Saturday, March 24, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Exciting Western, May 1950

Bears don't always chase beautiful Canadian girls. Sometimes they chase beautiful American ranch girls, too. This isn't a particularly realistic-looking bear, in my opinion, and I'm not that fond of the cover art overall, but there's a great bunch of authors inside this issue of EXCITING WESTERN: W.C. Tuttle with a Tombstone and Speedy yarn; a Navajo Tom Raine, Arizona Ranger story by somebody writing under the house-name Jackson Cole; and stories by L.P. Holmes, Gladwell Richardson, and Barry Scobee (the only pulp writer to have a mountain named after him, as far as I know). Below average cover or not, I'd read this issue.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Forgotten Books: "Whip" Ryder's Way - Grant Taylor (Ray Nafziger)

I recently learned that Grant Taylor was a pseudonym used by the prolific author Ray Nafziger, who wrote scores of stories for the Western pulps under his own name and as Robert Dale Denver. It was thought that Nafziger wrote only two novels, both published under the name Robert Denver, but there are a handful of Grant Taylor novels, and one of them, “WHIP” RYDER’S WAY, is available as part of an inexpensive e-book collection. So I picked up a copy right away and read it recently. The only other Nafziger novel I’ve read, HELL-ROARIN’ TEXAS TRAIL, was pretty good, and as it turns out, so is this one.

Jim “Whip” Ryder is a young, hell-raising, fast gun cowboy in the Arizona border country—or maybe New Mexico, Nafziger is never clear about that, but it’s not Texas and it’s not far from the Mexican border. The time period is a little ambiguous, too, but since there are primitive telephone and electrical power systems, it’s probably the first decade of the 20th Century. People still use horses and wagons for transportation, though; there’s no mention of automobiles.

But to get back to the story, Whip’s older brother Dan (who looks almost identical to Whip, even though they’re not twins) is a lawyer in the settlement of Reyes. Then the bank is robbed and Whip is framed for the crime. He has to flee into Mexico, where he teams up with a couple of other young firebrands, Yancy Yates and Jemez McCarthy, and goes to work fighting bandits on behalf of the American mining interests in the area. Along the way, Whip develops a talent for disguise.

And all this is back-story, mind you.

As the novel opens, after four years as a fugitive in Mexico, Whip has figured out a way to clear his name and returns to Reyes, with Yancy and Jemez accompanying him, of course. In the meantime, Dan Ryder has become the district attorney and is prosecuting one of the trio of villains who have taken over the area on a charge of murder. The defendant supposedly knows the truth about the bank robbery Whip was blamed for and Whip wants to get his hands on him and make him talk. But the rest of the bad guys plan to murder his district attorney brother before that can happen.

Whip’s old sweetheart, who owns a worthless ranch, is still around, too, and so is a Mexican revolutionary/bandit modeled after Pancho Villa who has fled across the border into the U.S. after the Federales crushed his rebellion. He’s rumored to have brought several hundred thousand dollars worth of looted gold with him. Got all that? There’s plenty in the pot for Nafziger to stir around, and I’ve probably even forgotten a few things.

But man, does this book move! There are disguises and hidden identities galore, shoot-outs, desperate chases, a Mexican carnival, hair’s-breadth escapes, and a whole bunch of last-minute plot twists and revelations that probably won’t take many modern readers by surprise but are still fun. More than anything else, the whole thing reminds me of a late Republic Western serial, with Clayton Moore, maybe, playing both Whip and his brother Dan. And lots of action directed by William Witney, of course.

I’ve already rustled up another of Nafziger’s Grant Taylor novels. If they continue to be this enjoyable, I have a hunch I may wind up reading all of them.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

More Rocket's Red Glare News

Last month I posted about the three stories from ROCKET'S RED GLARE that are going to be reprinted in THE YEAR'S BEST MILITARY AND ADVENTURE SF, VOLUME 4, published later this year by Baen Books. You can now read editor David Afsharirad's introduction to this anthology here. There are more stories from ROCKET'S RED GLARE in this book than from any other source, and I'm very proud of that fact. I'm also proud of all the other great stories in ROCKET'S RED GLARE, and it's still available in ebook and print editions from Rough Edges Press, of course.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Overlooked Movies: Trouble in Texas (1937)

When I was a kid, I was a fan of Tex Ritter’s movies and watched many of them on TV. Unlike Roy, Gene, and Hoppy, though, ol’ Tex is one of the B-Western stars whose work I haven’t revisited much as an adult. Based on my recent viewing of his 1937 feature TROUBLE IN TEXAS, I think I probably ought to remedy that.

This picture finds Tex playing Tex Masters, a drifting cowpoke and rodeo competitor who’s actually on the trail of the gang responsible for his brother’s death several years earlier. This gang travels around taking part in various rodeos, and one of them, Squint Palmer (Yakima Canutt), always takes the top prize money because the gang murders anybody who could beat him. This is what happened to Tex Masters’ brother.

