Friday, June 23, 2017

Forgotten Books: Avalon - Francis Stevens


Avalon is a family name in this long-forgotten pulp novel, not a place. Originally serialized in ARGOSY in September and October of 1919, it takes place on a group of isolated islands off the coast of South Carolina. In pre-Revolutionary times, these islands were granted by the King of England to the Avalon family, who still rule them as a sort of feudal fiefdom despite the presence of a few modern items such as automobiles, gasoline launches, and wireless communication with the mainland.

The current master of Five Isles is Florence “Flurry” Avalon, who is a rugged male despite his feminine name. Avalon is seldom in residence there since he also runs a coffee plantation in South America, but his sister and younger brother live in Cliff House, the ancestral family residence which serves as this novel’s version of The Old Dark House . . . because that’s the kind of story this is, filled with secret passages, villainous Spaniards, shipwrecked survivors, mobs of torch-bearing villagers, unexpected shots in the night, and love at first sight between Avalon and one of the passengers from the wrecked schooner who show up at Cliff House.

The author of AVALON is Francis Stevens (the pseudonym of Gertrude Bennett), who also wrote some early weird thrillers such as THE LABYRINTH and THE CITADEL OF FEAR. I’ve read THE LABYRINTH and thought it was okay up to a point. AVALON lacks as many weird elements, but its plot holds together better and overall I enjoyed it quite a bit. Yes, it’s melodramatic, and its style is so old-fashioned that it might be off-putting to most modern readers. But if you can put yourself in the right frame of mind, the story moves along at a good clip and some of the writing holds up well. It’s available in a reprint edition from Beb Books, and if you enjoy early pulp thrillers, you might want to give it a try.

(This post originally appeared in somewhat different form on May 11, 2008.)

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Now Available for Pre-Order: Blaze! Bad Medicine - Michael Newton


Arizona Territory is heating up—and Kate and J.D. Blaze are about to get burned! A fanatical Apache medicine man is determined to bring about all-out war between his people and the army, and he's doing it by slaughtering as many white settlers as he can find. Kate and J.D. are drawn into his dangerous situation when a woman and her children are kidnapped by the Apache raiders and intended for a gruesome sacrifice. The Old West's only team of husband-and-wife gunfighters will need all their cunning and deadly skill to bring the captives back alive and stop the medicine man's scheme to flood the desert with blood!

Legendary adventure writer Michael Newton is back with another gritty, fast-action novel filled with all the passion and excitement of the Old West.


A Middle of the Night Music Post: Victory - Two Steps From Hell


Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Overlooked Movies: Lies and Alibis (2006)


I'd never heard of this movie, but hey, it's got Sam Elliott (quite possibly my favorite living actor) and Rebecca Romijn in it, so why not watch it? And as it turns out, LIES AND ALIBIS is a pretty entertaining, if hard to follow, little thriller.

British comedian Steve Coogan plays a guy whose business provides alibis for cheating spouses to help them get away with their affairs. Romijn, in an underwritten role, works for him. In a fairly predictable plot twist, one of their clients winds up killing somebody and wants Coogan to help him cover up the crime. As if that's not enough of a problem, Coogan is a former con man whose partner has a five million dollar bounty on his head from a Saudi prince they scammed. So people are after Coogan trying to get him to reveal where said partner is. There's also a hitman stalking him. Sam Elliott plays another hitman, this one known as the Mormon because he's, well, a Mormon. Selma Blair is one of his wives. James Brolin is a rich guy who can't be trusted. Lots of stuff happens, much of it not making any sense at the time, but it finally all comes together okay, if you squint your eyes and hold your mouth right.

LIES AND ALIBIS was written by Noah Hawley, who now writes FARGO. We've seen the first two seasons of that series, and when I told Livia that this movie was written by the same guy, she said, "I can see that." Quirky but entertaining dialogue, unlikable characters that you somehow like anyway, and lots of plot twists. I enjoyed it . . . but I think Rebecca Romijn is really good-looking and I can listen to Sam Elliott talk all day, no matter what he's talking about, so if you don't feel that way, you may not enjoy this movie as much as I did. I had a good time watching it and didn't fall asleep, which is my equivalent of the old "two thumbs up" bit, for those of you old enough to remember that.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Science Fiction Quarterly, February 1957


Ed Emshwiller is one of the classic science fiction cover artists, and this is a pretty good one. This issue of SCIENCE FICTION QUARTERLY has a good line-up of well-regarded authors inside, too: Frederik Pohl, Philip K. Dick, Wallace West, Randall Garrett, and Margaret St. Clair. I don't know anything about D.A. Jourdan, who wrote the other story featured on the cover.

A Middle of the Night Music Post: On and On - Stephen Bishop

I admit, when I think of Stephen Bishop the first thing that comes to mind is his scene with John Belushi in ANIMAL HOUSE, but this is still a pretty song and I like it.


Saturday, June 17, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Famous Western, April 1958


This digest issue of FAMOUS WESTERN has a Norman Saunders cover, although that doesn't really jump out at me as Saunders' work. The biggest names among the contributors, at least as far as Western pulpsters are concerned, are Roe Richmond and Wade Hamilton, who was really Lee Floren. The lead novel is by E.E. Clement, a pseudonym for editor Robert A.W. Lowndes. The other novel is by Jim Mac Collister, his only credit in the Fictionmags Index. I have to wonder if he was Lowndes, too. And then there's a story by an author who probably wasn't well-known at all to Western readers of the day: Harlan Ellison. I don't know if "The End of the Time of Leinard" is his only Western, but it's a pretty good one, as I recall. It was reprinted in the anthology WESTERYEAR, edited by Ed Gorman.

A Middle of the Night Music Post: Suavecito - Malo

Another song from the Seventies that I always liked.


