I don't think I've ever seen an issue of PIONEER WESTERN and I don't know how long it lasted, but it looks like a good solid Western pulp from Popular Publications. This issue includes stories by long-time Western author Cliff Farrell, old favorite Harry Olmsted, and reliable pulpsters Foster-Harris, Robert Mahaffey, and John G. Pearsol. That looks like a Baumhofer cover to me, although the Angry Redhead (whose identity was established in previous posts as artist Tom Lowell's wife) is featured on it. Looks like a pretty good issue to me.
For those of you unfamiliar with the Australian publisher Cleveland, it was founded in the 1950s. Throughout that decade and on into the 60s and 70s, Cleveland published thousands of short Western novels, including the first books by Leonard F. Meares, better known as Marshall Grover. Cleveland also published the Larry Kent mystery novels, but the company's main output was always Westerns, under such imprints as Bison Western, Tumbleweed Western, Lobo Western, Santa Fe Western . . . you get the idea. Thousands of books, millions of copies, and seldom seen in the U.S., although I believe the books were distributed in England.
For some reason, I had it in my head that Cleveland went out of business a long time ago, but I recently discovered that I was completely wrong about that. Not only does Cleveland still exist, but the company continues to publish new Western novels at the rate of eight per month, as well as selling reprints of some of the older books. There's even a well-designed website where international customers can order the books.
I found out about this when I bought a box of assorted Cleveland Westerns, some old, some fairly new, from a friend of mine. I had to try one of the newer ones, so I pulled out THE WRONG MAN by Jack Masterton, published less than two years ago in October 2009. The protagonist is a hard-nosed bounty hunter named Dominic Dolan. As the book opens, Dolan is on the trail of a couple of outlaws, and when he catches up to them he discovers that they've bushwhacked another man, thinking that they're ambushing Dolan instead.
Dolan dispatches the outlaws quickly, of course. Their bushwhack victim is still alive, although just barely, and before he dies he asks Dolan to carry the news of his death to his wife and son. Dolan agrees, somewhat reluctantly, and wouldn't you know it, when he finds the dead man's family, he discovers that they're in danger from the local cattle baron who's trying to take over all the small ranches in the area.
There's not much new about this plot, although not quite everything plays out exactly like I expected it to, but if you're a fan of traditional Westerns you're likely to find THE WRONG MAN entertaining anyway. Dolan is a likable hero, the action scenes are pretty well-written, and the book is short (35,000 words, tops) and fast-moving. I enjoyed it, even though I've seen it all before.
Since Cleveland's entire output now seems to be written by either Jack Masterton or Clay Anthony, I assume that both of those are house-names. So I have no idea who really wrote THE WRONG MAN. And I think it would be a real fluke if any of you reading this were to come across a copy unless you live in Australia and find it in a used bookstore (the numbers of which are dwindling there, I'm told, just like they are in the U.S.). But I like knowing that Cleveland is still in business and still publishing short, action-packed Westerns, like the Black Horse Western line in England and some of the e-book series that are starting to gather a wider readership as well. (Rancho Diablo leads the way, as Bill Crider might say.)
Over the years I’ve read a lot of superhero comics written by Mark Waid, and I’ve found his work to be consistently entertaining. I don’t think I’ve ever encountered anything by him that’s like this graphic novel, though. The protagonist of THE UNKNOWN is Catherine (Cat) Allingham, a beautiful young woman who happens to be the world’s greatest private detective. She can solve a difficult case just by glancing around, and she doesn’t even have to be at a crime scene to figure out what happened. But there’s one particular mystery that’s she determined to solve.
She has an aggressive brain tumor and less than six months to live, so she wants to find scientific proof of an afterlife.
Plagued by hallucinations caused by her tumor, she takes on an assistant, a massive former bar bouncer named Doyle who happens to be a pretty smart guy himself, though not on Cat’s level. Together they wind up in a dangerous chase across Europe as they try to recover a stolen scientific device that may prove vital to Cat’s quest. However, this search leads them to places they may not want to go.
This is great stuff, poignant and intelligent and sharply written, and the art by Minck Oosterveer seems to me to have a definite Will Eisner influence. I hope there are more of these, because I want to find out what happens to Cat and Doyle next. If you’re a fan of offbeat, occult detective yarns, I recommend THE UNKNOWN.
TOP CAT is one of the first cartoon shows I remember watching. (Not the first; that’s probably HUCKLEBERRY HOUND.) But I was a huge fan of TOP CAT and never missed an episode during its two-year run, which probably explains why I can still hear the theme song in my head.
What I didn’t know at the time is that just like THE FLINTSTONES was inspired by THE HONEYMOONERS, TOP CAT also drew its inspiration from a live-action comedy, in this case THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW. I’ve never been a Sgt. Bilko fan. The show’s original run was just a little before my time, and for some reason it never showed up in reruns around here when I was young. I’ve seen clips from it on various shows, but I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a complete episode.
From what I’ve seen, though, it’s easy to recognize the similarities between TOP CAT and THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW: a scheming, wisecracking, opportunistic leader of a bunch of lovable schmoes, only with cats instead of G.I.s. Hey, it works. One of the actors from THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW even provided the voice for a similar character on TOP CAT.
This is another series where I haven’t seen any episodes in almost fifty years, so I don’t know if it holds up. But I certainly remember it fondly.
I don't know Meredith Fletcher, but we have several mutual friends (Mel Odom and Bill Crider, to name two). Because of that, and because I enjoy a good romantic suspense novel now and then, I was happy to read Fletcher's new novel published in the Harlequin Romantic Suspense line, BEST MAN FOR THE JOB.
