Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Now Available for Pre-Order: Blaze! Copper Mountain Kill - Brian Drake

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.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Overlooked Movies: Lady on a Train (1945)

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 you.)

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 for December. 

Monday, April 24, 2017

Edge of the City - S.A. Bailey

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.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Alibi, March 1934

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.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Star Western, January 1950

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 pretty good!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Forgotten Books: Rawhide Creek - L.P. Holmes

RAWHIDE CREEK, 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.)

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Overlooked Movies: The Shakiest Gun in the West (1968)

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.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Wildcat of the Sierra Estrada - Frank Leslie (Peter Brandvold)

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.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Detective Fiction Weekly, December 22, 1934

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.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Complete Western Book Magazine, October 1934

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.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Forgotten Small Town Sheriffs: The Clue of the Runaway Blonde/The Clue of the Hungry Horse - Erle Stanley Gardner

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!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

In a Flash: Up From the Deep - David L. Johnston

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. Johnston.

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.

Overlooked Movies: Flashback (1990)

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 enjoyable.

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.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Super Science Stories, March 1950

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. 

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Ace-High Western Magazine, September 1936

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. 

Friday, April 07, 2017

Forgotten Books: Pulp Fiction - Robert Turner

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 about.

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?

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

The Robert Bloch Centennial: Shooting Star/Spiderweb

(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, fast-moving style.

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, I think.

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.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Overlooked Movies: Barely Lethal (2015)

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.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: The Phantom Detective, June 1940

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.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Story, August 22, 1936

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!

Friday, March 31, 2017

Forgotten Books: The Grand Cham - Harold Lamb

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.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Now Available: This Ray Gun For Hire . . . and Other Tales - John M. Whalen

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.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Battle Stories, February 1929

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.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Texas Rangers, March 1956

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 enjoyable yarn.

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.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Forgotten Books: Ki-Gor--and the Forbidden Mountain - John Peter Drummond

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.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Bloody Arizona - Frank Leslie (Peter Brandvold)

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.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Terror Tales, August 1939

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.

A Middle of the Night Music Post: The Captain of Her Heart - Double

Haven't been posting many of these lately, but I'm up sick tonight (just a bad cold), so here's one I like.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Wild West Weekly, June 15, 1940

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.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Forgotten Books: Just the Way It Is - James Hadley Chase

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 Raymond Marshall.

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.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Overlooked Movies: Skiptrace (2016)

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 Chinese landscapes.

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.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Thrilling Wonder Stories, April 1947

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.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Max Brand's Western Magazine, September 1953

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.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Forgotten Books: Owl-Hoot Horde - Clint Douglas (Lawrence A. Keating)

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.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Overlooked Movies: Below the Border (1942)

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.)

Monday, March 06, 2017

Stiletto #1: The Termination Protocol - Brian Drake

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.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Thrilling Detective, October 1943

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.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Double-Action Western, March 1953

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 impress me.

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 all.

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.)

Friday, March 03, 2017

Forgotten Books: Ladies of Chance - Anthony Scott (Davis Dresser)

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.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Stealer of Flesh - William King

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 these yarns.

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 swordplay.

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.