Neal Barrett Jr. is one of my favorite writers and one of my favorite people in the world, period. You should read any books of his you can get your hands on, because I promise you, you won't find anything else like them. But right now, you should go check out his Facebook page. He's posting some real-life exchanges between him and various editors and agents (with the names removed to protect the not-so-innocent), and they're both poignant and hilarious. Plus there's a lot of other great stuff. Check it out here.
This biography of the legendary pulp author HughB.Cave was based on many personal interviews Milt Thomas conducted with Cave over several years. Not surprisingly, it's a very intimate portrait of Cave as both a writer and a human being. I knew very little about his childhood or personal life; all I knew was that he produced a multitude of stories that were both very well-written and very enjoyable. Discovering that Cave was so prolific in part because he was trying to escape from some unpleasant personal circumstances gives the stories an added poignancy.
The first half of the book covers Cave's childhood, adolescence, his first attempts at writing, and his blossoming pulp career. Thomas's account moves on to Cave's foray into the slick magazine market, his experiences as a war correspondent during World War II (I wish I'd known that Cave was around Guadalcanal; I would have had him make a cameo appearance in one of my World War II novels), his trips to Haiti, where he learned so much about voodoo that would form the basis for many of his later works, his years as the owner of a coffee plantation in Jamaica, his mainstream novels and his later horror novels, and the rebirth of interest in his pulp work that began with Karl Edward Wagner's publication of the collection MURGUNSTRUMM in 1977. In reading this book I discovered that Cave was at the fourth World Fantasy Convention in Fort Worth in 1978, a convention that I didn't know about until it was over. Within a few years, though, I met quite a few people who were at that very convention, including Bill Crider and Joe Lansdale. Paralleling the story of Cave's professional life are the varied tragedies of his personal life. You can't help but feel a little sympathy for Cave, who was a modest, genuinely decent man.
As for CAVE OF A THOUSAND TALES, it's a well-written, well-researched, beautifully-produced book. I was a little unsure about Thomas's habit of fictionalizing certain incidents in the lives of Cave's parents and in Cave's early life, but the technique worked just fine. I might have a quibble or two with certain of his comments about pulp history, but those are very minor points. All in all, this is a highly readable account of the life and career of one of my favorite writers, and it's one of the best books I've read this year.
This is another private eye movie, from a year or so after NIGHT MOVES, which I wrote about last week. THE LATE SHOW stars Art Carney and Lily Tomlin, and with a cast like that, it's considerably cuter than the bleak NIGHT MOVES, as you'd expect. It even has Tomlin's character hiring Carney's private eye character to find her kidnapped cat. Cozy, you might be thinking . . . well, other than the fact that the movie starts with Carney's partner showing up with a bullet in the belly.
Yes, even though there's a cat in it, this movie is pretty darned hardboiled, and as usual in the genre, nothing is what it seems. Carney and Tomlin play off each other very well, and the rest of the cast – Bill Macy, the beautiful Joanna Cassiday, even Howard Duff, speaking of private eyes – do a fine job, too. Robert Benton, who wrote and/or directed some of the top movies of the Sixties, Seventies, and Eighties such as BONNIE AND CLYDE, KRAMER VS. KRAMER, and PLACES IN THE HEART, puts together a really entertaining film that falls solidly in the private eye genre. That said, while I enjoyed THE LATE SHOW a lot, I don't think it had the same impact on me that NIGHT MOVES did. I guess I'm just a grim, existential kinda guy.
That ends my brief trip back to the Seventies, although I don't rule out a return trip there in the future.
My friend David Guglielmo has a new short film available to watch on-line. It's part of a competition sponsored by Drafthouse Films, and you can watch it and vote in support of it here. I'm not a big fan of horror films, as some of you know, but this one is short, punchy, and well-done, with a really effective twist ending. I liked it a lot. Check it out. (David and I are working together on an interesting project that you'll hear more about in the future, with any luck.)
I don't know the release date of this book, but it will be out sometime this fall and would make a great Christmas gift for the Western readers among you. Livia has a Lucas Hallam story in it, I bring back Judge Earl Stark in a Christmas-themed Western mystery, and there are a dozen other great stories by Terry Burns, Tim Champlin, Matthew Mayo, Rod Miller, Kerry Newcomb, Robert Vaughan, Robert J. Randisi, Douglas Hirt, Dusty Richards, Frank Roderus, Troy Smith, and Larry Sweazy. This isn't a Western Fictioneers project, although most of the contributors are members of WF, but I recommend it highly anyway. Great stuff for the Christmas season! (The material about the anthology starts about 30 seconds into the trailer.)
(This one is already available for pre-order on Amazon. As always with Joe's books, don't miss it!)
Mulholland Books releases the latest Joe R. Lansdale novel.
EDGE OF DARK WATER
Mark Twain Meets Stephen King with a Lansdale Twist
March 25, 2012-New York, NY- Mulholland Books an imprint of Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group brings you the latest crime novel from cult favorite, award winner Joe R. Lansdale.
Joe R. Lansdale is the author of over twenty novels, the Edgar Award winner THE BOTTOMS, and the ever popular Hap and Leonard series to name a few. He has penned countless short stories, chapbooks, graphic novels, screenplays, animated series work, and comic books. His work spanning western, horror, science fiction, suspense, and mystery has won him numerous awards including the British Fantasy Award, the American Mystery Award, the Grinzane Cavour Prize for Literature, and an impressive eight Bram Stoker Awards to name a few.
Iconic author and pioneer in transcending genre, Joe R. Lansdale blends lost dreams, death, thievery, and a trip down river on a raft with a Southern flair that only he can manage. With a plot that is reminiscent of the classic Mark Twain and Stephen King works combined - Edge of Dark Water is crime fiction at its best.
May Lynn was once a pretty girl who dreamed of becoming a Hollywood star. Now she’s dead, her body dredged up from the Sabine River. Sue Ellen, May Lynn’s strong-willed teenage friend, sets out to dig up May Lynn’s body, burn it to ash, and take those ashes to Hollywood to spread around. If May Lynn can’t become a star, then at least her ashes will end up in the land of her dreams. Along with her friends Terry and Jinx and her alcoholic mother, Sue Ellen steals a raft and heads downriver to carry May Lynn’s remains to Hollywood.
Only problem is, Sue Ellen has some stolen money that her enemies will do anything to get back. Including avoiding a strange and relentless hired assassin called Skunk. What looks like a prime opportunity to escape from a worthless life will instead lead to disastrous consequences. In the end, Sue Ellen will learn a harsh lesson on just how hard growing up can really be.
