Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Mark Finn's Toastmaster Speech at ArmadilloCon

PWA Banquet Open to the Public

An update from Bob Randisi:

Thrills! Chills! Dinner! Cocktails! Awards! The 30th annual PWA Shamus Awards Banquet will be Friday night, September 16, from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m. at a St. Louis institution. No, we're not telling you which institution it is. It's a suprise - a great surprise, trust us, and transportation will be provided from the hotel. Tickets are $60, and we have lots of room for everyone (the event is open to the public), so email Bob Randisi at right this very minute for more information and to order your ticket.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked TV: Good Morning, World

Bill Persky and Sam Denoff worked on THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW and wrote many of that series' classic episodes such as "That's My Boy?" and "Coast to Coast Big Mouth".  They also produced the series during its last couple of years.  After the Van Dyke show ended its run, the next thing Persky and Denoff did was create another sitcom, GOOD MORNING, WORLD, and that's what I'm looking back at this week.

GOOD MORNING, WORLD was also set in the entertainment industry, in this case radio.  Joby Baker, who played a bullfighter on a couple of episodes of the van Dyke show, played a morning drive time disc jockey named David Lewis.  Ronnie Schell, a prolific supporting actor on Sixties sitcoms, was his partner Larry Clarke (making them Lewis and Clarke, of course).  Persky and Denoff followed the same formula as before and had funny stuff happening at the radio station (which was managed by Billy De Wolfe) and at home, where Dave was married to perky Linda (played by Julie Parrish).  Most people who remember this series, though, probably remember it because Dave and Linda's ditsy neighbor Sandy was played by Goldie Hawn in a breakout role that led to her being cast on LAUGH-IN a year later.

I would have sworn that this series ran a year or two earlier, while THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW was still on the air, but as always, IMBD is our friend and tell us that it ran for one season (I remembered that) in 1967 and '68.  While I haven't seen any of the episodes since then, I remember it fondly.  I've always liked Persky and Denoff's writing, and the set-up, though a familiar one, works well.  GOOD MORNING, WORLD is a forerunner of sorts to the admittedly superior WKRP IN CINCINNATI.  Having been around small-market radio, I have a distinct appreciation for how goofy it is in real life, and that translates well into sitcom terms.

I'm not sure why GOOD MORNING, WORLD wasn't successful enough to run more than one season.  I liked it and would have liked to see it hang around for a while and develop.  But then, as now, the network executives didn't come to me and ask my opinion.  The entire series is available on DVD.  I'll catch up on it one of these days, if I can ever find the time.

Monday, August 29, 2011

ArmadilloCon/Jack Cullers

I spent the past three days in Austin, attending the 33rd annual ArmadilloCon, the premier literary science fiction convention in the Southwest, as it's known.  And I had a great time visiting with (let me see if I can remember everybody) Bill and Judy Crider, Joe Lansdale, Kasey Lansdale, Scott and Sandi Cupp, Willie Siros, Richard and Becky Moore, Mark Finn, Rick Klaw, Dave Hardy, Bradley Denton, Aaron Allston, A.T. Campbell and . . . Aaargh!  I know I'm forgetting somebody.  My sincere apologies.  I'm not as young as I used to be, and these conventions, not to mention the driving to and from them, wear me out more than they used to.

But I had a fine time, no doubt about that.  Mark Finn's toastmaster speech during the opening ceremonies was a highlight, as was the panel he chaired on Apes in Science Fiction and Fantasy.  The panels I took part in were all good, too, as were the ones I attended as a member of the audience.  Overall, this was one of the best SF conventions I've been to.

Away from the convention but also in Austin, I had the chance to meet and visit with Jack Cullers, one of the Pulpfest organizers, who was in town visiting his son.  Jack is known to just about everybody in pulp fandom, and it was great to meet him and talk about pulps for a little while.  One of these years I'm going to make it to Pulpfest.  That's one of the things I really have to do.

So tiring or not, it was a great weekend and left me with my writing batteries recharged and ready to get back to work!

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Famous Western, November 1938

This is another cover featuring a Cowboy, a Geezer, and a Redhead, but I don't think it was painted by Tom Lovell. (It might be; I don't have a great eye for artists.) It has a fairly impressive line-up of authors, too, with novelettes by Eugene Cunningham, Frederick Bechdolt, and E.B. Mann. Jack Bertin, who I believe was related to Peter Germano (better known as Barry Cord), has a short story in the issue, and there's an article by S. Omar Barker. I think this one would be well worth reading.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Forgotten Books: Dial "M" for Man - Orrie Hitt

There I was, in the mood to read another Orrie Hitt novel, when what should arrive in my mailbox but an advance copy of the latest Stark House double volume, THE CHEATERS/DIAL "M" FOR MAN, by none other than Orrie Hitt. This book will be out in October, and it features not only the two novels but also a fine introduction by Brian Ritt (a revised version of his essay "The Sleazy Side of the Street", which first appeared on this blog), and an equally fine afterword and Hitt bibliography by Michael Hemmingson. As someone who played a small part in reviving interest in Hitt's work (along with Frank Loose, who produced a fine blog essay on Hitt's novel I'LL CALL EVERY MONDAY), I'm very happy to see these two novels reprinted and hope that the book sells well enough to warrant more Orrie Hitt reprints.

But in the meantime, I'm going to stretch a point and call Hitt's DIAL "M" FOR MAN a Forgotten Book, because the Stark House volume isn't out yet and this novel has been out of print since its original Beacon Books edition in 1962. Of the two books in the reprint volume, I chose to read this one first for a very personal reason: the protagonist is a TV repairman.

