The Copper Kings of Montana are at war—and Kate and J.D. Blaze are caught in the middle! Hired to get to the bottom of the sabotage and murder plaguing the mines, the Old West's only team of husband-and-wife gunfighters tackle crooked lawmen and a band of vicious outlaws known as the Lion Gang, only to find themselves trapped on a runaway train loaded with dynamite, a bomb on wheels that threatens to blow the Blazes sky-high!
Acclaimed thriller author Brian Drake (THE TERMINATION PROTOCOL) joins the Blaze! team with a novel packed with excitement and mile-a-minute action. COPPER MOUNTAIN KILL is Western adventure at its finest.
I guess I've heard of Deanna Durbin about as far back
as I can remember, but I've never seen one of her movies until now. It's not a
musical like most of the other films she made, although there are several
musical numbers since part of the story is set in a nightclub. Rather, it's a
mystery comedy, with Durbin playing a rich young woman from San Francisco who's
come to New York to visit her aunt over the Christmas holiday. While her train
is stopped on the outskirts of the city, she happens to witness what appears to
be a murder in a building alongside the tracks. She's also a fan of mystery
novels and is reading one called THE CASE OF THE HEADLESS BLONDE (sounds like a
Perry Mason novel to me).
But no, the book is actually by a writer named Wayne Morgan (played by David
Bruce), who happens to live in New York City, and when the body disappears and
the cops don't believe Durbin, she hunts him up and demands that he help her
solve the crime. Then she realizes the man she saw murdered is really a wealthy
shipping magnate, and a clandestine visit to his estate in the country results
in Durbin being mistaken for the man's mistress, a nightclub singer involved
with gangsters, and during that same excursion she also meets the members of
the murdered man's family, which include the sinister Dan Duryea and ever
stalwart and boring Ralph Bellamy. She keeps investigating, continues to pose
as the nightclub singer, and makes life miserable but interesting for the
mystery novelist before they work together, fall in love, and uncover the
murderer's identity. (It probably won't come as much of a surprise to most of
This is lightweight fluff, but boy, is it entertaining lightweight fluff! The
script hardly ever slows down to take a breath, and since one of the characters
is a writer, there are some funny bits about the publishing business. Leslie
Charteris provided the original story, and it has his usual breeziness to it.
The supporting cast, which includes William Frawley, Edward Everett Horton,
Allen Jenkins, and George Couloris, is very good. Durbin is cute as can be as
the spoiled but spunky society gal who's determined to solve a murder. We have
a couple more of her movies and I'm sure we'll watch them fairly soon.
By the way, this movie is set at Christmas, as I mentioned above, but other
than a quick glimpse of a Christmas tree here and there, the holiday doesn't
play any real part in what's going on. Otherwise I might have saved this post
S.A. Bailey's debut novel AND THE RAIN CAME DOWN was
as good a traditional private eye yarn as I've read in recent years, and the
second book in the Jeb Shaw series, THE LINES WE CROSS, was just as strong. Now
Jeb is back in EDGE OF THE CITY, which blends the hardboiled detective elements
with pure action/adventure to create an epic tale of corruption and violence.
Jeb is hired to find out who's trying to kill a Dallas politician who has a
long history of graft, infidelity, and racial rabble-rousing. This ties in a
young gang member Jeb was forced to shoot during an armed robbery, a
politically powerful mega-church, a couple of former professional football
players, a kidnapping, a rape, an international business deal gone bad, and
assorted other motives for murder and mayhem. Jeb sorts through it all in fine
private eye style, but then the final section of book deals with his
efforts—along with some friends and associates—to deliver a witness who will
break the case wide open to the Feds, even though they're outnumbered by
enemies who are willing to turn Dallas into a war zone.
The plot of EDGE OF THE CITY is complex and well put together, and the action
scenes have a gritty authenticity that elevates them from standard shootouts.
Bailey really nails the political and criminal landscape of Dallas, as well.
But what sets this book apart, as it did the others in the series, is Jeb
himself and the distinctive voice that Bailey gives him as narrator and
protagonist. Jeb has his flaws and plenty of them, but he also manages to be
thoroughly sympathetic, a guy you can't help but root for even while he's
messing up his life. And there's certainly no one else better to have on your
side if you're in trouble. EDGE OF THE CITY is bloody, profane, tragic, and all
kinds of politically incorrect. But it's also smart and funny and poignant when
it needs to be. Highly recommended.
Walker Martin mentioned this short-lived pulp in the comments on last Sunday's post, so I thought, why not feature the cover he was talking about, another that features a decapitated head? It is indeed a gruesome cover, and none of the authors in this issue are familiar to me except for Franklin H. Martin. The covers of the other issues of ALIBI aren't all that appealing, either. I can see why the magazine didn't last very long. But it's still an interesting oddity.
The last few
years of its existence, STAR WESTERN rather blatantly went after the RANCH
ROMANCES readers. Not only do all the covers prominently feature female
characters, most of the story titles do, too, such as this issue from January
1950. You've got "The Strip's Too Hot for Blondes!" by Leslie
Ernenwein, "Girl Strike in Jubilee" by Joseph Chadwick, "Bride
of the Killer Legion" by Talmage Powell, "The Queen, the Wench, and
the Devil" by Ray Townsend, "Two Roses for Dead Man's Range" by
Dean Owen (Dudley Dean McGaughey), "Girl for a Fighting Man" by
Everett M. Webber, and "Brand Her Señorita Killer!" by John Jo
Carpenter (John Reese). With those authors, I'll bet most of those stories are
published as a paperback original by Ace Books in 1975, appears to have been
the final novel in L.P. Holmes' fifty year career. It's certainly not a bad way
to go out. The protagonist, Cleve Ellerson, is a down-on-his-luck hired gun who
wants to put that way of life behind him. Recuperating from a wound suffered in
a gunfight with a crooked gambler, he heads for the mining boomtown of Rawhide
Creek, figuring it might be a good place to start over. An accident leaves the
stagecoach without a driver, so Ellerson takes over the reins, meets a
good-looking young woman who's also on her way to Rawhide Creek, and comes upon
another stagecoach, headed the other way, that's been held up. Driver and
shotgun guard are both dead.
When he gets to the settlement, Ellerson winds up taking a job with the stage
line and discovers that Rawhide Creek is teeming with claim jumpers and gunmen,
all of them working for saloon owner Duke Ackerman. Ellerson sticks up
for the honest folks of the town, which sets up an inevitable violent showdown
between the forces of good and evil.