Friday, June 16, 2017

Forgotten Books: Latigo - Frank O'Rourke


Frank O'Rourke is one of those authors whose books I've seen around forever, but I've never read much by him. Three books, actually, WARBONNET LAW and GUN HAND, a pair of Westerns I thought were okay, and HIGH DIVE, a hardboiled mystery I didn't care for. LATIGO, my third Frank O'Rourke novel, is sort of a cross between those two genres. It takes place in a small town on the Missouri River in Dakota Territory, 1875, and involves three crooks—one local and two outsiders—who are plotting together to stage a phony bank robbery. They're also scheming to double-cross each other the first chance they get. But things go awry, as they always seem to in books like this, and a woman gets involved, and then more complications ensue and nobody can be trusted.

Something seemed very familiar to me as I was reading this book, and after a while I realized what it was. With its complex and unsympathetic but human characters, the melancholy noirish tone that dominates the book, and the lack of the genre's usual trappings, LATIGO reminded me very much of an Ed Gorman Western. O'Rourke's prose doesn't have the elegance of Gorman's, nor are his characters as compelling, but LATIGO is certainly in the same neighborhood. It's not really a likable book, but it's well written and definitely suspenseful. My biggest complaint is the title, which has nothing to do with the book and seems slapped on just to make it sound more like a traditional Western, which it really isn't. It's a good book, though, and worth reading, although I suspect that O'Rourke will never be one of my favorites.

(That's the 1956 Bantam paperback above, the original 1953 Random House hardback below, both scans from the Internet. I own and read the hardback but don't have scanning capability at the moment.)


Thursday, June 15, 2017

Western Fictioneers Announces the 7th Annual Peacemaker Award Winners


Has it been seven years already? The winners of the 7th annual Peacemaker Awards, honoring the best in Western fiction from 2016, have been announced and you can read all about it right here. Congratulations to all the winners and finalists! In the spirit of full disclosure, one of the finalists for Best Novel was my Outlaw Ranger yarn, GUN DEVILS OF THE RIO GRANDE, and it's an honor indeed to be nominated.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Savage Scrolls: Scholarship From the Hyborian Age, Volume One - Fred Blosser


Back in the Seventies, when I was reading Marvel's black-and-white magazine THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN and the color CONAN THE BARBARIAN comic book, I always enjoyed Fred Blosser's articles and essays about various aspects of Robert E. Howard's life and work. These pieces popped up from time to time and were favorites of mine. I had no idea who Fred Blosser was, but the guy knew his stuff.

Well, forty years or so have passed and Fred Blosser is a friend of mine and also a top-notch novelist I've been pleased to publish, and when it comes to Robert E. Howard . . . the guy still knows his stuff.

SAVAGE SCROLLS: SCHOLARSHIP FROM THE HYBORIAN AGE, VOLUME ONE features revised and expanded versions of some of those essays from the Seventies, along with a great deal of new material. In an earlier book, Blosser tackled REH's Lovecraftian fiction. About half of this one is devoted to Howard's best-known creation, Conan the Cimmerian, and the Hyborian Age in which he lives. It's an in-depth look at the characters and settings to be found in the stories, and if you want to know anything about Hyborian geography, weapons, government and legal systems, flora and fauna, etc., it's here, presented in a lively, informative, and entertaining style.

The rest of this volume takes the same approach to Howard's other series characters and his ventures into genres other than sword-and-sorcery. Blosser doesn't cover Howard's comedy Westerns, his boxing stories, and most of his horror stories. I assume they'll be the subjects of future volumes.

This is a wonderful book, very enjoyable, and the only bad part about it is that it makes me want to reread a bunch of Robert E. Howard stories. Of course, now that I think about it, maybe that's not such a bad thing . . . 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Overlooked Movies: The Stalking Moon (1968)


THE STALKING MOON is another Western that somehow I never watched until now. Based on a novel by T.V. Olsen, it's the story of Sam Varner (Gregory Peck), a civilian scout for the Army, who on his last mission before retiring finds a white woman (Eva Marie Saint) who's been a captive of the Apaches for the past ten years. She has her young son with her, and she wants Varner to help her and the boy get back to Ohio where she had family. Against his better judgment, Varner agrees.

What he doesn't know is that the boy's father is some ninja-like super-Apache who slaughters a bunch of people (off-screen) while tracking Varner, the woman, and the boy across Arizona and New Mexico Territories before finally catching up to them on the ranch Varner had intended to be his retirement home.

Quite a few people seem to like this movie a lot, but I'm afraid my verdict is decidedly mixed. The acting is good all around (Robert Forster, who I've always liked, plays a young scout), the production values are good, and the action scenes, when they finally arrive, are well-staged and effective. But man, this is an hour's worth of movie in two hours of running time. For most of the way the pace is beyond leisurely, especially considering that there's not a plot twist to be found anywhere. I don't want to seem too harsh--I'm glad I finally saw this--but I found it to be pretty much of a disappointment. I haven't read Olsen's novel, but I have to wonder if the story worked better as a book.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Coming Soon: Girl in a Big Brass Bed/The Spy Who Was 3 Feet Tall/Code Name Gadget - Peter Rabe


GIRL IN A BIG BRASS BED
Lobbe wants his painting back. Goering confiscated it when the Nazis raided Rotterdam. But now, years later, it has been located, and the German government wants to return it. So Lobbe sends his assistant Manny deWitt to Munich to fetch it. The painting is Vermeer's Apple Girl, Lobbe's prized possession. The mission seems easy enough. But as deWitt soon discovers, those who have the misfortune to come in contact with the elusive Vermeer seem to experience an early and unpleasant death. The sooner he gets the painting and gets out, the better. If only it were that simple.




THE SPY WHO WAS 3 FEET TALL
This time Lobbe sends Manny to a recently emerged African nation called Motana. It's deWitt s job to negotiate the contract to build a road through the country. As usual, Lobbe doesn't muddy the waters with too much information for deWitt. But this time, everyone seems to be up on the project but him. Yum Lee, the Chinese emissary who also wants the contract, is one step ahead of him. Inge, Lobbe's delightful niece, is strictly undercover. And then there's his ubiquitous taxi driver, Baby, who is much more (or less) than what he seems. Just what the hell is so important about this road anyway?