Now, some of you already know that my dad was a TV repairman for many years. In the early Fifties, sensing how popular TV was going to be and realizing there would be a need for people to work on them, he took a correspondence course in TV repair and then went to a trade school in Kentucky for six weeks to get some hands-on experience. He was already working in the aircraft industry and continued to do so for many years, but he also fixed TVs as a sideline, so I grew up around torn-apart TV sets, vacuum tubes, soldering irons, and more extension cords than you've ever seen in your life. (A bit of wisdom from my father: "If you ever fall out of an airplane, try to grab an extension cord. It'll get tangled and hang up on something before you hit the ground." He also taught me that if you take a TV apart, all the screws that came out of it don't necessarily have to go back into it, because "it ain't goin' anywhere.") I never really took to TV repair myself, although I worked for him for a while and got considerably better at it than the average person. I could diagnose and repair maybe half the problems I encountered.

Anyway, I could go on, but this is a Forgotten Books post, not an autobiography. At one time in Orrie Hitt's life, he also worked as a TV repairman, and I can tell you, he really nails that background in DIAL "M" FOR MAN. Dealing with the public, keeping up with the work in the shop and the service calls, the difficulty getting parts, trying to make ends meet . . . it's all there. I'm not sure anybody was ever better than Hitt at capturing the details of everyday life for struggling blue-collar workers.

Like a lot of prolific writers, Hitt would usually fall back on a specific set of plot elements, and that's true here. The protagonist is torn between two women, he struggles economically, there are forces beyond his control conspiring against him, an unwanted pregnancy crops up, the possibility of murder begins to look more and more appealing . . . The trick that Hitt pulls off consistently is to take these plot elements and work changes on them, which he does to nice effect in DIAL "M" FOR MAN. I've read enough of his novels by now that I knew where the story was going to end up, but I didn't always know how it was going to get there. Anyway, what makes Hitt's novels well worth reading are those little touches of everyday life and the sheer desperation that grips his characters as fate clamps down on them. If you want a true picture of certain segments of society in the Fifties and early Sixties, I suspect you're more likely to find it in an Orrie Hitt novel than in most of the mainstream fiction of that era. To see what I'm talking about, you can pick up this Stark House volume when it becomes available.

Heck, I'll bet you can even go ahead and pre-order it if you want to. Now, hand me that solderin' iron. Got a loose connection here on this resistor . . . or maybe it's that dang horizontal output tube . . .

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Rancho Diablo Trailer

Here's another book trailer Livia made, for the Rancho Diablo series this time.

The Ultimates, Volume 1: Super-Human -- Mark Millar

I continue dipping my toe into Marvel's Ultimate Universe with this collection. And toe-dipping is all it'll ever be, because as an old geezer my allegiance is to the original Marvel Universe (I was a card-carrying member of the M.M.M.S., after all) and I don't have the time, the money, or the inclination to turn into a full-fledged reader of this rebooted continuity. Though I'll give Marvel a considerable amount of credit for making it an alternate version and not just jettisoning decades of continuity like they could have.

Anyway, the Ultimates. This is the U.U.'s version of the Avengers, with the same core membership: Iron Man, Thor, Ant-Man (or Giant-Man, as he becomes almost immediately) and the Wasp. And the Hulk is around, too. But all of these characters, while they have the same civilian identities and the same basic powers, are different in many ways, too. Captain America shows up quickly (indeed, the first issue is taken up mainly by a World War II flashback) and is probably the closest to the Marvel Universe version, although his reintroduction to the world is considerably different. All of this is supposed to be more modern than the original Marvel Universe, which seems to mean that it's raunchier, more violent, and more cynical.

Bryan Hitch's artwork on these stories is nothing less than spectacular. The splash pages are very impressive, and the World War II scenes are especially good. On the other hand, I'm less fond of the story by Mark Millar. Technically, the scripts are well-written and flow very well, and the dialogue is fine. And since this is supposed to be a rebooted, alternate version, I guess I really shouldn't complain that things were changed. Of course they were. That's the whole point. With some exceptions here and there, though, it just doesn't work as well for me. So be it.

I still have the second volume of THE ULTIMATES to read, and an Ultimate Universe version of Daredevil and Elektra. I've read the first two volumes of ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN (liked them better than I expected to) and the first volume of ULTIMATE FANTASTIC FOUR (didn't like it, good art again but didn't care for the story). That'll probably do it for me. It's been an interesting and sometimes entertaining visit, but I don't think I'd want to live there.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Wind River Series Now Available as E-books

Back in the Nineties, Livia and I wrote a six-book Western series for Harper Paperbacks called WIND RIVER. We wanted to put both names on the books, but the publisher nixed that idea and insisted on a single by-line. Now the whole series is available for both the Kindle and the Nook with both names on it as intended. If at all possible, these books should be read in order, because we knew what was going to happen in the sixth book before we ever wrote a line of the first book, and there are developments all the way through leading up to that. I think these are some of our best Westerns, and I hope those of you who give them a try enjoy them. (I'll put links to the Kindle editions of all six books on the E-Book Catalog page.)

And here's the trailer that Livia made for the series:

Favorite Bookstores #2: Thompson's Bookstore

I don't remember the first time I went to Thompson's Bookstore in downtown Fort Worth, but it must have been in the mid-Sixties, when I was eleven or twelve years old. At that time my mother did a lot of her shopping in the department stores downtown, so I'm sure I found the bookstore when I got dragged along on a shopping trip with her. It was in the 200 block of Throckmorton Street, in a block-long single-story building that housed several different stores and a restaurant or two. The side walls and the back were covered with bookshelves, with more shelves arranged back-to-back in the middle of the room to form aisles. All the way down the left wall was the mystery section, and that was where I always headed first when I went in there.

Now, if you were looking for mint-condition, collectible books, Thompson's wasn't the place to find them. The owner wrote the prices directly on the front cover with magic marker. So for a long time I had a lot of Dell mapback editions of Mike Shayne novels with a big "10" inked on the cover because they cost ten cents, as well as Gold Medal editions of early Shell Scott novels marked "25". I didn't care. I just wanted to read the books.