You've probably guessed by now that there's nothing in RAWHIDE CREEK that
hasn't been done hundreds of times before, by Holmes and many other Western
authors who were prolific pulpsters and then moved into novels with the demise
of the pulps. And if you're a regular reader of this blog, you also know that I
don't care. Holmes was such a good writer that he made these old plots fresh
and entertaining, at least as far as I'm concerned. Cleve Ellerson is a very likable
hero, his new friends (the stage line owner and an old drunk) provide fine
support, the villains are numerous and suitably despicable, and the low-key romance
between Ellerson and the girl from the stage (the sister of the local café owner)
is sweet without being syrupy. There are a few continuity glitches that a good
editor should have fixed, but other than that RAWHIDE CREEK is the same sort of
top-notch work Holmes did for five decades. I had a very good time reading it.
(And the scan above is the copy I read, apparently owned at some point in its
life by somebody named Moats.)
After Don Knotts left THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW (which we never
missed in my house, by the way), he made several movies that I saw at the local
drive-in, like THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN and THE INCREDIBLE MR. LIMPET. But
somehow I never saw THE SHAKIEST GUN IN THE WEST, which is a remake of the Bob
Hope movie THE PALEFACE (which I have seen and liked). Watching THE SHAKIEST
GUN IN THE WEST for the first time now is kind of an odd experience. We've
watched quite a few episodes of THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW on MeTV lately, and
Knotts is really good as Barney Fife, especially when the scripts give him
something to do other than bluster. On the other hand, he's the second banana
in that show, which is a lot different from having to carry a movie. In other
words, a little of that typical Don Knotts schtick goes a long way.
However, there's more to THE SHAKIEST GUN IN THE WEST than that, and Knotts is
good in the more restrained moments. It also has statuesque redhead Barbara
Rhoades in it, and while she might not have been a great actress, she was one
hell of a statuesque redhead. Elsewhere in the cast, Don "Red" Barry
and Jackie Coogan are the villains running guns to the Indians, who are
supposed to be Comanches but look more like Heckawi to me. (Bonus points if you
remember the Heckawi Indians.) Several other Sixties sitcom supporting actors
are on hand, and in fact the whole movie has a very sitcom-ish feel, not
surprising considering that the script is by two of the regular writers from
THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW and the movie was directed by Alan Rafkin, who directed
a ton of sitcom episodes. Also showing up briefly is poor old Ed Faulkner, who
appeared what seems like hundreds of Westerns, usually getting killed after two
or three minutes of screen time and half a dozen lines of dialogue.
Clearly, Don Knotts is no Bob Hope and THE SHAKIEST GUN IN THE WEST is nowhere
near as good as THE PALEFACE, but I still had fun watching it and am glad I
finally saw it. I probably would have enjoyed it more, though, if I'd seen it
at the Eagle Drive-In in 1968.
A couple of years have passed since the events that
took place in BLOODY ARIZONA, the first of a quartet of related novels
featuring Yakima Henry, the popular Western adventure character created by
Frank Leslie (who we all know is really our old friend Mean Pete Brandvold).
The town of Apache Springs has been rebuilt after much of it was burned down by
outlaws, and in fact the settlement is booming. Yakima has settled into the
marshal's job, and his deputy is still the old outlaw known as the Rio Grande
Kid. He's also settled into a relationship with Julia Taggart, the beautiful
widow of the former marshal and the daughter of mining magnate Hugh Kosgrove.
Julia isn't Kosgrove's only daughter, however. Julia has a younger sister, Emma
(the wildcat of the title), who has also been romantically involved with Yakima
in the past and clearly would like to be again. She plays a part in it when
Yakima discovers an ancient mission hidden in the badlands that contains a
treasure which may be cursed. There's also a potential robbery complicating
things, as well as various shootouts and domestic problems.
Yakima Henry is a fine protagonist, and once again Brandvold's gritty,
superlative action sequences dominate the book. There's just nobody better at
it in the business today. Fast-paced and highly entertaining, WILDCAT OF THE
SIERRA ESTRADA is another winner and gets a definite recommendation from me.
Okay, now that's a gruesome cover. I actually had this issue years ago and I'm pretty sure I read the Park Avenue Hunt Club story because I really liked that series by Judson Philips, but I don't remember any of the others. There are plenty of good authors in this issue, too: H. Bedford-Jones, Fred MacIsaac, Richard Sale, Anthony Rud, and George A. Starbird. Mostly, though, I remember that gory cover.
That's a pretty good cover, and the complete book in this issue of COMPLETE WESTERN BOOK MAGAZINE is "The Morgan Trail", a Hashknife Hartley novel by W.C. Tuttle, so you know you can't go wrong with that. Plus a couple of back-up short stories by Samuel Taylor and Lemuel de Bra. I think I have the book version of THE MORGAN TRAIL somewhere around here. Maybe I'll hunt it up.
During the mid-to-late Forties, Erle Stanley Gardner wrote
three short novels about Sheriff Bill Eldon, whose bailiwick is the small
California city of Rockville. These stories originally appeared in the slick
magazine THE COUNTRY GENTLEMAN. The first two, "The Clue of the Runaway
Blonde" and "The Clue of the Hungry Horse", were collected in a
volume entitled TWO CLUES and then later reprinted in paperback. The third and final story in the series, "The Clue of
the Screaming Woman", has been reprinted only in an Ellery Queen
anthology, as far as I can determine.
Sheriff Bill Eldon is getting on in age (he's 70) and has been in office for a
long time. He has some political enemies in the county, including the district
attorney and other prominent citizens of Rockville, who would like to ease him
out of his job and make a younger man sheriff. Their candidate is Undersheriff
George Quinlan, and it's pretty obvious they believe Quinlan will be more
easily controlled than Eldon, who's pretty set in his ways. Eldon doesn't know
much about scientific criminal investigation, but he's a keen observer of human
nature and relies on that to solve crimes.
In "The Clue of the Runaway Blonde", he's confronted with what seems
like an impossible murder. A young woman has been stabbed to death, and her
body is discovered in the middle of a freshly plowed field with no footprints
around her. Eldon has to figure out not only who killed her but how her body
got there and how the murderer got away without leaving any prints. That
investigation is complicated by the above-mentioned political enemies, domestic
turmoil in George Quinlan's family, the arrival of an arrogant "consulting
criminologist" brought in by the district attorney, and a visit from
Eldon's meddling, acid-tongued sister-in-law. Throw in evidence tampering,
young love, and a secret that goes back into the past. Eldon shrewdly deals
with all of it before coming up with a logical, fairly clued solution that
proves he was one step ahead of the other characters and two steps ahead of the
reader all along.
"The Clue of the Hungry Horse" finds Eldon investigating the death of
a mysterious young woman who appears to have been kicked fatally by a horse. Of
course we know it's not going to turn out to be an accident at all, but murder.