With "best man" in the title, it shouldn't come as any surprise that a wedding figures in the plot of this book. Before the wedding can take place, though, masked and heavily armed intruders bust in on the bachelor party in a fancy Las Vegas hotel suite and kidnap the groom. The groom's future brother-in-law Callan Storm is a Special Forces operative, but even though he's there, he can't prevent the kidnapping. It just so happens that also on hand is Eryn McAdams, a former exotic dancer who now works as a security consultant and private detective. Eryn was actually there to jump out of the cake in a skimpy costume, but only because she was filling in for a sick friend.
With a set-up like that, you know that Callan and Eryn are going to try to track down the kidnappers and rescue the groom, and boy, do they. This is one of those compressed action books where everything happens in about a twelve-hour span, and we're talking about a lot of action along the way. Fistfights, gunfights, chase scenes, a little computer hacking and cyber-sleuthing, all of it punctuated by an ever-increasing sexual tension between Callan and Eryn.
There's a lot more bang-bang than kiss-kiss to this one, but the late sex scene is both believable and effective. The hero and heroine are both appealing characters, and while they have some drama in their back-stories, they're not loaded down with overwhelming angst. Fletcher writes very well in a lean, fast-paced style, and this is worlds better than some of the bloated contemporary thrillers I've come across. I know she's written some other romantic suspense novels in the past, and I'll be on the lookout for them now, along with any new ones. Highly recommended.
This is the first and possibly only issue of this pulp, which appears to have existed only to burn off the fifth and final Mavericks novel. The Mavericks were a group of five good-guy outlaws who starred in a pulp of the same name. There were four issues in the fall of 1934 before the magazine was cancelled. The fifth novel probably had been written already and wound up here. Why Popular Publications didn't just do one more issue of MAVERICKS and then cancel that title, I have no idea. The Mavericks novels (this one is called a Longrider novel on the cover, but it's the same group of characters) were published in the pulps as by Kent Thorn. The first novel in the series was reprinted in hardback under the same title, FIVE AGAINST THE LAW, but with the author's name as Stone Cody. Both Thorn and Cody are pseudonyms. The author's real name was Thomas Ernest Mount, who also wrote at least one Western pulp novel as Oliver King. Mount at one time was romantically involved with Laura Z. Hobson, who wrote the bestseller GENTLEMEN'S AGREEMENT. Hobson was married to Thayer Hobson, an executive at William Morrow, who is credited as being the first author to use the house-name Peter Field. It's possible that Laura Z. Hobson may have collaborated with her husband Thayer Hobson on the first several Peter Field books. For those of you who are members of the WesternPulps group, there are a number of messages in the archives about these matters. Just search "Thomas Mount" or "Stone Cody". I've actually read the first Mavericks novel, FIVE AGAINST THE LAW, but I have no memory of it except that I found it fairly enjoyable.
Back to the issue at hand, this one issue of BULL'S-EYE WESTERN STORIES also includes stories by Popular Publications stalwarts Walt Coburn, Harry F. Olmsted, and Ray Nafziger. I'll bet they're pretty good, too.
Big news this afternoon: THE TRADITIONAL WEST, the first Western Fictioneers Anthology, is now live as an e-book for the Kindle. It should be available for the Nook in the near future as well, and a trade paperback edition is in the works, too.
And when I say big news, I mean it. At well over 100,000 words, THE TRADITIONAL WEST is the biggest all-original Western anthology ever published. There are 24 brand-new stories by some of the top Western authors in the business and some of the most talented newcomers to the genre. Here's the line-up:
The Silver Noose – Jackson Lowry A Close Shave on Commerce Street – Steven Clark Lost Mountain Pass – Larry D. Sweazy The Poker Payout – Scott D. Parker Blood Trail to Dodge – Robert J. Randisi Sin of Eli – Troy D. Smith The Way of the West – L.J. Martin The Great Texas Kapusta Incident – James J. Griffin The Death of Delgado – Rod Miller Whiskey for Breakfast – Jerry Guin Rattler – James Reasoner Silence – Ross Morton Never Trust a Widder – Phil Dunlap Storm Damage – Pete Peterson Catch as Catch Can – Matthew P. Mayo Kataki – Chuck Tyrell When Was It Going to Rain Again? – Dusty Richards New Dog, Old Tricks – Edward A. Grainger The Redemption of Cade Bouchard – Kit Prate Boot Hill Neighbors – Clay More The Kindness of Strangers – Cheryl Pierson Wire – C. Courtney Joyner Panhandle Freight – L.J. Washburn Penance – Kerry Newcomb
I've read all these stories, and they're top-notch. This is not only the biggest Western anthology ever published, I believe it's one of the best as well. I can't recommend it highly enough.
(This post originally ran in slightly different form on January 29, 2006.)
Lurking behind this rather mediocre soft-core porn cover is actually a pretty good rural crime novel. Published in 1961 by Beacon Books, THE BARN features many of the same elements that can be found in a lot of backwoods novels. In this case, the dumb but likable hero visits the Kentucky farm owned by his fiancee's family and finds that he's stumbled into a lot more trouble than he expected. There's the fiancee's oversexed little sister, her hoodlum brother, assorted other criminals, and a lot of action and danger.
There are so many plot twists that it gets a little silly after a while, with the characters running around the farm like Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam chasing each other in and out of a bunch of different doors. Most of the story takes place during one eventful night, and that non-stop pace kept me flipping the pages even though the story got more and more implausible. These flaws keep THE BARN from approaching the level of the backwoods novels written by authors such as Harry Whittington and Charles Williams, but it's also suspenseful and fun to read.
Glenn Low had some stories in the Western and detective pulps during the Forties and Fifties, and he wrote quite a few books for Beacon, Novel Books, and other soft-core publishers during the early Sixties. I enjoyed THE BARN enough so that I wouldn't hesitate to pick up another of his books if I came across it at a reasonable price (this one was three bucks in Half Price Books' nostalgia section).