And read them I did: Edward S. Aarons, Carter Brown, Nick Carter, Raymond Chandler, Leslie Charteris, Brett Halliday, Donald Hamilton, Ross Macdonald, John D. McDonald, Ellery Queen, Richard S. Prather, Mickey Spillane, Rex Stout . . . I'd go down that left-hand wall gathering them in. I sometimes think that Thompson's contributed as much to my overall education as either of the two colleges I attended.

Westerns and science fiction were in the center aisles, general fiction along the right-hand wall. Also in the center aisles were used comic books, inevitably battered and torn but still perfectly readable, and issues of PLAYBOY. No other men's magazines, just PLAYBOY. That contributed to my education, too, but I had to be a little sneakier about it.

One day when I went in, a short set of shelves underneath the front windows was full of pulp magazines. I knew what pulps were by then because I'd become a big fan of the Doc Savage reprints from Bantam. These pulps were fifty cents each, pretty high-priced for Thompson's, and once I'd picked out the paperbacks I wanted, I only had enough money left for one of them. The one I picked out was an issue of DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY from 1931. I remember the cover and remember reading it, but that's all I can tell you about it. I ought to try to replace it one of these days, just to have it again.

I only made it downtown every couple of months, and by the time I visited Thompson's again, all the pulps were gone. I'm sure at those prices a collector or two (there were pulp collectors even then) came in and cleaned them out.

After several years the Thompson family opened a second store at the other end of downtown, near where the public library was located then, and a block away from Barber's Bookstore. (I'll be writing about Barber's another time.) My hunch is that they opened the second store to handle the overflow of stock from the original. It was set up with almost an identical layout. By the time I was in high school and driving, I would go downtown, park in the Leonard's Department Store parking lot by the Trinity River, and ride the Leonard's subway downtown. (That's right, Fort Worth had a subway at one time. It was free, and I wish I had a nickel for every time I rode it.) Leonard's was only a block away from the original Thompson's so I would stop there first and then walk the seven or eight blocks to the other end of downtown to visit the second Thompson's, Barber's, and the library, returning to the subway loaded down with books. It was good exercise.

The original Thompson's came to a bad end. Now, don't quote me on this part, because I may be remembering some of the details wrong, but what I think happened is that the guy who owned the restaurant next to the store was trying to burn the place down for the insurance money. Instead, he set off an explosion that killed him and destroyed pretty much the whole block of businesses. What I know for sure is that the original Thompson's was gone. The second store stayed open for quite a few years after that, although at some point the Thompson family sold it to someone else who continued to operate it under that name. I still went there and bought some books from time to time, but not as often. When the store finally went out of business and had a big closing sale, I was there on the last day and bought a few more books.

To say that it was the end of an era is an overused cliché, but that's the way it felt to me. Barber's was closed and the library had moved to the other end of downtown, where it still is. Leonard's eventually became Dillard's, and the area around and including it became the Tandy Center Mall. I still rode the subway downtown to go to the library. But then Radio Shack bought the property to build a huge new corporate headquarters, all the stores closed, and the subway was demolished. Half of what was the Leonard's parking lot down by the river is now just a grassy hillside. The other half is still a parking lot, and if you know where the subway stations used to be (I do), you can still see where they were. In its heyday, the subway was only about half a mile long. I don't know how many hundreds of miles I rode in those cars over the years, but I know I carried a lot of treasures with me as we rocked along, many of them with prices on the cover in magic marker and equally indelible memories inside.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Rancho Diablo #4: Hell on Wheels Now Available

Those of you who have been waiting for the new Rancho Diablo book, wait no more! HELL ON WHEELS is now live on Amazon, and as you'd expect from Mel Odom, it's a great yarn, very well-written and with plenty of action.  Highly recommended!

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: All Through the Night

ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT is never ranked among Humphrey Bogart's best films, but it's one of my favorites. Maybe that's because it's the first Bogart film I ever saw, at least that I remember. I watched it on TV one morning at my sister's house, in the summer of 1966. When you remember where and when you saw a movie, you know it made an impression on you. However, there's more than nostalgia operating here. I've seen ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT several times over the years, and I think it holds up very well.

Bogart plays a New York bookie named Gloves Donahue. He's surrounded by a crew of colorful, Damon Runyon-esque characters including Frank McHugh, William Demarest, Phil Silvers, and Jackie Gleason. His mother is played by Jane Darwell. The cast also includes Peter Lorre, Wallace Ford, and Barton MacLane. In other words, this movie is Character Actor Central. If it had had Ward Bond and Frank Faylen in it, it would have been perfect.

So who do you pit against Bogart and this all-star lineup of character actors as the bad guy? Why, Conrad Veidt, of course, as the head of a gang of Nazi spies and saboteurs. The action is plentiful, the dialogue is fast and funny (at one point, Bogart tells Veidt, "There are certain neighborhoods in Brooklyn I'd advise you not to invade"), and it all leads up to an explosive, very satisfying conclusion.

You could write this movie off as propaganda, since it came out just as the U.S. was getting involved in World War II, and I suppose it is. But you'd be wrong to think that's all it is. ALL THROUGH THE NIGHT is funny, exciting, and very pulpish. It's also one of my favorite films, and if you've never seen it, I highly recommend it.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Battle: Los Angeles

You know I'm a sucker for old-fashioned war movies, and in many ways that's exactly what BATTLE: LOS ANGELES is. Sure, it's got nasty aliens invading Earth, but the focus of the film is on one small platoon of Marines sent behind enemy lines to rescue some civilians. All the stereotypes you'd expect are there. You've got the young, inexperienced lieutenant who's in command; the crusty old sergeant who only has a short time left before he retires; assorted young soldiers of various types, including one who's got a grudge against the sarge; even a medic everybody calls Doc. I was a little surprised there wasn't a Marine known as Tex and one called Brooklyn.

But here's the thing (and I'm sure this won't surprise anybody), none of that bothered me a bit. I love this stuff as long as it's played straight and done reasonably well, and BATTLE: LOS ANGELES is. Aaron Eckhart is great as the tough old sarge, and the rest of the cast is good, too, including the beautiful Bridget Moynahan as one of the civilians the squad has to rescue. Also not surprisingly, the mission develops into something bigger and more important, with the fate of the whole world maybe riding on our little band of leathernecks.