Eldon is still under pressure from his political enemies, and this time he has
a rich businessman from Los Angeles against him, too. There's a romantic
triangle to sort out, too, along with planted evidence and a situation that
makes it look very much like Eldon helped a suspected murderer to escape. But
once again he gets to the bottom of everything against seemingly insurmountable
odds. I don't think the solution to this one hangs together quite as well as in
the other story, but it's still a good solid puzzle mystery.
I really enjoyed these two yarns, and one of the biggest reasons I did is
Gardner's simple, straight-ahead prose. He's a little more descriptive in these
than he is in most of the Perry Mason novels, but still, no one's ever going to
accuse him of being a fancy writer. But man, can he tell a story. Sometimes
that's just what you want. Now I have to hunt up that third Bill Eldon novella!
Six months after a catastrophic solar flare cracks the
sky and bathes Earth in high radiation, killing much of the population and
destroying most of humanity’s technology, the starving crew of the USS
Colorado, a fleet ballistic missile submarine, is forced to surface and send a
party ashore to forage for food. But instead of food, the sailors find a town
in shambles, home after home filled with death, disease, high radiation, and
bands of evil, violent men. Instead of food, the sailors discover the last thing
they thought they would find—forbidden love.
Struggling with his Christian values and his desire to obey Navy regulations
about fraternizing, Walter Jacks is blindsided by his own heart when he
realizes he is falling deeply in love with smart and extraordinarily beautiful
Seaman Sharon Parkers. The shore party’s mission, and Jacks’s grasp of reality,
are further complicated when they find a mysterious young girl amoung the
ruins—an adorable child with astonishing supernatural abilities.
While fighting to protect his shipmates, as well as his spiritual survival, in
a dying world, Jacks is forced to face the question: Is the Bible true? If
God’s Word is true, then where in the prophesy does His reality appear?
IN A FLASH: UP FROM THE DEEP is a riveting post-apocalyptic military thriller,
the first in a series of truly epic scope from acclaimed author David L.
Full disclosure: I edited this novel, Livia published it, and the author is her cousin. But you know how I love a book with a distinctive voice, and this one sure has it. A credible post-apocalyptic scenario, accurate military background, tons of gritty, well-written firefights, very human characters, a little bit of sex, and thought-provoking theological discussions. Where else are you going to find all that? Plus there's enough groundwork laid to indicate that this is just the beginning of a much bigger story, and I'm eager to read the sequels. So yes, I'm involved with this one professionally, but it's also still one of the best books I've read so far this year.
Livia's on a Netflix quest to find comedies we haven't seen,
and this is one of 'em. I'm not sure how we missed it back in 1990, when we
watched almost everything that came out, but it was new to us and fairly
Dennis Hopper plays a Sixties radical who's been on the run from the law for
twenty years. When he's finally arrested, he's turned over to a young FBI agent
(Kiefer Sutherland, looking like he's about fifteen years old and playing
dress-up in his dad's suit) for transport from San Francisco to Spokane to
stand trial. Complications and hijinks ensue, unlikely friendships are formed,
secrets are revealed, and yes, everybody learns lessons. Along the way there
are some decent action scenes, a good supporting cast including Carol Kane, Michael McKean, and
Paul Dooley, and a good soundtrack of Sixties music. Oh, and the subtle and
not-so-subtle EASY RIDER jokes, can't forget them. (I actually like EASY RIDER
quite a bit, if only for the fact that it inspired those iconic issues of GREEN
LANTERN/GREEN ARROW by Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams.) Anyway, FLASHBACK is a
decent action/buddy/road comedy and I had an okay time watching it.
Another fine Norman Saunders cover graces this issue of SUPER SCIENCE STORIES. Inside are stories by Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, A.E. van Vogt, John D. MacDonald, Raymond Z. Gallun, Robert Arthur, and Neil R. Jones. I've read and enjoyed stories by all of them, although I haven't read much by van Vogt, Gallun, or Jones. You don't hear that much about Popular Publications' SF pulps, but this looks like a very good issue.
Another excellent Tom Lovell cover featuring an angry, gun-totin' redhead on this issue of ACE-HIGH WESTERN MAGAZINE. And those story titles! "Wagon Train of the Damned". "A Gringo Rides to Hell". I want to read those right now. (If I actually owned this issue, I would.) A great line-up of authors, too: Luke Short, Walt Coburn, Harry F. Olmsted, Cliff Farrell, and John. G. Pearsol. Looks like a great issue all the way around.
I know Robert Turner's name as the author of scores of
stories (mostly mysteries) for the pulps and digests from the Forties through
the Seventies. He also wrote a couple of early Ace Double mystery novels, THE
TOBACCO AUCTION MURDERS and THE GIRL IN THE COP'S POCKET, copies of which I
used to have but never read. He was also an editor and literary agent at
various times in his career.
So when I came across a Kindle edition of this little book of Turner's from
1948, I grabbed it. I'm always interested in reading about the pulps
specifically and writing in general, and given Turner's career (which was
really just getting started good at this point), he knew what he was talking
His main point is that rules don't matter as much in writing as making your
stories entertaining, and you entertain your readers by making them feel an
emotional response. After establishing that, Turner discusses how to make plot,
characterization, setting, and dialogue all serve that end. PULP FICTION is not
a dry how-to book, though. Turner gets his arguments across in a fast, breezy,
often funny way, just like his fiction. This is a very entertaining book, as
well as educational.
There's also a section about how the editorial process of pulp magazines
worked. Not really anything there I didn't already know, but again, Turner
tells it in a light-hearted fashion that easily kept me reading.
Some of the advice in PULP FICTION would be considered old-fashioned and not
the way you'd want to do things today. I grew up reading the pulps and what are
now considered vintage paperbacks (they were just paperbacks then), many of
which were either reprints from the pulps or written by pulp authors who moved
into paperbacks when their original market dried up. So I'm pretty much in
agreement with most of what Turner has to say. I've always aimed to be more of
an entertaining storyteller than anything else. I like to think that I've never
stopped learning, so I read this book with great interest and believe I
picked up some useful things. I also had a great time reading it. Which is kind
of the point, isn't it?
(The material in this post originally appeared in somewhat different form on April 24, 2008 and May 27, 2008.)
I love the old Ace Doubles. The Westerns and the
science fiction doubles were fairly common in this area when I was a kid, and I
read a bunch of them. But for some reason I never saw any of the mystery
doubles until 1981, when I came across a couple of shelves of them in a junk
store. Needless to say, I grabbed them all.
There have been efforts to revive the Ace double novel format over the years,
but the Hard Case Crime release of Robert Bloch’s SHOOTING STAR and SPIDERWEB
may be the most successful yet. Of course, both of these novels were actually
first published as Ace Doubles, although not back to back with each other.
