Thursday, October 31, 2013

Writing Update

I was hoping to get my pages back up to 400 this month, but I continued to struggle for much of the month and didn't make it. I finished pretty strong, though (today was my best day in more than six weeks), and wound up with 390 pages for the month. (Missed it by that much! as Maxwell Smart used to say.) That's two months in a row my production has gone up after bottoming out in August. If all goes as planned I'll hit my million words for the year in late November or early December.

Most importantly, though, the past ten days or so I've been pretty pleased with what I'm writing and having a good time with it.

Happy Hallowe'en

Yeah, I've posted this clip before, but I really like it and never get tired of it. I have some good memories of trick-or-treating, but also of watching scary movies and later on IT'S THE GREAT PUMPKIN, CHARLIE BROWN, which is still my favorite of all the Peanuts cartoons.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Favorite Western Pulps

A while back someone who commented on one of my favorite Western author posts suggested that I write about some of my favorite Western pulps. Here's a list of ten, in alphabetical order, with the usual caveat that if you asked me tomorrow, I might change my mind about some of them. But I think such a list is always going to include quite a few of these:

DIME WESTERN – One of the longest-running Western pulps in terms of years, although it was never a weekly so some of the other titles far surpass it in number of issues. But DIME WESTERN with its distinctive yellow covers was consistently good and was also the first attempt by editor Rogers Terrill to force the Western pulps to grow up. High quality and historical significance are easily enough to land DIME WESTERN on the list.

EXCITING WESTERN – Some people aren't that fond of the Western pulps published by Standard Publications and Better Publications, really the same outfit that can be lumped together as the Thrilling Group. But I like them. I've really only become a fan of EXCITING WESTERN in recent years, primarily because that was the home of the long-running Tombstone and Speedy series by W.C. Tuttle. This series about a couple of inept but lucky range detectives features Tuttle's trademark blend of humor, action, and complex plots. The Tombstone and Speedy stories are a burlesque version of Tuttle's much better known (and better) Hashknife and Sleepy series, but they're a lot of fun in their own right.

RIO KID WESTERN – I was introduced to the Rio Kid series by the paperback reprints from Curtis Books and Popular Library in the Sixties and Seventies, but I went on to read quite a few of the pulps as well, and it became a favorite series of mine. It follows the adventures of Captain Bob Pryor, a Texan who fought for the Union during the Civil War, and his sidekick Celestino Mireles. The series' gimmick is that all the stories feature historical characters and incidents, and as such they form a sort of alternate history or secret history of the Old West. Tom Curry created the series and wrote many of the novels, but other top pulpsters such as Walker A. Tompkins, C. William Harrison, and Gunnison Steele contributed Rio Kid novels, too.

SPICY/SPEED WESTERN – I have to lump these two together since SPEED WESTERN was a retitled and slightly toned-down version of SPICY WESTERN. The stories in both versions follow the Trojan Publications formula of fast action and female characters losing their clothes, as was often reflected on the covers. Sure, the stories by authors such as E. Hoffmann Price, Laurence Donovan, James P. Olsen, Robert Leslie Bellem, and others writing under a myriad of house-names, were very formulaic and you certainly wouldn't want to read too many of them back to back. But taken in small doses, I find them to be very entertaining.

STAR WESTERN – Along with DIME WESTERN, STAR WESTERN was one of the flagships of the Popular Publications Western line. It always sported a cover with a red background and featured more novellas than DIME WESTERN, something I like because I'm very fond of that length. There was a lot of author crossover among the Popular magazines. Walt Coburn, Harry F. Olmsted, Tom Roan, Ed Earl Repp, and many others appeared in all the Western pulps from Popular Publications, with stories often garishly retitled by the editors. (Those over-the-top titles are a particular joy of their own, I've found.)

TEXAS RANGERS – The Jim Hatfield novels from TEXAS RANGERS were really the first pulp Westerns I read, if you don't count Max Brand novels (which at the time I didn't know came from the pulps). I've written before about reading paperbacks in study hall when I was in high school, and one of them was GUNSLINGER'S RANGE by Jackson Cole, published by Popular Library. I still remember how much I enjoyed it and how I started picking up more of the Jim Hatfield novels whenever I found them. Now, of course, I know that GUNSLINGER'S RANGE was a retitled reprint of a novel from the TEXAS RANGERS pulp (I don't recall the original title at the moment) and the actual author was Tom Curry. I went on to read all the Hatfield paperbacks and also put together an almost complete collection of the pulp. Those copies went in the fire of '08, but since then I've gotten my hands on almost all of the issues again. And eventually I'm going to read all the ones I haven't already read, if I live long enough.

THRILLING WESTERN – Another pulp from the Thrilling Group, and another that I enjoy primarily for one series that ran in it, the Walt Slade, Texas Ranger stories by Bradford Scott. I first started reading Walt Slade novels in paperback in the Sixties, when I was reading those Jim Hatfield reprints as well, and even then I was struck by some of the similarities. Those similarities were to be expected, although I didn't know that at the time, because "Bradford Scott" was really A. Leslie Scott, who created the Jim Hatfield series and wrote many of the novels under the Jackson Cole house-name. Some of the Walt Slade stories from the pulp were expanded into paperbacks later on, although most of the paperbacks were original. Well, as original as they could be considering that Scott used basically the same plot for almost every one of them, varying only the details. But you know what, in 1967 I didn't care, I just enjoyed all the great action and the colorful prose, and just because I can see some of the flaws now doesn't mean that I don't still enjoy them as good yarns.

WESTERN ACES – As I've mentioned before, WESTERN ACES and it's companion magazine WESTERN TRAILS were considered low-level salvage markets, but despite that I've enjoyed all of the issues that I've read. There were contributions by a bunch of solid Western pulpsters, and for years nearly every issue featured at least two stories by one of my favorites, J. Edward Leithead, one under his name and one under his pseudonym Wilson L. Covert.

WESTERN STORY – The granddaddy of them all, of course, the Western pulp with the most issues, and the home of numerous novels and stories by Frederick Faust, better known as Max Brand and a host of other pseudonyms. But WESTERN STORY also published every other top writer in the Western pulps, including many excellent authors who are now all but forgotten like Frank Richardson Pierce. Yes, WESTERN STORY could be a trifle stodgy at times, but the sheer volume of excellent stories is overwhelming. The only real drawback, to me, is the large number of serials, that bane of the pulp reader and collector.