I have a few minor complaints. There's entirely too much shaky-cam and quick-cut editing going on, but what're you gonna do? That's modern filmmaking for you. I would have really loved this movie if it had been filmed in a more traditional style, instead of just liking it a lot. I can't gripe too much about the abundance of CGI, either. It's an alien invasion movie. You have to expect that. Overall, I don't think BATTLE: LOS ANGELES is a great movie, but it sure as heck kept me entertained for a couple of hours.

Which bring me to the related subject of alien invasion novels. I haven't read one in a while, and since you're a well-read bunch, tell me . . . What are your favorite alien invasion novels?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Where Does the Time Go?

35 years ago today, folks.  Ah, to be that thin and to have that much hair again.  Seriously, this was the best thing I've ever done and the best thing I ever will do, and none of the good stuff would have been possible without it.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Great Review of The Blood Mesa

Bruce Grossman over at Bookgasm has given THE BLOOD MESA, my entry in The Dead Man series, a very nice review.  You can check it out here.

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Ace-High Western Stories, May 1945

This is certainly an action-packed cover, and who's that author featured on it? None other than Clifford D. Simak, one of my favorite science-fiction authors who also wrote a dozen or so yarns for the Western pulps. I've read a few of them, and they're good, solid stories. Also in this issue you'll find a story by Thomas Thompson, a prolific pulp author, long-time story editor on the TV series BONANZA, and one of the pulpsters I've been privileged to meet. I said hello to Thompson at the 1986 Western Writers of America convention in Fort Worth. Other authors in this issue include Archie Joscelyn, who turned out a few exceptionally good novels and a lot of average ones, and Wayne D. Overholser, a very well-regarded Western author whose work I've never really warmed up to.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Forgotten Books: Jack Kirby's Jimmy Olsen - Jack Kirby

(This post originally ran in slightly different form on July 23, 2005)

Back in the fall of 1971, I was a freshman at Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos, about thirty miles south of Austin. One Friday afternoon I started home after my classes but stopped at Stuckey's in Round Rock, which at that time was about ten or fifteen miles north of Austin (it's town all the way between them now). When I got back in my car to head on home, it wouldn't start. Nothing I could do would make it run. I called my brother-in-law and he agreed to come help me, but it would be about three hours before he could get there. There was a convenience store just up the service road, so I walked over there to wait for help to arrive. The old man who ran the place was very talkative and was glad for me to wait there. There was a stack of comic books on the counter, so I picked up one of them to read. It was SUPERMAN'S PAL, JIMMY OLSEN #139, and when I opened it to the first page, I immediately recognized the artwork of Jack Kirby.

I'd been a Marvel fan since 1963 and was very familiar with Kirby's work, of course. I knew he had left Marvel in 1970 and gone to work for DC, but I had never read any of his comics for them and didn't even know he was writing and drawing JIMMY OLSEN, a book I'd never read. Not surprisingly, I was hooked right away and had to hunt up the back issues that I had missed. I also started reading Kirby's other "Fourth World" series for DC: THE NEW GODS, THE FOREVER PEOPLE, and MISTER MIRACLE. The art was great, the scope of the stories was epic, and the dialogue, while a lot more awkward than what Stan Lee had provided for Kirby over at Marvel, had its own goofy charm.

Recently DC has reprinted Kirby's JIMMY OLSEN run in a couple of nice, full-color trade paperbacks. I've read the first one, and I enjoyed the stories just as much now as I did nearly 35 years ago, maybe even more. I have the second volume and plan to read it soon.

By the way, my brother-in-law did arrive and got me and my junker of a car back home safely. The whole experience prompted me to write a song about it several years later, called "Round Rock Breakdown", one of my very, very rare ventures into songwriting. Don't worry, the song is long gone and I couldn't recreate it. I wouldn't even try.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

PWA Banquet

From Bob Randisi:

Fri., Sept. 16, 2011, 6:30 PM to 9:00 PM at a St. Louis institution. Tickets are $60, buses will leave from the Convention Hotel to the venue. Email Christine Matthews at for more information, or to order tickets.

(I've only been to one PWA Banquet, but it was great fun.)

E-Book Links

If you're looking for any of my e-books, you can now click on the link above that says "E-Book Catalog" for a page of links directly to them.  I've also included Livia's books and the Rancho Diablo books by Mel and Bill.  I'll add new books there as they become available, and there should be some more going live soon.

I've never been very comfortable with Blatant Self-Promotion, but by golly, I'm going to do it anyway.  In the publishing business now, you just about have to.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Stones - Gerald So

Bill Crider posted about this new e-book the other day, and all I had to read was "1930s" and "aviation" to know I had to check it out. I'm a sucker for that sort of stuff. The stories are good, too, short and punchy and funny. I'd like to see some longer yarns, maybe even a novel, about tough, no-more-honest-than-he-has-to-be aviator/soldier of fortune C.J. Stone. Author Gerald So mentions the TV series TALES OF THE GOLD MONKEY, and if you remember and enjoyed that series (I loved it), you'll probably like STONES. Recommended.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Yak's Last Ride

This isn't really a movie, more of a tribute to a man who contributed an incredible amount to the art and craft of moviemaking, the greatest stuntman of all time, Yakima Canutt. (Thanks to Dusty Richards for the link.)

Monday, August 15, 2011

Getting Off - Jill Emerson (Lawrence Block)

For the first time in a number of years, Lawrence Block returns to his Jill Emerson pseudonym (used first on a few soft-core sex novels and later on more mainstream novels) in GETTING OFF, a new novel coming out soon from Hard Case Crime. The book is subtitled "A Novel of Sex and Violence", and you should believe that, definitely. There's plenty of both in this book.

