Sunday, August 02, 2015

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Argosy, March 1943

By 1943, ARGOSY was owned by Popular Publications and was no longer a weekly, but it was still publishing plenty of good fiction. Consider the authors in this issue: H. Bedford-Jones, E. Hoffmann Price, Norbert Davis. William R. Cox, Georges Surdez, Tom W. Blackburn, Robert Carse, and Stewart Sterling. That's a really powerful line-up. Nice cover, too. I used to have this issue, but I don't believe I ever got around to reading it.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Thrilling Ranch Stories, November 1933

The first issue of a fairly long-running pulp that was inspired by the success of RANCH ROMANCES. The cover is by Rafael De Soto and not surprisingly is a good one, and inside are stories by Robert Dale Denver (who was really Ray Nafziger), Allan K. Echols, Donald Bayne Hobart, Lawrence A. Keating, and Ray Nafziger again, writing under his own name this time. As you can tell by that line-up of authors, the Western romance pulps weren't that much different from the regular Western pulps.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Forgotten Books: The Sheriff of Painted Post - Tom Gunn (Syl MacDowell)

Tom Gunn was the primary pseudonym of prolific Western pulpster Syl MacDowell. It may have been used as a house-name from time to time, but my impression is that Tom Gunn was usually MacDowell. And he's certainly the author of the long-running Painted Post series, which appeared in POPULAR WESTERN for almost twenty years. MacDowell took a number of the early stories, combined and expanded them into novels, and then sold them to the hardcover publisher Julian Messner. Some of them subsequently appeared as paperback reprints from Pocket Books.

THE SHERIFF OF PAINTED POST is the first of those paperback editions, and although it doesn't say so anywhere in the book, it's a "fix-up" of the first three stories in the series: "The Sheriff of Painted Post" (POPULAR WESTERN, November 1934), "Blue Steele Rides Again" (December 1934), and "Painted Post Pizen" (February 1935). The Julian Messner hardback edition came out later in 1935, the Pocket Books paperback in 1951. That's the edition I read, and the cover scan is from my copy.

With all that bibliographic information out of the way, how's the story, you ask? Well, it's pretty darned good. The paperback cover by Edward Vebell and the cover copy are spoilers, but it doesn't matter much because MacDowell reveals to the reader almost right away that the mysterious stranger who rides out of the lava hills is a wanted outlaw named "Wolf" Gray. Gray has escaped from prison in Idaho, but he's basically a decent sort who wants to put his owlhoot past behind him. He decides to take the name Smith, but when he encounters a happy-go-lucky cowpoke named Shorty Watts, a misunderstanding leads to the stranger being called Blue Steele instead, and the name sticks. The two new friends ride on to the nearby town of Painted Post, the center of some rangeland being plagued by the sinister rustler El Scorpio, and wouldn't you know it, the local sheriff is murdered by one of the outlaws just as Steele and Shorty arrive. Steele guns down the killer before the varmint can escape, so naturally enough, the citizens of Painted Post decide that he should be the new sheriff. What better way to break from his outlaw past than by becoming a lawman, Steele thinks, so he agrees, but only on the condition that he can have Shorty as his deputy.

As you can tell from that description of the opening couple of chapters, this is pure Western pulp, the sort of thing you've read in scores of stories and novels and seen in countless B-movies. Steele and Shorty go on to break up El Scorpio's gang and bring the ringleader to justice in the first section of the novel. The second involves competing cattle drives that play a part in the ongoing war between Painted Post and the neighboring town of Los Palos, a struggle that's complicated by the arrival of hated sheep in the area, and in the third and final section of the book, Sheriff Steele's lawless past not only crops up again, but Painted Post is threatened by a dam project that will put the town underwater. Interesting plots, but very traditional, nothing ground-breaking here.

But if it's pure pulp, MacDowell does it very well. Steele's background gives him a little more depth than some of the Western pulp heroes, rather than him being just another gun-dummy, and Shorty is a fine sidekick, tough and competent when he needs to be despite functioning as the comedy relief most of the time. There's a little too much "Yuh mangy polecat!" dialogue for my taste, but you have to expect that from the era. MacDowell's action scenes are top-notch, and he keeps things moving along at a nice pace. I liked this one enough that I checked my shelves and found the other Pocket Books reprint I have, PAINTED POST GUNPLAY, and ordered a couple more on-line. Plus I have quite a few issues of POPULAR WESTERN with Painted Post stories in them, and I'll get around to those eventually.