WILD WEST WEEKLY – WILD WEST WEEKLY, like WESTERN STORY, was published by Street & Smith and could be considered WESTERN STORY'S rambunctious little brother. Deliberately aimed at a slightly more juvenile audience, it featured an abundance of series characters like Sonny Tabor and Kid Wolf (both written by Paul S. Powers under the Ward Stevens name), Tommy Rockford and the Border Eagle from Walker A. Tompkins, the White Wolf from Hal Dunning, and the Oklahoma Kid by Lee Bond (who also wrote a long-running and entertaining series of back-up stories about an outlaw named Long Sam Littlejohn in TEXAS RANGERS). Despite its reputation, there were plenty of serious stand-alone stories in WILD WEST WEEKLY, too, especially in the late Thirties and Forties. I've read a lot of issues, and I've enjoyed every one of them.

There were plenty of good Westerns that appeared in such general fiction pulps as ARGOSY, ADVENTURE, SHORT STORIES, and BLUE BOOK, but I've confined this list to magazines that specialized in the genre. Also, I'm sure there were lots of Western pulps that might have made the list if I'd just read more of them, such as Dell's ALL WESTERN. I've read only two issues of that title, but both were excellent. So consider this list a starting place, I guess, a cross-section of a vast genre that has much to offer. Some people have said that everything from the pulps worth reprinting has already been reprinted. Not as far as I'm concerned. I think we've just started to scratch the surface.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: The Myth

This post originally appeared on November 30, 2007.

It’s difficult to categorize Jackie Chan’s THE MYTH. It’s part ancient Chinese historical epic, part modern-day archeological thriller, part fantasy, and part knockabout martial arts comedy of the sort that Chan is best known for. He plays duel roles: a Chinese general assigned to protect a princess, and in good old Roy Rogers fashion, a modern archeologist named Jack Chan. It’s obvious from the first that the storylines are going to wind up being connected, but that’s not enough for the filmmakers. They also throw in a bunch of levitating priests, hollowed-out mountains, an anti-gravity machine, and immortality pills, with most of the action taking place in, to borrow a line from Woody Allen, a fictional-but-real-sounding country. Believe it or not, though, by the end of the movie everything gets tied together into a somewhat coherent plot.

Speaking of believing it or not, this movie requires a considerable suspension of disbelief. More than once while watching it I said out loud, “Oh, come on!” But if you can just go with it and not ask for things to make much sense, it winds up being pretty enjoyable. I like most of Jackie Chan’s movies and THE MYTH is no exception. The historical parts of this film are probably the best, featuring some nice battles staged with what appear to be hundreds of actual stuntmen and extras, rather than CGI. Chan plays it straight in these scenes and does a fine job.

Overall this one gets a recommendation from me, with the reservations that you probably ought to be a Jackie Chan fan to start with and that sheer goofiness in a plot doesn’t bother you too much.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Sky Fighters, October 1932

It must have been really difficult to come up with covers for the air war pulps. One bunch of planes shooting at each other in mid-air looks pretty much like another bunch of planes shooting at each other in mid-air. At least this one has a pilot blazing away at an enemy crate with a handgun to make it a little different. The quality of the authors inside is good: George Bruce and Robert Sidney Bowen, who were great at these aviation stories, and Arthur J. Burks, who wrote nearly everything and wrote it well.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Thrilling Western, August 1946

Here's a THRILLING WESTERN cover by Sam Cherry that's bursting with action. Inside there's a Walt Slade story by Leslie Scott and other yarns by Gunnison Steele (Bennie Gardner), Leslie Ernenwein, T.W. Ford, and Samuel Mines, better known as an editor but a pretty good writer, too. I haven't read this issue, but I've read many other issues of THRILLING WESTERN and always enjoyed them.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Forgotten Books: Lady - Thomas Tryon

If you spent much time in used bookstores during the Seventies like I did, you probably saw some books by Thomas Tryon. Lots and lots of books by Thomas Tryon, in fact, usually overstock copies of his horror novels THE OTHER and HARVEST HOME, stacked high on top of the regular shelves along with scores of copies of JAWS and AIRPORT. I remember Tryon as an actor, the big, handsome, square-jawed hero of the TV series TEXAS JOHN SLAUGHTER, as well as movies like Disney's MOON PILOT and the unlikely-titled cavalry Western THE GLORY GUYS. I never read any of his novels, though, until now.

THE OTHER and HARVEST HOME were his first two novels, and they were both set in a small Connecticut town called Pequot's Landing. So is his third novel LADY, but unlike the earlier two books, LADY isn't a horror novel, despite some horrible things that happen in it and a few metaphorical mentions of ghosts.

Instead it's more of a mainstream coming-of-age novel narrated by a boy nicknamed Woody, who's about twelve years old when the story begins in the early Thirties. Woody befriends a rich young widow who lives across the town green from him, Adelaide (Lady) Harleigh. Thankfully, although the novel covers more than twenty years in time and Woody grows into a man, there's never any hint of romance between him and Lady. They're simply good friends, that's all. And that's enough.

Although there are a few sinister hints along the way, the first three-quarters of this novel provide an old-fashioned, leisurely look at growing up in a particular time and place, with lots of period detail (but not too much) that makes it feel like a 1940s black-and-white movie. But then the plot takes an abrupt and much darker twist, and things just continue to get worse as the secrets of Lady Harleigh's past are revealed. Tryon doesn't cheat in this twist, either; looking back at the earlier part of the book, the reader can see where he was setting everything up. But the writing skillfully glides right past what's under the surface, making all the revelations in the later part of the book seem even more shocking.

To be honest, LADY is the sort of slow-paced, long-winded book that I normally find very hard to read. Tryon even indulges in the old "Had I but known" bit. But here's the thing: he makes it work. I got caught up in the story and had to find out what was going to happen. The characters are all vividly drawn, even the unsympathetic ones, and I wanted to know how things were going to turn out for them. For those of you old enough to remember them, LADY is from the same school as PEYTON PLACE and KING'S ROW, long, lush novels with large casts, soapy plots, and at least a skin of realism.

Originally published in 1974, this novel is available again in an e-book edition, which is what I read. I thoroughly enjoyed it, enough so that I might read some of Tryon's other novels. I wouldn't mind paying another visit to Pequot's Landing. There has to be a reason all those copies were stacked up on top of the used bookstore shelves back in the Seventies.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Pulp Icons: Erle Stanley Gardner and His Pulp Magazine Characters - Jeffrey Marks

I don't remember the first book I read by Erle Stanley Gardner, which is sort of surprising considering all the other first books by various authors I recall. It may well have been SHILLS CAN'T CASH CHIPS, one of his Donald Lam and Bertha Cool mysteries written under the name A.A. Fair. I know I remember checking that one out from the bookmobile, so that was almost 50 years ago. I checked out other A.A. Fair books, as well as a number of Perry Mason novels, from the bookmobile, and then when my hometown got its own public library I read all the Gardner novels on those shelves, too, many of them early Perry Masons in those cheap Triangle/Blakiston hardcover reprints (more like cardboard cover reprints) with the pages that were already brown and brittle some twenty years after they were published.