· "Joe R. Lansdale has a folklorist's eye for telling detail and a front-porch raconteur's sense of pace." (The New York Times Book Review )
· "Lansdale has created a landscape of broken dreams, skewed personalities and hope still clinging to the inside of the Pandora's box of problems they all share. . . . He has been called a folklorist, and Leather Maiden makes you want to sit on a porch listening to him spin a yarn that you know doesn't contain a true sentence." (Los Angeles Times)
· "One of the greatest yarn spinners of his generation: fearless, earthy, original, manic and dreadfully funny." (Dallas Morning News, on Vanilla Ride )
Because let's face it: you wouldn't expect a pulp to call itself LESSER WESTERN MAGAZINE, now would you? But based on the authors in this one, the claim's not all that far-fetched. I mean, any Western pulp with Max Brand and Clarence E. Mulford (and a Hoppy story, to boot), backed up by authors as well-known as J. Allan Dunn and Charles Alden Seltzer, is probably going to be pretty darned good. The other author in this issue, George C. Henderson, was no slouch, either. I've read some of his work in other pulps and liked it. To be honest, I'm not that crazy about the cover, but it's not bad, either. I've have picked up this issue for sure I'd had an extra nickel and dime in my pocket.
Normally I wouldn't consider a Robert Silverberg novel published less than ten years ago to be a Forgotten Book, but other than an e-book version, THE LONGEST WAY HOME appears to be out of print, you don't hear much about it, even among Silverberg fans, and I really enjoyed it. So I'm going to make a few comments about it.
The plot is fairly simple. Set in the far future, this novel takes place on a planet called Homeworld where a feudal society has developed among the human colonists from Earth, which has come to be regarded as a somewhat mythical place. There are three main groups on the planet: the Indigenes, aliens who were there when the first humans arrived from space; the Folk, those first colonists who set up a simple farming society; and the Masters, who came in later and conquered the Folk, establishing a system of ruling Houses that spread across the planet. So you have the Masters, running everything as fairly benevolent dictators, the Folk who work for them, and the Indigenes who pretty much ignore both of the other factions.
The protagonist is Joseph Master Keilloran of House Keilloran, one of the ruling houses in the southern hemisphere of Homeworld. He's visiting his cousins at House Getfen in the northern hemisphere when the Folk there rise up in a violent rebellion. Joseph manages to escape being slaughtered along with the other Masters in the house, but now he's on his own and decides that he has no choice but to walk back to his home, even though it's thousands of miles away, he has no training in how to survive, and the countryside is caught up in a civil war.
This novel is partially travelogue SF, one of the oldest science-fictional subgenres, in which fate drops the hero down in unfamiliar surroundings and he discovers wondrous things involving geography, flora and fauna, and the sentient inhabitants of the world in which he finds himself. Ray Cummings did the exact same thing more than ninety years ago in THE GIRL IN THE GOLDEN ATOM, which I wrote about a year or so ago.
But Silverberg mixes this travelogue with a very well done coming-of-age story that elevates THE LONGEST WAY HOME considerably above Cummings' yarn, entertaining though it was in its old-fashioned way. During Joseph's travels he interacts with the alien Indigenes, the rebellious Folk, and some other Masters. He nearly dies a few times, he learns a lot, and he loses his virginity. The pace is a little more leisurely than you'll find in most of the books I read, and there are long stretches without much dialogue, which is something else I don't usually care for, but those things go hand-in-hand with Silverberg's plot and he makes the whole thing work very well. His prose is extremely smooth and easy to read, as you'd expect from somebody who's been at this writing business as long as he has.
I'm on record as loving Silverberg's early SF. THE LONGEST WAY HOME is the most recent work of his that I've read it, and I liked it just as much, although it holds a different sort of appeal than his slam-bang Fifties yarns. I have a feeling that wherever I dip into his career, I'm going to find something to like. This one gets a high recommendation from me.
Here are the credits and opening scene from the Jerry Cotton film MORD NACHT IN MANHATTAN, which translates, I think, to DEATH NIGHT IN MANHATTAN. Thanks to Michael Davis for the link. There are several other Jerry Cotton clips available on YouTube if you're interested.
Here's the cover from the DVD of one of the Jerry Cotton movies starring American actor George Nader, THE MURDERERS CLUB OF BROOKLYN. There were several of these made in the Sixties, with titles like DEATH IN A RED JAGUAR and THE VIOLIN CASE MURDERS. They appear to have been filmed in the U.S., but with German casts and crews, other than Nader in the lead role. I've never seen any of them, but if I could find a DVD with English subtitles, I'd probably give it a chance. I can sort of read German, but understanding it when spoken is beyond my feeble linguistic abilities.
In response to my Forgotten Books post last week about the lone American edition of a novel from the long-running Jerry Cotton series in Germany, one of my readers informed me that the series is still being published, with more than 2800 novels so far! That's just amazing to me. The website for the series is here, and if you check it out you'll see that not only are new Jerry Cotton novels still coming out, but some of the older ones are being reprinted as well. I love some of the titles: DEATH PLAYS WITH LOADED DICE, REVENGE HAS NO EXPIRATION DATE, WHEN CORPSES COULD TALK, IN THE SHADOW OF THE RAT . . . Looking at this almost makes me want to write a Jerry Cotton novel. Maybe I'll put a Cotton cameo in some project. Thanks, Wolfgang!
I've read a lot of books by Steve Mertz over years and enjoyed every one of them, but he elevates his game even more with HANK AND MUDDY, his new novel from Perfect Crime Books. To start with, the story has a great concept: Hank Williams and Muddy Waters are thrown together by dangerous circumstances in Shreveport, Louisiana in 1952 and wind up having to go on the run to stay alive. Mertz throws a lot into the plot, which includes murder, a missing notebook containing all the songs Hank Williams is writing, feuding gangsters, G-Men, commie spies, a bank robber's beautiful daughter, and, oh yeah, gators. How could you possibly not want to read that book?
Mertz takes it a step further, though, by telling his story in alternating first-person chapters from Hank and Muddy. Switching first-person POV is a tricky thing to do, but Mertz pulls it off in splendid fashion, giving each of his narrators a distinctive, pitch-perfect voice. Not only that, he captures the early Fifties setting very well, from the motor courts to the nightclubs to the rural filling stations.
I'd heard a lot of good things about this book, and HANK AND MUDDY doesn't disappoint. It's Steve Mertz's best novel so far, easily one of the best books I've read this year, and gets the highest recommendation I can give it. This is brilliant stuff. Go read it.
Amazon's Thomas & Mercer imprint has picked up THE DEAD MAN series in a unique and exclusive 12-book digital and print deal ... with an option for more. But that's not all. Brilliance Audio will be also be rolling out their own editions of the books.