CODE NAME GADGET
As gadgets go, it was supposedly a fairly large one, large enough to fill a medium-sized factory. Manny's mission is to buy it for his boss Lobbe before the competition beats him to it. The mission takes him to England under the eccentric guidance of a pilot named Max Garten, and into the unexpected arms of Meghan Bushmill. Together, the three of them form a kind of team as they try to figure out who are the good guys and who are the bad guys and if it even makes any difference anymore. Because whoever has the gadget can destroy the world, and even Lobbe may not be able to buy his way out of that one.




I had copies of all these books in their original editions back in my younger days and never got around to reading any of them. (Sadly, an all too common occurrence where me and books are concerned.) Now I can remedy that because Stark House is reprinting them in one big volume with a great introduction by Rick Ollerman. I'm really looking forward to these.

Bloody Arizona #3: Chiricahua Blues - Frank Leslie (Peter Brandvold)


Half-breed lawman Yakima Henry and the rest of his friends and enemies in the town of Apache Springs are back in CHIRICAHUA BLUES, the third book of Peter Brandvold's epic four-part series BLOODY ARIZONA. In this novel, Brandvold (writing under his familiar pen-name Frank Leslie) follows two storylines. In Apache Springs, Marshal Yakima Henry deals with the arrival of the long-awaited spur railroad line, as well a new threat to the mysterious old Spanish mission filled with gold that's played a part in the previous books. At the same time, Yakima's deputy, the reformed outlaw known as the Rio Grande Kid, is trying to deliver a prisoner by stagecoach, only to have the coach attacked and pursued by vengeful Apaches out to kill the Kid's prisoner and anybody who gets in their way.

As always in Brandvold's work, action abounds, and nobody in the business today writes better action. Also, Yakima and the Kid are both very likable characters, and the on-going romantic triangle involving Yakima and the Kosgrove sisters, Julia and Emma, is as intriguing as ever. These are great stories told in a distinctive voice, and I really enjoy them. CHIRICAHUA BLUES gets a high recommendation from me.


Sunday, June 11, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Thrilling Adventures, January 1936


This isn't a great machine gun cover, but it's a good one. And the authors in this issue of THRILLING ADVENTURES are mighty good: Hugh B. Cave, Leslie T. White, George Fielding Eliot, Oscar Schisgall, Gunnison Steele (Bennie Gardner), and house-name Jackson Cole.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Star Western, July 1940


I don't know about you, but I want to read the story that cover illustrates. It looks great! The line-up of authors in this issue of STAR WESTERN isn't as strong as some but still pretty good. Inside are stories by Harry F. Olmsted, W. Ryerson Johnson (billed on the cover as William Ryerson Johnson, which I don't recall seeing before), Stone Cody (Thomas Mount), John G. Pearsol, Dee Linford, Charles W. Tyler, and Kenneth Fowler. Great cover, good authors, and over-the-top story titles . . . Yep, that's a Popular Publications Western pulp.

A Middle of the Night Music Post: Rebel Rouser - Duane Eddy


Another song from my childhood. It annoys me that they've got Duane Eddy's name switched around at the beginning of this clip, but that doesn't affect the music.

Friday, June 09, 2017

Forgotten Books: Lust Shop - John Dexter


(This post originally appeared in somewhat different form on September 15, 2009.)

LUST SHOP is narrated by Pete Ritchie, who lives in a suburb of Los Angeles and owns a garage specializing in repairing foreign cars. Pete is a young, virile guy, of course, who enjoys romancing the rich, beautiful married women who bring in their foreign sports cars for him to work on, hence the title. To his surprise, Pete gets really hung up on one of his customers, a gorgeous blonde named Chris. She won’t have anything to do with him, though, until he agrees to handle a little problem for her. It seems that she’s being blackmailed . . .

Well, you know as well as I do that this is a set-up for a Gold Medal novel. However, since this isn’t a Gold Medal novel but rather an Evening Reader, Pete doesn’t jump right away at the chance to get involved in Chris’s troubles. Instead he tries to distract himself by bedding various other women in a series of scenes that seem like nothing more than padding at first. In a nice twist, though, later on they actually turn out to be connected to the main plot. When Pete finally does decide to try to get the blackmailer off of Chris’s back, you know things won’t turn out the way he wants them to. They’re just going to get worse. Again, this isn’t a Gold Medal, so even though you’d have to call it a hardboiled crime novel, the plot doesn’t play out exactly like you might expect if it was written by Charles Williams or Gil Brewer.

The thing about books published under the “John Dexter” house-name is that you never know what you’re going to get. I’m reasonably certain that this book isn’t by Robert Silverberg, Lawrence Block, or Donald E. Westlake. All the Harry Whittington novels published under the John Dexter name have been identified, and anyway, LUST SHOP doesn’t read anything like Whittington’s work. The breezy, wise-cracking style reminds me a little of the Clyde Allison books by William Knoles, but this doesn’t seem like a Knoles plot to me. Which means the actual author is probably one of the half-dozen or so other writers who turned out books for William Hamling’s sleaze publishing empire. I have no real idea which one it might have been.

LUST SHOP certainly isn’t some sort of lost classic, but it is a fast-paced, fairly entertaining yarn with a couple of decent plot twists and the occasional nice line. If you like this sort of book – and obviously I do – it’s worth reading if you come across a copy. I recently picked up a nice stack of coverless John Dexter books (including a couple of Whittingtons), so you can expect to be reading about more of them here on the blog.

(Yeah, well, I'm still working on that . . . There was no cover scan in the original version of this post because my copy is coverless and I couldn't find one on-line back in '09. But the one above comes from the great Vintage Greenleaf Classics website, which you have to check out if you have any interest in these books at all.)