The narrator of SHOOTING STAR is Mark Clayburn, a Hollywood literary
agent/private eye. I don’t think I’ve ever come across that particular
combination before, and it makes Clayburn different from other private eyes who
specialize in cases involving the movie industry, such as W.T. Ballard’s Bill
Lennox and Robert Leslie Bellem’s Dan Turner. Bloch’s familiarity with the pulp
magazine markets gives this element of the novel a welcome touch of realism.
There’s also a little tuckerizing going on, for example an undertaker named
Hamilton Brackett. And the whole thing is told in an appealingly breezy,
Unfortunately the plot, which involves Clayburn trying to find out who murdered
a cowboy movie star so that the producer who hires him can sell the dead star’s
old movies to television (shades of Hopalong Cassidy), never develops into
anything more than a very generic private eye plot. I kept waiting for Bloch to
come up with a twist on a par with making his hero a literary agent as well as
a detective, but that never happens. The writing is smooth and Mark Clayburn is
a likable character, but the other characters never came alive for me. SHOOTING
STAR isn’t a bad book, and I enjoyed reading it, but it’s certainly a minor
entry among Bloch’s novels.
SPIDERWEB is the other half of the Robert Bloch double from Hard Case
Crime. I enjoyed SHOOTING STAR, but SPIDERWEB is a darker, better book,
The narrator is Eddie Haines, a radio announcer from the Midwest who heads to
Hollywood in the early Fifties with the intention of being a success as a TV
show producer, or an announcer if he can’t sell his pitch for a TV series. Of
course, neither of those goals works out, and he’s on the verge of killing
himself in despair when he meets Professor Otto Hermann, a “psychological
consultant” to the movie community who’s actually a swindler and conman.
Hermann recruits Eddie to join his group of henchmen and gives him a new
identity as the author of a successful self-help book. Eddie realizes that the
professor is a crook and that he’s turning into a crook himself, but everything
still goes along fine until the professor decides to target a state senator for
blackmail and use the senator’s niece as part of the plot. It just so happens
that Eddie has fallen in love with the niece . . .
In noirish fashion, things get worse from there, as Eddie tries to do the right
thing but it won’t quite seem to work out. Bloch keeps the story perking right
along, but under the smooth prose and snappy patter is a pretty bleak look at
Southern California and gullible humanity itself. SPIDERWEB is a fine novel,
and Hard Case Crime has done a good thing by bringing it back into print.
I'd never heard of this movie that came out a couple of
years ago until Livia came across it while looking for comedies. The premise is
pretty ridiculous: a top-secret, quasi-governmental program takes orphans and
trains them from childhood to be assassins and secret agents. One of these
agents, a teenage girl played by Hailee Steinfeld, fakes her own death during a
mission to get out of the program, adopts a new identity as a foreign exchange
student, and enrolls in a suburban high school, only to find that it's tougher
than the world of international espionage. In order to prepare for this, she
approaches it like a mission and "gathers intel", which consists of
watching a bunch of teen romantic comedy movies. Misunderstandings and hijinks
ensue, until her past eventually catches up to her in the form of a vicious
arms dealer (Jessica Alba) who wants to kill her.
So yeah, it's all pretty silly . . . but the movie plays it pretty straight,
and if you buy into the premise, BARELY LETHAL is a lightweight but fairly
entertaining little action comedy. We've watched a lot of teen romantic comedies over
the years, and this movie does a pretty good job of having fun with the
stereotypes. The cast, which includes Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark on GAME OF
THRONES) as a rival agent and Samuel L. Jackson as the head of the training
program, is okay. Not a great film, but I enjoyed watching it and stayed awake
the whole time, which says something for it.
I've read reprints of quite a few Phantom Detective novels but have owned only a few issues of the actual pulp over the years. This is one of them, although I don't have a copy at the moment. I'm not sure who the actual author of "The Phantom Hits Murder Steel" is, either, but I recall it being a pretty good story. Other authors in this issue are Ted Coughlan and Ray Cummings. This series isn't as highly regarded as some, and it can be inconsistent because so many different writers contributed Phantom novels, but I enjoyed the ones I've read.
The hat, the cowhide vest, and the pose of the cowboy on this cover all make me think of the great Yakima Canutt. I don't know who did the art, but I like it. Inside this issue of WESTERN STORY, Frank Richardson Pierce and Bennett Foster are the best-known authors. They're joined by James W. Routh, whose name I recognize from various issues of RANCH ROMANCES, Ray Humphreys, who wrote mostly humorous Westerns, and a few other authors whose names don't ring a bell at all. UPDATE: According to Walker Martin, the artwork on this cover is by Walter Haskell Hinton. Thanks, Walker!
Several regular readers of this blog have been discussing
Harold Lamb and his work, which prompted me to read something else by him. In
the past I've read the novels DURANDEL and MARCHING SANDS and a few short
stories, but it's been a while since I read anything else by Lamb. I started
with one of his short novels, THE GRAND CHAM, which first appeared complete in
the July 1, 1921 issue of the iconic pulp ADVENTURE.
This one opens in the year 1394, with Irish-French mariner Michael Bearn a
prisoner of the Moslem potentate Bayezid, also known as the Thunderbolt, who is
well on his way to conquering all of central Asia and parts of Europe. Although
crippled by torture carried out at Bayezid's orders, Michael escapes and winds
up back in Venice, where he joins a trade expedition to the fabled city of
Cathay, which is ruled by a monarch known as the Grand Cham, or Khan. One of
Michael's enemies is also part of the expedition, so treachery and danger
ensue, and eventually they all wind up as prisoners of the Mongol warlord
Tamerlane, who is actually the Grand Cham. There is no city of Cathay, only the
great tent settlement of Tamerlane's horde. And as it turns out, an epic battle
is shaping up between Tamerlane's forces and those of Bayezid, the man Michael
Bearn seeks to destroy to avenge what was done to him.
If THE GRAND CHAM was a Fifties movie, it would be three hours long, have a
cast of tens of thousands, and be directed by Cecil B. DeMille, that's how epic
it is. As a novel, though, Lamb manages to pack a lot of story into a
relatively short length. The characters are excellent. Michael Bearn is a
dogged and stalwart protagonist, if a bit colorless. His sidekick, a former
jester named Bembo, though, is great. Brave, funny, a little tragic, he really
does a lot to liven up the story. The villains are properly despicable, and
Lamb makes the historical character Tamerlane come alive.
I'll admit that I find Lamb's style a little dry at times, but there are still
some fine scenes that make THE GRAND CHAM a good adventure yarn in the classic
style. I definitely enjoyed it enough to read more by him, and next up is
probably the short novel THE MAKING OF THE MORNING STAR, which is generally
regarded as one of his best.
Who is Frank Carson? A paid assassin? A killer for
hire? Or just a tough trouble shooter for rent? Hero or villain? You decide.
Some say he's the kind of guy you call for a job so dirty or so dangerous
nobody else will touch it. He knows danger and what can happen to people in the
noir world of Tulon in the 22nd Century. There's nobody tougher or smarter.