The five books that we've already published -- FACE OF EVIL, RING OF KNIVES, HELL IN HEAVEN, THE DEAD WOMAN, and THE BLOOD MESA -- will be re-released in the days leading up to Halloween ... so keep your eyes peeled for great offers.
The sixth book in the series will be released in November and will be followed each month by another new adventure in the continuing saga of Matt Cahill, a man resurrected from the dead to battle evil among us that only he can see.
Amazon will also be releasing three-book compilations of THE DEAD MAN series in trade paperback (as well as in specially priced digital editions). The release dates of the first compilation, and the Brilliance Audio editions, have not been determined yet ... but we’re hoping they'll be ready for Christmas.
Bill Rabkin and I will continue to run the series, which we're writing with a terrific group of action, horror, mystery, SF and western authors, like James Daniels, David McAfee, James Reasoner, Harry Shannon, Joel Goldman, Mel Odom, Jude Hardin, Lisa Klink, Mark Ellis, Matthew Mayo, Joe Nassise, Bill Crider, Marcus Pelegrimas, Matt Witten, Burl Barer, and Phoef Sutton.
And we couldn't have hoped for a better partner than Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer. I just returned from meeting with the Thomas & Mercer team (including editors Terry Goodman and Andy Bartlett) in Seattle and was blown away by their creativity, enthusiasm, and eagerness to see THE DEAD MAN reach its full potential. They get exactly what Bill and I are trying to do with this series.
And what is that, you ask?
We want to capture the spirit of the “men’s action adventure” paperbacks of the 70s and 80s – short, tightly-written books full of hard-boiled heroes, outrageously sexy women, wild adventure, and gleefully over-the-top plots – and reboot the genre for a new generation that maximizes the potential of the Kindle.
And with Thomas & Mercer behind us, I don't see how we can fail.
I've been a fan of private eye novels ever since I checked out THIS IS IT, MICHAEL SHAYNE from the bookmobile that came out to our little town every Saturday morning from the public library in the county seat. That would have been about 1965. By the Seventies, I'd read dozens, if not hundreds, of private eye novels, and movies in that genre were beginning to become important to me as well. Some were classics, like THE MALTESE FALCON and THE BIG SLEEP, while others were just coming out then, such as CHINATOWN.
A private eye movie from the mid-Seventies that had a definite influence on me was NIGHT MOVES, starring Gene Hackman as private investigator Harry Moseby. Directed by Arthur Penn from an original screenplay by Alan Sharp (who was also credited with the novelization of the movie, which I read, although I don't know if he actually wrote it), NIGHT MOVES puts Moseby through what by then were the familiar paces of the private eye yarn, Ross Macdonald style: the search for a missing daughter (in this case a stepdaughter), the sinister influence of the past on the present, the evils that lurk in family relationships, the ever-present danger of corruption.
But familiar or not, when those elements are put together in the right way, they work very, very well, and NIGHT MOVES does an excellent job of that. If you read the forums on the IMDB page for this movie, you'll find people pontificating about how it's not really a private eye movie or even a mystery movie, it's all about existentialism and the characters. Well, everybody's got their own opinion, and of course I don't know what the filmmakers intended, but to me this is just a good solid private eye yarn with a great performance from Gene Hackman.
As for the influence it had on me, well, it was only a couple of years later that I wrote TEXAS WIND, and while I've always thought that Ross Macdonald was the biggest influence on that book, there's some NIGHT MOVES in there as well, primarily in the way Gene Hackman played Harry Moseby. I've always thought that Hackman would have made a good Cody. Probably nobody else who read that book or the Cody stories ever saw him that way, but I did. Your opinion, of course, is just as valid as mine. But if you like private eye movies and haven't seen NIGHT MOVES, I remember it as being well worth watching.
Author of Double Indemnity, Mildred Pierce,
and The Postman Always Rings Twice
James M. Cain’s Final, Unpublished Crime Novel,
THE COCKTAIL WAITRESS, Scheduled for 2012 Release
New York, NY; London, UK (September 19, 2011) – Hard Case Crime, the award-winning line of mystery novels published by Titan Books, today announced the discovery of a lost crime novel written by James M. Cain, author of such classics as Double Indemnity, Mildred Pierce, and The Postman Always Rings Twice.The new novel, The Cocktail Waitress, has never before been published.Hard Case Crime will bring the book out in Fall 2012.
The Cocktail Waitress was the final book written by Cain, who died in 1977.He was working on revisions to the novel until close to the end of his life; handwritten notes and edits appear in the margins of numerous pages.Charles Ardai, founder and editor of Hard Case Crime, first learned of the book’s existence from Max Allan Collins, author of Road to Perdition, and has spent more than nine years tracking down the author’s original manuscript and arranging to get the rights to publish the book.
“Together with Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, James M. Cain is universally considered one of the three greatest writers of noir crime fiction who ever lived, “ said Ardai, “and for fans of the genre, The Cocktail Waitress is the Holy Grail.It’s like finding a lost manuscript by Hemingway or a lost score by Gershwin – that’s how big a deal this is.”
Combining themes from Mildred Pierce and The Postman Always Rings Twice, The Cocktail Waitress tells the story of a beautiful young widow, Joan Medford, whose husband died under suspicious circumstances.Desperate to make ends meet after his death, she takes a job as a waitress in a cocktail lounge, where he meets two new men: a handsome young schemer she falls in love with, and a wealthy older man she marries.
“Why am I taping this?” Joan narrates.“It’s in the hope of getting it printed to clear my name of the charges made against me…of being a femme fatale who knew ways of killing a husband so slick they couldn’t be proved. Unfortunately, they cannot be disproved either… All I know to do is to tell it and tell it all, including some things no woman would willingly tell…”
“At his best, Cain was an astonishingly strong writer, not just of great crime novels but of great novels, period,” Ardai said.Cain’s work is taught in literature programs at numerous major universities and was also the basis of classic films such as Billy Wilder’s adaptation of Double Indemnity, which boasted a screenplay by Raymond Chandler and was nominated for seven Academy Awards including Best Picture.The Postman Always Rings Twice was adapted as a 1946 film starring Lana Turner and then again in 1981 with Jack Nicholson and Jessica Lange and a screenplay by David Mamet.Mildred Pierce was adapted earlier this year into a critically acclaimed miniseries on HBO for which stars Kate Winslet and Guy Pearce both won Emmy Awards.
The Cocktail Waitress will be released initially in hardcover and e-book editions, with a paperback edition to follow in 2013.Like all of Hard Case Crime’s titles, the book will feature a new cover painting in the classic pulp style.