GETTING OFF follows a young woman originally named Kit Tolliver who uses a number of aliases during the course of the book. She changes her name because she moves around the country all the time, and she moves around because she doesn't want the law to catch up to her. Kit, you see, is a serial killer who has sex with men – lots of men – and then murders them in a number of different ways. During her life, only five men have managed to go to bed with her and survive, through a variety of unusual circumstances. Kit decides to track down all five of them and finish the job, and to do that she has to turn detective.

Block's usual smooth and highly readable prose makes this book a real page-turner, to use a cliché (and something of a misnomer, since I read it in an e-book edition . . . but you know what I mean). You can't say that Kit, as a mass murderer, is really a sympathetic character, but when she encounters people just as bad or worse than her during her quest, the reader can't help but root for her because Block has done such a masterful job of putting us inside her head. There are a few plot twists, a surprising amount of humor, and some inventive scenarios involving both the sex and violence angles.

GETTING OFF is a very well-written novel (no surprise there) with a compelling protagonist. It's a rare book that will get me to stay up late to finish it these days, but this one did. If you're already a Lawrence Block fan, you're probably going to read it anyway. If you're not, you should give it a try. Highly recommended.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Noir: A Collection of Crime Comics

This is a fairly short volume published by Dark Horse Comics containing a dozen crime-related comic book stories and one illustrated prose story (the very good "Trustworthy" by Ken Lizzi). Not surprisingly since the authors include Gary Phillips, Ed Brubaker, Brian Azzarello, and David Lapham, most of the stories are pretty good. There were a couple that didn't make much sense to me, and I didn't care for those, but that's still a decent average. The art ranges from good to "I just don't get it", with Eduardo Barreto and Sean Phillips on the good end. Overall, this is an enjoyable anthology, and if you're a fan of crime fiction and/or graphic novels, you ought to check it out.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Giant Western, August 1948

Think there are enough guns on this cover? I count seven six-shooters, and most of 'em are blazing.  And inside there's a good line-up of authors: William Hopson (a little inconsistent but often very, very good), A. Leslie (who was really Leslie Scott of Jim Hatfield and Walt Slade fame), Dwight V. Swain (a veteran pulpster who wrote a little of everything and lived long enough for me to meet him at a WWA convention), Fred Gipson (who went on to write OLD YELLER), and numerous others. Looks like a good issue to me.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Forgotten Books: Too Hot to Hold - Day Keene

TOO HOT TO HOLD opens with a classic Gold Medal set-up: A beautiful blonde with a package full of Syndicate money. A protagonist with a crappy job and a worse home life with his sullen wife and hot-pantsed teenage stepdaughter. A noirish twist of fate that brings the blonde and the guy living a life of quiet desperation together . . .

Ah, but then they don't actually meet even though they're inextricably and dangerously connected, and that's just the first of the ol' switcheroos that Day Keene throws into the plot of this fast-paced novel. Sure, the protagonist makes a decision that leads to trouble, and you may think you know what's going to happen from there, but you'd be surprised by the way everything plays out. I certainly was.

As always, Day Keene's work is consistently entertaining. His books may lack some of the raw, sweaty passion that you'll find in the novels of Harry Whittington, Gil Brewer, and Charles Williams, but I think he was the best pure plotter in the Gold Medal stable. Nobody was ever better at taking the familiar elements of the noir novel and mixing them together to make something that at least seems fresh and new, whether it really is or not. He was a master of pacing as well, and TOO HOT TO HOLD is a prime example of that as he constantly keeps the story moving from character to character and incident to incident. If real life had allowed me to, I'm sure I would have read this book in one sitting.

Luckily, TOO HOT TO HOLD is included in the latest Day Keene collection from Stark House, along with the novels DEAD DOLLS DON'T TALK and HUNT THE KILLER (both of which I'll be reading soon, I hope). Making this volume even more of a bargain is the fascinating introduction by David Laurence Wilson, which as usual is worth the price of the book by itself. This Stark House triple volume is available now.

If you're burned out on long books, a novel like TOO HOT TO HOLD is the perfect medicine. Keene gives you an intriguing plot, believable characters, and some hardboiled action, all in not much more than 40,000 words. I loved every bit of it. Highly recommended.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Richard Stark's Parker: The Outfit - Darwyn Cooke

A while back I read THE HUNTER, the first of Darwyn Cooke's graphic novel adaptations of Donald E. Westlake's Parker series. Now I've read THE OUTFIT, the second in the series, and I continued to be very impressed by what Cooke is doing here. From what I remember of the original novels, these adaptations are very faithful, and Cooke's art, while deliberately a little cartoonish, perfectly captures the early Sixties era, while its dominant shades of blue, black, and gray give it a fine noirish feel. Don't think you can read these adaptations and skip the novels – you still need to read the books if you haven't already – but if you're a fan of the series I think you'll thoroughly enjoy what Cooke is doing. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Favorite Bookstores #1: The Old Man's Place

(Warning: The only reason this series exists is as an excuse for me to wallow in nostalgia. If that's not your sort of thing, feel free to skip it. The posts will appear on an irregular basis, but they'll all be clearly marked.)

I'm sure the business establishment had an official name written down somewhere, but Livia and I never called it anything except The Old Man's Place. We discovered it in the early years of our marriage. It was a low, rambling, ramshackle white frame building a few blocks from what was then General Dynamics (now Lockheed-Martin) on the western edge of Fort Worth. A hand-lettered sign next to the door read BOOKSTORE – WE READ BOOKS – WE BUY BOOKS – SOMETIMES WE EVEN SELL BOOKS. What it really was, was a junk store, but there were books in there along with everything else under the sun. Oh, my, yes, there were books.

There were several long aisles of rickety wooden shelves in one half of the building, and there were also shelves around the walls. They were filled with paperbacks, sort of arranged by categories but not too carefully. There were also shelves of hardbacks and magazines, and books stacked in the floor, and literally piles of books, most of them covered with a fine layer of dust. A lot of books that were on lower shelves were water damaged, because there had been a flood at some time in the past. Every now and then you'd find one that was in excellent condition, but most of them were beat to hell, nothing more than reading copies. What reading copies they were, though.