Frank Carson. John M. Whalen's THIS RAY GUN FOR HIRE . . . AND OTHER TALES.
In addition to the five sci-fi noir stories featuring Frank Carson, this
collection includes four tales about some of the other characters who lived in
the Tulon universe Whalen first created for the novel, THE BIG SHUTDOWN.
There's plenty of space opera action and sci-fi noir intrigue in THIS RAY GUN
FOR HIRE ...AND OTHER TALES.
A mid-air shootout. I like this cover by Jerome Rozen. There are some good authors in this issue of BATTLE STORIES, too: Raoul Whitfield, Frederick C. Painton, J.R. Johnston, Harold F. Cruickshank, and Arthur Guy Empey, among others.
This is a pulp
that I own and read recently. The scan is of my copy, which I try to do when possible.
The Jim Hatfield novel in this issue, "Guns Across the River", was
written by Peter Germano under the Jackson Cole house-name. It's a cattleman
vs. sheepherders yarn, but Germano puts a lot more plot that that into the
story. In fact, there are almost too many characters and too much plot for a
novel that runs maybe 40,000 words. Hatfield is sent to Peaceful Valley to stop
a bloody range war before it breaks out, but he's barely gotten there when he
finds a dead body and then a would-be killer takes a shot at him. There's a weak
sheriff, a stubborn deputy, a cattle baron, the cattle baron's two beautiful
daughters, a former schoolteacher turned gunslinger, a kidnapped youngster, an
old-timer who's supposed to be dead but apparently isn't, a blustering lawyer
who seems to have been inspired by W.C. Fields (his name is H. Goldwyn Pepper),
and a West Texas winter storm. The action hardly ever slows down for more than
a few paragraphs.
Germano was the most hard-boiled and realistic of the Hatfield authors, and he
was also capable of the occasional touch of poetry in his work. I was a little
worried that he had crammed too much into this story, but he maintained control
over the plot and I wound up liking it a great deal. The somewhat bittersweet
ending is very effective. Germano rewrote and expanded this into the novel WAR
IN PEACEFUL VALLEY, which was published three years later as half of an Ace
Double under his usual Barry Cord pseudonym. Texas Ranger Jim Hatfield becomes
Deputy U.S. Marshal Matt Vickers, but everything else appears to be pretty much
the same. I have this book but haven't read it, and I probably won't, now that
I've read and enjoyed the original version.
George Roulston is an author I'm not familiar with. He appears to have
published only half a dozen stories in the mid-Fifties. But his story in this
issue, "Moment of Violence", is a good one. It's about an ex-convict
returning to his home town after serving ten years for a stagecoach robbery in
which the driver was killed. It was the convict's partner who actually pulled
the trigger, but he never revealed who that was (although it's no secret from
the reader). The reactions his return provokes lead to more violence. There's
enough plot here for a novel, the sort that Gold Medal published during that
era, but Roulston does a good job boiling it down to a short story.
H.G. Ashburn is another author unknown to me who published a few stories in the
mid-Fifties. "Miguel's Private Miracle" is about scalphunters who
show up at a small mission and try to terrorize the priest in revealing the
hiding place of a group of Indian women and children. It's more about the
nature of religious faith than anything else, making it a little offbeat for a
Western pulp, but it's well-written and I enjoyed it.
The parade of unknown-to-me authors continues with Pat Pfeifer, another whose
work appears to be confined to a handful of stories in the mid-Fifties.
"Time Enough to Die" is about the showdown between a marshal and two
brothers who want to either kill him or run him out of town. The marshal's
newly hired deputy is a former friend of one of the brothers, so the lawman
doesn't know if he's really facing two enemies, or three. Everything plays out
like you'd expect it to, but the writing is good enough that it makes for an
Even more obscure is Cameron Roosevelt, who has only two stories listed in the
Fictionmags Index, "Showdown at Jericho" in this issue, and a story
in an issue of 2-GUN WESTERN a couple of months later. "Showdown at
Jericho" is a revenge tale, with the protagonist tracking down the man who
stole both his wife and his money. The inevitable gunfight is resolved in a
fairly clever manner, but what sets this story apart is its noirish tone and
some excellent writing. This one is good enough that it's hard to believe
Roosevelt sold only one other story, which makes me wonder if the name is a pseudonym
for another, more well-known writer.
Finally we come to an author I've heard of, John Jo Carpenter, who was really
John Reese. Reese used the Carpenter pseudonym for scores of stories in various
Western pulps during the Forties and Fifties, while writing mystery and slick
magazine stories under his real name. Later he wrote hardback and paperback
Western novels as John Reese, a couple of which I've read and remember enjoying.
His story in this issue, "The Reluctant Hangman", is a real oddity
for a Western pulp in that there's no action in it at all. Instead it's a tale
of psychological turmoil as a young deputy struggles with having to carry out a
murderer's hanging because the sheriff is laid up with a heart attack. It's a
gripping, very well-written story and makes me think I need to read more by
Reese as John Jo Carpenter.
Eric Allen is another familiar name. He wrote a number of paperback Westerns,
including a series set in a town called Whiskey Smith. I've never read any of
them, but his novelette that wraps up this issue, "Death on the
Chaco", is a good one, if a little by-the-numbers when it comes to the
plot. It's a yarn about a young man who comes home to the ranch he just inherited
from his murdered uncle, only find himself caught up in a brewing range war
with a group of sodbusters. The plot twists in this one are pretty obvious, but
Allen writes in a nice, easygoing style and I enjoyed the story.
There are also a few columns and features, but as usual I just skimmed them. My
interest is in the fiction, and in that respect, this is an above-average
issue. There's not a bad story in the bunch, and three of them—the Hatfield
novel and the stories by Cameron Roosevelt and John Reese—are excellent. The
quality of TEXAS RANGERS remained high right up until its end a couple of years
later, and if you happen to have a copy of this issue on your shelves, it's
well worth reading.
What seems to be yet another new author comes on board
this series with KI-GOR—AND THE FORBIDDEN MOUNTAIN, originally published in the
Spring 1940 issue of JUNGLE STORIES. At first it appears that whoever wrote
this novel never read the previous one, since the continuity that marked the
first four stories is missing. Eventually, there are some references back to
the previous novel, including the reappearance of one of the villains, which
makes me wonder if the author of this one read the earlier story while he was
in the middle of writing. There's a definite change in tone about halfway
through KI-GOR—AND THE FORBIDDEN MOUNTAIN.
The biggest difference, though, between this novel and the previous ones is the
characterization of Helene Vaughn, the beautiful redhead who shares Ki-Gor's
adventures. In the earlier novels, Helene is a real bad-ass, picking up a rifle
or a Tommy gun and fighting the bad guys right alongside the Lord of the
Jungle. In this book, she's ditzy and incompetent almost all the way through,
although she does quite a bit to save the day in the late going. She's
certainly not the Helene the reader has come to know in the first four novels.