Unknown to Tex, who’s accompanied by his boastful sidekick Lucky (Horace Murphy), the law is also after the rodeo gang and has an undercover agent working the case: a beautiful young woman named Carmen (Rita Cansino, who, after this movie, would be billed under another name—Rita Hayworth). Tex falls for her, of course, but he believes that she’s really a member of the gang, which causes some complications. After a lot of rodeo action, Tex gets the proof he needs to expose the gang as his brother’s killers, which leads to an epic chase scene as several members of the gang flee on a wagon.

TROUBLE IN TEXAS is an unofficial remake of a 1934 John Wayne movie, THE MAN FROM UTAH, and uses a lot of the same rodeo stock footage as the earlier picture. Too much stock footage, in my opinion, because those scenes go on and on. I would have tightened those up and maybe cut one or two of Tex’s songs, even though I do like his singing. Other than those quibbles, though, this is a pretty darned entertaining B-Western. Yakima Canutt really works overtime in this one, with stunt after stunt including some great stuff in that final chase. The other main villains are played by Earl Dwire and the always fun to watch Charles King. Glenn Strange, who usually played a bad guy, is the local sheriff in this one and looks great, although he doesn’t have much to do. And Rita Hayworth is, well, Rita Hayworth. Yowza, in other words.

This movie was directed by Robert N. Bradbury, whose low-budget Westerns were usually better than they had any right to be, always well-paced and with decent scripts. Bradbury (who was Bob Steele’s father) also directed the earlier John Wayne film THE MAN FROM UTAH, so he was certainly familiar with the material. Other than the over-abundance of stock footage, TROUBLE IN TEXAS is a pleasure to watch.

I realize I haven’t said much about Tex himself. Round-faced and a little on the beefy side, he’s not the prototypical B-Western cowboy star, but gosh darn it, he’s a likable galoot, with screen presence, a good singing voice, and enough athletic ability to look convincing in the fight scenes and on horseback. I need to look through my collections of B-Westerns and see if I have any more starring him, because I think I might like to watch another one before too much longer.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Coming From Stark House: The Second Carter Brown Collection

While in Florida on vacation, Lt. Al Wheeler tangles with a redhead with green eyes who is "Nobody's girl but my own!"... Her club-owning gangster boyfriend, who is involved in some very shady business... and his gorilla henchman, who is seven feet of muscle and bone, just waiting for the chance to crush him to a pulp when Al becomes the decoy sent in to bring their racket down.

When Lt. Al Wheeler tries to solve a murder at a science fiction convention he discovers a professor who wants to stop time by tricking the elusive Delfs... meets an intellectual gangster who wants to get his hands on the professor's latest invention... is frustrated by the generously proportioned convention organizer, who somehow manages to keep one step ahead of Al's wolfish designs.

Which finds Lt. Al Wheeler trying to solve a hit-and-run murder involving the victim's wife, who is all too glad to have lost her lush of a husband... the beautiful skip-tracer who tracked down the victim right before he met his untimely end... and her dubious boyfriend who may not be as innocent as he professes, but is certainly up to no good.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Lone Wolf Detective Magazine, June 1940

Another great cover by Norman Saunders on this issue of LONE WOLF DETECTIVE MAGAZINE, and his is probably the only real name associated with this issue. I say this because the stories inside are by Ralph Powers, Cliff Howe, Ronald Flagg, Paul Adams, Grant Mason (all house-names, and the stories are probably all retitled reprints), and Francis J. McTeague, whose story in this issue is his only credit in the Fictionmags Index, leading me to think that may be a house-name, too. Anyway, Francis J. McTeague just sounds like a pseudonym to me. Francis, if you or any of your relatives are out there reading this, my apologies for doubting you, and please let me know.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Saturday Morning Bonus Pulp: Western Trails, January 1941

This issue of WESTERN TRAILS features novelettes by two of the most dependable Western pulpsters, L.P. Holmes and Lee Bond, along with stories by Orlando Rigoni, an author whose books I've seen around forever without reading any of them (something I plan to change in the relatively near future), Clint Douglas (a house-name), and several other authors I haven't heard of before. I'd read this issue just for Holmes and Bond, though, and any other good stories would be a bonus.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Forgotten Books: White Savage - John Peter Drummond

WHITE SAVAGE may be my favorite of the Ki-Gor novels so far. Originally published in the Fall 1941 issue of JUNGLE STORIES, this yarn finds Ki-Gor and his beautiful redheaded American wife Helene affected by the spread of World War II into Africa, as they encounter some sinister Italians before running afoul of an even more dangerous lost race. It’s difficult to explain too much about the plot of this one without venturing too far into spoiler territory, so I’ll just say that this is easily the creepiest Ki-Gor novel yet.

It’s pretty well written, too, by an unknown author with a smooth, fast-paced, evocative style. The way it’s structured is a bit of a problem, because it comes across like one novelette crammed into the middle of another novelette to make a full-length novel, but the author handles this deftly enough that it works.

