Here's a pretty good example of why the Spicy pulps were sometimes sold under the counter. Of course, I would have just bought it for the stories, which in this issue are by Robert Leslie Bellem (one under his name and one as by Jerome Severs Perry), Edwin Truett Long (one as by Cary Moran and the cover story as by Clint Morgan), Victor Rousseau (writing as Lew Merrill), Ken Cooper, Arthur Humbolt, Arthur Wallace, and William B. Rainey. The sexy redhead on the cover wouldn't have had anything to do with me buying the magazine. That's my story . . . Seriously, though, I do enjoy the fiction in the Spicy pulps. They're formulaic, sure, but they're still fast-moving, plot-driven yarns with plenty of action and a little humor. Just the thing I'm looking for, sometimes.
Nice atmospheric cover on this issue of BLUE RIBBON WESTERN. That looks like the work of H.W. Scott to me, but I'm not sure I'm right. Inside are stories by Archie Joscelyn, who I've found to be a pretty reliably entertaining Western author under that name as well as his pseudonyms Al Cody and Lynn Westland; Lee Floren, one of his yarns featuring Buck McKee, which are generally some of Floren's best work; and Joe Austell Small, a fairly prolific author of Western pulp yarns but best remembered as the long-time editor and publisher of the magazines TRUE WEST and FRONTIER TIMES.
read quite a few Western novels by Clifton Adams and enjoyed them all. NEVER
SAY NO TO A KILLER is the first of his handful of crime novels that I’ve read,
and it’s no surprise that I think it’s very good, too. Originally published
under the pseudonym Jonathan Gant as half of an Ace Double, it’s being
reprinted by Stark House Press as part of the excellent Black Gat Books line.
I’m getting lazy (and short on time), so here’s the publisher’s description:
When Roy Surratt busts out of jail, he only has two things going for him: faith that his former cellmate, John Venci, will keep his promise to help him stay clear of the cops, and the supreme confidence in his own intelligence. After all, Roy knows he's got what it takes to succeed. And no one had better get in his way. So it comes as some surprise that the person who meets him after his breakout isn't Venci, but Venci's wife, Dorris. He didn't figure on having to deal with a woman. But he soon finds out that Venci is dead, that Dorris is sitting on a sweet blackmail scheme, and that he can have this town in his back pocket if he can just stay cool enough to take Venci's place. But Roy doesn't figure on Pat Kelso, girlfriend of his first mark. He has no idea how quickly the best laid plans can unravel.
What really made this book work for me is the pace. Adams was a real master at
plotting his books so that one event flows naturally into another, and even
though NEVER SAY NO TO A KILLER isn’t non-stop action, there’s always something
happening to drive the narrative forward. Even when the protagonist stops now
and then to ponder about philosophy, there’s always the sense that more trouble
is lurking. This is a skillfully written book with a very effective air of
impending doom. The narrator may be fooling himself, but he’s not fooling us.
It’s hard to go wrong with a Western by Clifton Adams, and clearly that extends
to his crime novels as well. I think I have all of them, and I need to read
another one soon. I give this one a high recommendation.
The only thing Kate and J.D. Blaze had in mind when they
rode into the settlement of Unity, Utah, was celebrating their wedding
anniversary. But then J.D. is forced to kill a corrupt deputy in order to save
a woman’s life, and suddenly the Old West’s only husband-and-wife gunfighters
are plunged into a deadly mystery involving a sinister albino, missing men, and
a lost treasure in Spanish gold.
It’s action all the way as critically acclaimed author Ben Boulden returns with
another exciting installment in today’s top Adult Western series!
Also, Ben's first Blaze! novel, RED ROCK RAMPAGE, is currently on sale for a limited time, so you can pick up a copy of the ebook edition for only 99 cents.
Nice cover on this issue of DETECTIVE TALES. I think it might be by Tom Lovell, but that's just a guess on my part. No guess about the great group of authors inside, though: Norbert Davis, Cleve F. Adams, Philip Ketchum, Stewart Sterling, William R. Cox, Emile C. Tepperman, Ray Cummings, and Wyatt Blassingame. That's a bunch of top-notch talent.
I like the cover on this issue of .44 WESTERN, one of the long-running Western pulps from Popular Publications, and feel like I should know who the artist is, but I don't. He did a good job of conveying sheer desperation on the part of both men, though. Good covers make me want to write a story incorporating the scene, and this one certainly does. Inside the issue, there are stories by Wayne D. Overholser, Lee Floren, Ralph Yergen, M. Howard Lane, and several lesser known pulpsters. Update: That cover is by Robert Stanley. I knew it looked familiar. As many paperback covers as I've seen by Stanley, I should have recognized his work!
Pursued by Sheriff Terry Reynolds, who is both the girl
he loves and his most relentless enemy, noble outlaw Kid Calvert is shot and
wounded by Terry while he and Dandy McLain, another member of Calvert’s Horde,
are being pursued by a posse. Embittered by this, the Kid decides that if he’s
going to be harried and hunted as an owlhoot, even though he only breaks the
law to help people who need it, then he might as well start acting like a real
owlhoot. But before he can do this . . .
The Kid finds an abandoned baby! Terry is framed as a crooked sheriff and is
threatened by a lynch mob! A gang of rustlers led by the notorious bandido known as Brazito shoot up the
town! A hunchbacked saloon swamper becomes a kill-crazy gunslinger! Herds of
stolen cattle disappear into thin air!
Yes, it’s another crazed, breathless, over-the-top adventure of Kid Calvert and
Calvert’s Horde from Phil Richards. “The Hell-Born Clan” is the longest and
last and best of these breakneck yarns. It appeared in the August 1935 issue of
WESTERN ACES, after a four-month gap in the series since the previous story “Senorita
Death”. If you’re expecting some resolution since this is the final story, you
won’t get it, but you will get an incredible amount of action as guns blaze and
horses gallop almost constantly. Somehow in the midst of all that, Richards
manages to put together a fairly coherent and complicated mystery plot. Sure,
quite a bit of it depends on coincidence, and you’ll probably see the big twist
at the end coming, but as far as I’m concerned, he makes it all work.
Over and above that, what runs all the way through this series is the doomed,
epic love story between Kid Calvert and Terry Reynolds, the likes of which I
haven’t encountered in any other Western pulp—and I’ve read a bunch of them.