About Hard Case Crime
Called “the best new American publisher to appear in the last decade” by Neal Pollack in The Stranger, Hard Case Crime has been nominated for or won numerous awards since its inception including the Edgar, the Shamus, the Anthony, the Barry, and the Spinetingler Award.The series’ best-selling title of all time, The Colorado Kid by Stephen King, was the basis for the current SyFy television series Haven, while Max Allan Collins’ Hard Case Crime novel The Last Quarry inspired the feature film The Last Lullaby, starring Tom Sizemore. Universal Pictures has features in development based on two Hard Case Crime titles, Little Girl Lost and Songs of Innocence by Richard Aleas.
Founded in 2004 by Edgar and Shamus Award-winning crime novelist Charles Ardai, Hard Case Crime is published through a collaboration between Ardai’s media company, Winterfall LLC, and Titan Publishing Group.
About Titan Publishing Group
Titan Publishing Group is an independently owned publishing company, established in 1981, comprising three divisions: Titan Books, Titan Magazines/Comics and Titan Merchandise. Titan Books' rapidly growing fiction list encompasses original fiction and reissues, primarily in the areas of science fiction, fantasy, horror, steampunk and crime. 2012 crime fiction highlights will include Mickey Spillane & Max Allan Collins’ all-new Mike Hammer Novels, and books by Lawrence Block, Donald Westlake, Joseph Koenig, and more. Titan Books also has an extensive line of media and pop culture-related non-fiction, graphic novels, art and music books. The company is based at offices in London, but operates worldwide, with sales and distribution in the US & Canada being handled by Random House.
I like to read series books in order if possible (just another manifestation of my mild OCD, I suspect), and I'm a number of books behind on Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder series, but hey, the new one, A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF, is mostly a flashback to a time a year or so after Matt stopped drinking, so I thought, why not?
It was a good decision.
And this is a very good book. Although I have a hunch Block didn't intend it this way, there's a little bit of a Mickey Spillane feeling to the set-up. A guy Matt knew briefly as a kid comes back into his life and winds up dead. Now from there, of course, things develop completely differently than they would have in a Spillane novel because Matt Scudder isn't Mike Hammer and Block isn't Spillane. The murder victim is a small-time criminal and fellow alcoholic, and as it turns out, working his way through the Twelve Steps may well be what put him in the path of a killer. As an unlicensed PI, Matt is hired to find out what happened, and in the best PI novel tradition, he keeps digging for the truth even when it appears that the case is over.
While the mystery part of the plot is put together quite well, the real appeal of this book is Block's vivid portrayal of New York in the Eighties, along with the sometimes humorous, sometimes tragic, always colorful characters who move in Matt's circle of alcoholics trying to stay sober, world-weary cops, and lowlife criminals. And Matt himself is a great character, of course. The reader always roots for him, but at this point in his life, you can never really be sure what he's going to do.
As the title suggests, A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF is pretty hardboiled, and it stays that way to the end. It's very well written, too. Ed Gorman has said that Block writes the best sentences in the business, and it's hard to argue with that. From time to time I found myself rereading paragraphs and asking myself, "How does he do that?" I dunno. Just good, I guess. And so is A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF. Highly recommended.
If you're a Robert E. Howard fan and you haven't been following Damon C. Sasser's series of articles "REH Splashes the Spicys" on the REH: Two-Gun Raconteur blog, you really shouldn't miss it. It's a great series, and you can find the first installment here, along with links to the other parts. And if you've never read the stories Damon's writing about, there's never been a better way than in the soon-to-be-published, limited edition volume from the Robert E. Howard Foundation, SPICY ADVENTURES. I pre-ordered my copy as soon as it was announced, and from what I hear they're selling fast, so if you want to get your hands on one, all the ordering info is here. These stories are some of Howard's work that I've reread the least, so I'm looking forward to reading them again.
TOP WESTERN FICTION ANNUAL, as you might expect from the name, was a reprint pulp. In this case, the 1951 edition reprinted eight stories that originally appeared in various Western pulps in the Thrilling Group four years earlier, in 1947. That's a really nice line-up of authors, though: Wayne D. Overholser, Joseph Chadwick, Hal G. Evarts, William Hopson, and Allan R. Bosworth. Bosworth wrote a lot of stories for WILD WEST WEEKLY under a variety of house-names, but I've read several of his Western novels under his own name and thought they were excellent. But, of course, you know me: I posted this one mostly because of the Sam Cherry cover with the babe in the low-cut red dress holding a Winchester. Looks a little like Jennifer Jones in DUEL IN THE SUN, doesn't she?
(The material in this post first appeared in different form on October 5, 2004)
A conversation on the WesternPulps list with Juri Nummelin strayed onto the topic of the Jerry Cotton books, a long-running series of mystery novels published in Germany. Written by a stable of anonymous authors, the books were published under the house-name Jerry Cotton, and that's the name of the lead character as well. Cotton is a U.S. federal agent, a fairly standard wise-cracking tough guy. In 1965 one of the novels was published in an English translation by Three Star Books, a small Chicago paperback house, under the title IN THE LION'S DEN. I've had a copy of this book on my shelves for years, so today I read it. The cover refers to Jerry Cotton as the German James Bond (the cover is certainly designed to look like that era's Signet editions of Fleming's novels), but there's no James Bond feel to this book at all. Instead, it reads more like a very minor Gold Medal novel, with Cotton working undercover to clean up the corruption in a small Southern city. He gets shot at, beaten up, nearly run over by a gravel truck, almost blown up with dynamite, etc., and has one romantic interlude with a beautiful blonde who may or may not be working for the bad guys. It's all told in the usual breezy, hardboiled style, and while the writing is pretty mediocre most of the time, there are some nice scenes here and there. All in all, a slightly better book than I expected.
(Steve Mertz commented on that post)
I always enjoy your comments on what you're reading. Mention of Jerry Cotton made me smile. That Three Star reprint, by the way, was the (as far as I know) only "mainstream" (i.e., not "spicy") title published by Merit Books, most famous for their Ennis Willie titles which have lately been much-discussed over at Ed's Place. I spent eighteen months in Germany, courtesy of Uncle Sam, in the mid-60's, and German editions of Jerry Cotton were prominent in every bookstore and newstand. He was the German Nick Carter/Mack Bolan of his day. And yeah, I read that one translation like 40 yrs. ago and for some reason, I still remember the bad guys trying to run him over with the gravel truck. I wonder if Herr Cotton is still around...