All of which is my long-winded way of saying that I've been reading Erle Stanley Gardner novels for a long, long time, but I didn't encounter any of his pulp work until a few years later when Ron Goulart included one of the Lester Leith stories in his iconic anthology THE HARDBOILED DICKS.

Even after that it was a while before I read many more of Gardner's pulp stories, but when collections of them began to come out in the Eighties and Nineties, I was right there. I read both volumes of the Whispering Sands stories from ARGOSY. I read both Ed Jenkins collections, and the Ken Corning collection, and the science fiction collection THE HUMAN ZERO. In recent years I've picked up more Gardner pulp collections, and I'll get to them, I swear I will.

That brings us to a recent non-fiction study of Gardner's pulp work, PULP ICONS: ERLE STANLEY GARDNER AND HIS PULP MAGAZINE CHARACTERS by award-winning scholar of mystery fiction Jeffrey Marks. Appropriately enough considering its subject matter, it's a fast, breezy, slightly hardboiled volume that focuses for the most part on the many different series characters Gardner created for the pulps. The longest chapter is the one on Ed Jenkins and Lester Leith, Gardner's best-known characters other than Perry Mason, Donald Lam, and Bertha Cool. However, Marks doesn't neglect the lesser-known characters such as Sidney Zoom, Speed Dash, The Patent Leather Kid, Black Barr, and The Man in the Silver Mask, among many others.

One of the things I really enjoyed in this book is the inclusion of correspondence between Gardner and the pulp editors for whom he was writing as they fine-tuned the stories and the characters. It's an interesting look into Gardner's creative process.

Overall, this is a very entertaining book, packed with information about Gardner and his characters, and whether you're a recent fan of his work or an old-timer like me, you definitely should check it out.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

All Star Western - Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti

I'm a longtime Jonah Hex fan, so naturally I'd have some interest in the current comic book series featuring him, ALL STAR WESTERN. I picked up a trade paperback reprinting the first six issues of that title, even though I'd heard mostly negative things about it, most of them centering around the fact that the stories are set in Gotham City in the 1880s, rather than out west.

Actually, that doesn't bother me too much. There's a long tradition in fiction of sending Western heroes back east. Longarm and The Trailsman have both gone to big eastern cities to have adventures. In one of the books I ghosted I sent the hero to both Chicago and Boston before having him go back out west to wrap up the story. So as far as I'm concerned, sending Jonah Hex to Gotham City on the trail of some fugitive outlaws is fine. So is teaming him up with Dr. Amadeus Arkham, who sometime in the future will build a certain asylum. It's nice to see some of the ancestors of other famous Gotham citizens, as well.

The stories in this collection were written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti, who chronicled Hex's adventures in his previous title for quite a while. They send Hex and Arkham after a serial killer known as the Gotham Butcher and then get them involved in a case in which hundreds of children from the poor part of town have disappeared. Both are decent yarns. Unfortunately, the art by a single-named artist billed as Moritat doesn't appeal to me at all. Hex looks good here and there and there are some impressive full-page action scenes, but overall it's just not to my taste.

This collection also includes a couple of back-up stories featuring El Diablo (who originally appeared with Hex in the old WEIRD WESTERN TALES comic book many, many years ago) and a new character known as The Barbary Ghost. These stories do take place in the West, and they're pretty good ones, although the Indian curse/zombie plot in the El Diablo yarn strikes me as a little overdone. I like the art in these stories—Jordi Bernet on El Diablo and Phil Winslade on The Barbary Ghost—much better.

Overall, I found enough to like in ALL STAR WESTERN: GUNS AND GOTHAM that I'll probably read the next volume. I still prefer the original Jonah Hex stories by John Albano and Tony deZuniga, but those days aren't ever coming back, are they?

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: The Frozen Ground

This is another movie I'd never heard of until I came across it on Netflix. It's a grim, fact-based police procedural set in Alaska about a State Trooper's search for a serial killer. Nicolas Cage is pretty restrained as the dogged investigator, John Cusack is appropriately creepy as the supposedly respectable businessman who's really a mass murderer, and Vanessa Hudgens, a long way from HIGH SCHOOL MUSICAL, seems to be channeling Mila Kunis from eight or ten years ago as a teenage prostitute/stripper who escapes from the killer. An impressively hulking actor named Brad William Henke contributes a nice bit as a hired killer. (He was in the second season of JUSTIFIED as one of the Bennett brothers.) THE FROZEN GROUND is a well-made movie, a little slow but with some nice bursts of tension and action. It's somewhat depressing because of the subject matter but worth watching.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Ten More Western Authors I Like

Here are ten more Western authors whose work I really enjoy, although, as usual, some of them can be inconsistent.

Peter Dawson – In real life Peter Dawson was Jonathan Glidden, brother of Frederick Glidden, who wrote as Luke Short. I believe Jon began writing after Fred did, but both were prolific contributors to the pulps during the Thirties. If I recall correctly (and someone please correct me if I don't), Jon Glidden won some sort of contest with his novel THE CRIMSON HORSESHOE, which was serialized in WESTERN STORY and then published in hardback by Dodd, Mead, starting him on a very successful career as a novelist. He continued to write for the pulps through the Forties but concentrated on novels after that. The paperback reprints from Bantam Books were so popular that after Glidden's death Bantam hired another author to write paperback originals under the Dawson name. I've never read any of them, but I've been told they're not nearly as good as the ones Glidden wrote. I first discovered Peter Dawson's work by reading the novel TRAIL BOSS when I was in the seventh grade, and I've read many of his books since then. Several volumes of his pulp work were published in paperback by Leisure in recent years.

Peter Field – This is a bit of a cheat, since "Peter Field" is a house-name and a number of different authors used it. But when I was a kid checking out books from the bookmobile every week, I went through every Peter Field western they had, which was quite a few. The books were published in hardback, first by William Morrow (more on that in a minute) and then by Jefferson House. All the ones I read back then were in the Powder Valley series and featured the adventures of Pat Stevens, a horse rancher in Colorado, and his sidekicks: short, roly-poly Sam and tall, gaunt, eyepatch-wearing Ezra. I had no clue then that Peter Field wasn't the author's real name, but I know now that all of the novels from the Fifties and Sixties were written by Lucien W. Emerson. Later on I discovered the earlier books in the series, written at first by William Thayer Hobson, the president of William Morrow and the husband of bestselling novelist Laura Z. Hobson, and then later by various hands, most notably Davis Dresser, a.k.a. Brett Halliday his own self. Dresser was the primary author of the series during the Forties, when his Mike Shayne series was also going strong. In these earlier books, Pat Stevens was still a rancher, but he was also the sheriff, and he had a wife, too, who had disappeared by the time I started reading the books in the early Sixties. In addition to all this, the Peter Field name was also used on several stand-alone Western novels, all of which were written, I believe, by Harry Sinclair Drago.