All the hard ridin’ and shootin’ is just window dressing for this tragic
romance. That’s what sets the Kid Calvert stories apart, and what makes the
collection of them from Altus Press one of the best books I’ve read this year.
At this late date, we’ll never know whether Richards was aware the series was
coming to an end, or if he assumed that the Kid would ride again. But I’m
really sorry there are no more of these to read. I hope the Kid and Terry finally
found some peace and happiness together . . . but I think it’s more likely they
died side by side, with guns blazing as they battled against evil-doers.
THE LONG COUNT is a fine new thriller by J.M. Gulvin, set in
Texas during the Sixties. Texas Ranger John Quarrie, who carries a pair of
Ruger Blackhawk revolvers and whose godfather was legendary Ranger Frank Hamer,
is called in to investigate two cases: the apparent suicide of an elderly World
War II veteran and a series of brutal murders carried out by a spree killer
working his way across northeast Texas. I don’t think it’s giving away too much
to say that eventually Quarrie’s investigation uncovers some surprising links
between those cases. Gulvin’s plot has plenty of twists and turns along the
Quarrie is a very likable protagonist, the single father of a ten-year-old son
who also winds up playing a part in the plot. He’s just flashy enough to be
interesting and is also a smart, determined investigator. There’s a good sense
of time and place (although as someone who grew up in Texas during the Sixties,
I don’t think Gulvin quite nails it all the time) and plenty of good dialogue.
Gulvin has a distinctive style that took me some getting used to, but he’s also
a top-notch storyteller who kept me turning the pages. THE LONG COUNT is the
first of a new series that reminded me at times of Craig Johnson’s Walt
Longmire books. Well worth checking out.
It's a good thing giant spiders are afraid of flashlights (a well-known scientific fact), or else the girl on Frank R. Paul's cover for this issue of WONDER STORIES would be in a lot of trouble. There are several writers I've heard of in this issue: Nat Schachner and Arthur Leo Zagat, Captain S.P. Meek, and R.F. Starzl, and others who are unknown to me: Frank J. Bridge, Lowell Howard Morrow, and Edsel Newton. I haven't read a lot of science fiction from this era, and the stories I have read tend to be by authors who went on to have long careers, such as Jack Williamson, Edmond Hamilton, Murray Leinster, and Ray Cummings. I'd like to read more of the pre-Golden Age stuff. As usual, too many books, not enough time . . .
Another fine H.W. Scott cover on this issue of WESTERN STORY, and look at that line-up of authors inside: William Colt MacDonald, L.L. Foreman, Philip Ketchum, H.A. DeRosso, Glenn Wichman, and Seth Ranger, who was really Frank Richardson Pierce. Great Western reading week after week.
Simon Wright, the Living Brain, takes center stage in "The Harpers of Titan", a Captain Future adventure from the September 1950 issue of STARTLING STORIES. In order to keep a bloody rebellion from sweeping across one of Earth's colony worlds, Simon has to give up his brain-in-a-box existence and allow his brain to be transplanted into the body of a slain political leader from that world. The would-be rebels have a terrible secret weapon that if unleashed will not only wipe out the Earth colonists but possibly all life on the planet. This story lacks the cosmic sweep of the other stories I've read so far in CAPTAIN FUTURE, MAN OF TOMORROW, but it's really beautifully written, with a real sense of poetic melancholy. It's not easy to combine a poignant examination of what it means to be human with a slam-bang SF adventure yarn, but Edmond Hamilton (with a possible assist from his wife Leigh Brackett) pulls it off in "The Harpers of Titan". I'm really enjoying these tales and will be sorry to see the book end.
Another of the Columbia pulps edited by Robert W. Lowndes, and as usual, he's managed to get some good authors to mix in with others you've never heard of, and neither have I. In this issue of SMASHING DETECTIVE STORIES, you've got Carroll John Daly with a Race William yarn, the prolific Western pulpster who also wrote mysteries Donald Bayne Hobart, and Hunt Collins, author of the cover story, who was really Evan Hunter. Maybe not great stuff, but I'll bet it was fun. The cover scan is from the Fictionmags Index.
This is a pulp I own and read recently. The scan is
from my copy. EXCITING WESTERN is one of the Thrilling Group, and I tend to
like those pulps.
Wilbur S. Peacock was a fairly prolific pulpster, writing dozens of mysteries,
Westerns, science fiction, sports yarns, and jungle adventures for a variety of
pulps during a career that lasted from the late Thirties on into the Fifties.
He’s probably best remembered, though, as an editor at Fiction House on such
titles as PLANET STORIES and JUNGLE STORIES. His novella “Riders of Rebel Range”
in the September 1952 issue of EXCITING WESTERN is the first fiction by him
that I’ve read, as far as I recall. It’s an excellent story, too, about a group
of masked vigilantes in Texas battling carpetbaggers during Reconstruction.
However, there’s a hidden mastermind using the vigilantes for his own nefarious
purposes, and it’s up to the local sheriff to uncover the real plot . . .
assuming, that is, that the lawman isn’t the actual bad guy himself.
Peacock really packs a lot into this novella. In addition to the main plot
concerning the vigilantes, we get overlapping romantic triangles, sibling
rivalry, bushwhacking, brutal fistfights, and an apocalyptic ending that
threatens to destroy the whole town. The mystery angle is handled well enough
that I really wasn’t sure what was going to happen or who would turn out to be
the hidden mastermind. I enjoyed this one quite a bit. If Peacock had written
any novels, I’d be on the lookout for them, but it appears he only published in
the pulps. I’ll certainly watch for his name in the future.
Unfortunately, the next story, “Wine, Women, and—Who Cares?” by Al Storm, is an
example of how difficult it is to write a comedy Western that works, at least
as far as I’m concerned. Humor is highly subjective, of course. But this tale
of gold miners with colorful names like Shammy and Zinger-Dip, doing colorful
things, just never amused or interested me. I did not find it a “Rib-Tickler”
as the cover claims.
