Saturday, March 28, 2015

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: .44 Western, June 1949

I'd be as wild-eyed as that horse if I was in the middle of a gunfight like that. Nice-looking issue with stories by William Heuman and Joseph Chadwick, along with some lesser-known names. "Let 'Em Eat Bullets!" is a good title. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Now Available: The Ghost Riders - James J. Griffin

Striking ruthlessly out of the night, the Ghost Riders are the most brutal band of outlaws ever to plague Texas. Leaving death and devastation behind them, they raid town after town, slaughtering, looting, and burning. Dressed in white robes that conceal their identity and seemingly unharmed by bullets, the Ghost Riders may not even be human! 

Facing the greatest challenge of his career, legendary Texas Ranger Jim Blawcyzk sets out on the trail of the Ghost Riders, accompanied by his partners Smoky McCue and Jim Huggins. Blawcyzk is confident that no owlhoot is immune to Ranger lead. What he doesn't know, however, is that before this case over, the deadly threat of the Ghost Riders will reach out and touch his own family... 

Bestselling author James J. Griffin returns with his most epic novel yet of the Texas Rangers. THE GHOST RIDERS is thrilling, authentic action from beginning to end and sure-fire entertainment for Western readers.

Forgotten Books: When the Devil Came to Endless - Charles Boeckman

I've become a big fan of Charles Boeckman's Western pulp stories over the past couple of years, but WHEN THE DEVIL CAME TO ENDLESS is the first Western novel of his that I've read. Published by Avalon in 1996, it came out long after the pulp era was over, but it shows that Boeckman had lost none of his top-notch storytelling ability.

Endless is a small town in West Texas, and as the book opens, a huge, deadly tornado is bearing down on it. The twister strikes with incredible force, devastating the town and leaving death and destruction in its wake.

Then, Boeckman spends the first half of the book using flashbacks to give us the stories of several people affected by the tornado: the young man convicted of a murder he didn't commit; the preacher's daughter who's in love with him; the preacher facing the greatest test of his faith he's ever known; the scheming banker; the firebrand newspaper editor, and several other citizens of Endless. Boeckman skillfully makes all of these into well-rounded characters instead of the stereotypes they might have been. They all have plenty of problems before the tornado strikes, but things are going to get worse, because just as the town is starting to clean up after the storm, a mysterious stranger rides in and brings even more danger...

WHEN THE DEVIL CAME TO ENDLESS is a really well-paced book that kept me turning the pages all the way to its very satisfying conclusion. In addition to being a fine traditional Western novel, it's also a fairly clued murder mystery, and Boeckman handles both elements well. The setting also rings true, as anyone who's spent some time in West Texas will know.

I believe Amazon bought Avalon's inventory a while back, but this one doesn't seem to be in print. Used copies are available on-line, though. It's excellent work from a top professional and gets a high recommendation from me.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Three O'Clock High

(This post originally appeared on February 7, 2010.)

I would have sworn that we watched every high school comedy movie made in the Eighties, but somehow we never got around to this one. It’s what I call a “bad day” movie, where things start out wrong for our decent, everyman hero Jerry Mitchell and keep getting worse as the day goes on. The low point, though, is when a new student who happens to be a psychopathic bully decides that he and Jerry are going to have a fight on the parking lot as soon as school is out at three o’clock.

Jerry and his best friend, who’s the editor of the school newspaper, try to figure out a way for Jerry to avoid getting beaten up, but every scheme they try just backfires on them. Eventually, of course, the showdown, the moment of truth, arrives, and the question is whether Jerry will step up and at least survive.

THREE O’CLOCK HIGH is a pretty good film, with a funny script co-written by Richard Christian Matheson. The cast is populated by actors who hadn’t done much then and didn’t go on to do much, although there are a few exceptions (Mitch Pileggi, Jeffery Tambor, and Yeardley Smith, to name three). Jerry is played by Casey Siemazko and Richard Tyson plays the bully, and while both of them have worked steadily over the years, neither is what you’d call a big name. But they’re fine in their roles, as are most of the other people in the movie.

I’m glad we finally got around to watching this one. It’s no FERRIS BUELLER, mind you, but it’s pretty entertaining and well worth investing an hour and a half of your time if you haven’t seen it.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Operation Arcana - John Joseph Adams, ed.

Last year Baen Books published an anthology of military fantasy called SHATTERED SHIELDS, edited by Jennifer Brozek and Bryan Thomas Schmidt. I read it and enjoyed most of the stories. This year brings another such anthology from Baen, this time called OPERATION ARCANA and edited by John Joseph Adams. There's some overlap among authors between the two books, but not much. And similarly, there are some excellent stories to be found here. My favorites include:

"The Damned One Hundred" by Jonathan Maberry, a different and very effective twist on the old plot about a small group of warriors defending a mountain pass against an overwhelmingly large force of enemies.

"The Guns of the Wastes" by Django Wexler, a sort of naval adventure but set on land, with mechanized "ships" taking on a robotic horde. This strikes me more as science fiction than fantasy, but it's full of action and has an intriguing setting. I was impressed enough by it to pick up Wexler's first novel and will give it a try.

"American Golem" by Weston Ochse, an anti-terrorist story set in Afghanistan with a decidedly different protagonist. Despite the fantasy element, this one has a real air of authenticity about it.

"Heavy Sulfur" by Ari Marmell is a World War I yarn that finds both sides using sorcery in trench warfare. Given my fondness for WWI stories, I was predisposed to like it, which I did.