I’ve heard enough good things about Marvel’s so-called Ultimate Universe that I decided it was time I check it out. From what I gathered, this is sort of an Alternate History version of the regular Marvel Universe, but what it amounts to is an effort to update, expand, and revise the original stories. To a purist like me, this is unnecessary at best and a travesty at worst. Why is there any need to change perfectly good stories, in some cases classic stories? So when I picked up the trade paperback of ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, VOLUME 1: POWER AND RESPONSIBILITY, I was skeptical, to say the least.
Well . . . it wasn’t bad. Not bad at all.
I guess the trick to enjoying stories like this is understanding that they really are alternate versions, like movie adaptations. Yeah, it bothers me a little to see Peter Parker going to high school with both Mary Jane Watson and Harry Osborn. Not that fond of Uncle Ben’s ponytail, either. And the fact that it takes five issues worth of stories to cover the same ground that Stan Lee and Steve Ditko laid out so perfectly in, what, 12 pages makes this version seem a little padded. But for the most part, it works okay, probably due to the fact that scripter Brian Michael Bendis is really good at dialogue. The art by Mark Bagley is good, too. Bagley’s been around long enough that his storytelling abilities are pretty strong.
And in the end, I respect the fact that Marvel didn’t retcon their whole universe and try to cram the new version down the throats of long-time readers. I have always, always hated that. The Marvel Universe I grew up with is still the Marvel Universe, and I hope it always will be.
I enjoyed this collection enough that I’ll probably continue reading some of these Ultimate versions. I have a nagging question in the back of my mind, though: The Ultimate Universe debuted more than ten years ago. When the Powers That Be at Marvel decide that it’s gotten too old and stodgy for new readers, what are they going to do? Mothball it and start again with the Ultimate, Ultimate Universe? Followed by the Ultimate (Really, It Is, We Promise This Time) Universe?
Comes a time, folks, when it’s best just to leave things alone.
Marcus Liberski is a talented young filmmaker from New York. Last week as part of the Tuesday’s Overlooked Movies series, Bill Crider wrote about Liberski’s short film WAR PAINT. I’ve had a chance to watch it now, and I agree that it’s an excellent film. The story is about a young woman battling mental illness and finding an unexpected ally in her fight. It’s beautifully photographed, well-acted, and the score by Trevor Jones (who scored THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS, among other films) is perfect. You can watch WAR PAINT here, and it’s well worth doing so.
While you’re there, you can also watch Liberski’s TEDDY BEAR, a slice of domestic drama that has a very effective final twist. Then there’s the shortest of Liberski’s three films and my personal favorite, BANG BANG, which also stars Emily Seale-Jones, the radiant young actress who stars in WAR PAINT. BANG BANG is like a clip from the best film noir you’ve never seen, because it doesn’t exist yet. I’d love to see Liberski expand it into a full-length feature sometime in the future, and I’ve told him so. That’s a movie I want to watch! You should check out Liberski’s work, and I’m looking forward to seeing what he comes up with next.
JULIUS KATZ AND ARCHIE is the first of what I hope will be many novels about this crime-solving duo from Boston. For those of you unfamiliar with the characters, Julius Katz is a brilliant, slightly eccentric, luxury-loving private detective, and Archie is his assistant, a tiny computer chip that has an Artificial Intelligence far ahead of any other technology currently available. How Julius got his hands on Archie remains a mystery, one that I’m sure author Dave Zeltserman will get around to exploring one of these days.
In the meantime, this case opens with a famous mystery writer whose career is somewhat on the skids hiring Julius to assist him in what the author insists is a publicity stunt. He claims that half a dozen people have good reason to murder him, and he wants Julius to find out which of them really intends to. Publicity stunt or not, the author winds up dead (which should come as no surprise to anyone, therefore I’m not marking this post with a spoiler alert), and it’s up to Julius and Archie, despite obvious reluctance on Julius’s part, to find out who killed him.
This is a well-plotted novel, but the real appeal of this book is the relationship between the two title characters and the funny, engaging voice in which Archie narrates the story. Also, in these days when mystery fiction has become increasingly divided into numerous sub-genres, it’s nice to read a traditional mystery the likes of which once dominated the field. JULIUS KATZ AND ARCHIE is available as an inexpensive e-book, and it gets a very high recommendation from me.
HANGROPE LAW, my first entry in the Rancho Diablo series, is now available in a handsome trade paperback edition from Amazon for those of you who prefer print to e-books, or if you've read the e-book and just want a nice copy to go on your shelves. And if you'd like a signed copy, let me know (my email address is in my profile, for those of you who don't have it), and we can make arrangements for that.
Since this pulp didn't come out until several years after Frederick Faust's death in Italy during World War II, I assume Popular Publications worked out a deal with his heirs for the use of Faust's most famous pseudonym. MAX BRAND'S WESTERN MAGAZINE was an all-reprint title, but plenty of good stories were published there that readers might not have seen in their original appearances. This particular issue features stories by J.E. Grinstead, who was an actual cowboy when he turned to writing, well-known Western pulp author Bennett Foster, and a guy from Cross Plains, Texas, named Robert E. Howard, who is represented in this issue with the story "Vulture's Sanctuary". MAX BRAND'S WESTERN MAGAZINE always featured a reprint by, who else, Max Brand, and the one in this issue is "Crazy Rhythm", a title that doesn't exactly sound very Western to me. But I haven't read the story, so I could easily be wrong about that. MBWM may be all reprint, but there's still a lot of good reading to be found in it.