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Now Available: Summer Issue of Lowestoft Chronicle


Check out the latest issue of Lowestoft Chronicle, the free online magazine featuring fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, and interviews.

This summer at Lowestoft Chronicle:
On a summer vacation to Jersey Shore a restless seven-year-old awaits his first encounter with a hot new arcade game. In Japan, a longtime expatriate relates his many peculiar taxicab experiences. And in Thailand, a rough journey by ferry turns into a chaotic roller coaster ride of misery and despair for returning partygoers.

Laden with insightful and highly entertaining poetry and prose, we proudly present Issue #30, featuring the work of AN Block, Charles G Chettiar, Mary Donaldson-Evans, Brennen Fahy, Lou Gaglia, Elliot Greiner, Jill Hawkins, Anthony Head, Todd McKie, Frank Morelli, James B. Nicola, and Saundra Norton.

Now Available: The Digest Enthusiast, Book Six


It's always a good day when the latest issue of THE DIGEST ENTHUSIAST arrives. This one starts off with a fine barbarian cover by Brian Bruniak. Some of the highlights inside are interviews with science fiction writer Edd Vick and mystery writer B.K. Stevens, articles on everything from a book authored by Bob Hope and his team of comedy writers to Brian Aldiss's series of "Hothouse" stories that originally appeared in THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION, and reviews of WEIRDBOOK #34 and an SF magazine I don't remember ever seeing, INTERNATIONAL SCIENCE FICTION. The highlight of the issue for me, though, is Peter Enfantino's in-depth review of the first four issues of the iconic crime fiction digest MANHUNT. I don't agree with all of his opinions, mind you, but there's still a lot of great information to be found here and I love the way Enfantino writes about such things. As always, THE DIGEST ENTHUSIAST gets a high recommendation from me.

A Middle of the Night Music Post: Telstar - The Tornadoes


One of the songs of my childhood.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

A Middle of the Night Music Post: Orinoco Flow - Enya


I don't understand a word she's saying other than "Sail Away". And yes, I know, I could find the lyrics on-line, but I'm too lazy to do that. I just like the way the song sounds.

Monday, June 05, 2017

Now Available: The Great Chili Kill-Off - Livia J. Washburn


The chili in Texas is red-hot . . . and so is murder! Phyllis, Sam, Carolyn, and Eve head for West Texas to compete in a Fourth of July chili cookoff. Thousands of people have descended on a sleepy little ghost town, turning it into a boomtown for chili mavens, gamblers, musicians, and media. Raucous excitement fills the air, but so does chili when a sabotaged propane cooker explodes, killing the much-hated current champion. The victim leaves behind a tangled trail of sleeping with other men’s wives, cheating at cards – and maybe at chili cooking – and deadly anger. With Sam a possible suspect in the murder, emotions run hot as a bowl of Texas red as Phyllis has to untangle these threads in order to put her finger on the killer! Livia J. Washburn's beloved Fresh Baked Mystery series is back with another novel full of tasty recipes, dastardly doings, and brilliant sleuthing by Phyllis Newsom and her friends. THE GREAT CHILI KILL-OFF is a delicious dish of murder and detection.

Livia's Fresh Baked Mystery series continues with another funny, twisty, fast-paced yarn. I'm hardly an unbiased reader, but I really enjoy these books.

Leo Margulies: Giant of the Pulps - Philip Sherman


Philip Sherman emailed me several years ago when he was researching a biography of his uncle, the legendary editor and publisher Leo Margulies. I wasn’t able to help him much, but because of that contact I knew this book was in the works.

Now LEO MARGULIES: GIANT OF THE PULPS is out from Altus Press, and it’s a wonderful volume for fans of the pulps, digest magazines, vintage paperbacks, and basically anybody who has an interest in popular fiction of the Twentieth Century. Leo Margulies had a hand in just about all of those areas.

There’s plenty of information in this book about the various publishing enterprises Margulies was involved in, and while I already knew some of it, there’s a lot of background I wasn’t aware of. The sections about Margulies’ early days in the business were mostly new to me, as well.

But since Margulies was Sherman’s uncle, this volume provides an excellent portrait of Margulies the man without glossing over his flaws, although to be honest there don’t seem to have been very many of those, most notably a temper that could be explosive at times. But in addition to his skills as an editor and publisher, Margulies seems to have genuinely liked writers and been close friends with many of them. Sherman also devotes some space to Cylvia Kleinman, Margulies’ wife, who worked in various editorial capacities on many of his publications.

Now, as for my personal connection with all this (because what writer can resist talking about himself and his work), I broke in at MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE, the longest running and most successful of Margulies’ digest magazines, about a year after he passed away, so I never had any dealings with him. But several years before that, while I was still in college, I submitted a story to MSMM, the first time I’d ever sent a story to a magazine. It came right back with a rejection slip, of course, but Cylvia, who was the editorial director of the magazine at that time, wrote a personal note on it thanking me for the submission and asking me to send them something else. It was quite a while before I did, and by that time Sam Merwin Jr. had become the editor, so I got my rejections from him. And finally acceptances, too, for which Cylvia signed the checks. I’ve always been glad that my first story was accepted by a genuine pulp editor and paid for by another pulp editor. I can’t help but wish that I had gotten to know Leo Margulies as well.

But I’ve digressed. LEO MARGULIES: GIANT OF THE PULPS is one of the best books on the pulp and digest era that I’ve read, and I give it my highest recommendation. I really enjoyed reading it.