Gold Medals. Ace Doubles. Early Avons and Paperback Library books and Graphics and Bantams . . . I carried stacks and stacks up to the front where the owner sat on an old plastic chair by the door. He had a pricing system, I guess, but I never figured out what it was. He would glance at the books as he dropped them one by one into an old grocery sack and say, "That one's a nickel . . . nickel . . . that one's a dime . . ." This would go on for a little while, and then he would just put all the rest of the books in the sack and say, "Gimme seven dollars." Which I did, gladly.

One day I looked around a corner in the store where I'd never looked before, and there was a set of shelves containing issue after issue of MANHUNT, going all the way back to the first issue. It wasn't a complete run or anything, but there were a lot of them, and I toted them up to the front and paid the Old Man ten or twelve dollars for the whole bunch.

The Old Man, whose name was George Snapka, by the way, was a talkative sort, and he liked Livia and me. He was also a reader and fan of mystery fiction, and when he found out that I had written Mike Shayne stories we talked a lot about that. One day he mentioned that he had a lot more books over in the other side of the building but didn't let anybody go over there because there was too much junk in it and it might not be safe. Well, that was all I had to hear, of course. I pestered him into letting me explore that hitherto unexplored territory. There weren't as many books back there as he made it sound like, but I found a number of cardboard boxes full of the same sort of stuff that I'd been buying and took home a few more grocery sacks full of books.

Like I said, the books were dusty, and usually when we'd get them home, I'd get a rag and try to wipe off some of the dust. One of the cats we had then, Patches by name, was fascinated by this and would come up and grab the rag I'd been using out of my hand. Then he'd drop it in the floor, throw himself down on it, and roll around on it like it was covered with catnip instead of book dust. Years later we read that some book dust contains mold spores that can cause a hallucinogenic effect. I don't know if that's true or not, but from then on we always figured that old Patches had been getting high on that book dust.

Lord knows I can.

A few years later the store closed down. George's wife had been in poor health, and we figured he closed it down to take care of her. I thought it might reopen sometime in the future, but it never did. Eventually the city bought the property, and I knew that wasn't going to turn out well.

They torched the place. Literally. Brought out the fire trucks as a precaution and burned it to the ground, then bulldozed and hauled off the rubble that was left. The plan was to build a park there. Never happened. The lot is still sitting there, vacant except for memories.

Of course, all the books I took out of there eventually went up in flames, too, when we had our fire, but that was a lot of years later and while I didn't come close to reading everything I bought there, I read a lot of it and had the pleasure of seeing the books on my shelves. Just thinking about those days and the books I bought there and the visits we had with George puts a smile on my face even now. I know a few of you reading this may have been to that store, and I hope I've stirred up some good memories for you, too.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked TV: The Baron

In the mid-Sixties, American TV networks had a habit of using British series as summer replacement shows. That's how THE AVENGERS originally came to American TV. Another series I really liked was THE BARON, loosely based on a long series of novels by John Creasey about a reformed thief turned antiques dealer named John Mannering. In the TV version, Mannering (played by Steve Forrest) became a Texan instead of an Englishman, but he still lived in London and was an antiques dealer, only the adventures he became involved in were more like the secret agent yarns that were so popular then. I watched every episode that ABC aired and thoroughly enjoyed them. I don't know how they hold up, but the opening credits and especially the theme song are great. I still get a grin on my face when I hear it.

Monday, August 08, 2011

In the Beginning - Robert Silverberg

I've mentioned before how much I like Robert Silverberg's early science fiction stories. It's not that I don't like his later work. I just haven't read a lot of it yet. But I intend to, soon.

In the meantime, I came across this massive collection of short stories, novelettes, and novellas by Silverberg that were originally published in the SF digests during the 1950s. These are stories he considers lesser work, pure pulp-influenced science fiction adventure yarns (just my meat, in other words). But as he makes clear in the usual fascinating introduction, he certainly doesn't disavow them and still finds things to like in them. I found a lot to like in them, myself, including some intriguing science fictional ideas and plenty of excellent writing.

All the stories are good, but two stood out for me. "Cosmic Kill" (AMAZING STORIES, April and May 1957) is a 20,000 word novella Silverberg wrote in two days to order for the editor of AMAZING, Paul Fairman. It's a sequel to a novella written by Fairman that appeared in the magazine several years earlier. (Both stories appeared under the pseudonym Robert Arnette, the only time Silverberg used that name.) It's as full of breathless action as you'd expect from a story written like that, but it's also very interesting in that events in the story, which concerns efforts to bring an interplanetary terrorist to justice, seem very similar to things that have gone on in reality during the past ten years, and I'm speaking, of course, of the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Mostly, though, "Cosmic Kill" is an extremely entertaining action yarn. Another favorite is "The Hunters of Cutwold" (SUPER-SCIENCE FICTION, December 1957, under the pseudonym Calvin M. Knox), which takes a pulp adventure plot of the sort that would have appeared in JUNGLE STORIES ten years earlier and transplants it to a science fictional setting. In fact, Silverberg's original title for the story was "Five Against the Jungle", a very pulpish title. Silverberg was a master at this sort of thing (a lot of his early SF strikes me as being transplanted crime stories), but "The Hunters of Cutwold" has a very effective sting in its tail making it a story that could only work as science fiction, and pretty thoughtful SF, at that.