When I try to figure out which books I’m going to write about for this series, one thing that comes into consideration is whether or not a particular book is actually, you know, any good. I think quality does have something to do with it, and I’m not going to do a Forgotten Books post about a book that I think is a real stinker.
However, some books do have a certain historical or nostalgic value that’s separate from their actual quality. And so it is with this week’s selection, MY BRIDE FOR YOURS, by Curt Aldrich.
You see, nearly forty years ago when I was a freshman in college, we had a circulating library of several dozen porn novels of this vintage in the dorm where I lived. In those pre-Internet days, in Texas anyway, pornography wasn’t that easy to find, although being 18-year-old guys, mostly living away from home for the first time, we did our dead-level best to find it anyway. (Some of us, of course, spent more time looking for the real thing, rather than a printed facsimile, but that’s another story.) Anytime somebody bought a new porn novel, after reading it went into the large cardboard box in Scooter’s dorm room (Scooter may have been the name on his birth certificate, for all I know; I never heard anybody call him anything else) so that the rest of the guys on the third floor could enjoy it, too. Over the course of the year I spent there, I read several dozen of these books, and I came across others here and there over the next few years.
We know now that just like ten or a dozen years earlier than that, when authors such as Lawrence Block, Robert Silverberg, and Donald E. Westlake were turning out Nightstand Books, in the late 60s and early 70s some other authors who went on to have significant careers in more respectable genres were producing epics like RAJAH and LITTLE DONNIE’S MOTHER for Liverpool Library Press, Greenleaf, and other porn publishers.
The house-name Curt Aldrich originated as part of William Hamling’s porn enterprise and appeared on Nightstand, Leisure, Pillar, etc. Books. An early Curt Aldrich, maybe the original one for all I know, was Richard Curtis, who went on to become a well-known literary agent, which I believe he still is. By the time MY BRIDE FOR YOURS appeared, Curtis probably wasn’t Aldrich anymore, but who knows, maybe he was.
To finally get around to saying a few words about the book itself . . . well, it’s a sex novel, pretty plain and simple. Several young couples go on a honeymoon cruise to a secluded Florida resort. On the yacht taking them there, and once they reach the resort itself, much graphic swapping of newlywed spouses goes on. That’s it for the plot.
But the book does have a few things to recommend it. The writing in the non-sex scenes is consistently good. Admittedly, there aren’t many of them and they don’t last very long, but they’re there. And the prose in the sex scenes has a considerable amount of goofy humor to it, as if the author wasn’t taking things very seriously and wasn’t expecting the reader to, either. Whoever wrote MY BRIDE FOR YOURS was talented enough that he or she might well have published fiction in other genres, too. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised.
So why have I written a lengthy Forgotten Books post about an obscure (no copies listed on ABE), forty-year-old sex novel? So I could wallow in nostalgia about my freshman year of college, of course, but also because these books, like other sex books before them, served as a training ground for a number of talented authors who went on to do other things. Looking at it now from the perspective of a bibliophile and all-around nosy guy, I find that interesting. But here’s the real reason I picked this particular book.
You can get a Kindle edition of it on Amazon for a buck.
Matt Brown is just an ordinary guy...until alien invaders attack the Earth, and humanity's superheroes go down fighting. By chance, Matt falls heir to their powers, but how can a fake hero save the world when the real ones have already failed? To find out, join him on a quest through a post-apocalyptic world where alien horrors and human supervillains battle for dominion. The Impostor is the new superhero series by veteran fantasy and horror writer Richard Lee Byers, a frequent contributor to the Forgotten Realms universe.
(This short story preview is a lot of fun, and you can't beat the price. It's free, and you can find it right here. Byers is a fine writer, and I look forward to the rest of the entries in this series.)
This trade paperback reprints a recent mini-series that serves as a prequel to the upcoming movie. As a result, there are some differences between this version of Cap and the established comics version. Purists, consider yourself warned.
And speaking as a purist myself . . . some of the changes are okay, the sort of thing you can expect when Hollywood gets its hands on something, and some are less so. Right off the bat, Cap’s costume is different, since he’s drawn to look like the movie version of the character. That’s actually all right with me. The look works. In the half-okay version, the Howling Commandos are only partially there. Dum-Dum, Gabe, and Percy show up and are portrayed pretty close to their comics versions, but where are the rest of the Howlers? And who’s that French guy running around with them? And Bucky Barnes is a Howling Commando? No way!
Which brings me to my biggest complaint, the fact that the movie continuity makes Steve Rogers and Bucky Barnes roughly the same age. I realize that the current incarnation of these characters takes the view that Bucky was a teen-ager during World War II, instead of the adolescent “kid sidekick” he was in the original Simon & Kirby stories, but that’s not nearly the same stretch as making him and Steve contemporaries. That doesn’t work at all for me.
All that said, the story is fairly entertaining and the artwork is good for the most part. Viewed as an alternate universe Captain America story (which is usually how you have to view movie adaptations anyway), CAPTAIN AMERICA: FIRST VENGEANCE isn’t bad. It’s not really necessary unless you’re a completist or really enjoy the movie, though.
New Pulp Press is proud to announce that all of our books (save Jesus Angel Garcia's recent release badbadbad) are now available as ebooks. Get 'em where you want (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Smashwords etc. etc.). If you've been wanting to buy one of these books but already spent most of your money on a Justin Bieber signed fanzine, now is your chance to read a great crime novel for $3.00-$5.00. Not bad, eh?
Our books and authors have been praised by publications such as The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, and New York Magazine, as well as superstar authors such as Megan Abbott, Michael Connelly, Allan Guthrie, Roger Smith, Vicki Hendricks, Tom Piccirilli, Duane Swierczynski, Christa Faust, Jason Starr, Sara Gran, and Ken Bruen. Don't be the last one on the New Pulp Press train! Go to New Pulp Press and click on the links, or head directly to Smashwords and buy the ebooks there.