Peter Germano – Best known under his pseudonym Barry Cord, Germano wrote under that name and several others. His stories began appearing in the Western pulps in the mid-Thirties, and by the late Forties he was writing novels under the Barry Cord name. During the Fifties he was one of the main authors of Jim Hatfield novels for the pulp TEXAS RANGERS under the house-name Jackson Cole, and some of his entries are among the best in the entire series. Later on he became a prolific author of paperbacks, turning out many novels for the Ace Double line as well as other publishers. Some of these novels were rewritten and expanded version of stories he originally wrote as Jim Hatfield novels. As is the case with most of the Western authors I like, his style was terse and hardboiled, and his stories are well-plotted with plenty of action.

William Hopson – Another author who started in the pulps and then became a prolific paperbacker, Hopson has an odd style that takes a little getting used to, but once a reader is accustomed to it, his prose is very effective. His work is inconsistent. His Masked Rider "Guns of the Clan" is almost unreadable, while his later stand-alone novel GUNFIGHTER'S PAY is an excellent yarn with one of the best action climaxes I've found in a Western. If you try something by him and don't like it, it's probably worthwhile to try something else.

Peter McCurtin – One of the great mysteries in Western publishing, Peter McCurtin was long thought to be a house-name, but it appears there really was a writer and editor by that name who worked primarily for Belmont/Tower/Leisure. His best work is probably the Carmody series, published under his own name. These are tough, gritty action Westerns and very well-written. All of them except the first book in the series are in first person, something of a rarity in Westerns. Later, McCurtin wrote another series under the name Gene Curry about a character named Saddler, who is basically Carmody again. He also wrote some of the Lassiter novels under the house-name Jack Slade, including THE MAN FROM DEL RIO, the first Adult Western I ever read and a real eye-opener at the time. McCurtin continued the Sundance series after Ben Haas's death, and while I don't like his entries as much as the earlier books, they're solid Westerns. He also wrote men's adventure novels and a couple of hardboiled private eye novels that are well-regarded by some fans of the genre. I haven't gotten around to reading them yet, but I will one of these days.

Leonard F. Meares – I first encountered the work of Len Meares in the Bantam paperbacks published under the name Marshall McCoy. These were thin Westerns in two series: Larry and Streak, and Nevada Jim. I enjoyed these books and read them all. Checking the copyright pages, as I did even then, I figured out that these were reprints of books originally published in Australia. I never dreamed, though, that many years later I would be good friends by correspondence with the author, whose name was really Marshall McCoy but rather Leonard F. Meares. Beginning in the mid-Fifties, he wrote more than 800 novels, most of them Westerns and primarily under the pseudonym Marshall Grover, although he used other pen-names as well. I read dozens of them and always enjoyed them. Fast-moving, well-plotted, with very appealing characters. About half of his output consisted of the Larry and Stretch series (the characters' names were changed slightly in the American editions, for some reason), a couple of drifting Texans with a habit of getting into trouble. Toward the end of his life, Len's Australian publishers cancelled the series, but since they had a contract for foreign rights in the Scandinavian countries, they insisted that he continue writing the books so that they could be translated. I know it bothered him to write these books knowing they would never appear in English. But still he carried on, still with as much enthusiasm as he could muster for the work. He was a great friend, and to this day I miss hearing from him.

D.B. Newton – Another veteran of the pulps, D.B. Newton wrote some of the Jim Hatfield novels in TEXAS RANGERS, as well as entries in the Rio Kid and Masked Rider series. Branching out into paperback novels, he wrote RANGE BOSS, the book regarded as the first modern-day mass-market paperback original. For Berkley he wrote a series about Jim Bannister, unjustly accused of being an outlaw and forced to go on the dodge. As Dwight Bennett, he wrote a number of excellent stand-alone Western novels for Doubleday's Double D line. Finally, he created and wrote several novels in the Stagecoach Station series for Lyle Kenyon Engel's Book Creations Inc. These were published by Bantam under the house-name Hank Mitchum. Engel intended for Newton to write all the books in the series, but with them coming out every two months, he couldn't keep up that pace and BCI enlisted other authors to contribute novels as Hank Mitchum, eventually including me. I've always taken great pleasure in the fact that I wrote shared a house-name with someone who wrote Jim Hatfield novels, since TEXAS RANGERS is one of my all-time favorite pulps. Newton's novels are good solid Westerns, nothing flashy about them. Maybe not quite as hardboiled as some of my other favorites, but still excellent reading.

Dudley Dean McGaughey – Best known for his books under the names Dean Owen and Dudley Dean, McGaughey also wrote under house-names and other pseudonyms, including, you guessed it, some Jim Hatfield novels. His Hatfield novel "White Gold of Texas", one of the stories reprinted in paperback by Popular Library, is one of the best in the series. McGaughey also wrote mysteries and soft-core erotic novels and movie novelizations and TV tie-in novels. Tough prose and good plots are to be found in all his work. He was the sort of versatile, top-notch paperback author I've always enjoyed and admired.

Walker A. Tompkins – Another veteran of TEXAS RANGERS and the Jim Hatfield series, Tompkins wrote many of those novels as Jackson Cole throughout the Forties and Fifties, and they're all good. He wrote lead novels for the other three Western hero pulps published by Ned Pines, RIO KID WESTERN, MASKED RIDER WESTERN, and RANGE RIDERS WESTERN, along with scores of stand-alone stories for nearly every Western pulp in existence. He was a stalwart in WILD WEST WEEKLY during the Thirties, writing under several different names, and some of that work comes in for some criticism in Bill Pronzini's SIX-GUN IN CHEEK. Admittedly, a lot of Tompkins' early stories and novels are pretty over-the-top. But by the late Forties he had matured into the author of a number of fine stand-alone Western novels, some of them expanded from stories that originally appeared in the pulps.

Harry Whittington – Justly famous for his hardboiled mystery and suspense novels, Harry Whittington's Westerns are just as dark and lean as his crime yarns. His novel TROUBLE RIDES TALL was adapted into the TV series LAWMAN starring John Russell and Peter Brown. SADDLE THE STORM, the story of a frontier town celebrating the Fourth of July, is probably his best Western, as the festivities bring one dark secret after another into the open. Any of Whittington's Westerns, whether from Gold Medal, Ace, or Ballantine, is well worth reading.