Max Kesler is another author whose name I’ve seen in many pulps but have never
read until now. His novelette “A Doctor Kills a Wolf” is a timber camp story,
not a favorite theme of mine but one that can be okay if done well. The
protagonist, a disgraced doctor, lands in the middle of a timber war and not
surprisingly winds up being forced to use the medical skills he has tried to
give up, as well brawling and shooting his way through to victory. This yarn
has a nice hardboiled tone but suffers from the fact that the villain is pretty
much a cipher and barely appears in the story. It’s hard to have a good hero
without an effective bad guy. Kesler writes well enough that I would certainly
read more by him, though.
I think “The Half-Mule Sodbuster” is the second story I’ve read by Seven
Anderton. It’s a well-written cattlemen vs. sodbusters story, only in this case
there’s only one sodbuster, a stubborn man who doesn’t carry a gun but is
determined to homestead a farm even though everyone else in the valley wants to
run him out . . . except maybe the beautiful daughter of one of the cattle
baron. There’s some humor, some action, and even some surprisingly sexy stuff
(for the time period) in this story, but I thought the ending could have packed
a little more punch.
I don’t care much for stories about animals (we had a discussion about this on
the WesternPulps group recently), but “Underdog” by Harold F. Cruickshank isn’t
bad. The animals don’t talk, and the terrier of the title isn’t the viewpoint
character. As a dog vs. bear story, it’s okay.
I’ve read some truly terrible Western paperbacks by Lee Floren, but he had a
long, successful career so there must have been plenty of readers who enjoyed
his work. I’ll admit, there are some nice moments in his novelette “This Trail
to Bullets”. The protagonist is a two-fisted, gun-totin’ undercover bank
examiner, not exactly the sort of character you find in Western pulp yarns
that often, and I like that. Floren’s style is a little rough, but it has an
effective hardboiled tone in places. I enjoyed this one enough I might give
some of his novels a try again. Sometimes I warm up to an author as time goes
This issue wraps up with “Bad Medicine”, a short story by an author I’d never
heard of, Tom Hopefield. He appears to have published half a dozen stories, all
in the early Fifties. This one concerns rock climbing and a bully’s
comeuppance, and while it’s nothing special, it’s pleasant enough.
Overall, this is a good but not great issue of EXCITING WESTERN. Wilbur S.
Peacock’s story is the best and will have me keeping an eye out for his work.
Seven Anderton continues to be a solid author, and Lee Floren’s story was
better than I expected. The others were all good enough to keep me reading. I
didn’t skip any of the stories, although I did just skim through the columns
and features. I do think that by the early Fifties, the Western pulps had
suffered from the fact that most of the best authors were concentrating on
novels, both hardback and paperback.
I started reading Carter Brown books when I was in high
school, and I hate to think of how many decades ago that was. I’m still reading
them all these years later, and thankfully, I’m not the only one. There are
enough Carter Brown fans out there for Stark House to reprint the first three
novels featuring Lieutenant Al Wheeler in a very handsome trade paperback
collection. It just so happens that Al Wheeler was the narrator/protagonist of
the very first Carter Brown novel I read, ’way back when (I think it was THE
UNORTHODOX CORPSE, but I’m not 100% sure of that), so I was very happy to have
the chance to read THE WENCH IS WICKED, the book that introduced the character.
This novel was first published in 1955 by Horwitz Publications in Australia and
has never been reprinted in the United States until now. Al Wheeler isn’t quite
the same character in this one that we know and love from the Signet editions
that would appear on every paperback spinner rack in America a few years later,
usually with great covers by Robert McGinnis. For one thing, Al doesn’t work
for Sheriff Lavers, although there is a character named Lavers in this book
who’s a politician. Maybe he gets elected sheriff at some point in the series.
Instead Al is a detective lieutenant on the police force of an unnamed
California city not far from Los Angeles. In later books this locale is known
as Pine City. Nor does he drive an Austin Healy sports car, but he does rent an
MG for part of the book. There’s no sign of his dimwitted sidekick Sergeant Polnick.
But the wisecracking, the chasing of beautiful dames, the hardboiled attitude,
and the deceptively keen mind that can solve multiple murders, those are all in
place in this first adventure, which involves a murdered playwright whose body
is found at the bottom of a gravel pit. The playwright is involved with a movie
crew from Hollywood that’s shooting a Western in the area, so the suspects
include a couple of gorgeous actresses, a leading man who’s prone to violence,
an unsavory character actor, a director who may or may not be a drug addict,
and a cameraman rumored to have an unhealthy interest in underage girls. So Al
has plenty to sort through, including two more murders, before a suspenseful
showdown with the killer in that same gravel pit.
Alan G. Yates, the author behind the Carter Brown pseudonym, was an Englishman
who lived in Australia, and his early books, although set in America, contain
the occasional bit of description or dialogue that doesn’t ring true. As a
result, when Signet began reprinting the books, they hired an American mystery
writer to go over the manuscripts and revise them slightly. This practice
lasted for only a few books, however, as Yates got to be very good at sounding
American. Since THE WENCH IS WICKED was never reprinted over here, there are a
few examples of things that aren’t quite right, such as Al’s car having a
bonnet rather than a hood. Things like that don’t bother me at all; in fact,
they kind of add to the book’s charm.
Many of the Carter Brown books have pretty intricate plots, while others are
fairly thin. This one is in the middle, complex enough to maintain the reader’s
interest all the way through but not terribly difficult to figure out. The main
appeal of these books for me has always been the fast-paced, breezy style and
the likable protagonists. THE WENCH IS WICKED delivers quite well on those
scores. It’s just great fun to read, and I give it and the Stark House
collection that includes it a very high recommendation.
The only thing Kate and J.D. Blaze had in mind when they
rode into the settlement of Unity, Utah, was celebrating their wedding
anniversary. But then J.D. is forced to kill a corrupt deputy in order to save
a woman’s life, and suddenly the Old West’s only husband-and-wife gunfighters
are plunged into a deadly mystery involving a sinister albino, missing men, and
a lost treasure in Spanish gold.
It’s action all the way as critically acclaimed author Ben Boulden returns with
another exciting installment in today’s top Adult Western series!
I continue to be stubborn and read the Ki-Gor stories
in order, which brings us to "The Empire of Doom" in the Winter 1940
issue of JUNGLE STORIES. I'm convinced that the same author who wrote the
previous installment, "Ki-Gor—and the Paradise That Time Forgot"
turned out this one as well. The style is the same, and Ki-Gor and his
beautiful redhead American wife Helene still live on the same fortress-like island
in the middle of a river and hang around with their Pygmy buddy N'Geeso and
Marmo the elephant.