(which led me to say)
Steve Mertz's comment prompted me to do a little digging into the publisher, Three Star Books of Chicago. A search on ABE turns up two more books they published: an anthology called GREAT SCIENCE FICTION, edited by Tony Licata and including stories by Ray Bradbury, Fredric Brown, Avram Davidson, L. Sprague de Camp, Arthur C. Clarke, Arthur Porges, Lester del Rey, and Brad Steiger; and IAN FLEMING'S INCREDIBLE CREATION, consisting of "Part I: My Friend Ian Fleming, by Paul Anthony (Fleming's drinking partner), and Part II: The World of James Bond, by Jacquelyn Friedman, an analysis of Fleming's work and of his character James Bond". Throw in the Jerry Cotton book, and that's a really odd trio. Three Star Books was a division of Camerarts Publishing Company, which also produced Merit Books, the publisher of most of Ennis Willie's novels.
You know I like Will Ferrell movies. I'd almost consider them guilty pleasures, except for the fact that the older I get, the less I accept that concept. I like what I like, and damned if I'm going to feel guilty about it.
Mini-rant aside, other than the fact that it stars Will Ferrell, EVERYTHING MUST GO is about as far as you can get from what most people think of as a Will Ferrell movie. Even more so than STRANGER THAN FICTION, EVERYTHING MUST GO is a low-key, serious film. It does have occasional laugh-out-loud moments, but the humor is much more black comedy than the silliness of most other Ferrell movies.
He plays Nick Halsey, a sales executive with a drinking problem who loses his job then comes home to find that his wife has left him, but only after tossing all of his stuff out on the lawn and changing the locks on their house. So, numbed by everything that's happened, Nick settles in to just live on his front lawn. In doing so he attracts the attention of the police, including a detective friend of his who advises him to call what he's doing a yard sale, otherwise they'll have to arrest him.
In the process of doing that, Nick meets people in the neighborhood he doesn't know well, or in some cases, at all, including a young pregnant woman who has just moved in across the street and a boy he winds up trying to mentor in a clumsy but well-meaning way. Yeah, everybody has emotional crises and winds up learning things, but the storylines don't play out in the sitcom-friendly ways you might expect. This is a movie that doesn't really go for the easy answers, with the end result that while it may not be as satisfying as it might have been, it's also more realistic.
Ferrell is excellent in this, and so is the rest of the cast. The movie ambles along, but if you're patient, it's very rewarding. I liked it a lot and highly recommend it. Just don't go into it expecting another TALLEDEGA NIGHTS (the after-the-closing-credits-bit of which is still one of the funniest things I've ever seen).
Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale form one of my all-time favorite writer/artist teams in comic books, and in SPIDER-MAN: BLUE, they revisit one of the best eras in the history of Spider-Man, taking the stories that appeared in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #39 – 49 and retelling them in a six-issue mini-series that focuses on the budding romance of Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy. And of course this is also the time period when Mary Jane Watson, who would turn out to be the love of Peter's life, was introduced. Along the way there are battles with several iconic villains: the Green Goblin, the Rhino, the Lizard, two (count 'em, two) Vultures, and Kraven the Hunter. This was great stuff then, and it's still great stuff now (2002, actually, when the Loeb/Sale mini-series originally appeared, although I just read it in a new trade paperback reprint). Reading it made me feel like I was back there reading those stories for the first time. A lot of the panels are tributes to the original art by John Romita Sr., and Loeb uses some of the dialogue that Stan Lee wrote back then, including the immortal "Face it, tiger . . . you just hit the jackpot."
Yeah, I'm probably overreacting because of a rush of nostalgia, but I really enjoyed SPIDER-MAN: BLUE. It's good to feel like a kid again, if only for a little while.
Yes, it's another new e-book for the Kindle and Nook, and it wouldn't exist without the help of a number of friends of mine who helped me get my hands on copies of the stories: Bill Crider, Gary Lovisi, and from Fictionmags, Gordon Van Gelder, Ned Brooks, Terry Zobeck, Art Lortie, Ellen Datlow, and George R. Morgan. The subtitle is accurate but also a little tongue-in-cheek, since the complete collection of my SF stories has only five stories in it. I've read and loved science fiction for almost as far back as I can remember, but I've written very little of it. All five stories are fairly long, though, all of them novelettes or novellas, and add up to just about 50,000 words. When I was reading back over them, getting them ready for this e-book edition, I was struck by how much I was influenced by the adventure SF published in the digest magazines during the Fifties and Sixties, even though these particular stories were written in the Eighties and Nineties. I've always been a bit of a throwback.
Come to think of it, actually I've also collaborated on a science fiction novel, which is going to be reprinted next year in a new edition. But more details about that later on. For now, this book represents all my less-than-novel-length science fiction. I say "for now", because working on it has got me hankering to write some more SF. We'll see.
I mentioned last week that I'm fond of books and movies about the early days of Hollywood. Well, I like rum-running stories, too, along with almost anything else set during Prohibition or the Depression.LUCKY LADY is another famous flop that seems like it should have been a successful movie. It was directed by Stanley Donen, certainly no slouch, written by Gloria Katz and Willard Huyck, who were hot screenwriters at the time, and starred Gene Hackman, Burt Reynolds, and Liza Minnelli, with a supporting cast that included Geoffrey Lewis and John Hillerman. But nobody seemed to like it and people stayed away in droves. Not me, though. I went to see it, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. The inspiration for it seems to have been movies like BOOMTOWN and SAN FRANCISCO, and while I'd never claim that the pairing of Hackman and Reynolds rises to the level of Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy, I thought LUCKY LADY was a likable throwback to that era. Liza Minelli was an interesting young actress in those days, too, and certainly successful in movies like CABARET and THE STERILE CUCKOO. This is another one I'd like to see again sometime.
We are just four weeks from the release of Cemetery Girl on October 4th, and to thank you for your continued support of my work, I am announcing a drawing sponsored by this website.
Every week for the four weeks leading up to the book’s release, I will be giving away a Nook or a Kindle to one lucky reader who pre-orders Cemetery Girl. That’s right, all you have to do is pre-order Cemetery Girl from any bookstore (in person or online)*, send me an email at email@example.com letting me know you’ve done it, and you will be entered in the weekly drawing for the Nook or Kindle. If you’ve already pre-ordered the book, just let me know, and you will be entered as well.
On September 13th, 20th, 27th and October 4th, I will announce the weekly winner here on my website as well as on Facebookand Twitter. If you don't win during one week, fear not. I will roll those entries over to the next week. I will also be giving away a runner-up prize every week—a signed copy of Cemetery Girl.
But wait, there’s more.
On October 4th at 11:00 p.m., the day of the book’s release, I will announce the grand prize winner of all four weeks of entries. One lucky entrant will—wait for it!—win an iPad. Yes, I am giving away an iPad. But all you have to do to be entered is pre-order the book, send me an email letting me know you pre-ordered, and you will be entered in the drawing. The deadline to enter is 11:00 p.m. on October 4th, 2011.