I see this installment is even more long-winded than the previous one. The usual caveats apply. If you try books by all these authors, there'll be some you don't like. But I'll bet there'll be some you will.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Newspaper Adventure Stories, 2nd Quarter, 1934

Talk about a niche market pulp! I can't imagine that NEWSPAPER ADVENTURE STORIES found many readers, even though two-fisted reporters were popular characters in the detective and general fiction pulps. The only author I recognize in this issue is Jack Woodford. As much as I like that old typewriter, I'm not sure I'd have picked up this one if I'd seen it on the newsstand.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Aces, November 1947

I've read this issue, but it was more than ten years ago so I don't remember much about the stories except that I enjoyed them. This was the first issue of WESTERN ACES I ever read. Salvage market or not, I've found it to be a pretty good Western pulp. I do remember the J. Edward Leithead story in this issue, which is a modern-day rodeo yarn. It's the first Leithead story I read, and it turned me into a fan of his work, too. At the time I read this issue, I didn't know that "Wilson L. Covert" was also Leithead. Other authors in this issue include D.B. Newton, Giff Cheshire, Wayne Overholser, Gunnison Steele, Joseph Chadwick, and Glenn Low. That's a darned good line-up.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Forgotten Books: The Second Life of Monsieur the Devil - H. Bedford-Jones

(This is another older post, originally published in slightly different form on May 12, 2006. My hope is that some of you who are fans of H. Bedford-Jones weren't reading this blog then, and so this review will be new to at least a few of you.)

Originally published in the November 1920 issue of BLUE BOOK and reprinted in 2005 by Wildside Press (with a rather whimsical cover), this short novel takes place in French Indo-China, better known to us today as Vietnam. This was during the era when Saigon was called the Paris of the East, and all the characters who appear are either French or American. Much of the action takes place on a privately-owned island off the coast, as a mysterious American adventurer and possible criminal named Smith is plunged into a plot full of intrigue, revenge, and murder. The crooked mastermind known as Monsieur the Devil, sentenced to life in prison, escapes and seeks revenge on the man responsible for putting him there, who happens to live on that private island with – wouldn’t you know it – his beautiful daughter. Along the way there’s a lot of scheming, a few well-done action scenes, and a really suspenseful ending. The pace is a bit more leisurely than you find in some of Bedford-Jones’s stories, but the novel is short enough that that’s not a drawback. As usual with the work of the King of the Pulps, I enjoyed this story quite a bit.

(Update: The Wildside Press reprint is still available and is well worth reading.)

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Available for Pre-Order: Robert E. Howard's Western Tales

The Robert E. Howard Foundation Press has announced that pre-orders are being accepted for ROBERT E. HOWARD'S WESTERN TALES, the largest collection of Howard's traditional and weird Western fiction ever published. All the details are here, including the fact that I wrote the introduction to this one, with much valuable assistance from editor Rob Roehm. I love Howard's Westerns and think their significance in the genre has been overlooked for the most part. If you haven't read them and want to check them out, or if you've read them and want to revisit them, this book is the best place to do so, if I do say so myself. Plus there's that fine cover by Tom Gianni and the usual high quality production that the REHF Press always provides. This one, not surprisingly, gets a high recommendation from me.

Sweothi City - Larry Correia

I've been wanting to read some of Larry Correia's work (he writes a couple of fantasy series, Monster Hunter International and Grimnoir). I stop by his blog from time to time and usually enjoy it. But his books are just too big. With the limited time I have for reading, I can't tackle books that are 600 pages long. Someday, when I have more time . . .

So I was glad when a story of his was posted on-line. At almost 10,000 words, "Sweothi City" is more of a novelette than a short story, and it gave me a chance to sample Correia's writing, which I found very entertaining.

In addition to his fantasy series, Correia also writes contemporary military adventure novels in collaboration with Mike Kupari. Two of these books have been published so far, DEAD SIX and SWORDS OF EXODUS. "Sweothi City" is a prequel to those novels and fills in some of the background of one of the main characters from the books. It's the story of how the survivors of a mercenary company escape from a city under attack by bloodthirsty rebels in an African nation in the mid-Nineties. That's really the extent of the plot, but what makes this story worth reading is Correia's excellent writing. There's a tremendous amount of action packed into the relatively short length, but it's all compelling and easy to follow.

Correia also provides some welcome touches of dark humor among the carnage, along with a pragmatic and ruthless but still likable protagonist and narrator whose intriguing back-story is fleshed out in a couple of skillful flashbacks. I raced through this one and was left wanting to read more. I may have to rethink my policy on long novels after all . . . 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Now Available: Never Come Back - David Bell

David Bell's new novel is out now in trade paperback and e-book editions. David is an excellent writer, so check it out.

Elizabeth Hampton is consumed by grief when her mother dies unexpectedly. Leslie Hampton cared for Elizabeth’s troubled brother Ronnie’s special needs, assuming Elizabeth would take him in when the time came. But Leslie’s sudden death propels Elizabeth into a world of danger and double lives that undoes everything she thought she knew....

When police discover that Leslie was strangled, they immediately suspect that one of Ronnie’s outbursts took a tragic turn. Elizabeth can’t believe that her brother is capable of murder, but who else could have had a motive to kill their quiet, retired mother?

More questions arise when a stranger is named in Leslie’s will: a woman also named Elizabeth. As the family’s secrets unravel, a man from Leslie’s past who claims to have all the answers shows up, but those answers might put Elizabeth and those she loves the most in mortal danger.

Catch and Release - Lawrence Block

Lawrence Block's new collection, CATCH AND RELEASE, features 17 stories, a newspaper essay, a one-act play, and the usual fascinating story notes about each item. Several of the stories have to do with sports—golf, tennis, and fishing—while many of them feature serial killers and hitmen. And not surprisingly, there's some overlap between the categories. What they all have in common is that they're some of the best written stories you'll find anywhere.

Among the highlights are the novellas "Clean Slate", which became part of Block's novel GETTING OFF, and "Speaking of Greed" and "Speaking of Lust", which were the lead stories in a couple of anthologies that used that title. I love the framing device in the latter two stories, which consists of a policeman, a soldier, a doctor, and a priest sitting around playing cards and swapping yarns, while a fifth character, an unnamed old man, sits next to the fireplace and passes gas. "Speaking of Greed" has a very funny section in it about a literary agent and a young writer, but I'm sure that any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, is, as they say, entirely coincidental.

Several of the stories I'd read before, including two from the Matt Scudder collection THE NIGHT AND THE MUSIC. One of them, "One Last Night at Grogan's", is my second-favorite Block story. For what it's worth, "The Night and the Music" from that same Scudder collection is my favorite Block story and one of my favorite short stories, period, right up there with Irwin Shaw and John O'Hara. The thing about rereading Block is that you start to skim the story, thinking that you've already read it, and then before you know it you've slowed down and read the whole thing again. The prose just draws you in.

CATCH AND RELEASE is available in several formats, whatever your preference, and it's one of the best books I've read this year. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Now Available in an E-Book Edition: The Ghost With Blue Eyes - Robert J. Randisi

One of Bob Randisi's best books, THE GHOST WITH BLUE EYES, is now available in an e-book edition. This is the first book in his excellent series about the gunfighter known as Lancaster, and it's a favorite of mine. If you enjoy a fast-moving, offbeat Western novel, check it out.


Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Sexy Evil Genius

I'd never heard of this movie until someone I know mentioned it favorably. I looked it up, saw that it has Seth Green, Katee Sackhoff, and Michelle Trachtenburg, all of whom I like, in it, so I thought we might as well give it a chance.

First of all, I don't care for that title. It just sounds clunky to me. But the premise is intriguing: several people are summoned to a bar in Los Angeles by an ex-lover, and when she's late showing up, they sit around and trade stories about her. She's the sexy evil genius of the title, and as the stories about her continue, it's revealed that she killed a man and has spent time in an institution for the criminally insane.

Or is all that just one of the elaborate fictional histories she likes to create for herself?

Yeah, this is one of those movies where you can't trust anything you see or hear, and that becomes even more true when Nikki (Katee Sackhoff) finally shows up at the bar with her current lover. Most of the movie consists of this group of people sitting around a table talking and throwing various theories about the truth back and forth. If you're going to make a movie that's almost all dialogue and little action, it had better be damned good dialogue. For the most part, it is. When things finally start to get intense, the movie creates some genuine suspense. There's not really enough to call it a thriller, but I didn't lose interest, either.

The acting is good all around. The twist ending seemed a little weak to me, and the whole plot is one of those where you have to squint your eyes and hold your mouth just right for it to make sense, but the movie moves right along and is pretty entertaining. Don't expect a great film, but SEXY EVIL GENIUS is worth watching.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Gabriel Hunt Makes a Comeback

As some of you already know, the six Gabriel Hunt novels are being re-issued next year by Titan Books, the current home of Charles Ardai's other line, a little thing called Hard Case Crime. The Hunt novels were in limbo a little longer, but I'm very glad to see that new editions are on the way. While I loved the pulpish covers on the originals, the new covers are pretty snazzy, too, and you can see all of them here. It's also very nice to see my name on the cover of the one I wrote. At this point I have no idea if the series will continue beyond the re-issues of these six books, but my hope is that it'll have a better chance to find its audience this time around.

My Favorite Western Authors

A friend of mine with a growing interest in Westerns who hasn't read much in the genre suggested that I do a blog post about my favorite Western authors. After some thought, I decided that I can do that, with one condition: I have to confine it to authors who are no longer with us. I know almost everyone who's currently writing Westerns, and I don't want any of them coming across this post and wondering why I didn't mention them. It's an unavoidable fact: some writers I love as people but don't care for their books. Others I love their books but don't . . . well, never mind. I'm going to confine the list to ten, with the usual warning that if you ask me again tomorrow, the selections might change. I'm also going to keep it to authors whose work is at least somewhat readily available. I love Harry Olmsted's stories, for example, but none of them have been reprinted and you'd have to buy the original pulps to read them. Some are acquired tastes, too, real love 'em or hate 'em authors, so consider that fair warning.

Enough qualifying. On to the list, which is in alphabetical order.

Walt Coburn – Maybe the most inconsistent Western author ever, capable of sheer, breathtaking excellence as well as utter mediocrity composed in a drunken haze. But Coburn at the top of his game captured the authenticity of the Old West probably better than any other author I've ever read. He also came up with some of the most complicated plots filled with raw emotional angst that you'll ever find in the genre.

H.A. DeRosso – The darkest of all the Western noir authors, the Jim Thompson of the Western. He wrote only a handful of novels, but they're all good. Several of them have been reprinted in the past fifteen years.

T.T. Flynn – Flynn's plots are pretty traditional, but he writes so well it doesn't matter. Also, his novels are often more emotionally complex than they appear at first.

Ben Haas – Writing as John Benteen, Richard Meade, Thorne Douglas, and Ben Elliott, Haas was the best action writer of the Twentieth Century other than Robert E. Howard. I've written plenty on this blog about him. Pick up anything he wrote. I guarantee you're in for a good time.

Elmer Kelton – The man picked by a poll of the Western Writers of America as the best Western author of all time. I have a hard time singling out one author as the best of anything, but Kelton was very, very good for a long time. Nobody was ever better at writing about the contemporary West. And he was one of the nicest people you'd ever want to meet, too.

Lewis B. Patten – Patten's work is similar to DeRosso's, but his novels usually have happy endings that keep them from being quite as bleak. His books became more inconsistent as his career went along, so you're usually better off looking for novels from the Fifties and Sixties, although he was still capable of good work during the Seventies. If you run across a book you don't like, give him another chance.

Leslie Scott – Scott is one of those acquired tastes. He wrote many of the Jim Hatfield novels in the pulp TEXAS RANGERS under the house-name Jackson Cole. You'll be more likely to find some of his long series of paperback novels about Texas Ranger Walt Slade, published under the name Bradford Scott. His plots are repetitious, his prose is really purple at times (especially when he's describing landscapes), but he wrote great, over-the-top action scenes. His stand-alones, often based on historical incidents, are also good. But if you try one of his books and don't like it, there's not much point in trying another, except for the fact that his earlier books generally have better plots.

Gordon D. Shireffs – Almost the equal of Flynn, Haas, and Short when it comes to hardboiled action Westerns, and his depictions of the American Southwest are maybe the best of them all. He was also an excellent plotter.

Luke Short (Frederick D. Glidden) – Not quite noir, but his Westerns are definitely on the hardboiled side and often have some sort of mystery angle. He could write great action scenes as well. His books from the Forties and Fifties are the best as far as I'm concerned, although all his work is worth reading.

W.C. Tuttle – Really the only humorous Western writer I like, and that's probably because the comedy (which borders on slapstick at times) is balanced by plenty of action and complex mystery plots. Tuttle is best known for his stories and novels featuring range detectives Hashknife Hartley and Sleepy Stevens, but he also wrote a long series of novellas in the pulp EXCITING WESTERN about a similar pair known as Tombstone and Speedy. He's also famous for a series about a W.C. Fields-like vaudeville performer who winds up the sheriff of an Arizona town. His stand-alones are good, too.

I would have included Robert E. Howard if he had lived to write more Westerns, as according to his letters he planned to do. He actually invented the Western noir in stories such as "The Vultures of Whapeton", "Wild Water", and "Vulture's Sanctuary". If you haven't picked up the collection of his traditional Westerns from the Robert E. Howard Foundation Press, I give it a high recommendation. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I wrote the outline for that collection.)

So there are ten Western writers and a sort-of bonus eleventh one you'd be well-advised to seek out if you're looking to broaden your Western reading horizons. You probably won't like all of them, but I think the chances are good you'll discover some new favorite authors among them. If any of you want to throw in recommendations for other authors, feel free to do so in the comments. If there are enough, I'll do a follow-up post based on them.

(The links below are just examples of some of the books by these authors. Many more are available on Amazon and other on-line booksellers and in used bookstores.)