Ki-Gor's other main sidekick, Tembu George (really former railroad porter
George Spelvin, who's now the chief of the Masai), shows up as well, and
it's a welcome return. George is a great character: smart, brave, funny, loyal
to his friends, and just an all around great guy. He has as much or more to do
with saving the day than Ki-Gor does in this one.
Unfortunately, there's not a lot of plot. Ki-Gor, Helene, and George get
involved in the power struggle between the ruler of a neighboring kingdom and
his ambitious nephew. That's about it. There are a couple of decent battles,
one early and one late, and not much in between to amount to anything. The
writing is okay for the most part, there's just not enough story.
So far the tone of this series has varied from goofy super-science to
Nazi-fighing action/adventure to the more mundane fare of the last few stories.
I like all three protagonists, though, and that's been enough to keep me going.
Better stories will be coming along soon.
I saw THE REIVERS when it was new, or almost new, anyway,
since I remember watching it at the Corral Drive-In, which meant it was in its
second run and had already played at what we called the “inside shows”. Anyway,
I watched it again recently for the first time since then and was curious to
see how it was going to hold up.
The answer is, pretty darned good. This is a coming-of-age yarn, set in Mississippi and Memphis in 1905 and based on
the final novel by William Faulkner. In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ve
never read the novel (or much of anything else by Faulkner, for that matter),
so I don’t know how faithful the movie is to it. The protagonist and narrator
(in voice-over, from the prospective of a much older man, voiced by Burgess
Meredith) is 11-year-old Lucius McCaslin, played by Mitch Vogel, who does a
good job in a part that surely would have been played a few years earlier by
Ronnie Howard; Vogel bears a distinct resemblance to Howard. Lucius comes from
the most prominent family in the small town where he lives, and the patriarch
of that family, played by the fine character actor Will Geer, buys the first
automobile the area has ever seen.
The car proves to be too great a temptation for the family’s high-spirited
handyman and caretaker, Boon Hogganbeck, played by Steve McQueen. While
everybody in the family is out of town except for Lucius, Boon takes the car
and convinces Lucius to go along with him to Memphis, where they’ll have four
days of adventuring. Lucius’s mixed-race cousin, played by Rupert Crosse,
invites himself along.
Naturally, a lot happens in that four days. Boon and Lucius stay at a
whorehouse where Boon’s girlfriend is one of the soiled doves (Sharon Farrell).
Comedy, violence, racism, corruption, and horse racing ensue. Although there
are certainly some dark undercurrents, the movie maintains a fairly light tone
all the way through, and it could almost be a warm-hearted family comedy/drama
except for some language and nudity. It manages to be pretty warm-hearted
THE REIVERS is very much of its time, the sort of movie that wouldn’t be made
today, or at least not in the same way. There’s a lot in it that wouldn’t pass
muster with today’s more sensitive, politically correct audiences. But I
thoroughly enjoyed it and am glad I watched it again after nearly 50 years.
Some days Norman Saunders is my favorite pulp cover artist; some days it's Walter Baumhofer. Today is a Baumhofer day. That's a really striking, evocative cover, and the authors inside this issue ain't bad, either: Carroll John Daly (with a Race Williams story), Erle Stanley Gardner, Norvell Page (a Ken Carter story), and Cornell Woolrich. As I've said many times before, just another day at the newsstand during the pulp era.
WESTERN NOVELS AND SHORT STORIES was never considered one of the top Western pulps, but there were stories by good authors to be found there, plus the occasional good cover like this one. H.A. DeRosso has a story in this issue, as does veteran pulpster Paul Chadwick, writing as John Callahan. What little I've read by R.S. Lerch has been pretty good, and while I've never read anything by John Latham that I recall, he published several novels as Ace Doubles, so he must have been an entertaining writer.
I’m a longtime fan of George Harmon Coxe’s mystery
novels—they were on the shelves of all the public libraries around here when I
was growing up—but I wouldn’t have even been aware of this graphic novel
adaptation of his 1939 novel FOUR FRIGHTENED WOMEN if not for my buddy Scott
Cupp, who graciously passed along his copy to me.
Originally published by Dell in 1950, this is a reprint from 2010 with an
introduction by publisher Greg Theakston. The story features Coxe’s most famous
character, Boston crime photographer Kent Murdock, and actually comes off a
little like a classic British country house mystery. Murdock comes to the
estate of radio comedian Ted Bernard to take pictures of him and his ex-wife,
glamorous actress Irene Alexander. Of course, there are a whole lot of other people
on hand—Bernard’s adopted son, his ex-wife’s agent, a Broadway actress, a
chorus girl, his drunk, washed-up jokewriter, his niece and her fiance, a
sinister piano player, a private detective (Jack Fenner, the protagonist in
several other of Coxe’s novels), and probably some others I’m forgetting. With
that many suspects—I mean guests—on hand, you just know there’s going to be a
murder sooner rather than later. And when there is, the killer tries to frame
Murdock for it.
This is pure hardboiled pulp. Everybody smokes and drinks constantly, and the
wisecracks and tough guy patter are always flying. I loved it. This is the kind
of stuff I grew up on, and I never get tired of it.
As Greg Theakston points out in his introduction, nobody knows who wrote the
script or did the art for this adaptation. The art is simple but effective, and
the script keeps the complicated plot understandable, which was probably much
easier in the original novel version. (I’ve never read the book, by the way,
and I doubt if I ever will, since I know who the killer is now.) The cover art
is by the always good Robert Stanley, who did a bunch of paperback covers,
including some of the Mike Shayne novels. This sure puts me in the mood to read
some more of Coxe’s novels. I might just do that.
That looks a little like a Norman Saunders cover to me, but it's not listed on his website, so I guess it's some artist whose work is similar. Whoever painted it, I like it. This pulp doesn't appear to have lasted very long, but this issue, at least, has some good authors in it: Cleve F. Adams, Edward Ronns (who was really the great paperbacker Edward S. Aarons), Norman A. Daniels (another prolific pulp and paperback author), Cyril Plunkett, and a couple of house-names.