Speaking of Jesus Angel Garcia, he's in the midst of an unprecedented (for a small press author) 32 city tour. You read that right: 32 damn cities. Check out the filthy details here. Go see him if he comes to your city, or simply buy his book, badbadbad. It's a hell of a read.
Also, keep your eyes out for our upcoming release, Crime Factory: The First Shift. It's a book of short stories including works by Ken Bruen, Dave Zeltserman, Roger Smith, Adrian McKinty, Dennis Tafoya, Craig McDonald, Leigh Redhead, and many, many more.
Thanks as always for your support of indy publishing. We couldn't do it without you. Well, we could, but it would involve embezzling money, and I don't want to go there unless absolutely necessary.
Best, Jon Bassoff New Pulp Press
(I don't know about you, but I'm grabbin' e-books of the ones I haven't read.)
This is another one where I’m going by memory and IMDB, since I haven’t seen any episodes of this series in 50 years. It ran in syndication in 1960 and ’61, which means I was in the second grade when I watched it. That just goes to show that my fondness for private eye fiction goes ‘way back. Although to be fair, I loved any show that featured gun battles and fist fights. I was a bloodthirsty little tyke.
Anyway, THE BROTHERS BRANNAGAN were Mike and Bob Brannagan, private eyes who operated out of a resort hotel in Phoenix, where the series was filmed. One season, 39 episodes of wearing narrow ties, tooling around in cars with fins, and fighting crooks. And I still remember the theme song, which means I must have watched the series regularly.
Years later when I was in high school, I ran across a used copy of the TV tie-in novel based on the series (it’s amazing to think that a low-budget syndicated show could get a tie-in novel from a major paperback publisher like Signet, but it wasn’t that uncommon back then), titled, appropriately enough, THE BROTHERS BRANNAGAN and written by one Henry E. Helseth. Helseth doesn’t seem to have been very prolific. He has one other TV tie-in to his credit, a novel based on the series THIS MAN DAWSON (which I don’t think I ever saw) and a mystery novel from the late Forties. I don’t remember anything about his Brothers Brannagan book except that I read it and wasn’t impressed by it.
If anyone has seen any episodes of THE BROTHERS BRANNAGAN recently, I’d love to hear about it. I’d like to think it was a good show, since I remember it fondly, but I’m not going to hold my breath waiting for confirmation of that.
A couple of years ago I read a story in ELLERY QUEEN’S MYSTERY MAGAZINE called “Unruly Jade”. The author was Terence Faherty, and the story, set in Hollywood in 1947, featured a private eye named Scott Elliott who worked for an outfit called Hollywood Security. I thought it was a great story, snappy and fast-paced and very pulpish, just the sort of thing that might have actually been published in BLACK MASK or DIME DETECTIVE alongside yarns by Day Keene and John D. McDonald and William Campbell Gault.
So I knew that I would probably like THE HOLLYWOOD OP, a collection of Scott Elliott stories from the great small press publisher Perfect Crime Books. For one thing, “Unruly Jade” was included in the collection, the first story, in fact, and for another, as a longtime fan of Robert Leslie Bellem’s Dan Turner stories, as well as Dashiell Hammett’s Continental Op stories, I loved that title. A cross between Dan Turner and the Op, maybe?
Well, no. The biggest influence on these stories seems to me to be Raymond Chandler, which I’ll get back to in a minute. With one exception, Faherty has arranged the stories in this volume in chronological order according to his protagonist’s life. Elliott, a former contract player at Paramount, returns to Hollywood after serving in World War II and becomes an operative for Hollywood Security when it becomes apparent that his acting career is over. Faherty follows him through the late Forties, the Fifties, and on up into the Sixties, painting a spectacularly vivid picture of Hollywood during that same stretch of years. The stories are evocative, complexly plotted, and very well-written. I’m a sucker for a private eye whose wisecracks cover up a sense of melancholy, and Elliott falls squarely into that category.
The book closes with the previously unpublished novella “Sleep Big”, and there’s that Chandler influence again. This story is set before World War II, when Elliott is still an actor instead of a private detective, but he becomes involved in a very complicated murder case anyway. This is a tribute to and pastiche of THE BIG SLEEP, and while even attempting such a thing is a pretty big task, Faherty pulls it off very successfully, even poking a little fun at himself along the way for his audacity.
If you’re a fan of private eye fiction, I can’t recommend THE HOLLYWOOD OP highly enough. You should go order a copy right now if you don’t have the book already. This is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year.
I’ve been a fan of stories about the Romans versus the Britons and the Picts ever since first reading Robert E. Howard’s Bran Mak Morn stories many years ago. I’ve read a number of novels and watched several movies with this setting. CENTURION is a film I hadn’t seen until recently. It’s another one concerning the fate of the Ninth Legion, the famous Lost Legion that was the last Roman military force north of what came to known as Hadrian’s Wall.
Michael Fassbender plays a young Roman centurion who finds himself cut off with a few companions far behind Pictish lines after the rest of their forces are either killed or taken prisoner in a trap sprung by the Picts. The rest of the movie concerns their attempt to survive and make it back to Roman lines. As you might expect, there’s a lot of action with swords, pikes, battle axes, and the like. Blood flows (and splatters) copiously. Heads roll, as Joe Bob Briggs used to say. Much of the action is done in that quick-cut editing style that old geezers such as myself don’t like, but some of it is pretty effective. The acting is okay, and the scenery, when it’s not being obscured by gore, is beautiful.
