Saturday, February 24, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Texas Rangers, August 1949

This is a pulp that I own and read recently. That’s my copy in the picture, although it’s a photo and not a scan this time.

I’m a long, long time fan of Texas Ranger Jim Hatfield, having first encountered the character approximately 50 years ago when I read a Popular Library paperback reprint of one of the novels that originally appeared in the pulp TEXAS RANGERS. I was in high school at the time, and I remember sitting in the old army barracks building my school used as a study hall and flipping the pages, absolutely enthralled by the yarn. (I seldom if ever actually studied in study hall, preferring to use that time to read paperbacks or library books, but as I’ve mentioned before, I really was studying for my future career, wasn’t I?) The book was titled GUNFIGHTER’S RETURN, but that was actually a retitling from the pulp, and I no longer recall what the original title was. At the time, I’d never heard of TEXAS RANGERS, didn’t know that the author listed on the cover, Jackson Cole, didn’t really exist but was actually a house-name, and had no idea that the real author was Tom Curry. But I learned all that later.

All that long-winded reminiscing leads up to the fact that Tom Curry is also the author of the Hatfield novel in this issue, “Rustlers of Black Range”. Curry wrote 55 of the Jim Hatfield novels, tied with series creator A. Leslie Scott for the most. (Actually, Scott later wrote a few paperback original novels featuring Hatfield, so technically, he wrote the most overall . . .) Curry’s entries are pretty easy to spot. He usually spends some time at the first of the novel setting up the situation and introducing a secondary hero before Hatfield ever appears, and his stories often have some sort of historical angle, too. That’s the case here, as “Rustlers of Black Range” centers around the Alsatian, Swiss, and German immigrants who settled in central Texas. It’s specifically set in and around the real town of Castroville, west of San Antonio in the rangeland between the Hill Country to the north and the thick chapparal to the south. The villain is a German baron who’s trying to take over the ranches in the area for some unknown reason. He has a gang of rustlers working for him, trying to drive the honest cattlemen out of business. The secondary hero is wandering cowpoke Aje Pickett, who first falls in with the rustlers, then goes over to the side of the good guys once he realizes what’s going on. The victimized settlers have written to Austin asking for help from the Rangers, and that’s where Jim Hatfield comes in.

For a stretch during the Forties, Curry introduced a couple of supporting characters in a number of his stories, pretty schoolteacher Anita Robertson and her teenage brother Buck. Anita, of course, was a low-key love interest for Hatfield, who’s much too devoted to his job to indulge in much actual romancin’, and Buck was Hatfield’s sidekick, helping him out with his assignments. I’ll be blunt: I never liked Anita and Buck. I mean, Hatfield is known far and wide as the Lone Wolf. Why saddle him with a kid sidekick? (It’s even worse in the Fifties, when author Roe Richmond introduces a whole gaggle of irritating sidekicks for the so-called Lone Wolf.) But I have to say, Buck isn’t too annoying in this novel and actually serves a purpose in the plot, and Anita barely appears, so there’s not too much of that sappy mush to steal pages from ridin’ and fightin’ and shootin’, which of course is what we’re there for.

Anyway, Hatfield, Buck, Aje Pickett, and the good guy settlers put the kibosh on the evil baron’s plans (did I mention that the evil baron has a pair of wolfhounds?) and the motivation behind the whole scheme won’t come as any surprise, making this a fairly undistinguished but still enjoyable yarn. And I really liked using the European immigrants and their transplanted culture as part of the setting and plot. That’s a little unusual. I mean, how many Western novels have you read where there’s a chapter entitled “Guns at the Biergarten”?

There are three short stories backing up the Hatfield novel in this issue. The first, “Long Sam’s Hangnoose Swap”, is part of a long-running series by Lee Bond about heroic outlaw Long Sam Littlejohn, who is always pursued by deputy U.S. marshal Joe Fry. The first Long Sam story appeared in the very first issue of TEXAS RANGERS in 1936, and the series continued to appear in almost every issue until 1952. The stories are very formulaic but still great fun if they’re spaced out. Bond was a good writer. In this one, Long Sam and Joe Fry are forced to team up (as they often are) in order to battle against a gang of vicious Comancheros. It’s an entertaining yarn.