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Fantastic Adventures, July 1950

Well, that's certainly a striking, if somewhat goofy, cover by Robert Gibson Jones. Is that a giant dog or a tiny girl? I dunno. Don't have this issue. But I'd read it if I did, since it has stories by Fritz Leiber, Robert Bloch, William P. McGivern, Paul W. Fairman, and a host of others. The issues I've read of FANTASTIC ADVENTURES have been pretty over the top, but I've enjoyed all of them.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Best Western, October 1939

It's the return of the "hero, girl, old geezer" cover. Not a particularly good one, in my opinion, but it's one more example of a type of Western pulp cover that shows up with surprising regularity. This issue features stories by Peter Dawson, L.L. Foreman, and Gunnison Steele, among others, so it's probably a pretty good one.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Forgotten Books: Red - Jack Ketchum

(Yet another rerun. This post originally appeared in slightly different form on June 14, 2006.)

The storyline is pretty simple. Young punks kill old man's dog. Young punks and their families think old man is harmless. They find out otherwise, much to their regret. That's about it. But Ketchum writes so well that the pages just flow by. Despite the blurb from Stephen King on the cover and the word "Horror" on the spine, this isn't a horror novel at all, unless you consider that any novel that's truthful about the human condition is going to have some horror to it. This is more of a mainstream novel, and for the most part, a quiet, subtly written one at that, making its way along deliberately until it abruptly explodes in unexpected directions.

Sure, one plot development is rather hard to accept (you'll know it when you come across it) and some of the plot threads maybe work out a little too neatly, but in this case I'm okay with those things because of all the novel's strengths. This is just an excellent book.

I've been aware of Ketchum's work for years and in fact I own most of his books, but this is the first novel of his that I've read. It almost certainly won't be the last.

(Update: Well, actually, so far RED is the last Ketchum novel I've read. I still own a number of them, replacement copies bought since the fire, but I haven't read any of them yet. Just another example of the old "too many books, not enough time" syndrome. Evidently there's a movie version of this novel, too, made in 2008, that I haven't seen and wasn't even aware of.)

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Among the Anthropophagai! - Bill Crider

Bill Crider's "Among the Anthropophagai!: A Story of Gorillas and Gasbags" is pure pulp adventure of the finest sort. Take away the modern-day framing device that introduces the story and this yarn of exploration and danger in darkest Africa could have been published in ADVENTURE or ARGOSY during the Thirties.

The narrator, a retired anthropologist named Caleb Brown, spins a yarn of how he and his friend, explorer Richard Hawkins, penetrate the supposedly impenetrable Forest of Bwindi in search of the Anthropophagai, a possibly mythical race of cannibalistic creatures who resemble gorillas, except for the fact their heads grow beneath their shoulders. Do they and their expedition find what they're seeking, along with deadly danger? Well, what do you think?

Crider keeps the action hurtling along in true pulp fashion, leading up to a great action-packed climax. Sprinkled throughout the story are references to their other adventures, and I for one want to read them. This story is great fun, and if you want to have a fine pulpish time, you need to check it out. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Vestments of Pestilence - John C. Hocking

"Vestments of Pestilence" is a new sword-and-sorcery story by John C. Hocking, author of CONAN AND THE EMERALD LOTUS, and what an absolute joy it is to read (which you can do right here, in fact). This story is part of a series about a character known to the reader only as The Archivist, who is sent by the archive for which he works to investigate and/or recover various artifacts found in the more uncivilized parts of the world where he lives. Accompanying him on these adventures is his bodyguard and companion, the female soldier Lucella.

In this particular yarn, The Archivist and Lucella have returned to civilization only to find themselves immediately drawn into a clash between two members of the royal family, a brother and sister who are bitter rivals and who have tried to kill each other in the recent past. The princess coerces The Archivist and Lucella into helping her get her hands on an artifact from the old Southron civilization that may contain sorcerous power.

Of course, with a street gang, an oily "astrographer", a sinister tower, and a plague demon in the mix, things don't really go all that smoothly, and The Archivist and Lucella will need all the brains, cold steel, and courage they can muster to survive.

The plot of this story is traditional sword-and-sorcery, but the prose is pure hardboiled action writing of the best sort, reminiscent of, yes, Robert E. Howard and the fantasy novels written by Ben Haas under the names Richard Meade and Quinn Reade. I'm sure most of you knew I was going there, but dang it, it's true. Hocking is that good. There are touches of humor as well, and The Archivist and Lucella are very appealing characters. I really hope that eventually Hocking will put together a collection of this and the other stories about this duo, because I'm eager to read them.

For now, if you haven't already you should head over to the Black Gate website and read "Vestments of Pestilence". If you're a fan of action-packed heroic fantasy, I guarantee you'll be entertained. 

Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Tuesday's Overlooked Character Actors: Sandy Kenyon

Like Frank Adamo, who I wrote about a while back, Sandy Kenyon appeared several times on THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW, usually playing a cop. But the similarity ends there, because while most of Adamo's credits came from that one series, Kenyon appeared in dozens of different TV series from 1949 to 2004 and also did quite a bit of voice work on animated series. He was even one of the leads (along with Forrest Tucker) in a syndicated action series during the Fifties called CRUNCH AND DES, based on stories by Philip Wylie. You've probably seen him many times without really noticing him. Another unsung hero whose work I've enjoyed over the years.

Monday, October 07, 2013

Doc Savage: The Miracle Menace - Kenneth Robeson (Will Murray)

Allow me to begin this post, as I so often do, by wallowing in nostalgia. When I was in high school, there were two World War II-era army barracks that had been brought in and set up behind the main buildings on campus. One was used for the shop and mechanical drawing classes, and the other was our study hall.

Study hall was an actual class you signed up for in those days, and I always took it. Not that I used it to study or work on assignments except very, very rarely. No, I took study hall because it was 50 minutes in the middle of each day that I could use to read whatever paperback or library book I was reading. I was a fast reader, too. I could get through half of a 128-page Gold Medal paperback in that time and then finish it off at home that evening.

Of course, when you stop and think about it, considering the way things turned out, I actually was studying for my future profession. I just didn't know it at the time. I was just having a great time reading.

And at least once a month, the book I'd be reading was the latest Doc Savage reprint from Bantam. I knew the day the new releases arrived at the store where I bought most of them, and that was always my first stop after school on those days. I have vivid memories of sitting in that old army barracks and galloping through the adventures of Doc, Monk, Ham, Renny, Long Tom, and Johnny.

Well (and there actually is a point to this reminiscing), reading THE MIRACLE MENACE, the latest Doc Savage novel by Will Murray writing under the Kenneth Robeson house-name, made me feel exactly like I was sitting in study hall again after all these years. It's that perfect a recreation of the original series. If you read the trade paperback, as I did, you can see that even the page layout is just like those old Bantam paperbacks.