As always, Silverberg's introduction and story notes make for fascinating reading, and overall, IN THE BEGINNING is one of the best books I've read this year. Originally published several years ago as a limited edition hardcover, it's now available as a very affordable e-book, which is how I read it. I picked up several other Silverberg collections at the same time and will be getting to them soon, I hope. If you want to sample some of the best adventure SF that the Fifties digests had to offer, I highly recommend this one.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Afterthoughts - Lawrence Block

AFTERTHOUGHTS, by Lawrence Block, is a new, very affordable e-book collection of all the afterwords and introductions Block has written for the e-book editions of many of his novels, plus a few other bits of non-fiction including a bio and a number of photographs I'd never seen before. It functions as a memoir of sorts stretching from his earliest days as a writer up to the point where he began to achieve considerable success with his Matt Scudder and Bernie Rhodenbarr novels. I was especially interested in his comments about writing erotica as Sheldon Lord and Andrew Shaw, since I'm fascinated by that era, and also in what he had to say about his early crime novels published by Gold Medal, since I bought and read many of those books off the spinner racks when they were brand-new. Block's reminiscences are just as well-written and entertaining as his fiction, and even if you haven't read all the books he's talking about in this collection (I certainly haven't, although I'll probably get around to most of them eventually), I think you'll really enjoy what he has to say about them and about his life while he was writing them. Highly recommended.


TANGLED, a retelling and expansion of the Rapunzel story, is another animated movie that I really liked. It's more specifically aimed at kids than RANGO is, but the humor works pretty well for all ages. There are some surprisingly good action scenes, too. I'm not much of a fan of musicals, with a few exceptions (SINGIN' IN THE RAIN is one of my all-time favorite movies), but TANGLED isn't song-heavy and the songs that are there work pretty well. The animation is okay throughout and beautiful at times. All in all, a pleasant, entertaining movie, and sometimes that's just what you want.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Texas Rangers, September 1947

This is one of my favorite issues of this pulp. "Law on the Winter Range", written by Tom Curry under the Jackson Cole house-name, is one of the best novels in the Jim Hatfield series. There's also a Long Sam Littlejohn story by Lee Bond, my favorite of the back-up series that ran in TEXAS RANGERS (although you don't want to read too many of them too close together, because they are pretty formulaic). The other authors who contributed short stories to this issue are Ben Frank (a Doc Swap yarn), Hascal Giles, William O'Sullivan, and Harold R. Stoakes. None of that is why I'm posting this cover today. I picked it because the high temperatures here in Texas have been over 100 degrees for more than a month straight, and I wanted to see snow!

Friday, August 05, 2011

Forgotten Books: The Seduction of Lucy Mattson - Dell McLaren (Thomas P. Ramirez)

First a little back-story. This book was originally titled THE GIRL FROM BEAVER FLATS and was supposed to be published by Monarch Books under Thomas P. Ramirez’s Tom Phillips pseudonym. But Monarch went out of business before publishing the book, Ramirez got the rights back, and so it wound up being published a few years later by Belmont-Tower as THE SEDUCTION OF LUCY MATTSON by Dell McLaren, evidently the only time that pseudonym was ever used. I prefer the original title, but I’m just glad the book saw print.

Because this is a very good backwoods novel reminiscent of various Gold Medals by Harry Whittington and Charles Williams. Beaver Flats is a tiny, squalid Georgia town on the edge of the great Okefenokee Swamp. Lucy Mattson is the prettiest girl who lives there, and in addition to her beauty she has intelligence and ambition and wants to get out of her miserable existence and go to college. Unfortunately her father, who’s hiding a dark secret in his past, won’t go along with that, and Lucy is also tormented by the crude attentions of the local moonshine baron, the brutal Dade McEwen. Then a writer from New York named Clay Chappelle, who has demons of his own, shows up in Beaver Flats to work on a novel and befriends Lucy, a friendship that starts to develop into something more.

Most of you have probably read enough of these books to know where this one is going, and there aren’t any big plot twists, although not everything plays out exactly like I expected it to. Where THE SEDUCTION OF LUCY MATTSON really shines is in its relentless pace and in Ramirez’s vivid depiction of the setting. The swamp scenes are some of the best I’ve come across.

I probably wouldn’t have known about this book if the author hadn’t told me about it, and now I’m telling you. There are a few inexpensive copies available on-line, so if you’re a fan of the backwoods genre, you need to check out THE SEDUCTION OF LUCY MATTSON.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Assorted Movies

Quick comments on a handful of movies:

LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD – Somebody came up with the odd idea of turning a fairy tale into a cross between a horror movie and Black Forest 90210. But I thought it was pretty entertaining, although I don't much like Amanda Seyfried. There's an actual mystery in the plot, with clues and everything.

SEASON OF THE WITCH – Critically reviled fantasy adventure with Nicolas Cage and Ron Perlman as former crusaders taking a witch across France while the plague is raging. Most of the reviews seem to be talking about a different movie than the one I saw, which I thought was pretty good.

THE ADJUSTMENT BUREAU – Matt Damon and Emily Blunt in a thriller based on a Phillip K. Dick short story about a shadowy group determining the fate of mankind. I liked it, too.

SOURCE CODE – Jake Gyllenhaal (sp?) in a thriller about a guy involved in a mysterious government operation trying to locate a dirty bomb planted by a terrorist before it can destroy Chicago. In order to do this he relives the same eight minutes on a commuter train over and over. A pretty goofy premise, but entertaining, and I liked the ending.

GULLIVER'S TRAVELS – What can I say? I like Jack Black.

HALL PASS – Crude Owen Wilson comedy written and directed by the Farrelly Brothers. Pretty far-fetched, but I laughed quite a bit. And Christina Applegate is still yowza.

DESPICABLE ME – Goofy but good-hearted animated comedy about supervillains. I liked this one a lot, too.

There might be something in here some of you would enjoy.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011


First of all, I absolutely loved this movie. Gorgeous animation, great music, funny as it can be at times. But who's the target audience? How did it ever get made in the first place? Did Johnny Depp and Gore Verbinski go to a studio and say, "We want to make this weird-ass animated movie about a lizard, with a plot that's a cross between a Spaghetti Western and CHINATOWN, and oh, yeah, nobody but old geezers and film students will get even half the jokes in it"? I don't care. I just loved the movie. If you're as weird as I am, you might, too.