This issue of THRILLING RANCH STORIES sports the usual good cover by the apparently tireless Sam Cherry (honestly, when did the man sleep and eat?), and inside there are stories by some top names in Western fiction: L.P. Holmes, Allan R. Bosworth, Joseph Chadwick, Louis L'Amour, Nels Leroy Jorgensen, Hascal Giles, and Joe Archibald. Okay, maybe not all of them are that well-known today, but they were all good solid pulpsters.
I don’t think Charles Runyon was ever considered one of the
top-tier Gold Medal authors, but his books have plenty of admirers, including
the late Ed Gorman, whose interview with Runyon can be found here. I don’t
recall ever reading anything by him until now. COLOR HIM DEAD is one of
Runyon’s early novels, published by Gold Medal in 1963. In a neat bit of
plotting, it begins where a lot of other noir novels end: with the protagonist
in prison, convicted of a murder he didn’t commit, the real killer being the
woman he fell for before the book ever begins. Drew Simmons had an affair with
the beautiful younger wife of an older, rich man who wound up dead, and Simmons
went away for the murder.
But when he gets a chance to escape, he crashes out and tracks down the woman
to get his revenge on her. The trail leads to a small island in the West
Indies, where Simmons’ former lover is now married to a wealthy, brutal planter
who owns just about everything and everybody on the island. And in another nice
twist, there’s a good reason Simmons can’t just kill her and be done with it.
Instead he winds up involved with the domestic drama playing out there, as well
as some dangerous political intrigue.
It’s a great set-up, Runyon’s prose is very vivid, and all the characters are
interesting. My only complaints are that the pace is pretty leisurely and the
big finish maybe not slam-bang enough for my taste. But COLOR HIM DEAD is still
a pretty compelling yarn and well worth reading. A tip of the hat to Fred Blosser for this one.
Now, as an aside, that bare-breasted native girl cover would never be deemed
politically correct enough to publish these days. The art is generally credited
to Robert McGinnis. In some ways it looks like his work to me, and in others it
doesn’t. But I’m about as far from an art expert as you’ll ever find, so don’t
go by me. There’s also some underage sex in the book, treated as no big deal,
which might also render it unpublishable today, and plenty of racial content,
although the only real racists in the book are villains. Just a heads-up for
those of you who like to be aware of such things.
The things you run across while browsing through the Fictionmags Index. I never heard of the pulp MODERN ADVENTURESS, and I'm not too surprised since Robert Leslie Bellem is the only author in this issue I've heard of . . . but that's not a bad cover, and Bellem is always worth reading, and some of the other stories could be good, you never know . . . so if I ever ran across this issue of MODERN ADVENTURESS, I might just read it.
I'll resist the temptation to make a cliffhanger joke here. This looks like the usual fine issue of NEW WESTERN, with stories by L.L. Foreman, Giff Cheshire, George C. Appell, Rod Patterson, W. Edmunds Claussen, Max Kesler, and Robert L. Trimnell. With the exception of Foreman and Cheshire, those aren't big names, but the other guys were pretty solid pulpsters for the most part.
Arnold Hano is best known for his sports non-fiction and for
being the editor at Lion Books during the Fifties who nurtured the careers of
Jim Thompson, Richard Matheson, and many other top-notch noir and crime
novelists. But he also wrote a number of dark, suspenseful Western novels under
a couple of different pseudonyms. Stark House Press is reprinting one of them,
THE LAST NOTCH, originally published as by Matthew Gant, as part of its Black
Gat Books line.
THE LAST NOTCH is based on some historical background that occurred in New
Mexico Territory during the 1870s, Governor Lew Wallace’s attempt to offer
amnesty to Billy the Kid and other gunmen and outlaws in the territory, in
order to prevent another outbreak of bloody violence like the one that took place
during the Lincoln County War.
Hano fictionalizes this considerably, changing the names while keeping the
personalities and events fairly accurate, then dropping his protagonist, Ben
Slattery, down in the middle of them. Slattery is a fast gun and a hired
killer, but he’s tired of that life and wants the governor’s amnesty. He wants
to be able to quit worrying about the Kid, who’s eager to have a showdown with
him and find out which one of them is truly faster on the draw. Before Slattery
can escape from his past, though, he has to do one last job, make one last
kill, for the biggest price he’s ever gotten.
All you have to hear is “one last job”, and you know things aren’t going to go
well for Slattery. Sure enough, they don’t, in as neat a twist as you’ll find
in a Western novel. How bad things can get, and whether or not Slattery
survives, you’ll have to read the book to find out.
THE LAST NOTCH is really a superbly written novel, vivid in its setting and its
characters. There’s not a lot of action; guns go off, but this is about as far
from a powder-burning shoot-’em-up as you can get. It’s very suspenseful and
fast-paced despite that, with some great confrontations between Slattery and
the Kid (who’s obviously Billy, although not called that). This novel reminded
me of the work of H.A. DeRosso, who Hano edited at Lion Books, and Lewis B.
Patten with its bleak outlook on the Old West. Highly recommended.
I would have
sworn that I had seen WINDS OF THE WASTELAND before, but when I watched it
recently, I didn’t remember a thing about it. So either way, it was new to me,
and if you can overlook the miscasting of John Wayne and Lane Chandler as
former Pony Express riders—they’re both much too big and heavy for that—it turns
out to be a pretty darned good B-Western. Luckily for me, I have no problem
overlooking such things.
Once the Pony Express has closed down, Wayne and Chandler decide to go into the
stagecoach business. They buy a franchise for a line that supposedly goes to a
booming town, but of course they’ve been snookered and Crescent City is a ghost
town with only two occupants. But one of them, wouldn’t you know it, has a
beautiful daughter who shows up soon after. Anyway, our heroes decided to make
a go of the stage line anyway, the town starts to grow, and soon they’re
involved in a stagecoach race to get a mail franchise from the government.
Their rival, naturally enough, is the guy who snookered them in the first
place. There are even a couple of sub-plots involving the stringing of telegraph
wire and a doctor who has lost confidence in his skills. WINDS OF THE WASTELAND
packs a lot into a running time of a little less than an hour.
There’s nothing new here, and there wasn’t in 1936 when this movie was made,
either. But boy, do they do a good job of hitting their marks. Wayne seems to
be having a great time and does quite a few of his own stunts. The bad guy’s
chief henchmen are Bob Kortman and an uncredited Yakima Canutt, and as always,
it’s great to see Yak in action, sometimes doubling Wayne, sometimes playing
his own character, but always throwing himself around with abandon. He’s at the
reins on one of the stagecoaches in the climactic race, and it’s a great scene.