Ki-Gor’s sidekick Tembu George, who has become one of my favorite pulp characters, makes a brief but important appearance, as does good old Marmo the elephant. Best of all, Helene, while not quite the badass of the early books, is much tougher and competent in this story and actually has stuff to do, instead of just standing around looking beautiful and getting kidnapped, as she does in some of the other novels.

With this novel and the previous one, KI-GOR—AND THE TEMPLE OF THE MOON GOD, I get the feeling that this series is starting to hit its stride. The next volume in the reprint series from Altus Press is on its way to me, and I’m looking forward to it. In the meantime, I’d recommend WHITE SAVAGE to anyone looking for an exciting jungle pulp yarn.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Overlooked Movies: The Yellow Rose of Texas (1944)

Although there were a few directed by other hands, Roy Rogers movies generally fall into two distinct groups: those directed by Joseph Kane and those directed by William Witney. Kane came first, as he helmed most of Roy's pictures for the first decade of his career. Generally speaking again, the Kane-directed movies are more musically oriented, with half a dozen songs in each one and even some elaborate production numbers, while the Witney-directed movies have more complex plots and concentrate on hardboiled action. As I've said many times before, I prefer Witney, but there's a lot to like about many of the Kane movies, too.

THE YELLOW ROSE OF TEXAS was directed by Kane, and at least it has a plausible plot reason for all the song-and-dance stuff: much of it takes place on a showboat where Roy (playing Roy Rogers) and Dale (playing a character named Betty Weston) work as entertainers. As the movie opens, the boat, which is named the Yellow Rose of Texas, is pulling into Prairie City, which holds some bad memories for Betty. She used to live there, until her father was accused of stealing a payroll and sent to prison. Now she finds out that he has escaped recently, and the law believes he'll try to get in touch with her, so they're keeping an eye on her. I don't think anybody reading this is going to believe that Dale Evans' father would ever steal a payroll, and you're not going to be surprised that Roy winds up trying to catch the real crooks so he can clear the old guy's name.

The script by Jack Townley actually has one nice twist to it, but it tips its hand 'way too early, as far as I'm concerned. A revelation about one character should have come much later in the film. Roy doesn't really have a sidekick in this one, either, unless you count character actor William Haade, who plays an old friend of his named Buster. Haade is okay, but he's no Gabby Hayes or Andy Devine or Smiley Burnette. Heck, Gordon Jones as Splinters McGonigle is a better sidekick. But I digress . . .

I like riverboat stuff, so I enjoyed THE YELLOW ROSE OF TEXAS even though the boat is docked for most of the movie. The plot is fairly interesting, Bob Nolan and the Sons of the Pioneers are on hand and good as usual, and although the movie could have used more action, what there is of it is handled well. This is a minor entry, probably more for Roy Rogers completists than casual fans, but I enjoyed it.

Monday, March 12, 2018

I Only Have Lies For You - Robert J. Randisi

Bob Randisi’s Rat Pack books are some of the most entertaining mystery novels currently being published. The latest one, I ONLY HAVE LIES FOR YOU, is out from Pro Se Productions, and it continues the excellence of this very strong series.

The narrator/protagonist of these books is Eddie Gianelli, better known as Eddie G., a former pit boss at the Sands casino in Las Vegas who has evolved into kind of a fixer and troubleshooter for the celebrities and high rollers who frequent the casino. In this novel, Eddie travels to Miami Beach with Frank Sinatra to meet Jackie Gleason. At first this seems like an innocent trip, little more than a vacation, but then June Taylor (of the June Taylor Dancers, featured on Gleason’s TV show) asks Eddie to look into the problem of someone who’s stalking her sister Marilyn, also a dancer on the show and maybe not so coincidentally, Jackie Gleason’s long-time mistress.

Eddie has barely gotten started on this favor when a dead body shows up, and there’ll be more murders later on, including that of a police detective, as the action bounces back and forth between Las Vegas, Miami Beach, and other locations in Florida. Eddie gets help from Jerry Epstein, a very likable character despite his connections to the Mob, and Vegas PI Danny Bardini. Randisi confronts them with plot twist after plot twist, but in the end the complicated affair all makes sense . . . but not until Eddie has risked his life to expose a killer.

As always with a Randisi book, I ONLY HAVE LIES FOR YOU is fast-paced and driven by fine dialogue. An added element in the Rat Pack series is his excellent depiction of the era, which I also remember quite well. (Bob and I are about the same age.) I recall watching and enjoying Jackie Gleason’s variety show on Saturday night. My dad always enjoyed the bits featuring Gleason as Joe the Bartender and Frank Fontaine as Crazy Guggenheim, and I did, too. In a period mystery, getting the details right is a tricky business, and so is not overdoing such details. Randisi nails both of those things in this series. I really enjoyed I ONLY HAVE LIES FOR YOU. If you’ve never read any of the Rat Pack books, it would work fine as an introduction, and if you have, you’ll definitely want to read this one, too.