What finally worked against the movie for me is its unrelenting grimness. I realize, given the subject matter, the story can’t be all sweetness and light, and the ending is not without hope. I wouldn’t say that CENTURION is a bad movie, but rather that it’s just a bleak, bloody film that I never really warmed up to. It’s worth watching, though, especially if you have an interest in that particular era.
Livia's brand-new urban fantasy novel WITCH GOT YOUR TONGUE is now available as an e-book for both the Kindle and the Nook, and the trade paperback edition should be available in the near future. I edited this book, and while I'm hardly an unbiased observer, I think it's terrific, especially if you're a fan of novels by authors such as Charlaine Harris and Kim Harrison. It's got action, humor, romance, drama, and more action. Livia has an interesting post over on her blog about how the book was written.
Our daughter Joanna and some of her friends even made a book trailer for it (a first for us), and a talented young artist named Alyssa Renae White did the artwork for the cover. Great stuff all around, I say.
This is another obscure Western pulp, at least to me, but man, what a line-up of authors! There are only three stories in this issue, listed as novels but probably more like novellas, but the authors are W.C. Tuttle, Eugene Cunningham, and Hugh Pendexter. All of those are pretty big names in the pulp field. Tuttle is a long-time favorite of mine, Cunningham has a great reputation and what little I've read of his work has been good, and Pendexter is an old hand from the glory days of ADVENTURE. I haven't read any of Pendexter's work, but I know his stories are highly regarded. I'll bet Walker Martin can offer an opinion on them. The cover of this issue itself is nothing special, but I'll bet the contents are pretty darned good. (And judging by the listing in the Fictionmags Index, they're not reprints, either.)
Let me explain. Several years ago, a friend of mine who has written a lot of these Jake Logan books told me about this one, which was written by a mutual friend of ours. It sounded interesting, so I thought I’d look for it. It had been out of print for a number of years, even then, but the local Half Price Books has a bunch of Slocum novels, so I figured I’d pick up a copy the next time I was there. But when I looked, Half Price didn’t have it. Neither did the next Half Price I checked, or the one after that, or the one after that . . .
Back in the pre-Internet days, I used to carry around lists of books I was looking for, so I could check for them every time I was in a used bookstore. I’ll bet a lot of you did, too. It was fun. So even though I could have ordered a copy of SLOCUM AND THE INVADERS any time I wanted to (there are numerous copies listed on ABE, most of them very inexpensive), I decided that I was going to find this book by remembering to look for it in used bookstores, just like I used to. So for years now, every time I saw some Jake Logan novels in a store, I checked to see if SLOCUM AND THE INVADERS was there. Surprisingly, it never was. Until this week. I looked, and there it was, and I got the same kind of kick I used to whenever I’d chance across a long-sought-after book.
So now I’ve read it at last, and luckily, it’s good. John Slocum, for those of you unfamiliar with the character, is a drifting gunfighter and occasional outlaw in the Old West who’s been having almost monthly adventures since 1975, when the series debuted from the long-defunct Playboy Paperbacks. (It moved to Berkley Books after 49 novels from Playboy Paperbacks.) Many, many different authors have written Slocum novels under the Jake Logan house-name, including some you might not expect, such as famous mystery novelist Martin Cruz Smith. I’ve even written one of the books myself, SLOCUM AND THE TEXAS ROSE.
SLOCUM AND THE INVADERS find Slocum in Arizona Territory, where he encounters an eccentric astronomer (mistaking the man’s tripod-mounted telescope for a rifle at first) and the astronomer’s requisite beautiful female assistant (these are Adult Westerns, after all). Unfortunately, Slocum is on the run from a gang of vicious killers at the moment, and as he spends more time with his new friends, he discovers an unexpected connection between them and the bad guys who are already after him. There are also some renegade Indians in the vicinity to further complicate things.
This is a pretty standard Adult Western set-up, but then SLOCUM AND THE INVADERS takes an unexpected, jaw-dropping turn that places it firmly in the realm of “like no Adult Western you’ve ever read before”. I’ve read hundreds of these books from various series (and written about 75 of them myself), and the plot twist in this one is certainly one I’ve never encountered anywhere else. And it works, beautifully, in fact. Unfortunately, I can’t say anything more about it without ruining things for those of you who might read the book someday.
So my long search was rewarded at last, and there are some other old books I’ve decided I’m going to look for in the same way. I have a couple of lists, scribbled on a piece of paper that’s now folded up and stuck in my wallet for the next time I visit a used bookstore. And it feels good.
"When a full moon fills the night sky, P I Roman Dalton becomes a werewolf and prowls the dark streets of the city battling creatures of evil. Paul D Brazill's Drunk On The Moon is an intense and hard-boiled noir / horror series, brought to you by some of the finest dark fiction writers around. Spinetingler Award nominee Paul D. Brazill was born in England and lives in Poland. His writing has appeared in a number of magazines and anthologies, including the 2011 Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime. His short story collection '13 Shots Of Noir' will be published in 2011. He writes regularly for Pulp Metal Magazine and Mean Streets Magazine. His influential blog is You Would Say That, Wouldn't You?"
"A crackling fun read that puts werewolves in a Sin City/hardboiled world" --Dave Zeltserman-Killer, Blood Crimes, Pariah, Outsourced and many, many, more.
(I just read this last night and thoroughly enjoyed it. Dalton's a fine character, and Brazill does dark, seedy cityscapes about as well as anybody in the business. I'm looking forward to the forthcoming books in this series.)
I read Dave Zeltserman’s first Julius Katz and Archie story, titled simply “Julius Katz”, a couple of years ago in EQMM, before it won the Shamus Award. I missed the second tale in the series, “Archie’s Been Framed”. Luckily for me, and for you if you haven’t sampled this series yet, both stories are now available in the e-book JULIUS KATZ MYSTERIES.