All that said, KI-GOR—AND THE FORBIDDEN MOUNTAIN does have some things going
for it. The writing is reasonably good, the action scenes are okay, and as a
lost race novel, it definitely shows a lot of Edgar Rice Burroughs influence.
That lost race lives on top of a mysterious flat-topped mountain surrounded by
a sinister force that kills invisibly, which leads the natives in the area to
dub it the Invisible Death. (Well, what else would you call it?)
This is the weakest of the novels so far, an uneasy mixture of the goofiness of
the early stories with the more hardboiled realism of KI-GOR—AND THE SECRET
LEGIONS OF SIMBA. I enjoyed it enough to keep reading and I hope the next novel
will pick up the pace again.
Peter Brandvold, writing as Frank Leslie, brings back his
popular character Yakima Henry in BLOODY ARIZONA, the first of four connected
novels to feature the character. This one opens with the drifting half-breed
gunfighter in jail, but before the book is over, he'll have pinned on a
lawman's badge and set out to avenge a murderous raid on the settlement of
Apache Springs in Arizona Territory. Along the way there's some domestic drama
with a couple of beautiful sisters and an encounter with a washed-up old outlaw
called the Rio Grande Kid who proves to be a surprisingly effective sidekick.
As always with Brandvold's work, the action scenes are superb and the setting
is rendered vividly and effectively. Yakima Henry is a fine character (every
time I read one of Brandvold's books, I think the protagonist is my favorite of
his characters—until I read the next one and change my mind), and the Rio
Grande Kid shamelessly steals every scene he's in. Brandvold is one of the most
purely entertaining writers in the business today, and BLOODY ARIZONA is
another great tale well told. Highly recommended.
Pulp covers don't get more lurid than in the Weird Menace genre, and this one from the August 1939 issue of TERROR TALES raises that luridness to new levels. But you would have spotted it right away on the newsstand, wouldn't you? Inside are stories by stories by pulp stalwarts Wyatt Blassingame, Russell Gray (who was really Bruno Fischer), and Ray Cummings, writing under his own name and in collaboration with his daughter Gabrielle as Gabriel Wilson.
Robert Stanley is probably best known for his paperback covers, but he did a number of pulp covers, too. I really like this one for WILD WEST WEEKLY. The colors are very eye-catching. So is that title, "The Devil's Calling Card", the lead novel by Chuck Martin, who also wrote as Charles M. Martin. Elsewhere in the issue is a Sonny Tabor yarn by Paul S. Powers writing as Ward M. Stevens, plus an installment of the serial "Don Hurricane" by Brad Buckner (our ol' pard Ed Earl Repp) and stories by J. Allan Dunn (writing as John B. Strong) and S. Omar Barker. Looks like a fine all-around issue.
JUST THE WAY IT IS was published originally in 1944 under
the pseudonym Raymond Marshall, although it's been reprinted several times as
by James Hadley Chase, the much more famous pen-name of its author, Rene
Raymond. It appears again under the Chase name in a recent double volume from
Stark House, along with BLONDE'S REQUIEM, another novel first published as by
Chase (we might as well call him that) was an English author who specialized in
crime and mystery novels set in the United States. In JUST THE WAY IT IS, the
story revolves around two neighboring small cities, Bentonville and Fairview,
as well as a slum area outside Fairview known as Pinder's End. Bentonville's
criminal underworld is controlled by a mysterious mastermind named Vardis
Spade, but nobody knows who Spade really is or what he looks like. Clare
Russell, a newspaper reporter, stumbles across the fact that a low-level
criminal has bought Pinder's End. Clare's boyfriend's best friend is a gambler
named Harry Duke, who is widely reputed to be a dangerous, shady character.
Harry Duke rents an office from poolroom owner Paul Schultz, who has a
beautiful mistress called Lorelli and a driver/gunman named Joe. All of these
people, and assorted others, are vying to find out what suddenly makes Pinder's
End so valuable and get their hands on whatever it is, no matter what it takes,
including double-crossing, kidnapping, and murder.
The plot of this novel is actually pretty simple once you get to the core of
it, but with all the conniving characters running around drinking, smoking, and
killing each other, Chase makes it seem complicated. It's all as hardboiled as
can be, with lots of snappy banter and terse action. I've read quite a few
James Hadley Chase books, and they're always fast-moving and entertaining. JUST
THE WAY IT IS fits that description very well. I had a fine time reading it. In
my opinion, Chase never really succeeds in sounding like an American—he still
sounds like an Englishman trying to sound like an American—but hey, if I was
trying to write crime novels set in 1940s England, I probably wouldn't get it
completely right, either. What he succeeds at is spinning good yarns, and if
that's what you're looking for, Stark House has published quite a few of his
novels. I recommend any or all of them.
I'd never heard
of this Jackie Chan movie until Livia came across it. The title is rather
deceptive, since the movie isn't about skiptracers at all. Chan is a police
detective in Hong Kong who's trying to bring down a drug kingpin known as the
Matador. When his partner is killed in that effort, Chan becomes obsessed with
the case. (Stop me if you've heard this plot before. On the other hand, don't,
because then there's no post.) Johnny Knoxville plays an American gambler/con
man who has the members of a Russian crime family after him. He stumbles across
some information connected to the case Chan is working on. So they have to team
up and work together to solve both problems, and that winds up with them
getting lost in Mongolia before they finally get back to Hong Kong. Along the
way there are wisecracks, crazy, death-defying stunts, and some spectacular
This action/buddy comedy/road movie is really by the numbers, but Jackie Chan
is always likeable and fun to watch. Johnny Knoxville doesn't annoy me as much
as he does some people (faint praise, I know). And the script has a few over-the-top
goofy moments that make the movie better than it could have been. SKIPTRACE
isn't in the upper ranks of Jackie Chan movies, but it is a good popcorn movie,
which is probably all it ever set out to be.
That cover is by Earle Bergey. (Was there ever any doubt?) I know his work was controversial at the time, but dang, I like his covers. This issue of THRILLING WONDER STORIES contains stories by Henry Kuttner, Bryce Walton, George O. Smith, L. Sprague de Camp, and Will F. Jenkins twice, once under his most famous pseudonym Murray Leinster and once as William Fitzgerald. My old mentor Sam Merwin Jr. was the editor. Good stuff.
That's a nice atmospheric cover by H.W. Scott on this issue of MAX BRAND'S WESTERN MAGAZINE, and only the Max Brand story appears to be a reprint (from the January 2, 1937 issue of ARGOSY). The other authors in this issue include H.A. DeRosso, George C. Appell, Gordon D. Shirreffs, Fred Grove, and the house-name Bart Cassidy. That's a good bunch of writers.