Please feel free to spread the word about this drawing to any of your friends, family members, acquaintances, or frenemies who like to read.
*If you already have a Nook or Kindle, you can buy the book in ebook format from BarnesandNoble.com or Amazon.com and still be entered to win as long as you email me at david@davidbellnovels to let me know.
John Verdon's debut novel THINK OF A NUMBER was one of the best-plotted mystery novels I'd read in years. In his new novel SHUT YOUR EYES TIGHT, he brings back his protagonist, retired NYPD homicide detective Dave Gurney, and gives him another seemingly impossible crime to solve. A beautiful young bride, just married in a lavish high society ceremony, is beheaded with a machete by a crazed Mexican gardener who then seemingly disappears into thin air. Gurney, functioning as an unlicensed private investigator, is hired by the bride's mother to find the killer and bring him to justice.
Having read Verdon's first novel, I expected that nothing would be exactly what it seems in this one, and I was right. This apparently senseless crime is just the first in a series of murders tied in with an international conspiracy. Or is it? One of the other characters refers to Gurney's ability to peel back the layers of a case like peeling an onion, and that's a very apt description. In that respect, Verdon's novels remind me of Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch novels, in which Bosch's digging into a case leads to something which in turn leads to something else, and so on.
I didn't think that SHUT YOUR EYES TIGHT was quite as ingeniously plotted as THINK OF A NUMBER, but it's still very, very good. A lot of the appeal of these books lies with their flawed hero, Dave Gurney, who is haunted by tragedy in his past and just wants to settle down to a life of retirement with his wife in the farming country of upstate New York, only to get drawn into the investigations of these so-called impossible crimes. It makes for an interesting blend of Golden Age-style detection, psychological thriller, and blood-and-thunder action. The big climax of this novel is very effective in mixing all three of those elements. Like the first book in the series, SHUT YOUR EYES TIGHT is one of the best mystery novels I've read this year. Highly recommended.
Rope and Wire, a fine website that specializes in all things Western, including fiction, has announced that submissions are now being accepted for its annual Western Short Story Competition. I read the stories that won last year's contest, and they were all top-notch. If you're interested in entering this year's competition (which offers cash prizes for the top three finishers, I might add), you can find out all the pertinent information here.
For those of you not familiar with the name, Stan Lynde was the creator, author, and artist of the long-running Western comic strip RICK O'SHAY. Despite the humorous name, the strip mixed comedy and traditional Western action in a blend that was very appealing to me when I was growing up. His benevolent (but still very deadly) gunfighter character Hipshot Percussion is one of the iconic comic strip characters as far as I'm concerned, and I always loved the Easter Sunday strips in which Hipshot was featured.
After Lynde was forced out of his own strip by the syndicate that owned it, he went on to create another Western adventure strip, LATIGO, which spawned a series of four tie-in novels by Dean Owen. I read and enjoyed LATIGO, even if it never rose to the heights of RICK O'SHAY for me. In the last twenty years Lynde has turned to writing Western novels, in addition to a memoir. I've never gotten around to reading them, but I think I'm going to have to remedy that.
Here's another Western pulp I'd never heard of. The cover is by the prolific H.W. Scott, who did many covers for Street & Smith's WESTERN STORY and some for S&S's WILD WEST WEEKLY. There's a WILD WEST WEEKLY connection inside this issue, too, as the featured novel is "Disciples of the Trigger" (good title!), a Silver Kid yarn by T.W. Ford. The Silver Kid series began in WILD WEST WEEKLY and ran there for several years before moving over to various Columbia pulps after WILD WEST WEEKLY ceased publication. Ford was the epitome of the inconsistent pulp author, sometimes very good, sometimes hardly readable. Other authors in this issue are Lee Floren, Brett Austin (who was also Lee Floren), and Ray Vicker (who evidently wasn't Lee Floren, although I don't know if Ray Vicker was his real name). I'm not a fan of Floren's work, but I'm always willing to give T.W. Ford a try, so I have a hunch this was an issue worth reading. But maybe not.
Henry Kuttner is one of my favorite authors from the Golden Age of Science Fiction.He wrote a lot, in several different styles, but his work was nearly always fast-paced, full of action, and either humorous or creepy, depending on what was called for.His novel THE CREATURE FROM BEYOND INFINITY has some of all of that, and more.
Originally published in its entirety in the November 1940 issue of the pulp STARTLING STORIES under the title "A Million Years to Conquer", this novel starts out far, far back in Earth's pre-history with the crash-landing of a spaceship from an advanced civilization.A couple of the aliens, Ardath and Theron, are the only survivors, and Theron, who is the commander of the expedition, is mortally injured and lives just long enough to order Ardath to complete their mission, which is to find a suitable planet where their doomed civilization can relocate.
This is going to be difficult since Ardath is the only survivor and the spaceship is damaged enough that it can't achieve interstellar travel anymore.It can, however, make it back into earth orbit, and since the equipment used to put its crew into stasis is still working, Ardath decides to put himself to sleep and wake up every few thousand years to check on how Earth is developing. He has a machine that will detect super-intellects, and he figures that if he can find enough of them, he can breed them and recreate his own advanced civilization on Earth.
Kuttner zooms through all this back-story in just a few pages, then jumps to 1924, when Stephen Court, one of those super-intellects Ardath is searching for, is eight years old and already aware that he's a genius.The little boy runs away from his parents, takes up with a hobo, and sets about making himself the world's leading scientist.
Back into pre-history Kuttner goes, switching storylines as Ardath wakes up and captures a barbarian named Thordred, who is smart enough that Ardath can transfer some of his knowledge to him through one of the alien machines.Then back to 1941, where Stephen Court has succeeded in his quest to be the world's leading scientist, even though he's a cold, emotionless, all-around jerk of a guy.He'll need all his scientific genius, because a strange new plague that turns people radioactive has cropped up, and it threatens the very existence of the world.
Keeping up?Good, because all of this hopping back and forth in time that Kuttner does will tie together eventually and wind up with our scientist hero Court going head-to-head against the evil Thordred, who bears more than a passing resemblance to the character Vandal Savage, who came along in 1943 to be one of DC's longest-lasting villains in comic books.Did the writer who came up with Vandal Savage (another SF author, Alfred Bester) read Kuttner's novel in STARTLING STORIES?Who knows, but there are definitely similarities.
It's amazing that Kuttner could cram all of this kitchen-sink plot (I didn't even mention the trip to Atlantis) into a novel that's probably around 40,000 words and still make an exciting, coherent story out of it.Like most SF from that era, THE CREATURE FROM BEYOND INFINITY is pretty dated at times, but it also has the cosmic sweep and sense of wonder that used to be common in science fiction.(I'm not saying you can't find that in today's SF, but I think it's harder to do so.)It's also a lot of fun as Kuttner keeps things racing along, pausing only occasionally for a moment that's either eerie or poignant, and very effectively so.And yes, the scene depicted in that great Frazetta cover on the paperback reprint does take place in the novel, and it's a dandy.
