural twist The Stein and Candle Detective Agency Volume 1: American Nightmares is available now from Curiosity Quills. I checked out their website and it looks like there will be a second collection at some point in the future – I look forward to it.

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