“Louisiana Lobo” is by Clark Gray, a Western pulpster who was reasonably prolific for a time in the Forties and Fifties and who wrote a couple of Jim Hatfield novels as Jackson Cole. I read one of those Hatfield novels a long time ago in the paperback reprint (LOBO COLONEL) and recall not liking it much. That being said, this story is a pretty good hardboiled Western yarn about a Cajun ex-Confederate sergeant who travels to Texas after the war to help his old commanding officer start a ranch, but instead he winds up in the middle of a deadly hunt for a fortune in gold. I enjoyed this one enough that I may have to dig out the issue of TEXAS RANGERS containing Gray’s other Jim Hatfield novel, “Warpath”, and give it a try.

Clee Woods wrote hundreds of stories for a lot of different Western pulps, but his work appeared regularly in RANCH ROMANCES for almost three decades, from the mid-Twenties to the mid-Fifties. “Nurse’s Big Call”, his story in this issue of TEXAS RANGERS, could have just easily appeared in RANCH ROMANCES, since it’s a modern-day Western about a love triangle involving a nurse, the doctor she works for, and a young rancher. There’s a little action, a decent fistfight, but overall there’s not much to this one and it’s easily the weakest story in the issue.

So overall, this is a fairly average issue of TEXAS RANGERS, with a solidly entertaining, slightly unusual, but not top rank Hatfield novel by Tom Curry, and two out of three pretty good short stories. Not an issue to give somebody who’s never read an issue before, but if you’re already a TEXAS RANGERS fan, it’s well worth reading.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Forgotten Books: The Men From the Boys - Ed Lacy (Leonard Zinberg)

Over the years I’ve found Ed Lacy (real name Leonard Zinberg) to be a pretty dependable hardboiled/noir author. Some of his books I like less than others because he lets too much of his politics seep into them, but most of them are good, tough, fast-paced yarns about characters who aren’t necessarily sympathetic, but by golly, the reader winds up rooting for them anyway.

That’s certainly the case in THE MEN FROM THE BOYS, a novel published in hardcover by Dutton in 1956, reprinted by Pocket Books in 1957, and soon to be available again from Stark House in their fine Black Gat Books line. The narrator/protagonist is Marty Bond, a disgraced former cop who’s been reduced to working as the house detective in a sleazy hot-sheet hotel in New York City. He’s battling health problems, too, and discovers that he may have cancer. You’d think we would feel a little sorry for a sad sack like that, but Lacy makes it difficult to like Marty: he’s a drunk, a racist, was corrupt when he was a cop and is still on the shady side, and he treats everybody like crap.

But then his stepson, who’s an auxiliary cop and wants to work his way up to being the real thing, comes to see Marty and tells him about a big case he’s stumbled on. Marty thinks the kid is nuts for wanting to poke his nose into something that’s none of his business and tells him so. But then the kid gets beaten up and nearly killed, and Marty is mad enough about that he decides to look into the case himself, maybe get vengeance for what happened to his stepson and crack one last big case before the cancer in his gut kills him.

As you probably can tell, this novel borders on nasty at times (but in a good way), and unlikable though he is, you really want Marty Bond to get to the bottom of things and deliver justice to the bad guys. Now, if you’ve read more than a dozen mystery novels in your life, you’ll see all the big twists in the plot coming from far, far away, but that doesn’t really matter all that much. Lacy kept me flipping the pages through the sheer raw power of the prose and the great character of Marty Bond. I thoroughly enjoyed THE MEN FROM THE BOYS. Lacy takes us on a walk down some ugly streets and does a fine job of it.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Overlooked Movies: Colorado Sundown (1952)

Rex Allen may have been Republic Pictures' second-string singing cowboy behind Roy Rogers in the early Fifties, but I've always enjoyed his movies. The production values were always top-notch as well. Take COLORADO SUNDOWN, a 1952 entry that I've just watched. The director is William Witney, the special effects are by the Lydecker brothers, and there are plenty of great stunts choreographed by stunt coordinator Fred Graham, who also plays one of the bad guys. The movie gets off to a fast start, too, with a musical number, a runaway stage coach, and a murder in the first ten minutes.