I wouldn't recommend THE CREATURE FROM BEYOND INFINITY to everyone who reads science fiction, but if you're an old geezer like me or a younger reader who can put yourself in the right frame of mind (just imagine it's 1940), I think there's a good chance you'll enjoy it, and copies of the paperback are plentiful and inexpensive on-line.
(And if you can read that title and not hear Buzz Lightyear saying it in your head, you're better than I am.)
The plot of the movie UNKNOWN is like something out of a Cornell Woolrich pulp yarn:a guy gets in a car accident, spends four days in a coma, then wakes up and finds out that he has no identification, his wife claims she never saw him before and says she's really married to some other guy with the same name, and nobody believes our hero's story. To make things worse, he's in a strange city, and mysterious assassins are trying to kill him. Paranoia abounds.
Well, there are a lot more complications before everything gets straightened out, and to be honest, this is one of those movies where I was never sure if the plot completely made sense. But if you don't think about it too hard, UNKNOWN is fairly suspenseful and entertaining. I saw a lot of the twists coming, but not all of them. Liam Neeson has become a fairly effective, if a little bit stodgy, action hero, and the chases and fight scenes in this one are well-staged, so you can tell what's happening most of the time. That's pretty refreshing in this day and age. This isn't a great movie, but it's an enjoyable one.
Jane Perry is a tough homicide cop in Denver, and as Laurel Dewey's latest novel about her opens, she's been called to the scene of a bizarre murder: a well-to-do, middle-aged woman has been hogtied and suffocated by having her mouth and nose sealed up with duct tape. The investigation uncovers the fact that the victim's mouth is stuffed full of shredded promissory notes (hence the title).
It doesn't take long for Jane to realize that there is no shortage of suspects in this case. The dead woman was a swindler, running a ponzi scheme on a number of people who couldn't afford to lose their investments. The trick is going to be untangling the mess and figuring out which one killed her.
PROMISSORY PAYBACK is a solid, well-plotted police procedural, the third in a series featuring Jane Perry (I haven't read the first two). Dewey keeps the pace moving along briskly, which I always like. The real appeal in this book for me, though, is Jane herself, who manages to be both tough and politically incorrect while still having a certain air of vulnerability about her. She's a very appealing protagonist, and I think I'm going to have to go back and read the first two books about her. In the meantime, this novel is available in paperback from The Story Plant, and I recommend it for fans of hardboiled cop yarns.
For the next few weeks, I'm going to be writing about movies I watched during the Seventies that were either box-office bombs, critical failures, or just slipped off the radar for some reason . . . but I liked them anyway.It's been more than twenty years since I saw any of these films, though, so if you watch them now and they don't hold up, my apologies.
First up is Peter Bogdanovich's NICKELODEON.Bogdanovich had a great run in the early to mid-Seventies with THE LAST PICTURE SHOW, WHAT'S UP DOC, and PAPER MOON.Then he had a string of movies that flopped:DAISY MILLER, AT LONG LAST LOVE, and NICKELODEON.I didn't care for DAISY MILLER, thought AT LONG LAST LOVE wasn't terrible but wasn't very good, either, but I liked NICKELODEON quite a bit.Of course, I'm a sucker for books and movies about the early days of movie-making.Sometime I'm going to reread Harold Robbins' THE DREAM MERCHANTS and write about it as a Forgotten Book.So it makes sense that I'd like NICKELODEON.It's about a young attorney, played by Ryan O'Neal, who, pretty much by accident, becomes a successful writer and director of early silent movies in California.There are romantic triangles, slapstick comedy, a little action . . . nothing ground-breaking, mind you, but I remember it as being pretty entertaining.
The cast certainly helps.Tatum O'Neal is in the movie along with her dad, plus Burt Reynolds, Brian Keith, John Hillerman, Stella Stevens, and John Ritter, who gets to utter the line, "Any jerk can direct."And although I'm no huge expert on the early days of the movies or anything, I know enough about the time period to know that the script by Bogdanovich and W.D. Richter gets things right most of the time.If you're interested in the subject matter and haven't seen NICKELODEON because you've either never heard of it or because it's supposed to be a dud, I think you ought to give it a try.I plan to watch it again myself, one of these days.
According to the back cover copy on this book, Michael Hemmingson wrote it during last year's Labor Day weekend as part of the 2010 3 Day Novel Challenge, a competition I hadn't heard of until now.So it seems appropriate to be talking about it this Labor Day.
HARD COLD WHISPER is pure noir, a deliberate attempt by Hemmingson to capture the crazed magic of the sort of Gold Medal novel written by Gil Brewer, among others.The narrator is David Kellgren, a San Diego process server who in the course of his job meets a beautiful young woman in a bad situation, stuck taking care of her rich, dying aunt.If you don't have a pretty good idea what's going to happen from there, you haven't read very many books of this sort.The fun is in trying to anticipate, or even keep track of, all the dizzying twists in the plot, of which there are many.And just when you think there aren't any more surprises and that things couldn't get any worse for David, you'd be wrong.
This is a fine book with plenty of raw energy, a pace that never slows down, and an unrelenting noir tone.Even though you know things aren't going to work out well for the narrator, you can't help but root for him.Hemmingson has the Gold Medal voice down very well.If you think they don't write 'em like this anymore, well, they don't, not often enough for my taste anyway.I enjoyed HARD COLD WHISPER a lot, and fans of crime fiction should check it out.
So, a vampire, a werewolf, and a ghost decide to rent a house in Bristol, England, and live together. That's not the beginning of a joke, it's the set-up for a BBC TV series called BEING HUMAN. We've just watched the first season, which is only six episodes, on DVD, and it's very, very good. This is one of those rare series that manages to mix laugh-out-loud humor, poignant drama, and fairly gory horror action into a very effective blend. Aidan Turner as the vampire Mitchell, Russell Tovey as the werewolf George, and Lenora Critchlow as the ghost Annie are all very good, as is the supporting cast, which includes Jason Watkins as a really despicable villain, the leader of a group of vampires who are out to take over the world. The series starts out with what you'd think would be a fairly small scale, but by the end of the six episodes it's taken on an epic feel that really has me looking forward to the next season. In fact, there's so much packed into these stories that it seems like there are more than six episodes in the first season. I've heard that they're making an Americanized version of this. I don't see how it could possibly be as good, but I suppose I'll probably give it a try. In the meantime, this original version of BEING HUMAN gets a high recommendation from me.