Julius Katz, for those of you who don’t know, is a brilliant detective from Cambridge, Massachusetts, whose personality, but not his appearance and habits, is modeled after Nero Wolfe. Archie, in this case, is not Katz’s flesh-and-blood assistant and legman, but rather a two-inch square computer chip that has an artificial intelligence of its – or his – own. Katz wears Archie as a tie clip, and Archie narrates the stories.
Obviously, this series started out as a pastiche of/tribute to Rex Stout’s classic body of work featuring Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin, but even before the first story was over Zeltserman had molded it into something more by giving Julius and Archie their own personalities and capturing them so perfectly. Julius isn’t as eccentric and infuriating as Wolfe, and Archie the computer doesn’t have Archie Goodwin’s wiseass self-confidence. The dynamic between their characters and the voice that Zeltserman develops make for a very appealing combination. The stories are well-plotted traditional mysteries, to boot, a form that’s not nearly as common as it once was.
I have the first full-length novel in the series, JULIUS KATZ AND ARCHIE, and will be reading it soon. But if you haven’t read the first two stories, or even if you just missed one of them like I did, I highly recommend that you grab a copy of JULIUS KATZ MYSTERIES. You'll be glad you did.
There's another new interview with me on-line today, this one at the Wag the Fox blog. It concentrates on the writing of THE BLOOD MESA but touches on a few other things as well. I would have posted this link earlier, but today has been real-life-intensive, shall we say.
Of all the comics I’ve started reading in recent months, one of the best – if not the best – is SECRET AVENGERS. Not surprisingly, it’s written by Ed Brubaker, the writer of my other favorite, CAPTAIN AMERICA, and features Steve Rogers, the former Cap, in a leading role.
For years now, different teams of Avengers have tended to crop up, last for a while, and then go away. I hope this one lasts a long time. It’s the covert ops branch of the Avengers, led by Steve Rogers himself, and includes War Machine (Jim Rhodes in his own version of the Iron Man armor), Ant-Man (not Hank Pym; now it’s some other guy who used to be a SHIELD agent, I think), the Beast (Hank McCoy from the X-Men), another former SHIELD agent and Steve’s former girlfriend Sharon Carter, the Black Widow (the same one she’s always been), Moon Knight (I have no idea who he is now; I need to look that up), the Norse warrior goddess Valkyrie, and some guy in a hood called The Prince of Orphans (no idea who he is, either, or who he’s supposed to be).
Despite being a little fuzzy on a couple of the characters, I’ve been able to dive right into this book with great enjoyment. The storyline that’s just been reprinted in this collection is top-notch and features one of my favorite characters from the Seventies, Shang-Chi, the Master of Kung Fu.
Now you’d think that a character created solely as a quick way for Marvel to cash in on the kung fu movie craze back then wouldn’t be that great. But you’d be wrong, because Shang-Ki and the comic MASTER OF KUNG FU quickly evolved into much more than that, because of who Shang-Chi’s father was.
None other than Fu Manchu his own self.
For several years, with great scripts from Doug Moench and even better art by Paul Gulacy, MOKF became a globe-trotting, espionage-oriented, action-adventure epic with a superb supporting cast. At its center, though, was always the clash between Fu Manchu, one of the all-time great villains, and his idealistic son Shang-Chi.
Since then Shang-Chi has hung around the fringes of the Marvel Universe, popping up now and then to play a part in some story. In SECRET AVENGERS: EYES OF THE DRAGON, the story actually revolves around him and the efforts of an evil secret society, the Hai-Dai, to capture him so that he can be sacrificed in a ritual that will return his father to life.
In one of the annoying things about this storyline, for some reason Fu Manchu is no longer referred to by that name. Instead he’s become Zheng Zu . . . but come on, we all know who he really is. That’s Fu frickin’ Manchu the bad guys want to resurrect, so naturally Steve Rogers and the Secret Avengers have to step in to try to put the kibosh on that evil plot. Complicating things is yet another secret society, the Shadow Council, that’s behind what the Hai-Dai is doing, and one of their leaders is a rogue LMD of Nick Fury who calls himself Max Fury. (If you’ve read this far and you don’t know what an LMD is . . . well, let’s just say that’s unlikely.) Also working for the Shadow Council is John Steele, a former ally of Captain America’s from World War II.
Brubaker juggles all these plot elements quite effectively and tells a fast-moving story at the same time. The artwork is mostly by Mike Deodato, who’s a decent storyteller. Yes, this is typical superhero comic book stuff, but it’s done with skill and respect for the medium. In many ways, Brubaker is one of the most traditional writers working in comics these days, which is fine with an old curmudgeon like me. At the same time, the quality of his writing is high enough that his stories attain a freshness that I don’t see in some of the other comics.
So if you’re old enough to have been reading comics in the Seventies and remember MASTER OF KUNG FU with the same fondness I do, you need to read SECRET AVENGERS: EYES OF THE DRAGON. I had a great time with it.
There's a very nice review of THE BLOOD MESA on the excellent blog Permission to Kill this morning. "Rapid fire pace and unflinching brutality", the review says, which is exactly what I was trying to achieve in the book. Check it out.
There's a new interview with me this morning on Allan Guthrie's Criminal-E blog. Many of you know Al and know that he's a fine writer, but he's also one of the best editors I've ever had, and I've always thought that his suggestions on my novel DUST DEVILS (the focus of the interview) improved the book immensely.
If you blinked very many times in 1992, you probably missed this short-lived medieval adventure series. According to IMDB, thirteen episodes were produced, but only six ever aired on ABC. That’s a shame, because while I haven’t seen it since then and don’t know how well it holds up, I remember it as being a pretty entertaining series.