The screenplay by Eric Taylor and William Lively is fairly complicated, involving a villainous brother and sister who inherit a ranch and plan to strip it of its timber, causing erosion and flooding that will ruin the other ranchers in the valley. Their scheme goes awry when a couple of unexpected other heirs show up, one of them none other than Slim Pickens, who was usually Rex Allen's sidekick. Rex has come along with his buddy Slim, of course, to make sure that no one takes advantage of him. It doesn't take Rex long to figure out that something crooked is going on, and before you know it, ridin' and shootin' abound, mixed in with at least three brutal fistfights (a Witney trademark) and a flash flood.

Slim Pickens is always fun to watch, the fine character actress Louise Beavers does what she can with a stereotypical role as a maid, and Allen is very likable, as well as an excellent rider and athlete. He was a good singer, too, although not as good as Roy. In fact, when I was a little kid I saw him perform at the Fat Stock Show rodeo in Fort Worth, and I've never forgotten it. (I saw Roy and Dale at the same rodeo a different year. No wonder I grew up to write cowboy stories.)

If you've never seen a Rex Allen movie, you should check out COLORADO SUNDOWN. It's a well-written, well-directed, well-made B-Western, not in the top rank of the genre but certainly worth watching.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Good News for Rocket's Red Glare

Three stories from ROCKET'S RED GLARE, the science fiction anthology I edited and published last year, have been selected to be reprinted in the next volume of THE YEAR'S BEST MILITARY AND ADVENTURE SF, edited by David Afsharirad and published by Baen Books. The stories are "Orphans of Aries" by Brad R. Torgersen, "A Hamal in Hollywood" by Martin L. Shoemaker, and "A Man They Didn't Know" by David Hardy. I'm really excited that these fine stories are being honored this way and can't wait to see them appear in the anthology. Makes me feel proud to be an editor.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: All Detective Magazine

ALL DETECTIVE MAGAZINE wasn't all that successful for Dell, running less than three years, but it had some good covers, like this one by Rafael DeSoto, and some fine authors, including in this issue Erle Stanley Gardner, Frederick C. Painton, Dwight V. Babcock, Edward P. Norris, and Hapsburg Liebe. I love that redheaded babe's expression.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Mammoth Western, March 1948

I can't tell if this hombre's hat got shot off or just fell off, so I can't say for sure if it's an Injury to a Hat cover. But I can tell you that the cover is by Robert Gibson Jones, this issue was edited by Ray Palmer, and the authors who have stories inside include Dwight V. Swain, "Alexander Blade", Chester S. Geier, Robert Moore Williams, Paul W. Fairman, William P. McGivern, H.B. Livingston (who was really Berkeley Livingston), and Lester Barclay (who was also Berkeley Livingston). In other words, the usual suspects for a Ziff-Davis pulp. But it's a pretty entertaining group of usual suspects.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Forgotten Books: Oh, For the Life of an Author's Wife - Elizabeth Charlier Brown

I’ve mentioned before that I like to read books about writers. Here’s one that’s a little bit different. OH, FOR THE LIFE OF AN AUTHOR’S WIFE is by Elizabeth Charlier Brown, Fredric Brown’s second wife who was married to him from 1948 until his death in 1972, during the most successful part of his career.