Oddly enough, considering that I liked this one, Syl MacDowell is also the author of what is probably my least-favorite Western pulp series, the Swap and Whopper stories that ran in THRILLING WESTERN. I've always thought I really ought to like those because the lead characters were clearly inspired by Abbott and Costello and I love Abbott and Costello. But the stories are really slapsticky and Western comedies walk a pretty thin line with me. The only author who seems able to succeed consistently in that genre as far as I'm concerned is W.C. Tuttle, and I think that's because Tuttle wrote good solid Westerns that had comedy in them, instead of the other way around.

THE SHERIFF OF PAINTED POST falls into the same category, a solid Western with some comedy. I doubt if I'll ever consider Syl MacDowell in the upper ranks of Western pulp authors along with Tuttle, Walt Coburn, T.T. Flynn, and many others, but I'll definitely read more of his work.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Digest Enthusiast, Book Two - Arkay Olgar, ed.

I've heard quite a bit about the new magazine The Digest Enthusiast, all of it good, and having read the second issue, I have to agree. For someone like me who grew up reading digest magazines—there was a wide selection of them available at most grocery and drug stores when I was a kid—this is a very entertaining publication.

The Digest Enthusiast covers all sorts of magazines. Included in this issue are articles about The Mysterious Traveler Magazine, Beyond Fantasy Fiction, Borderline, Paperback Parade, Asimov's Science Fiction, Analog/Astounding, and even the Archie Comics digests. Plus articles on other comics, like the very intriguing Italian publication Mister No (I wish some of these were available in English translations) and on literary magazines. There are also fine interviews with my old friend Gary Lovisi, publisher of Gryphon books; mystery writer Robert Lopresti; and Steve Darnell, publisher of Nostalgia Digest. Rounding out the issue, appropriately enough, are four short stories by Joe Wehrle Jr., D.D. Ploog, Richard Krauss, and John M. Kuharik. These are excellent crime and fantasy yarns.

I thoroughly enjoyed The Digest Enthusiast: Book Two, enough so that I've gone back and ordered the first issue so I can catch up, and I intend to be a regular reader from now on. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: The Winning Season

We're fond of inspirational sports movies around here, but THE WINNING SEASON, from 2009, is one that we missed until now. It's the story (not based on or inspired by actual events, as far as I know) of a washed-up high school basketball coach (Sam Rockwell) who's been reduced to working as a busboy in a restaurant because he attacked a player on an opposing team during a game. An old friend and teammate of his who is now a principal hires him to coach again, but this time he's in charge of girl's basketball.

When he starts the job, he finds that his team is a bunch of misfits (of course) who may or may not have any talent. So far, this set-up is strictly by the book. But then the script veers off and cleverly upends some of the clich├ęs of the genre while exploiting others to the hilt. The result is a surprisingly funny movie where you genuinely don't know what to expect all the time.

Sam Rockwell is an odd but interesting actor, and he does a good job here playing a protagonist who's really not very likable, but you root for him anyway. Emma Roberts, who's probably tired of being called "Julia Roberts' niece", is also good as one of the basketball players. The great Margo Martindale is the bus driver and assistant coach. THE WINNING SEASON is just quirky enough to set itself apart from similar movies, and that made it a pretty good little film. I enjoyed it.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Shotgun Rider - Peter Brandvold

Peter Brandvold returns with THE SHOTGUN RIDER, a terrific stand-alone Western novel (or maybe it's the first of a series, who knows) about Dag Enberg, a big Norwegian currently working as a shotgun guard on a stagecoach line in southern Arizona. Dag is a pretty messed-up hombre, especially since returning from the Civil War. He drinks too much, and he's in love with a beautiful Mexican soiled dove even though he's married to the stepdaughter of the richest man in town...who as the owner of the stage line happens to be Dag's boss. Then his wife is kidnapped and he's forced to get involved in a stagecoach robbery, which leads to Dag winding up behind bars. To rescue his wife and clear his name, he has to escape and set off on a dangerous pursuit across the border and deep into Mexico...

That noirish set-up turns into a top-notch adventure yarn. As always in a Brandvold novel, the characters are interesting, the setting is rendered vividly, and the action-packed plot races along. THE SHOTGUN RIDER is entertaining from start to finish and with its gritty tone would have fit right in with the Gold Medal Western line from the Fifties. It's about the length of a Gold Medal, too, which means no padding, just great story. This is one of Mean Pete's best and one of the best books I've read this year, period. Highly recommended.