American Vampire, Volume 2 - Scott Snyder

A while back I read the first volume of this graphic novel horror/historical fiction series, which, as you may recall, was co-authored by Stephen King. Creator Scott Snyder is on his own this time, and I think the book is better for it. The parallel storylines that King and Snyder came up with for the first volume were a little bit confusing. AMERICAN VAMPIRE, VOLUME 2 offers two separate stories that are more straightforward but just as entertaining.

The first one, “Devil in the Sand”, is set in Las Vegas in 1936 and is as much a hardboiled crime story as it is a vampire yarn. The protagonist is the tough local chief of police, who is trying to live up to the legacy of his father, who was the previous chief. When several rich local businessmen are murdered and some mysterious people who claim to be federal agents but maybe aren’t show up in town, he’s got his hands full trying to stay alive and straighten everything out. Skinner Sweet, the so-called American Vampire who is a new breed of bloodsucker not bothered by the sun, is on hand, too, and is still really evil. The four-part “Devil in the Sand” is a spectacular tale that would make a great, if bloody, movie. “The Way Out”, the two-parter that fills up the rest of the volume, is a fairly minor piece concerning the back-story of some of the characters, but it’s also entertaining and does a good job of capturing the Depression-era atmosphere. It also serves to set up some storylines that will probably be important in the next volume, which is set during World War II.

Snyder’s scripts are tough and well-written, blending introspection, gory action, and historical backgrounds. I’m not as fond of the art by Rafael Albuquerque and Mateos Santolouco, but it’s okay. I had to look back at too many panels to figure out what was going on, which always bothers me. But the art is atmospheric and creepy as all get-out at times, so I’ll give it credit for that.

These are really nice volumes, and I’m looking forward to seeing what Snyder comes up with next. If you’re a fan of vampire fiction, you really should check out AMERICAN VAMPIRE.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

The Grave of Marcus Pauly - Wayne D. Dundee

"An old grave...
A determined woman...
An ex-con with a conscience...

Annabelle Heath travels west on a mission to fulfill her mother's dying wish. To do so, she needs the help of a man once in prison for bank robbery.

Ford Ramsey needs his job at the stable and has no time to take off on a foolish errand. But something about this woman makes him rethink his first inclination.

Together, they ride into wild country to look for a long ago grave and find more than either has bargained for."

I've mentioned here before that Wayne Dundee's DISMAL RIVER is one of the best Westerns I've read in a long time, and now he has a new Western e-book out, THE GRAVE OF MARCUS PAULY. It's a really fine story, too, with sharply drawn characters, some very evocative writing about the frontier landscape, and a poignant sense of melancholy about the passing of time and people's dreams. Plus some excellent action scenes and a very powerful ending. All in all, this is a splendid piece of work, as we've come to expect from Wayne Dundee. Highly recommended.

Tuesday's Overlooked TV: Soldiers of Fortune

This is another TV series from my childhood that I haven't seen in fifty years and don't really remember that much about, except that I loved it and watched it every chance I got. (In those days, of course, if you had to be somewhere else when one of your favorite shows was on, you were out of luck, or if there was something else that you just had to see, too bad. You had to choose.) But thanks to the miracle of the Internet, at least I can fill in some of the details of my hazy memory.

John Russell, who often played bad guys in movies but was the heroic Marshal Dan Troop in the fine TV Western LAWMAN (based on the Harry Whittington novel TROUBLE RIDES TALL, by the way), is also a hero in SOLDIERS OF FORTUNE, playing the stalwart adventurer Tim Kelly. His sidekick and occasional comedy relief was Toubo Smith, played by Chick Chandler. Their dangerous assignments took them all over the world, but they were usually in some exotic locale like Africa or South America. It seems like I remember numerous episodes set in the deserts of North Africa. Of course there were plenty of death traps set by loathsome bad guys, a few sultry, beautiful women, gun battles, rope bridges, maybe even some quicksand. And of course I ate it all up with a spoon, permanently warping my brain, as you can probably tell if you've read much of my fiction, the biggest influences on which seem to have been pulps, comic books, and Fifties TV shoot-em-ups. Glorious influences one and all, I might add.

If you read the comments and reviews on IMDB concerning SOLDIERS OF FORTUNE, you'll see that there's a wide range of opinions. A lot of middle-aged guys like me seem to remember it very fondly, with comments about how good the writing and the location photography were. However, others think it was an absolutely terrible series with bad writing and shoddy production values. I don't know. Fifty-year-old memories are tricky things. But unless and until I get a chance to watch some of the episodes again, I prefer to remember it through the eyes of eight-year-old me, sitting there in front of a black-and-white TV wondering how Tim and Toubo are going to get out of that snake-filled pit where the evil sultan has imprisoned them. And then when they do escape . . . watch out for that quicksand, guys!

Monday, August 01, 2011

The Sandhills Shootings - Chap O'Keefe

THE SANDHILLS SHOOTING is one of Chap O'Keefe's early novels and the second to feature range detective/hired gun Joshua Dillard. In this one, Dillard gets a letter from his brother-in-law, who is serving as a deputy marshal in a small town in Nebraska, asking him to come and help prevent a range war that's brewing in the sandhills area of that state. At the same time, Dillard is summoned to Omaha by a wealthy businessman who also has connections in the sandhills. Naturally, those two cases turn out to be related, but Dillard doesn't discover that until there are several attempts on his life, in one of which he's shot and left for dead.

Chap O'Keefe (who is really friend-of-this-blog Keith Chapman) takes a traditional Western plot and as usual spins it into something more with clever plot twists, well-developed and interesting characters, and plenty of tough, hardboiled action scenes. Joshua Dillard has turned into one of my favorite Western characters. Although he's fast with a gun and can handle himself just fine in a fistfight, he's hardly a superman, but rather a flawed but determined man trying to make his way on a brutal frontier.

THE SANDHILLS SHOOTING is now available in an affordable e-book edition. If you're a Western fan, I highly recommend it.