Kid Calvert is the only son of outlaw Gunner Calvert and was
raised by Gunner and his gang, known as the Calvert Horde. Also in the gang are
massive Swede Andersen, also known as The Giant, fancy-dressed gambler Dandy
McLain, and assorted other supporting characters. Most of the men in the gang
wound up on the wrong side of the law through bad luck or other mitigating
circumstances, and Gunner holds them to a strict moral code. They're good guy
outlaws, much like Robin Hood and his Merry Men, and they always avoid clashing
with honest lawmen, saving their bullets for the crooked star packers.
But then, while the Calvert Horde is trying to save the herd of a small rancher
from minions of the local cattle baron, both Gunner Calvert and Sheriff Mart
Reynolds are mortally wounded in the resulting gun battle. Gunner and Reynolds
have always respected each other and managed to dodge this tragic confrontation
until now, but with both of them dead, The Kid has to take over the gang and
finds himself facing the new sheriff . . . who happens to be Mart Reynolds'
beautiful, gun-toting daughter Terry.
That's the set-up of OWL-HOOT HORDE, the lead novel in the very first issue of
the pulp WESTERN ACES. This magazine was intended at first to be a Western
character pulp, with Kid Calvert headlining every issue in a novel written by
veteran pulpster Lawrence A. Keating under the house-name Clint Douglas. But
publisher A.A. Wyn changed his mind and WESTERN ACES became a standard Western
pulp, although it did feature a number of series characters, most notably L.L.
Foreman's Preacher Devlin, who eventually moved over to WESTERN STORY. There
were four more Kid Calvert novels in WESTERN ACES, although they were scattered
out over the next year and written by a different author, Phil Richards. Will
Murray explains all this in detail in his excellent introduction to a volume
from Altus Press that reprints all five Kid Calvert yarns.
I found OWL-HOOT HORDE to be a pretty entertaining debut to the series. I think
it's the first thing I've read by Lawrence A. Keating, who wrote one of the
Masked Rider novels and a lot of other stories for various Western pulps. His
style is a little clunky in places, but his action scenes are good and he
provides some nice dramatic moments. The inevitable ill-fated romance between
The Kid and Terry Reynolds is well-handled. There's nothing ground-breaking
here, just good solid pulp storytelling. I'll be reading the other Kid Calvert
novels over the coming months and reporting back on them.
BELOW THE BORDER
is one of the entries in the Rough Riders series of B-Westerns starring
Buck Jones, Colonel Tim McCoy, and Raymond Hatton as a trio of U.S. marshals
who work undercover. In this one they’re after a gang of rustlers and jewel
thieves who have a hideout just across the Mexican border from Arizona. The
plot is standard stuff, but as always, the chemistry between the three heroes
is good and the movie also benefits from the presence of veteran heavies Roy
Barcroft, Charles King, and Bud Osborne. There’s a pretty good shootout in this
one near the end between Buck Jones and Charles King.
(This post first appeared in different form on January 1, 2010.)
A deadly nerve
agent . . . one man standing between peace and Armageddon . . .
CIA agent Scott Stiletto is one of the best. When a derivative of sarin gas
thought destroyed shows up on the open market, Scott races to keep the chemical
weapon out of enemy hands. The Agency's only lead is a terrorist named Liam
Miller, and Stiletto plans a simple snatch-and-grab that quickly lands Miller
in U.S. custody. The rendition soon turns into disaster.
Another terrorist group snatches Miller in a blinding fast raid that leaves
four agents dead and Stiletto wounded. Worse, the new players—calling
themselves the New World Revolutionary Front—are the ones planning to buy the
sarin gas. They use Miller to plant a false trail for the CIA to follow while
their deadly plan comes to fruition.
The NWRF doesn't count on Miller having a few tricks up his sleeve, or
Stiletto's relentless determination to complete his mission. And once Miller
gets away and the two team-up to fight their common enemy, the NWRF faces the
wrath of two men who are deadlier together than they are separately.
I read this over the weekend and thoroughly enjoyed it. Very much influenced by Nick Carter, Mack Bolan, and the other classic men's adventure paperback heroes, but it has a contemporary sensibility, too. Best of all, unlike most modern thrillers, it's not overwritten and bloated but lean and fast-paced instead, an exciting tale told in a hardboiled style. Great fun, and it gets a high recommendation from me. I'm looking forward to the next one in the series.
With a cover as lurid as this one by George Rozen, shouldn't the stories in this issue of THRILLING DETECTIVE have titles with a little more, I don't know, pizzazz than "Death Drives a Bus" and "Murder Sets the Stage"? The titles of the other stories aren't much snappier: "Eye-Witness Testimony", "The Motive Goes Round and Round", "A Toast to Victory". "Murder Meat" and "Ashes of Hate" are a little better, but not much. The authors are pretty solid, though: Fredric Brown, W.T. Ballard, Norman A. Daniels, and James P. Webb, among others.
This is a pulp that I own and read recently. I don't
know who did the cover art, but it goes pretty well with "The Californy
Kid", the lead novel by Seven Anderton. Anderton was a prolific pulpster
who is almost completely forgotten today. My friend Richard Moore is a fan of
his work, but he's the only one I know. As far as I recall, I hadn't read
anything by Anderton until now, but I thought "The Californy Kid" was
a very good yarn. It's set in 1849, during the Gold Rush, and the title
protagonist is a young, falsely accused outlaw who finds himself involved in a
would-be uprising by the Californios, Mexican settlers who lived in California
for generations before it was taken over by the United States. There's plenty
of action and Anderton's writing is smooth and very effective. I definitely
need to read more by him.
R.S. Lerch is even more forgotten than Seven Anderton. Between the mid-Twenties
and 1953, he wrote a couple of hundred stories for the Western and detective
pulps under his own name and the pseudonym L.R. Sherman (his real name was
Roger Sherman Lerch), but only one novel that I can find any mention of, a
Western called THE GUN-DEVILS that appears to have been published only as an
Australian paperback. Whether that means Lerch was actually Australian, I have
no idea. But I've read several of his stories now and enjoyed all of them. His
novelette in this issue of DOUBLE-ACTION WESTERN, "Return to Hell",
is about a town-taming marshal who just wants to settle down, marry his
sweetheart, and become a rancher. But the girl won't marry him while he's still
wearing a badge, and a range hog is moving into the area with a bunch of cattle
and some hired guns. To support the cattle, he's going to have to take over
some of the smaller ranches, and he'll do it with fire and lead if he has to.
There's nothing original about this plot, but Lerch spins his yarn with enough
skill to make it enjoyable reading. He was a solid second-tier, or maybe
third-tier, writer who might have moved on to a good career as a paperbacker
during the Fifties had he not passed away in 1953.