A Middle of the Night Music Post: Guantanamera - The Sandpipers


I've always liked this song. Maybe it's a little bit sentimental, but I don't care.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Short Stories, April 10, 1935


A striking "red sun" cover by H.C. Murphy on this issue of SHORT STORIES, and a great line-up of authors inside: L. Patrick Greene (a Major story), James B. Hendryx (a Halfaday Creek story), William Chamberlain, Frank Richardson Pierce, Bennett Foster, and Edward Parrish Ware. SHORT STORIES published every sort of adventure fiction and most of it was very good indeed.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Exciting Western, November 1946


A nice, somewhat unusual cover from Sam Cherry leads off this issue of EXCITING WESTERN, and inside are some stalwart authors, most notably W.C. Tuttle with one of his Tombstone and Speedy stories. There are also yarns by Gunnison Steele (Bennie Gardner) and Donald Bayne Hobart, dependable and prolific pulpsters, and a couple of house-name stories by Jackson Cole (a Navajo Tom Raine, Arizona Ranger story) and Reeve Walker (a Pony Express story). Looks like a good solid Western pulp.

Friday, June 02, 2017

Forgotten Books: Flash Casey--Detective - George Harmon Coxe


For a long time, George Harmon Coxe was one of the top mystery writers. His novels, most of them featuring Boston crime photographer Kent Murdock, were on all the library shelves. Before Kent Murdock, however, Coxe created another crime photographer who worked in Boston, Jack "Flashgun" Casey. Casey appeared in dozens of stories in the iconic pulp BLACK MASK, as well as a few novels. This early paperback from Avon, published in 1948, reprints four of the Flash Casey novelettes.

"Women Are Trouble", April 1935, finds Casey teamed up with a spunky gal reporter who happens to be a witness to a gangland slaying. He has to protect her as well as keep a vital piece of evidence safe until all the people mixed up in the racket are revealed.

In "Too Many Women", September 1936, Casey also has to work with a young female reporter, and they're assigned to cover a garden party, of all things. But on the way to the party, Casey snaps a picture of a swindler who just got out of prison, and before you know it, that photo is at the center of a complicated and violent plot involving some missing loot. This one suffers a little from having such a similar set-up to the first story. BLACK MASK readers probably never noticed since the stories were published more than a year apart, but I think if I'd been editing this collection, I would have put it last. Also, there's one plot angle that I don't think was ever explained. All that said, the story rockets right along and is very enjoyable.

"Casey—Detective", from February 1935, has what sounds like a pretty generic title, but it actually makes sense in the context of the story. In this one, Casey stumbles over the murder of a former bootlegger's ex-wife, clashes with the cops, and gets to the bottom of a tangle involving blackmail and kidnapping. It looks like the case is just about solved halfway through, but of course that turns out not to be true and there's still more action to come.

"Once Around the Clock", from May 1941, was also reprinted in the anthology THE HARD-BOILED DETECTIVE, edited by Herbert Ruhm, where I read it more than thirty years ago. However, I didn't remember a thing about the story, so I was able to enjoy it all over again now. Casey tries to help a young ex-con who's on the run from the cops, blamed for a murder he didn't commit, and clearing the man's name means also solving another murder several years in the past. A nice twisty plot and plenty of action since the story takes place from one midnight to the next.

I like the Kent Murdock novels I've read quite a bit, but I've always been a little more of a Flash Casey fan. Murdock, though plenty tough when he needs to be, is more urbane and sophisticated, while Casey is a big, two-fisted bruiser. Coxe's stories are always well-plotted and have plenty of action and a nice hardboiled tone. He's mostly forgotten and shouldn't be. This is an excellent collection and I really enjoyed it.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Jimi After Dark - Stephen Mertz


Steve Mertz has been writing great mystery and action/adventure novels for a long time, but there's something special going on when he sets his stories against a music industry background. A longtime bluesman himself, Mertz brings a passion and enthusiasm to his music-themed novels that elevates them and makes them some of my favorite books of recent years. Such is the case with his latest, JIMI AFTER DARK, which finds Jimi Hendrix in London and in all sorts of trouble, besieged by women, gangsters, and maybe something even more sinister, with only the narrator known as Soldier (an old friend from Hendrix's army days) to help him.

Based on both documented history and events that may or may not have taken place, JIMI AFTER DARK is fast-paced, full of action and plot twists and interesting characters, as well as a vivid depiction of the London music and club scene during the Sixties. Plus that special Mertz magic mentioned above. I think HANK AND MUDDY (featuring Hank Williams and Muddy Waters) is still my favorite of his novels, but JIMI AFTER DARK is a very, very close second. Highest recommendation on this one.


Monday, May 29, 2017

Hardboiled, Noir, and Gold Medals: Essays on Crime Fiction Writers from the 50s Through the 90s - Rick Ollerman



Rick Ollerman's detailed critical essays, written about both modern and classic crime writers, have an electric-charged verve so brilliant the modern reader is compelled to develop a new understanding, a new appreciation, even a new witnessing of the writers and their most important and influential works. The context is always truthful to the era of creation, but it is fully developed with a modern understanding that brings new revelation to seemingly old topics. Which is a hard way of saying, Mr. Ollerman writes about crime fiction and its crafters brilliantly. --Benjamin Boulden, critic/essayist

An introduction by Rick Ollerman is always a promise of insightful, informative, and entertaining details about the author or topic. His essays are as valuable as the restored fiction that follows. --Alan Cranis, Bookgasm

Reading one of Rick Ollerman's essays is like sitting in a master class on the writer. Having all of the essays in one collection is like getting a master's degree. This is an important book and a must-have for anybody who cares about good criticism, about the writers discussed, and about crime fiction in general. --Bill Crider, mystery author


Anybody who's read many books from Stark House Press knows that Rick Ollerman's great introductions are often worth the price of the book by themselves. Now all of those essays have been collected in this volume, along with a number of new ones written for this book. If you have any interest in hardboiled and noir fiction, this is a collection that you'll find yourself dipping into again and again. Great stuff, and highly recommended.

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Thrilling Wonder Stories, December 1938


It's been a while since I've featured a pulp with a giant ant cover. Actually, I'm not sure I've ever had a pulp with a giant ant cover on here. But I like this one a lot, and based on the authors, a lot to like inside the issue as well: Henry Kuttner twice (once under his own name and once as by Will Garth), Edmond Hamilton, Clifford D. Simak, Stanley Weinbaum, Ray Cummings, and Eando Binder (actually Earl and Otto Binder). Looks like a fine issue. And I know what my dad would have done if he'd ever been confronted by a giant ant like that. He would have got himself some giant ant dope.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Triple Western, April 1953


This is a pulp I own and read recently. The scan is from the copy I read. Novellas have become just about my favorite length of fiction over the past few years as my time (and my attention span) have decreased, so I really enjoy pulps like this.