"Sealskin" by Carrie Vaughn, a Navy SEAL story with a fantasy element. This one could have used more plot and the twist is pretty obvious, but the writing is nice and the protagonist really likable.

"The Black Company on the Long Run" is, of course, a Black Company story by Glen Cook. I've read only a couple of these, and while Cook's style takes a little getting used to for me, I really like them. I have to get to the novels soon.

"Bombers' Moon" by Simon R. Green is a very different take on the firebombing of Dresden and the latter days of World War II. This is a suspenseful story and probably my favorite in the books. I recall reading a book by Simon R. Green years ago and not liking it much. I may have to rethink that and try something else by him.

Most of the other stories are good, too. There are only a couple I didn't care for, which is a pretty good ratio for an anthology. Overall, I can give a definite recommendation to OPERATION ARCANA. If you enjoy military fantasy, mostly on the gritty, hardboiled side, you should check it out.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Favorite Bookstores Update: Thompson Book Store

A few years ago I did a series of blog posts about my favorite bookstores. The second one was about Thompson's, which had two locations in downtown Fort Worth over the years. I got a comment on that post this morning letting me know that the surviving location (the other one blew up; the story is in the blog post linked above) has been turned into a bookstore-themed cocktail bar, and a pretty cool-looking one, to boot. The place has a Facebook page, which you can see here. There's a photo of the store the way it looked back in the Seventies, and although I'm not in the picture, I easily could have been. I bought a lot of books there. My bar-hopping days are long since over, but I may have to stop in there sometime just for nostalgia's sake. (In the old picture, if you look along the street next to Thompson's, you can see Barber's Bookstore at the far corner. If you walked from Thompson's to Barber's, turned left, and went another block, you'd be at the Fort Worth Public Library. I spent a lot of time in that end of downtown.)

Now Available: Hannibal at Risk - Wayne D. Dundee

For over three decades, Joe Hannibal has stood tall on the fictional PI landscape. The Hannibal books and stories have been translated into several languages and have been nominated for an Edgar, an Anthony, and a total of six Shamus Awards. 

Almost from the outset, Hannibal was dubbed "the blue collar PI" due in equal parts to the series' initial smaller-city setting of Rockford, Illinois, and its surrounding rural areas - as well as to the middle class roots and values that his creator brought to the writing. Later, after author and character both moved to the even more rural setting of west central Nebraska, the distinction only deepened. 

Hannibal has matured and evolved as a character and the writing has been honed to a finer edge. But the admiration for and love of the PI genre that was always at the core and heart of the series has never changed. 

While new Hannibals continue to be written, the original titles, though somewhat sketchily available over the years, remain strong, entertaining works. In order for readers to be able to discover this for themselves, a series of "boxed set" collections is being re-issued. 

Volume III, presented here, sequentially features the seventh through eighth full-length Hannibal novels, and the Casefiles collection of some of the best Hannibal short stories: 

BODY COUNT – (The Joe Hannibal Case Files, volume I)) 

Read, enjoy, stay on the lookout for more … And spread the word!

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Complete Detective, August 1938

Covers just don't get more action-packed than the ones painted by Norman Saunders, do they? And I'll bet there's plenty of action inside this issue of COMPLETE DETECTIVE, too, with stories by G.T. Fleming-Roberts, Hugh B. Cave, Wyatt Blassingame, and John H. Knox.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Speed Western, October 1944

That looks like a cover by H.J. Ward on this issue of SPEED WESTERN, the slightly toned-down version of the old SPICY WESTERN. Inside are stories by Laurence Donovan, James P. Olsen, James A. Lawson (who was also really James P. Olsen), and a host of house-names who might have really been either of those guys or several others who wrote regularly for Trojan Publishing Corporation. I've read a few issues of SPEED WESTERN and enjoyed them.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Forgotten Books: Commie Sex Trap - Roger Blake

Bill Crider posted the cover of this novel on his blog a while back, and the title intrigued me with its air of early Sixties sleaziness. I was surprised to discover that there's an e-book version available on Amazon, but when I did, of course I had to read it.

It starts out with a scenario that's actually reminiscent of the work of Cornell Woolrich. Joe Guthrie is an American GI stationed in West Berlin who's living with a blond, beautiful East German girl who managed to slip through the Berlin Wall. But when he gets back to his apartment one evening, he finds an equally beautiful American redhead waiting for him in his bed. She insists the apartment is hers, there's no sign of Joe's girlfriend, and everybody in the building claims they don't know what he's talking about, that there's no blonde who's been staying there. Joe doesn't know if he's gone crazy, or if there's some sinister plot in motion against him.

It's a really effective opening, but unfortunately the author, Roger Blake, doesn't do much with it after that. The book quickly becomes a pretty standard Cold War espionage thriller spiced up with sex scenes. It's enjoyable enough, but it could have done with a little more crazed paranoia. (There's a sentence you won't read in every review.)

I don't know who Roger Blake was. The name strikes me as a pseudonym, but it's certainly possible that was the author's real name. He published several other novels along the same lines as this one for the lower-rung sleaze publishers. He keeps the pace moving along at a good clip in COMMIE SEX TRAP, the action scenes are well done, and there are a few moments of humor. This book is very much of its time, and if you remember that era like I do, there's a good chance you might get some lightweight entertainment out of it. I did.