Lauran Paine was a prolific writer for the Western pulps but even more prolific
as a novelist, authoring more than a thousand novels, many of them for British
publisher Robert Hale under a multitude of pen-names. But even though I have
maybe a dozen of his books on my shelves and numerous pulps with his stories in
them, I'd never read anything by him until now. His short story in this issue,
"Thunder River", is a standard range war yarn, with the small
ranchers clashing with the range hog from back east over water rights, and
while it's fairly well-written, I kept waiting for a twist that never came and
didn't find the characters particularly engaging. I still need to read one of
Paine's novels—I have friends who are fans of his work—but this story didn't
Nor did "Cattleman's Courage" by J.J. Mathews, an author I'm
unfamiliar with. This is a cattlemen vs. sheepherders yarn, and while I'm more
tolerant of stereotypical plots than just about anybody, they need something to
engage my attention. I didn't find that here and wound up skimming this one.
Then there's "Emancipation of Crow Dog" by Lon Williams, a
stand-alone by the author better known for his long-running series of
supernatural Westerns featuring Deputy Lee Winters. This one has the unusual
setting (for a Western pulp) of a Sioux Indian reservation in more modern
times, late 19th or early 20th Century, I'd say. The
reaction of a lot of modern readers would be to find it appallingly politically
incorrect, and most of the phony "redskin" dialect is sort of
cringe-inducing. However, the protagonist Crow Dog, who's doing his best to assimilate
to the reservation way of life, is a pretty interesting character, and Williams
sets up an intriguing conflict between the old ways and the new. Then,
unfortunately, he does almost nothing with it, as the story limps to a very
undramatic ending. A shame, because this could have been an excellent story.
There are also some assorted features and Old West history articles, but to be
honest, I just skimmed through them, too. I read pulps for the fiction, that's
So to sum up, this issue of DOUBLE-ACTION WESTERN is definitely a mixed bag.
The Seven Anderton story is excellent, and the one by R.S. Lerch is well worth
reading. The stories by Lauran Paine and Lon Williams are readable but could
have been better. The rest of the issue is forgettable. (The image is a photo
of the actual copy I read. I wasn't able to scan the cover this time.)
Davis Dresser was a busy author during the Thirties even
before he created one of the iconic fictional private eyes in Mike Shayne in
1939, turning out a number of mysteries and romances under assorted names.
LADIES OF CHANCE was written for the lending library publisher Godwin in 1936
under the pseudonym Anthony Scott, then reprinted in digest format in 1949 by
Novel Library. The protagonist/narrator Ed Barlow is a hardboiled, two-fisted
tabloid newspaper reporter who's come to Miami to bust wide open the story of a
gambling ring that's using crooked games to force respectable women into
prostitution by getting their IOUs for gambling losses and then blackmailing
them. To get the scoop, Barlow has to get close to several of the women
involved and insinuate himself into the gang, an effort that more than once
finds him getting hot and bothered with some dame or in danger of losing his
life to gangsters.
In some ways this novel is very much a dry run for the creation of Mike Shayne
a few years later. There's the Miami setting, with a lot of mentions of Flagler
Street and Biscayne Bay. Despite being a reporter, since he's undercover Ed
Barlow functions very much like a hardboiled private eye, and like Shayne, he's
usually two or three steps ahead of everyone else. He even has another reporter
who helps him out, like Tim Rourke in the Shayne novels. There's no buddy on
the police force like Will Gentry or an official nemesis like Peter Painter,
but there is a beautiful young woman named Lucy.
There are certainly some differences, too, though. Barlow is much more of a
heel than Shayne, who always followed a rough moral code. In some scenes,
Barlow is almost as unsympathetic as the crooks he's after. LADIES OF CHANCE
isn't as well plotted as the Shayne novels, either, and the big twist ending
won't come as a surprise to anyone. Dresser's usual smooth, fast-paced prose is
already on display, though. This book reads really fast and enjoyably. I liked
it quite a bit, and if you're a Mike Shayne fan it's well worth reading to see
an early prototype of the big redheaded shamus.
In fact, because of the Shayne connection, there's an ebook version of this
novel available under the Brett Halliday pseudonym, although it was never
published with that name on it until now. That doesn't change the fact that
LADIES OF CHANCE is a nice piece of sleazy, hardboiled fun.
I know William King primarily as an author for the Warhammer
and Warhammer 40,000 lines of epic fantasy and science fiction, although I
haven't read any of his work for them. But he's also written quite a bit in
universes of his own, including a sword-and-sorcery series about a
warrior/priest (a Guardian of the Dawn) named Kormak. The first book in this
series, STEALER OF FLESH, is a series of four linked novellas: "The Demon
Unleashed", "The Wolves of War", "The Flesh Stealer",
and "That Way Lies Death". In his notes on the collection, King
discusses how as a young man he was a reader and fan of the sword-and-sorcery
tales of Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, Michael Moorcock, and others,
especially the way so many of the stories by those authors were novellas
instead of the enormous doorstop trilogies and endless series that passes for
heroic fantasy these days. He set out to write something similar, and STEALER
OF FLESH is the result. I can certainly see the influence of those authors in
In the first story, "The Demon Unleashed", a nobleman takes Kormak
prisoner and uses his sword, which has some limited sorcerous abilities, to
free a demon known as a Ghul that has been trapped for centuries. Feeling at
least partially responsible for the Ghul being loosed on the world, Kormak
pursues it as it takes over various hosts and vows to destroy it. In "The
Wolves of War" he encounters werewolves being used as a military force.
"The Flesh Stealer" is set in the squalid criminal underworld of a
big city. "That Way Lies Death" takes Kormak and several companions
he's picked up along the way to a lost city in the desert for a final showdown
with the Ghul.
The world in which all this takes place seems to be based, not surprisingly, on
ancient Europe and Asia. King establishes some history in broad strokes and
sets up an eternal clash between the west, which worships the god of the sun,
and the east, which worships the gods of the moon. It's pretty easy to pick out
the analogs to our own world, but to give King credit, he never dwells much on
such things. They're just there as background to stories full of sorcery and
To be honest, this book could have used another copyediting pass. But I'm
willing to cut King some slack for that simply because these stories really are
throwbacks to the sword-and-sorcery yarns of an earlier era and are lean and
fast-moving instead of bloated and never-ending. I can easily imagine myself
sitting on my parents' front porch reading a Lancer paperback of this book, and
anything that can make me feel like that is well worth reading, as far as I'm
concerned. Hey, I can edit those typos in my head and just keep right on going.
King has written a number of full-length novels featuring Kormak, and I have
the next few already on my Kindle, ready to go. If you're a fan of old-school
sword-and-sorcery, STEALER OF FLESH is worth a try.