I remember reading at least one novel by Leslie Ernenwein and enjoying it, but that didn’t prepare me for just how good his novella “Rampage Range” is. There’s nothing special about the set-up: Jim Maiben is released from Yuma Prison after serving three years for arson (a crime he didn’t commit, of course) and returns to his home range to find that his ranch has been sold out from under him by the bank, everybody believes he’s a criminal and doesn’t want anything to do with him, and naturally there’s a bunch of rustling going on, too. Oh, and the guy who took over Jim’s ranch has a beautiful daughter. Well, with a plot like that, you’d think that you knew everything that was going to happen in this story . . . but you’d be wrong. Some of the characters turn out to be different than what you’d expect, and if in the long run things are resolved in typical fashion, getting there takes some unusual twists and turns. Ernenwein’s style is very effective, too, hardboiled in places, poetic in others, and there’s a surprising amount of sensuality as well. This story reminded me very much of the work of L.P. Holmes and made me eager to read something else by Ernenwein in the near future.

Seems like I've read stories by Bryce Walton before, but I couldn't tell you anything about them. He's best known for science fiction and hardboiled crime yarns, but he wrote quite a few Westerns for the pulps as well. His novella in this issue, "High Road to Hell", also has a standard plot: a drifting outlaw becomes involved in a range war between cattlemen and nesters. It's very reminiscent of SHANE, although this story had to have been written before the movie came out. Walton could have been influenced by Jack Schaefer's novel, though. More likely it's a case of there being only so many plots in the world. Walton's novella is pretty good, written in a hardboiled style that suits it well, and the action in it hardly ever lets up. There's one major coincidence in the plot that's a little hard to swallow, but other than that I enjoyed "High Road to Hell".

Next up is a short-short by Jonathan Craig, better known for his police procedural novels published by Gold Medal and assorted other hardboiled crime novels. "Slow Poison" is a psycological suspense tale about a man searching for his wife and the man she ran away with. (As I was reading it, I kept hearing Moe Howard in the back of my mind, saying, "Niiiiiagara Falls!") There's nothing particularly Western about this one—it could have played out almost exactly the same in a modern setting—but Craig is a good writer and makes a readable three pages out of not much.

The novella "Spawn of the Gun Pack" is by one of my favorite Western writers, T.T. Flynn. This is a reprint from the April 19, 1941 issue of WESTERN STORY, where it was the featured story on the cover. The set-up is familiar here, too: a teenager who is the son of a notorious outlaw and smuggler sees his father gunned down in an ambush because he was double-crossed. The protagonist takes to the owlhoot trail himself and vows to track down and kill the man responsible for his father's death. Enough time passes to give this yarn a bit of an epic feel, and then the hero finally gets a lead that takes him to a New Mexico mining boomtown. What he finds there isn't what he expected, as Flynn gives us some back-story worthy of Walt Coburn and then puts a nice twist on it. A lot more action ensues, told in Flynn's straightforward but highly effective prose. A pursuit scene across a lava bed is very suspenseful and reminded me of Louis L'Amour's FLINT. I've never read a bad story by Flynn, and this is a very good one.

There's also a "fact story" about the notorious outlaw Jack Slade by Gladwell Richardson, who's best known for his fiction. This is a pretty good article, and I'm not a fan of such historical features in pulps.

Overall, this is a really good issue of TRIPLE WESTERN with a decent triple-decker cover by Clarence Doore and three novellas well worth reading. I have more issues of this pulp and will be reading my way through them in the months to come.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Forgotten Books: Trouble at War Eagle - W.C. Tuttle


I've mentioned many times how much I enjoy W.C. Tuttle's stories and novels featuring drifting range detectives Hashknife Hartley and Sleepy Stevens. The short novel TROUBLE AT WAR EAGLE is from very late in the series, but it shows that Tuttle hadn't lost any enthusiasm for or skill in writing about his best-known characters after 30 years of chronicling their adventures. In this one, Hashknife and Sleepy stop at an isolated railroad flag depot to warm up on a cold and rainy night. They've barely gotten there when a cowboy comes in to send a telegram, and that unfortunate soul has barely started writing out his message when a shot comes from outside in the dark and kills him. The murderer gets away, but mere moments after that there's another shot, and Hashknife and Sleepy find a badly wounded man behind the depot. Nobody knows who the murdered cowboy is, but the wounded man is one of the local cattle barons, who's engaged in a hot feud with the area's other dominant rancher.

Well, naturally Hashknife can't stand to see this mystery go unsolved, so he starts poking around in his usual low-key, folksy manner, assisted not only by Sleepy but also by the local deputy, "Honey" Moon, who's an old friend of theirs. (In Tuttle's stories, deputies are nearly always smarter than the sheriffs they work for.) There's a Romeo-and-Juliet romance—only it turns out "Romeo" has vanished mysteriously—and the looming threat of sheep—sheep!—moving into the valley, as well as a kidnapping and assorted shootouts. Along the way there's plenty of humorous banter but not much of the slapstick comedy you sometimes get with Tuttle. The focus stays primarily on the mystery element, which is okay with me. It's great fun watching Hashknife untangle everything. Like most great fictional detectives, he's always two or three steps ahead of everybody else, as you realize when you get to the end and see how neatly he's carried out his investigation.