This is a pulp that I own and happened to read recently.Western pulp cover artists loved red shirts and yellow shirts, and this cover has both.It doesn't hurt anything that it's a good-looking blonde who's wearing the red shirt, either.And behind that cover is a pretty good mix of stories.
W.C. Tuttle is one of my favorite Western authors, as I've mentioned before.For EXCITING WESTERN he did a series of novelettes about a pair of range detectives named Tombstone Jones and Speedy Smith.Now, if you're thinking that they might be similar to Tuttle's other range detective characters Hashknife Hartley and Sleepy Stevens, you'd be right.The difference is that while Hashknife is actually a brilliant detective and Sleepy is a very competent sidekick, Tombstone and Speedy are, shall we say, less bright and tend to solve their cases more through slapstick-tinged luck than actual detective work.However, their adventures are consistently entertaining, and "Horse-Shoe Luck" is no exception.In this one, Tombstone and Speedy are trying to sort out the murder of a rancher and the competing claims of a couple of would-be heirs, while at the same time tracking down a pair of bandits who have been plaguing the countryside.For its length, Tuttle really packs a lot of plot into this story, and Tombstone and Speedy have to be a little smarter than usual to untangle everything.This may well be the best of the yarns about them that I've read so far.
"The Legend of Early Bill" by Dan Kirby (an author I'm not familiar with) takes a legendary lawman much like Wild Bill Hickok and has him turn outlaw.It's a nice twist, and while the rest of the story is pretty predictable, it's well-written and I enjoyed it."Busy Day For Rustlers" by Dane Zale (never heard of him) is a forgettable yarn about a lawman tracking down some wideloopers.Chuck Martin is an author I've read before, and his story about a stagecoach holdup and its aftermath, "Dead Ringer", is also predictable but entertaining because Martin wrote in a very colorful, fast-paced style.This one does have a pretty good-sized hole in the plot, though."The Go-Between" by William J. O'Sullivan is a range war story involving water rights and is the weakest story in the issue because the identity of the villain is too obvious right from the start.I didn't really care for O'Sullivan's style, either.The final short story is "Have a Harp, Ranger!", an entry in the long-running series featuring an Arizona Ranger known as Navajo Tom Raine.The plot is fairly weak, but there's plenty of well-written action in this tale of Raine hunting down a gang of stagecoach robbers.I don't know who wrote the Navajo Raine stories under the house-name Jackson Cole, but I enjoy them most of the time.
I've mentioned before that I don't care for Syl MacDowell's stories about a pair of cowboys named Swap and Whopper that ran in THRILLING WESTERN.For this issue of EXCITING WESTERN, he contributes a non-series novelette called "Wheels Without Hoofs", about immigrants traveling west using handcarts instead of the more traditional covered wagons.This is a much grittier yarn than the comedic Swap and Whopper stories, and I liked it quite a bit.
Overall, this is a good issue.There are no real stand-out stories, but it's hard to go wrong with W.C. Tuttle as the lead author in a Western pulp, and all the backup stories with the exception of "The Go-Between" are competent and fairly entertaining.I enjoyed it, and it's really got me in the mood to read more Western pulps.
Livia has just released TWICE AS DEADLY, an e-book collection of two novellas she wrote back in the Eighties about a Dallas private investigator named Laura Bailey. The first one was published in the anthology/collaborative novel THE BLACK MOON, and the second has never been published until now because the publisher went out of business before the second volume in the series came out. These are excellent hardboiled mysteries with a very likable protagonist, and I'm glad to see them available.
(This post originally appeared in slightly different form on June 26, 2005.)
Back in 1969, I picked up a couple of paperbacks in a drugstore in Stephenville, Texas, while I was on the way to Brownwood with my parents. They were wrapped together in plastic, in a "buy one, get the other free" ploy. Their titles? THE SPIDER STRIKES and THE WHEEL OF DEATH. They were reprints of the first two stories from the long-running pulp series about the crimefighter known as The Spider.
By this time I'd been reading the paperback reprints of Doc Savage and The Shadow for quite a while and was fairly familiar with pulp magazines. I hadn't heard of The Spider, but the books looked interesting and exciting, so I didn't hesitate to buy them. I read and enjoyed both of them and would have bought more books in the series, but I didn't run across them. Paperback distribution was much more haphazard in those days, when there were still hundreds of independent book distributors. It was several years later before I came across used copies of the other two Spider novels Berkley published. By that time I had learned that the first two books, the ones I'd read, were somewhat atypical of the series. They were also the only ones written by R.T.M. Scott. The others were by somebody named Grant Stockbridge. I read those two later paperbacks and was hooked on the crazily plotted, sometimes illogical, but always fast-paced and exciting adventures of The Spider. Naturally, the reprint series came to an end after four books, and I couldn't afford to buy original Spider pulps. They were already highly sought after and out of my price range.
Over the years, a few more reprints trickled out from various publishers, some of them small presses, others mass market paperbacks. I bought them all. I even came across one Spider pulp in an antique store and gladly paid the five bucks someone wanted for it. Then, a few years ago, the Spider novels began to be reprinted as handsome trade paperbacks under a variety of imprints. I've bought and read quite a few of these, and today, after many years, I finally read the fifth novel in the series, the one that was promised as a Berkley reprint but never appeared: EMPIRE OF DOOM.
Grant Stockbridge was a house name, and the author responsible for most of the Spider novels -- and the reputation the series has today -- was Norvell Page. EMPIRE OF DOOM is Page's third Spider novel. As an early effort, the plot hangs together better than some -- it was later in the series before Page's plots got really goofy. In this one, a gang calling itself the Green Hand gets hold of a terrible flesh-eating gas and threatens to turn it loose on various cities unless huge ransoms are paid. This extortion on a gigantic scale is a well-used plot -- think about Ian Fleming's James Bond novel THUNDERBALL, for instance -- but Page was one of the first to come up with it. There are a few minor twists to the plot, but mostly this novel is one nerve-wracking adventure after another as Richard Wentworth, the dashing, wealthy playboy who is really The Spider, tries to foil the schemes of the Green Hand and uncover the identity of the gang's leader. Only once that I noticed did Page lose control and throw in some developments that make no sense. That's pretty good for him.
The real appeal of the Spider series is the amount of punishment -- physical, mental, and emotional -- that Page puts Richard Wentworth through. Some pulp fans insist that Wentworth is almost as psychotic as the villains he fights. How could he not be, after all the punishment he takes? The reader is dragged along through all these ordeals, and reading a Spider novel can be exhausting, if rewarding. Many fans have advised me not to read too many of them too close together. That's good advice, I think. I love 'em, but it's better to space them out a little.