The only weak link is Phyllis Fraser as Wayne’s love interest, who has very
little to do and zero chemistry with the Duke.
Overall, WINDS OF THE WASTELAND is a thoroughly entertaining movie if you’re a
fan of the B-Westerns. I had a great time watching it.
I don't know about you, but I don't remember the last time I read a gripping polo story. Or any kind of polo story, for that matter. But C.S. Montanye provides one in this issue of the long-running pulp TOP-NOTCH. Montanye is best remembered, if at all, as one of the authors of the Phantom Detective novels under the house-name Robert Wallace. In fact, I think I recall reading that Montanye died in the middle of writing a Phantom novel and someone else had to finish it. He had a long, prolific career in a variety of pulps, though. Other authors of note in this issue are Burt L. Standish, S. Omar Barker, Hapsburg Liebe, Nels Leroy Jorgensen, and William Merriam Rouse. Actually, I kind of like that cover and the title "When the Mallet Flashed". If I was going to read a polo story, it might be that one.
A striking and unusual cover by Norman Saunders graces this issue of one of my favorite Western pulps, WILD WEST WEEKLY. The line-up of authors and stories inside is outstanding, too, leading off with a Sonny Tabor yarn by Paul S. Powers writing as Ward M. Stevens. Also in this issue are stories by Walker A. Tompkins, Allan R. Bosworth, Chuck Martin, Lee Bond, and Ralph Yergen.
I have a limited number of copies of the print edition of ROCKET'S RED GLARE, the space opera anthology I edited and published earlier this summer, and for the next four days (through Monday, August 21), they're on sale for $10 each, including shipping (to the U.S. only). PayPal preferred but checks accepted. Email me or let me know in the comments if you want one. This book has gotten excellent reviews and I'm very proud of it. From distant galaxies to the mean streets of Hollywood . . . from the war-torn skies of France in 1918 to the far side of the moon . . . The stories in Rocket's Red Glare exemplify the adventure, courage, and sense of discovery so vital to the American spirit. Whether daring to cross interstellar space or battling alien conquerors when they come right to our own back yard, the characters in these tales never give up, never stop fighting for their country, their lives, their honor. Featuring all-new stories by Sarah A. Hoyt (part of her USAian series), Brad R. Torgersen, Martin L. Shoemaker, Lou Antonelli, James Reasoner, and more, Rocket's Red Glare is packed with space opera excitement, dazzling scientific speculation, gritty action, and compelling characters.
First of all, is that a great title or what? "Senorita Death" is the fourth Kid Calvert "novel" to appear in the pulp WESTERN ACES (in the April 1935 issue, to be precise, with the usual fine cover by Rafael DeSoto), and it's also the shortest one in the series. Perhaps because of that, author Phil Richards drops us right down in the middle of the action as good-guy outlaw Kid Calvert is trying to find out what's behind the disappearance of several wealthy men in the bordertown of San Pablo. His investigation takes him to a cantina where the beautiful Dolores Estrada is singing. Is beautiful gun-totin' sheriff Terry Reynolds finally going to have some competition for the Kid's owlhoot heart? Well, maybe, but there's not really much time for romance in this yarn, because the action hardly ever stops. Except for when the Kid is wounded in one of the many gunfights and passes out or gets hit over the head by a villain and knocked cold. The rest of the time there's lots of powder burning and a somewhat muddled plot about land speculation and the nefarious goings-on at the inappropriately named Peaceful Ranch. As always, Richards' prose is breathless and terse and full of movement. Action and dialogue and plot all hurtle forward at breakneck speed. I'm sure most modern readers would think this stuff is awful, but I'm continuing to enjoy the heck out of the Kid Calvert series. There's only one more to go, and I'll get to it soon.
I’ve never read
the Zane Grey novel on which this movie is based, so I can’t say whether or not
it’s a faithful adaptation. But taken on its own merits, it’s a pretty good
early Western that I’d never seen until now. The story involves two feuding
families, the mostly respectable Haydens and the mostly no-good Colbys, who
move from Kentucky to Nevada after the Civil War. Jed Colby, the patriarch of
his clan, spent fifteen years in prison for shooting a Hayden, and he sets out
to get his revenge by rustling all the stock from the Hayden ranch before he
wipes them out.
Mostly, though, it’s a Romeo-and-Juliet yarn, with a very young, and at this
stage of his career rather wooden, Randolph Scott playing Lynn Hayden, who
falls for Ellen Colby, the daughter of his family’s arch-enemy. Ellen is played
by an actress I’d never heard of, Esther Ralston, and she pretty much steals
the movie with her portrayal of a beautiful but badass frontier girl. Evidently
Ralston had a long and successful career in silent films but played mostly
supporting roles once the talkies came in. That’s a shame, because she’s great
in this one.
Elsewhere in the cast, the main villains are played by Jack La Rue and Noah
Beery Sr. La Rue, who usually played evil gangsters, is an evil cowboy in this
movie and is thoroughly despicable. Barton MacLane, Fuzzy Knight, and an also very
young Buster Crabbe are members of the Hayden family, as is an uncredited
Shirley Temple. John Carradine is supposed to be in the movie, too, in one of
those blink-and-you-missed-it roles, and I must have blinked.
There’s a lot of action in TO THE LAST MAN, and it’s well-staged by director
Henry Hathaway, with some good stunt and miniature work. Since this is a
pre-Code movie, the action is rather bleak and brutal at times, and we get a
couple of flashes of nudity, too, in a skinny-dipping scene with Ralston.
I enjoyed this film quite a bit. If you’re interested in early Westerns, it’s
well worth watching.
HEADQUARTERS DETECTIVE is a pulp that lasted only a few issues, but there were some good writers in its pages. This one features stories by Frederick C. Davis, George Harmon Coxe, Steve Fisher, Norman A. Daniels, and George A. McDonald, among others. With a lineup like that, I'm sure it was good reading.
Nice cover by the great H.W. Scott on this issue of SPEED WESTERN, and inside there's a very strong group of writers including Wayne D. Overholser, Walker A. Tompkins, Giles A. Lutz, Frank C. Robertson, and John Jo Carpenter (John Reese). If that's a salvage market pulp, I'll take it.