When I first read the plot description of this one, I thought it sounded very Dent-like (Lester Dent being the author of the original Doc Savage novels published in the pulp magazine of the same name). Weird things are going on around the small town of La Plata, Missouri, which just happens to have been the hometown of Lester Dent, by the way. A deserted Victorian mansion sitting by itself in the middle of some thick woods has the odd habit of disappearing into thin air and then reappearing again. A murderous midget is on a killing spree. A group of traveling evangelists is in town, but they're not your average preachers. There's a rumor going around that Christopher Columbus, the discoverer of America his own self, is not only still alive but is in Missouri, of all places. A stage magician named Gulliver Greene and his assistant Spook Davis are in the middle of this mess, and so are Doc Savage and his aides.

For much of the book, it appears that the two main storylines, the disappearing mansion and the mystery of Columbus, are unrelated, but I don't think it's giving away too much to reveal that eventually everything that's going on ties together. Once it does, the story races along with almost non-stop action. Murray throws in a number of plot twists, too, almost right up until the final page, and he does it all in prose that's a pitch-perfect pastiche of Lester Dent's style. The book even serves as a sequel of sorts to one of the original novels and features the return of a character from that yarn.

I had a grand time reading THE MIRACLE MENACE. If you're a long-time Doc Savage fan like me, you won't want to miss it. Highly recommended.

(And as an aside, one of those old barracks buildings is definitely gone now. There's a brick building of the same shape and size sitting where the other one was, the one where I had study hall, and I can't tell if it's the original barracks building that was remodeled, or if it was built from the ground up. The school is now one of my hometown's two junior highs, and I used to park right outside that building while waiting to pick up my daughters while they were going there. I always thought about those days in study hall and all the great books I read. When you're a reader, it all ties together, doesn't it?)

Sunday, October 06, 2013

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: 15 Story Detective, August 1950

Nice tense cover on this fairly late pulp, and a fine line-up of authors inside: Robert Martin, Frederick C. Davis, Talmage Powell, William Campbell Gault, and Richard Deming, among others. That's almost an all-star issue.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: The Rio Kid Western, Fall 1944

The Rio Kid is one of my favorite Western pulp series. This cover features a nice portrait of the Kid (really Captain Bob Pryor) and his sidekick Celestino Mireles. The thing that sets this series of novels apart is that they're based on historical incidents and several historical figures appear in each novel, complete with portraits and mini-biographies in sidebars scattered through the story. In this yarn, the historical characters are Leland Stanford, George Hearst, Black Bart, and Wyatt Earp. Tom Curry created the series and wrote most of the novels, and the ones not by Curry were written by top-notch pulpsters such as Walker A. Tompkins, Gunnison Steele (Bennie Gardner), Dean Owen (Dudley Dean McGaughey), and C. William Harrison. Many of the novels were reprinted in paperback by Curtis Books and Popular Library. I haven't read all the Rio Kid novels, but I've read most of them, including this one. This issue also includes stories by Archie Joscelyn, Richard Brister, Ben Frank, and Ben T. Young. This is putting me in the mood to read another Rio Kid novel.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Forgotten Books: Sin in Their Blood - Ed Lacy (Leonard Zinberg)

(Sorry about another rerun. I'll have some new posts eventually. This one originally appeared in slightly different form on April 2, 2007. Another difference since then is that an e-book reprint of this novel is now available.)

This early (1952) novel by Ed Lacy was published by Eton Books, an imprint of Avon.
It starts out as pretty standard stuff. Tough private eye Matt Ranzino returns to his home town (an unnamed city on the west coast) after serving in the army during the Korean War. He discovers that his former partner, who was sort of a shady character to start with, has turned downright crooked and is involved in an elaborate blackmail scheme. The ex-partner has also taken up with Matt’s ex-girlfriend. Matt is unsure whether or not he wants to be a PI again, but before you know it, he’s mixed up in a complicated murder-suicide case. But then Lacy takes what could have been a generic Fifties private eye novel and turns most of the conventions of such tales upside-down. Matt Ranzino turns out not to be the usual tough guy PI after all. I can’t say much more than that without ruining the book, but those of you who have read some of Lacy’s other novels or even read much about him can probably guess some of what I’m talking about.

I have to give Lacy, whose real name was Leonard Zinberg, credit for trying to do something different, but as far as I’m concerned SIN IN THEIR BLOOD is a book that’s more interesting than good. Everything is so heavy-handed that it just didn’t work that well for me, a problem I've run into in other novels by Lacy. However, the prose is very slick and fast-paced, and the ending is so over-the-top that it almost saves the whole book. I enjoyed this novel despite its flaws.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Michael Shayne, Private Detective

It's been a long time since I watched a Mike Shayne movie. Despite my connection to and fondness for the character, I've never sought out the film adaptations, just seen one every now and then. But I picked up a set of four of the movies starring Lloyd Nolan as Shayne and recently watched the first one, MICHAEL SHAYNE, PRIVATE DETECTIVE.

This movie is based on the second novel in the series, THE PRIVATE PRACTICE OF MICHAEL SHAYNE, and the script is pretty faithful to the book in some ways, working in most of the complicated plot that involves gamblers, horse racing, a spurned blonde, and tampering with the evidence in a murder case. Beautiful socialite Phyllis Brighton, who wound up marrying Shayne in the books, is on hand, too, and very well played by Marjorie Weaver. Shayne plays fast and loose with the law, of course, and bedevils his adversary Peter Painter until he solves the case and drops the killer right in Painter's lap.

But the screenwriters make some changes that don't really help the movie. For some reason they move the action from Florida to California, which wasn't necessary because most of the movie was filmed on soundstages. Cut in a little stock footage of palm trees and the ocean and the whole thing could have passed for Florida just fine. Shayne's reporter friend Tim Rourke and police chief Will Gentry are nowhere to be found.

The main difference between book and movie, though, is in Lloyd Nolan's portrayal of Shayne. Even though the character does many of the same things that Shayne does in the book, for the most part his flippant, light-hearted attitude is very different from the tough, straight-ahead Mike Shayne of the novels. Only occasionally do we get a glimpse of just how unlucky anybody is to have Shayne for an enemy.

One thing Nolan gets right, though, is the character's chemistry with Phyllis. Watching the two of them verbally spar is very reminiscent of the books. Other than that, Nolan's version of Mike Shayne is pretty much the "generic private eye" that Shayne is sometimes accused of being, a claim that I very much disagree with when it comes to the books, of course.

All that said, I enjoyed watching MICHAEL SHAYNE, PRIVATE DETECTIVE quite a bit. The pace is very fast, and the production values are pretty good for a movie that falls somewhere between an A and a B picture. As I recall, this is the only one of the Shayne movies that's based on one of the novels, although some of the others are based on novels by other writers featuring other private eye characters. I'll definitely be watching the others I have.