The history of this novel has a mystery to it as well. It was reprinted in 1991 by Tor, in a double edition along with another short novel of Tuttle's entitled THE REDHEAD OF AZTEC WELLS (which I'll be reading in the fairly near future, I expect). The copyright is 1950 by Short Stories Inc. The problem is, no Tuttle story called TROUBLE AT WAR EAGLE appeared in SHORT STORIES in 1950 or any other time, or anywhere else, for that matter. However, in the August 1950 issue of SHORT STORIES, there's a Hashknife yarn called "The Kingdom of Cole", and because there's a character in TROUBLE AT WAR EAGLE named Cole, I assume it's the same story, although I don't have the pulp to check and be certain. If that's the case, I don't know if Tuttle or the editor at SHORT STORIES came up with the title. TROUBLE AT WAR EAGLE may have been Tuttle's original title, or whoever edited the double edition at Tor may have come up with it. To me, TROUBLE AT WAR EAGLE sounds much more like a typical Tuttle title (say that three times fast) than "The Kingdom of Cole". At this late date, we'll never know, but I find such speculation interesting.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Now Available: Rocket's Red Glare


The trade paperback edition of the new Rough Edges Press anthology ROCKET'S RED GLARE is now available on Amazon, and ebook editions for all platforms are available at the various on-line retailers.

I just want to say how proud I am of this book and all the authors involved, and how grateful I am to them and to Brad R. Torgersen and Livia J. Washburn for their work on the cover. There are some great stories in ROCKET'S RED GLARE: a major new novella from Brad R. Torgersen, a USAian story by Sarah A. Hoyt, gritty military SF from Nathan E. Meyer, an interstellar epic by Keith West, a superb first contact yarn from Robert E. Vardeman, suspenseful tales set in our solar system by Christopher Chupik and David Hardy, a poignant look at the future on Mars by Lou Antonelli, and stories set on Earth but involving galactic conflict from Martin L. Shoemaker and myself. Classic SF from top-notch authors. You can't go wrong with that.

Barnes & Noble
Kobo

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Fill a Stein and Grab a Bloody Haunch! - Peter Brandvold


FILL A STEIN AND GRAB A BLOODY HAUNCH! isn't your normal writing how-to book. You can read some dry, dusty tome about story arcs and character development, or you can let Mean Pete Brandvold grab you by the throat, give you a few good shakes like a dog trying to kill a rat, and listen to his advice on how to slap your reader across the face and get his attention. Chances are, you're more likely to write something I want to read if you go the Mean Pete route.

Despite the colorful trappings, however, this book will give you plenty of practical tips on narrative hooks, point of view, dialogue, description, pacing, plotting, and characterization, all from the prospective of a top professional who's been making his living as a writer for almost twenty years. And you're going to be mighty entertained in the process, as well.

FILL A STEIN AND GRAB A BLOODY HAUNCH! isn't just a book about writing, though. Brandvold also includes several touching autobiographical essays and a couple of short stories. This is a fine collection by a writer I've long admired. Highly recommended.


Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Overlooked Movies: Stagecoach--The Texas Jack Story (2016)


STAGECOACH: THE TEXAS JACK STORY, which seems to have gone straight to DVD, is about as cheaply made a Western as you'll ever see. The gunshots sound more like cap pistols, and all the different stagecoaches are pulled by the same pair of horses. The less said about the wig worn by one of the characters, the better. And it has that undeniable "shot in Canada" look that too many Westerns do these days.

That said, I found the movie pretty entertaining. Country music star Trace Adkins plays the title character, a reformed outlaw whose efforts to go straight and build a life for himself and his new wife are ruined by a crazed ex-marshal and a vicious female bounty hunter. An almost unrecognizable Judd Nelson plays another outlaw. Those are probably the only two people in the cast you've ever heard of. There's plenty of action, some good lines of dialogue here and there, and Adkins has a great voice and screen presence. Adjust your expectations accordingly, and STAGECOACH: THE TEXAS JACK STORY is worth watching for die-hard Western fans like me.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Now Available for Pre-Order: Rocket's Red Glare, A New Anthology from Rough Edges Press


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, Robert E. Vardeman, Nathan E. Meyer, Keith West, Christopher Chupik, and David Hardy, Rocket's Red Glare is packed with space opera excitement, dazzling scientific speculation, gritty action, and compelling characters.

I'm really proud of this book. This is the kind of SF I love to read. The ebook is available for pre-order through Amazon and Smashwords and will go live on Thursday, and the print edition should be available then, too.

The Moses Deception - Stephen Mertz


Archeological thrillers have become quite popular over the past twenty or so years, but as you'd expect when Stephen Mertz tackles a genre, you're not going to get the same old same old, as the saying goes. True, in his recent novel THE MOSES DECEPTION, you get a male/female pair of intrepid archeologists, but they're not involved in a romantic relationship as so often happens in books like this. Rather, Drs. Adam Chase and Lara Newton are partners and allies, although there is some attraction between them. Sure enough, on a dig in the Middle East, they make a discovery with implications that could change the entire world: fragments of the original Ten Commandments that Moses broke when he came down from Mount Sinai. And according to these fragments, there was an eleventh commandment that no one ever knew about because Moses kept it to himself (hence the title).

Adam and Lara are already in an area plagued by violence, and this momentous discovery just puts them in more danger, as it's important enough for various factions to kill over, which is exactly what happens as the two of them try to reach safety at the estate belonging to their wealthy backer in the Swiss Alps. Much double-crossing and intrigue ensues.

What really sets THE MOSES DECEPTION apart is Mertz's writing, which as usual is lean and fast-paced and filled with action and compelling characters. So many thrillers these days are bloated, with page after page of padding that puts me to sleep. Not so anything by Steve Mertz, who has been one of the top action writers in the business for the past forty years. THE MOSES DECEPTION is great entertainment and highly recommended.


Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Amazing Stories, June 1949


This cover by Arnold Kohn has some obvious attributes, but what I really like is the crazed look in the horse's eye, right at the edge of the cover. Now that's a war horse. Inside, the lead story is by "Alexander Blade", who appears in this case to have been Richard S. Shaver, not a good sign. Then there's a story by S.M. Tenneshaw, also a house name, but the real author of this one isn't known. Robert Moore Williams and a handful of lesser known names round out the issue. I have a feeling that based on the fiction this may not be a top-notch issue of AMAZING STORIES, but I do like that cover.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Story, April 19, 1941


As usual for this era, a cover by H.W. Scott graces this issue of WESTERN STORY. It's not Scott's best cover, by any means, but it's not bad. The featured novel (really a novella) is "Spawn of the Gun Pack" by T.T. Flynn, one of my favorite Western authors. I'll have more to say about this story next week, when I feature a pulp I happen to own that reprints this story. Backing up Flynn in this issue is a mighty fine line-up of authors: Walker Tompkins, L.P. Holmes, S. Omar Barker, and John Colohan, I don't own this one, but with those authors I'm sure it's a fine issue. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

Forgotten Books: Ki-Gor--and the Cannibal Kingdom - John Peter Drummond


Well, I knew that if I continued reading the Ki-Gor novels in order, I'd get to some that weren't, shall we say, top-notch yarns. For the sake of completeness, though, a few words about KI-GOR—AND THE CANNIBAL KINGDOM, from the Summer 1940 issue of JUNGLE STORIES.

First of all, it's actually not badly written. The prose flows fairly well, the settings are described nicely, and the action scenes are okay, if rather sparse. I have no idea who was behind the John Peter Drummond house-name on this one. But whoever it was neglected to come up with much of a plot. Ki-Gor goes to the aid of his old friend and sidekick George Spelvin, the former railroad porter from Cincinnati who's become the chief of the M'Balla tribe in Africa, when George and his people are attacked and besieged by a horde of cannibals. That's all there is to it. A lot of the novel consists of Ki-Gor and his beautiful redheaded wife Helene (who's given nothing to do) traveling from one place to another. There's one nice bit near the end where Ki-Gor exposes a jungle con-man, but that's not enough to save a plot that really needed a few twists.

One other way in which KI-GOR—AND THE CANNIBAL KINGDOM is noteworthy is that it's the first story, as far as I recall, in which George Spelvin is referred to as Tembo George, Tembo meaning elephant (because he's a great big guy, of course). This is the name by which he's known for the most part in the rest of the series.

At some point I'll have to start skipping some of the stories because I don't have all of them, but I probably have 80% of the series in one form or another (all reprints except for one issue of JUNGLE STORIES). For now, though, I'm going to continue reading them in order and writing about them here from time to time. If you're following along at home, though, you could probably skip KI-GOR—AND THE CANNIBAL KINGDOM without missing much. Sad but true.


Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Overlooked Movies: Broken Trail (2006)


We missed this Western "mini-series" (actually a glorified two-part TV movie) when it came out in 2006 and never got around to watching it until now. Robert Duvall and Thomas Haden Church play uncle and nephew, respectively, who take a herd of horses from Oregon to Sheridan, Wyoming, in 1898 to sell them to a representative of the British government looking for war horses. Along the way they wind up taking care of five young Chinese women who have been sold to a madam in a Wyoming settlement for a life of prostitution. When Duvall and Church won't turn the women over to the madam, she sends a brutal gunman after the drive to retrieve them and kill their protectors.

That's the plot, which would have made a nice, taut, hardboiled 90 minute Western. To stretch it out to twice that length, there's a lot of spectacular Canadian scenery (like so many Westerns in the past 20 years, BROKEN TRAIL was filmed in Alberta), some romance, and a lot of scenes of the horses being driven along. The pace is leisurely, even meandering. But eventually, even most of the scenes that seem like filler do have some sort of payoff, and the ending is very satisfying.

What really makes this film work are the performances of Duvall and Church, both of whom have the sort of weatherbeaten, lived-in faces appropriate to Westerns. Duvall, of course, can do this sort of stuff in his sleep, but he works at it and doesn't phone in his performance. I think of Church primarily as a comedic actor, but he's fine as a cowboy with a stubborn streak, and impressive enough that I wish he'd made more Westerns. Greta Scacchi is also good as a soiled dove who throws in with them to get away from her life.

BROKEN TRAIL is one of those movies that has a lot of excellent individual scenes. While those scenes don't add up to a great Western, it is a good one, very watchable and entertaining.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Peacemaker Award Finalists Announced

7TH ANNUAL PEACEMAKER

BEST FIRST NOVEL:

Echoes of Massacre Canyon by Ben Goheen aka Ben Tyler (Five Star Publishing)
Silence Rides Alone by Ian Charles Millsted (Sundown Press)
The River of Cattle by Alice V. Brock (Pen-L Publishing)
The Silver Baron’s Wife by Danna Baier Stein (Serving House Books)
The Wanted Lawman by A.C. Smith (Gray Ghost Publishing)

 


BEST NOVEL:
Dead Man’s Boot by Patrick Dearen (Five Star Publishing)
Far West: The Diary of Eleanor Higgins by Linell Jeppsen (Wolfpack Publishing)
Gun Devils of the Rio Grande by James Reasoner (Rough Edges Press)
Killing Blood by Robert D. McKee (Five Star Publishing)


BEST WESTERN YA/CHILDREN FICTION:
Calamity Jane: How the West Began by Bryan Ney (Dragon Tree Books)
Good Water by John Nesbitt (Five Star Publishing)
Grandpa and the Kid by Cliff Hudgins (Wolfpack Publishing)
Lone Star Ranger 7: A Ranger Redeemed by James J. Griffin (Painted Pony Books)
The River of Cattle by Alice V. Brock (Pen-L Publishing)


BEST SHORT FICTION:
Jake Silvershorn's Revenge - Vol. 10 Final Showdown, by Big Jim Williams (High Noon Press)
Museum Piece by Brian Koukol (The Missing Slate)
Odell's Bones by Troy Smith (Cane Hollow Press)
Widelooping a Christmas Cowboy by Livia J. Washburn (A Cowboy under the Mistletoe, Prairie Rose Publications)