I've seen Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson's name on many pulp
covers over the years, but as far as I recall, I've read little if anything by
him. So I decided to remedy that and started off with THE SCARLET KILLER AND
OTHER STORIES, a collection of half a dozen yarns that all appeared in the pulp
THRILLING ADVENTURES in 1932.
The book starts off with "Guarded by Fire" (March), which finds
American engineer Jack Nelson in Paris, where he meets a beautiful young
Russian woman who holds the key to a fabulous treasure that's hidden somewhere
in her homeland. There seems to be a bit of a Dashiell Hammett influence in
this story. There's a sinister fat man, a weaselly little Soviet agent who
could easily be played by Peter Lorre, and of course the treasure that everyone
is after. Even with all that going for it, the story is still a bit on the
bland side. Not bad, but it seemed lacking in action and drama to me.
The scene shifts to the Texas/Mexico border country for "Fire and
Sword" (September), a fairly short, simple action yarn about a clash
between the U.S. cavalry and a gang of bandidos
from south of the border. I think this one is set in the early 20th
Century, the Pancho Villa era, if you will, but Wheeler-Nicholson isn't very
specific about that. It's an entertaining story, although there's not much to
It's back to Russia for the title novella (April), during the revolution when
U.S. army troops were sent to Siberia to protect American interests there. The
protagonist is a two-fisted American mining engineer who tries to rescue a
beautiful young woman from a bloodthirsty Bolshevik warlord known as the
Scarlet Killer. This one has a lot of action, with Cossacks charging around and
battling Bolsheviks, not to mention a really gruesome murder method employed by
the Scarlet Killer. The biggest drawback in this one is that the hero is dumb
as a rock. But to be fair, he hadn't read hundreds of pulp stories and so was
less likely to recognize all the bad guys' tricks.
As you’d guess from the title, “The Scourge of Islam” (October) is a Middle Eastern
adventure, as French crusader Hugh de Galliard, the only survivor from a group
of crusaders on their way to meet Genghis Khan, falls in love with a beautiful
girl, gets mixed up in Persian politics, is captured, escapes, teams up with
ol’ Genghis, and generally does a bunch of hacking and slashing. The epic
battle scenes are well-done and reminiscent of Robert E. Howard’s crusader
yarns. There’s a grisly execution method on this one, too. The ending is a bit
of a letdown, but overall this is a good story and my favorite in this
“The Fame of Albert Muggins” (November) is a comedy about a meek, weaselly
British soldier in Hong Kong, just before World War I, who finally explodes
under the mistreatment by his sergeant and wallops the non-com, then strikes an
officer as well and deserts his unit, escaping Hong Kong by stowing away on a
Spanish ship. This leads to a series of mildly amusing adventures. As a comedy,
this isn’t much, but Wheeler-Nicholson does an excellent job with the setting.
This collection wraps up with “The Dumb Bunny” (December), another story about
U.S. troops in Russia at the time of the revolution. In this one, a Bolshevik
plot to massacre a bunch of Americans is foiled by an unlikely hero. The
closing twist is a nice one, although it probably worked better and came as
more of a surprise in 1932.
Overall, my introduction to the work of Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson was
entertaining but not outstanding. He clearly knew his stuff when it comes to
military matters and was knowledgable about a wide swath of history. He came up
with some great concepts as well, but in these stories at least, the execution
is on the ordinary side for the most part. More colorful protagonists and a
little more blood and thunder would have helped. I have two more
Wheeler-Nicholson collections, and I enjoyed THE SCARLET KILLER AND OTHER
STORIES enough that I’ll certainly read them.
In thirteen take-no-prisoners pulp yarns, Robert E. Howard scholar Fred Blosser caroms from the Old West to the noirish streets of urban America, and then beneath the earth itself, into a primitive world of savagery, to slam you silly with the best in pulp fiction. By bullet and sword, fist and fortune, Blosser's square-jawed yet often brutal heroes face down the worst that evil has to offer: Ringo and Horn blow away bootleggers, outlaws, Mafia thugs and assassins, and other lowlifes, from the backstreets to the backwoods. Commander Manta and Agent Gila battle the hallucinogenic horrors of a would-be world conqueror in Washington, D.C. Dax the Go-Run struggles to survive in the savage, subterranean world of Kaal-Dur, as he goes in quest of a captive princess. All this, and hitmen vs Cthulhu, too. You can't go wrong with hitmen vs Cthulhu. Plus, Blosser serves up a quintology of non-fiction analyses of such pulp topics as Dashiell Hammett's "Nightmare Town" and the Mafia novels of Richard Posner.
In a movie possibly inspired by the real-life Cal Farley's Boys Ranch, Gabby Hayes plays a kind-hearted cattleman who runs a home for orphans and wayward boys near Lodestone, Arizona. Unfortunately, one of the boys is actually the son of notorious bank robber King Blaine, who has been sending loot to the kid for him to cache on the ranch. The boy doesn't know what he's been doing; he's just hiding the packages his father sends to him, as requested. Then King Blaine is shot and killed by a sheriff, and the members of his gang descend on the ranch to try to recover the loot. An added complication is the fact that the local banker (a very stereotypical female battleaxe) is about to foreclose on Gabby's ranch. Luckily for Gabby, his old friend (and former resident of the boys' home) Roy Rogers shows up to sort everything out, catch the bad guys, and sing a few songs with a Kansas City nightclub entertainer played by Dale Evans. SONG OF ARIZONA has most of the right elements: Roy, Dale, Gabby, the Sons of the Pioneers (although somewhat depleted by the fact that a few of them hadn't yet returned from serving in the military during World War II when this was filmed), and a couple of decent villains in Lyle Talbot and Dick Curtis. Unfortunately, it comes from the era between directors Joseph Kane and William Witney when Frank McDonald was helming Roy's pictures, and McDonald's entries in the long-running series are the weakest. In this case, everything is just too mild and heart-warming. The action pales next to what was coming up under Witney, and the musical numbers are lackluster compared to the extravaganzas staged by Kane (who also did action better than McDonald). So why watch it? Well, it's Roy, who was one of the best horsemen of all the movie cowboys and fun to watch as he chases down the bad guys. Gabby says "Durned tootin'!" There are a couple of decent stunts. And in my case, I thought I had seen all the Roy Rogers movies, but I didn't remember this one at all while I was watching it, which means I either missed it or saw it so long ago I'd completely forgotten it. Either way, that makes it an Overlooked Movie as far as I'm concerned.