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Five-Novels Monthly, March 1940

I'm not sure what's happening on this cover of FIVE-NOVELS MONTHLY, but it appears to be on the odd side.The five novels are by Stewart Sterling, John Murray Reynolds, S. Gordon Gurwit (names that are at least fairly familiar to me, especially Sterling), and Ben Peter Freeman and David Allan Ross, neither of whom I've heard of. All the stories sound pretty good, though, judging by their titles.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Blue Ribbon Western, March 1939

Nice action cover on this issue of BLUE RIBBON WESTERN, and it's interesting to me because it has the magazine version of Harry Sinclair Drago's novel "Doctor Two Guns", which was published that same year, 1939, in hardback by William Morrow under the house-name Peter Field. Drago wrote two books under that name, the other being THE TENDERFOOT KID. Both were stand-alones, not part of the long-running Powder Valley series. The other stories in this issue are by house-names and little known writers.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Now Available: Powdersmoke Christmas and Wild West Christmas

(What's that? It's not Christmas, you say? Well, no, but it's Christmas in July for Prairie Rose Publications, and since I'm a member of the extended family, I guess you could say, their Sundown Press line is reprinting a couple of stories I wrote in years past for Christmas anthologies. Judge Earl Stark and my Texas Ranger character Cobb both make appearances. Livia has a Christmas double as well, featuring Lucas Hallam and Buffalo Newcomb. It may be 100 degrees outside, but these are all good yarns no matter what time of year it is. Check 'em out!)


’Tis The Season For Justice 
It's a life or death Christmas Eve for the man accused of murdering the son of the richest man in the territory. Former shotgun guard Judge Earl Stark knows how to stomp his own snakes, and he makes sure 'TIS THE SEASON FOR JUSTICE. 

Presents for One and All 
Texas Ranger Cobb is supposed to pick up a prisoner wanted in Parker County and take him back down to Weatherford. Instead he finds himself battling a gang of outlaws and tangling with an old coot driving a wagon full of Christmas gifts, and it's up to him to make sure there are PRESENTS FOR ONE AND ALL.


Blue Norther 
Hired gun Lucas Hallam has been outnumbered plenty of times, but when he comes upon a necktie party for a young boy accused of cattle rustling, he has to step into danger once more—even with the odds stacked against him. No one should hang on Christmas Eve. 

When the nearby cattle stampede, it looks like things can’t get any worse. But the weather is turning deadly, and if they don’t get the cattle to shelter—as well as themselves—everything will be lost. Can Hallam protect them from the coming BLUE NORTHER? 

A Creature Was Stirring 
Mistaken for a “skookum”, Buffalo Newcomb is shot by a young boy, Tom Villard, as he stops by a creek to fish. When he comes to in a small cabin, Buffalo is grateful to realize that the boy’s mother, Ella, has removed the bullet and he has a safe place to recover. 

It’s Christmas Eve, and A CREATURE WAS STIRRING—Buffalo can only hope he’s strong enough to keep it from destroying the woman who has shown him only kindness.

Forgotten Books: Gun the Dame Down - Gil Brewer

This is one of the three previously unpublished novels by Gil Brewer that Stark House is reprinting in a handsome new volume, and while the dates when Brewer wrote the books are unknown, GUN THE DAME DOWN seems very much like a Fifties novel, including that hardboiled title. It's also one of the few private eye novels Brewer ever wrote.

In fact, this book hits so many of the familiar private eye notes that at times it almost reads like a parody of the genre. There's the first-person narrator who's a somewhat seedy private shamus; the rich guy who has both a cheating wife and a beautiful blond nymphomaniac daughter; the private eye's buddy on the police force; the multiple murders; scenes set in squalid fishing camps and roadhouses; the private eye getting hit on the head and knocked out and taken for a ride by colorful but brutal hired goons...Well, you get the idea.

But what makes this stew of the familiar worth reading is that Brewer turns up the heat on it and lets it boil over by playing everything absolutely straight and compressing the action into a short period of time (part of one afternoon and a night). GUN THE DAME DOWN is short, maybe 35,000 words, and it's one of the fastest books you'll ever read. There's always something happening, and private eye Bill Death (yes, that's really his name) is nearly always in danger, whether he realizes it at the time or not. There are great noirish lines like the first one, "I walked into it with my eyes open", and great characters like the beautiful dogwalker Cadillac Smith, who may or may not have some deadly secrets of her own.

Given its length and pace, I'm surprised Brewer wasn't able to sell this book, maybe to Donald Wollheim for one of the Ace Double mysteries. There are several scenes that would have made great cover material for, say, Norman Saunders. But thanks to Stark House, we get to read it anyway. I'll be getting to the other two novels in this volume, but for now, GUN THE DAME DOWN is highly recommended.