COVINGTON CROSS was the story of Sir Thomas Grey and his teenage and young adult children. Unlike the current BBC series MERLIN, which I also enjoy, there was no mystical element to COVINGTON CROSS, no monsters or magic. It was a more straightforward adventure series, although with plenty of soap operatic elements and a certain anachronistic modern feeling to it. Some reviewers on IMDB refer to it as “90210 in the Middle Ages” (probably because of all the young, attractive characters and their romances with each other), while one of the producers is quoted as calling it “Bonanza in the Middle Ages”, which seems to me more accurate than the 90210 comparison. Some of the reviewers also seem to think it was a sitcom, which isn’t accurate at all. I wonder if they’re mixing up COVINGTON CROSS with the Mel Brooks series WHEN THINGS WERE ROTTEN.
I remember watching all the episodes that aired and enjoying them. The action scenes were pretty good (you know what a sucker I am for swordfights), and I remember being quite taken with Ione Skye as Sir Thomas’s tomboyish daughter. The rest of the cast was good, too. If all thirteen episodes were available on DVD, I might well watch them. Unfortunately, they’re not. But I’d be interested to know if anyone else besides me even remembers this series.
Today is the official launch of THE BLOOD MESA, my entry is Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin's series THE DEAD MAN. This was something of a departure for me, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. And I love that cover!
Marcus Sakey, a writer called "genius" (Chicago Tribune), "astoundingly good" (San Jose Mercury News), and "brilliant" (The Huffington Post), is returning to the crime scene this summer with his most ambitious novel to date. THE TWO DEATHS OF DANIEL HAYES is a captivating story of love and memory that asks an intriguing question: if you lost your memory, who would you choose to be?
THE TWO DEATHS OF DANIEL HAYES starts with a man waking up cold, alone, and half-drowned on an abandoned beach, with no memory of who he is. Inside a nearby BMW, he finds clothes that fit perfectly, a Rolex, a bank envelope stuffed with cash, and an auto registration in the name of Daniel Hayes, resident of Malibu, California. What is he doing here? Is he Daniel Hayes, and if so, why doesn't he remember? While he searches for answers, the world searches for him -- beginning with the police that kick in the door of his dingy motel, with guns drawn.
All he remembers is a woman's face, so he sets off for the only place he might find her. The fantasy of her becomes his home, his world, his hope. And maybe, just maybe, the way back to himself.
(I've read this book, and it's excellent. Sakey is a fine writer. Recommended.)
Like TEXAS RANGERS with the Jim Hatfield novels, THE RIO KID WESTERN, and MASKED RIDER WESTERN, RANGE RIDERS WESTERN was another example of the Hero Pulp formula transplanted to a Western setting. Every issue featured a novel starring a trio of range detectives who work for the Cattleman's Protective Association. The leader of the group is Steve Reese, and his two sidekicks are Hank Ball and Dusty Trail, who serve not only as back-up for Reese but also occasional comedy relief (although both are pretty competent and the series doesn't descend into slapstickery too often). I've read a bunch of these stories and enjoyed most of them, especially the early ones by Oscar J. Friend, who evidently created the series. Later on, Friend took some of his Range Riders novels, changed the titles and the names of the three main characters, and resold them to hardback publishers, a common practice in the pulp era. Steve Reese became Simon Carter in these revisions. I don't recall the new names of the other two characters. This particular issue includes short stories by the always-reliable Gunnison Steele (Bennie Gardner), Jackson Cole (no telling who was behind this house-name), and Frank Carl Young. I'm unfamiliar with Young's work, but a check of the Fictionmags Index shows that he was relatively prolific in the Western pulps from the mid-Thirties through the early Fifties. I've probably read some of his stories, but if so, I don't remember them.
The Western Fictioneers Peacemaker Awards competition for 2011 is open. You can find out all the details of what's eligible and how to submit on the WF website. If you have a Western novel or short story you plan to enter in the competition and it's already available, you can go ahead and submit it now so the judges can get started reading. I know some people probably feel like it's best to wait until late in the year to submit so that the book or story will be fresh in the judges' mind, but having been a judge for the Peacemaker, Spur, Shamus, and Scribe Awards, I can promise you that's not the case. The good entries always rise to the top no matter when they're submitted.
Secret Agent X is back, this time facing “Death’s Frozen Formula” in a yarn of the same name from the February 1937 issue of the Agent’s pulp magazine. This one was penned by G.T. Fleming-Roberts, probably the most hardboiled member of the stable of scribes that wrote the Secret Agent X novels. It shows, because this is a grim, gritty crime story that has the Agent taking on a drug ring rather than a mad scientist with some super-weapon that threatens the security of the entire country.
Roberts doesn’t pull any punches in his descriptions of the damage being done by the hard drugs dealt by the criminals in this novel, and although he threatens to veer off into REEFER MADNESS territory a few times, he never really does. For the most part, it’s pretty serious stuff as a number of characters die, including some that I didn’t expect. The action scenes and the death traps from which the Agent escapes are fairly realistic, too.
There is a super-weapon, of course, a method of instantly freezing somebody that almost does in the Agent and his friends on several occasions. And there are some bizarre monsters, too, but really, the secret behind them is pretty easy to figure out. These elements are almost afterthoughts, as if Fleming-Roberts felt he had to work in a few hero pulp conventions somehow. The mean streets stuff makes up most of the novel, though, and it’s in these sections that Fleming-Roberts’ writing really shines. For that reason, “Death’s Frozen Formula” goes in the top rank of the Secret Agent X novels I’ve read so far. Pretty good cover on the pulp, too, depicting a scene from the story.
This one will soon be available as an inexpensive reprint from Beb Books.