Middle-aged Frank Raven used to be a lot of things—a blind monk, a cop, a private detective, and a hard drinker. Now he doesn’t do much except run a funky old movie theater in bucolic Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, dance and sing with the local troupe of Morris Dancers, and record bird songs on his phone. A lanky young wunderkind director, Nick Mooney, brings his Hollywood film crew to town and hires the “retired” Raven to protect his star: the wild, unpredictable, gorgeous, and prodigiously talented twenty-one-year-old Juliana Velvet Norcross, aka VelCro. Reluctant at first, Raven takes on the job and slowly sees that there is more to VelCro than the troubled rebel she appears to be. She probes the former monk for his thoughts on God, love, and the soul. But Raven has renounced many of his former beliefs, and VelCro’s questions cause him to re-examine his life. On the eve of filming, storms ravage the small village, and the river that runs through the center of town floods its banks. VelCro becomes ill and withdraws into the care of Sarah, the eighteen-year-old daughter of Frank’s girlfriend, Clara. The storm passes, VelCro recovers, and filming begins. But during the first shot, she is swept away into the river, leaving no trace. What role did VelCro’s director play in her life? Did she fall? Did she jump? Was she pushed? Frank and Sarah are driven to find out what happened. Here's the blurb I gave this book after I read an advance copy: If you'd asked me whether it was possible to come up with a new take on the private eye novel at this late date, I might have said probably not. But I would have been wrong because that's exactly what Fred DeVecca has done with THE NUTTING GIRL. Yes, Frank Raven is an ex-cop and ex-private detective who drinks too much and is haunted by his past, like so many of his fictional brethren, but he does so in the small, idyllic town of Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, where he's also part of a Morris Dancing group and records bird songs on his phone. He's also a former monk. When a Hollywood director arrives in Shelburne Falls to make a movie, a beautiful starlet goes missing, and it's up to Raven to find out what happened to her. With its offbeat protagonist, vividly rendered settings, and lyrical prose, THE NUTTING GIRL is one of the best debut private eye novels in a long time, and I'm eager to read whatever Fred DeVecca comes up with next. This really is an excellent novel and well worth reading.
There are only two stories in this issue of MARVEL SCIENCE STORIES, one by John Taine and the other by Harl Vincent. I know both names, but I don't think I've ever read anything by either of those authors. Maybe someone can tell me about them. In the meantime, I'll just look at that Norman Saunders cover, thank you.
Well, artist Albert Drake has certainly put his hero and heroine in quite a predicament on the cover of this issue of WESTERN ACES. I'm sure they'll get out of it, though. Inside this issue are stories by one of my favorites, J. Edward Leithead (one under his own name and one under his pseudonym Wilson L. Covert), Joe Archibald, Cliff Walters, Galen C. Colin, and others. I like that title, "Enough Rope for the Hangman".
THE EASY GUN is one of those novels that comes out of
nowhere and takes you by surprise. Published by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1970 and
promptly forgotten, it’s about 95% of a great Western. As for the unfortunate
other 5% . . . well, more about that later.
The story begins in El Paso with Big John Easy, a brawling gambler/con
man/outlaw who’s trying to go straight because he knows he’s set a bad example
for his 20-year-old son, also named John but known as Little Easy. The name is
ironic, because Little Easy is a massive six-and-a-half foot tall bruiser, even
bigger and tougher than Big John.
A dispute with a cattle buyer/gunfighter known as Long Gone Magoffin (this book
is full of great character names) leaves Big John dead and Little Easy on the
trail of the killer. Little Easy doesn’t know Magoffin’s name, but he knows the
man he’s after carries a gun with a fancy silver decoration on its black grips.
The trail leads to Ellsworth, Kansas, where Magoffin works for the villainous
Porter Jessup, a bizarre character who’s been in a wheelchair all his life
because of his crippled legs, but that doesn’t stop him from being truly evil
and establishing a criminal empire in Ellsworth, aided by his mute, giant,
former prizefighter henchman Burgoo.
If you’re worried that I’m giving away too much of the plot, all this happens
very quickly, and anyway, the real appeal of THE EASY GUN is the way Parsons
takes a whole heap of Western stereotypes (there’s even a crusading newspaper
editor who happens to be a blond, beautiful young woman) and turns most of them
upside down. Hardly anybody turns out to be exactly what you’d expect them to
be, although the plot plays out in a fairly predictable fashion, up to a point.
The writing is very good for the most part, leading up to a violent, epic
And that’s where THE EASY GUN drops the ball. Parsons rushes through the
ending, devoting only a few paragraphs to the apocalyptic battle that should
have been much more than it is. The last few pages of the book don’t work at
all, as far as I’m concerned. Earlier, Parsons had played very fast and loose
with the history and geography of Texas, which bothered me, but I would have
been willing to overlook that because I was really enjoying his style and
characters. That ending, though . . . I just can’t see it.
E.M. Parsons was best known as a TV writer, turning out scripts for various
Western and detective series in the Fifties and Sixties. As far as I can tell,
he published only three novels, all Westerns: TEXAS HELLER, from Dell in 1959;
FARGO, from Gold Medal in 1968; and THE EASY GUN, also from Gold Medal in 1970,
the same year he passed away. I have copies of the other two but haven’t read
them yet. I will, based on all the things I liked about THE EASY GUN. Maybe
I’ll like the endings better in the others. And it’s certainly possible
somebody else might think the ending of THE EASY GUN is just fine. Your
mileage, as the saying goes, may vary.
During the war years, BLUE BOOK got away from using historical covers as much and added some contemporary ones to the mix. This one by Herbert Morton Stoops features British tanks in the North African campaign and is excellent. BLUE BOOK always had a great blend of fiction as well, and this issue is no different with stories by H. Bedford-Jones (a BLUE BOOK regular, and this issue is a little unusual in that it has only one story by him, with nothing by his pseudonyms Gordon Keyne or Michael Gallister), Georges Surdez, Peter B. Kyne, Arch Whitehouse, Irvin S. Cobb, Jacland Marmur, Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, and Samuel Taylor.