Elizabeth, or Bethie, as Fred called her, wrote this book in 1958, but it’s gone unpublished until now. It’s a fine memoir. Elizabeth Brown wrote and sold a few stories to the love pulps in the early Fifties, so she wasn’t exactly an amateur writer, but this book does have a charmingly unpolished air about it, more like you’re sitting with her and she’s telling you the stories in person. She writes quite a bit about the domestic side of the life she shared with Fredric Brown, the moving from state to state (Fred Brown was a very restless person and never liked to stay in one place for too long), the houses where they lived, the friends they made, the parties they attended, etc. But for those of us more interested in the writing side of things, she also goes into detail about what Fred was working on when, how some of the books came about, how his famous habit of taking long bus trips to work out his plots originated, even how much money he was paid for his books and stories. I’m often surprised by how little money was made by writers I’ve thought of as having long, successful careers. The Browns, for example, sometimes had to borrow money just to pay bills.

There are also numerous passages about other writers the Browns met and befriended, including a mention of Sam Merwin Jr., my old mentor from the MSMM days. It’s all fascinating stuff, and I had a hard time putting the book down because it seemed like there was always another nugget about the world of mystery and science fiction publishing in the 1950s just waiting to be discovered in its pages.

I’ll admit, I’m woefully under-read when it comes to Fredric Brown. I’ve read two or three novels and a handful of his short stories, but I’ve enjoyed them all and really need to read more by him. This volume may prompt me to do just that. I really enjoyed it, and if you’re a Fredric Brown fan or just someone who likes reading about authors, I give it a high recommendation.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Overlooked Movies: Impact (2009)

(This post originally appeared in somewhat different form on September 1, 2010.)

From what I can tell, this is a Canadian/German TV mini-series released as a feature film on DVD. It’s an old-fashioned disaster movie, complete with brilliant but impossibly good-looking scientist heroes, cute kids, grumpy but heroic old-timers, clueless politicians and military officers, and no real villains other than a capricious universe. In this case, the trouble starts when during a meteor shower, a chunk of a brown dwarf star slams into the Moon and imbeds itself deep beneath the lunar surface. The impact, plus the added weight of the incredibly dense dead star, throws the moon into a crazy orbit that makes gravity go crazy on Earth. Even worse, the Moon’s orbit is going to deteriorate to the point that it will eventually crash into Earth itself, shattering the planet.

I’m no scientist, but most of the scientific explanations in this movie sound pretty sketchy and the actors rush through them as if the director doesn’t want the audience thinking too much about them. To be honest, though, nobody watches stuff like this for the science. We watch for soap opera and stalwart heroics, both of which are in abundant supply in IMPACT. David James Elliott is the strong-jawed scientist hero, playing the role like something out of a Doc Smith novel, and Natasha Henstridge is the most gorgeous brainiac since Denise Richards in that James Bond movie, whichever one it was. James Cromwell is the father-in-law of Elliott’s character, Steven Culp is the President, and the rest of the cast consists of actors I’ve never heard of, although they may be well-known in Canada and Germany. Everybody is very earnest, which is understandable when the Moon is going to crash into the Earth in a month.

Despite my borderline snarkiness and the predictability of the script, IMPACT actually is pretty entertaining and manages to generate considerable suspense at times. I’m not suggesting you rush right out to pick up a copy, but watching it is an okay way to spend a couple of evenings or a long afternoon when you don’t have anything better to do.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Bill Crider

The world is an emptier place tonight for readers, writers, book collectors, and everyone who ever met the man. Rest in peace, Bill.

Outlaws of the Legion - David Hardy

I enjoyed David Hardy’s CODE OF THE LEGION so much I went ahead and read his other French Foreign Legion yarn, OUTLAWS OF THE LEGION, and I think I liked it even more. This one finds a group of Legionaires, including a Texas gunfighter (shades of El Borak!), leaving their post and raiding a sheikh’s stronghold to rescue a beautiful dancing girl and avenge a friend’s death. As always, Hardy does a fine job with the setting and the history and packs plenty of gritty action into the tale he’s telling. This is pure pulp in the best way, with echoes not only of Theodore Roscoe and Georges Surdez but also Robert E. Howard and Talbot Mundy. I hope Hardy keeps writing these, because they’re some of the best stories I’ve read recently. Highly recommended.