I've written a guest post for the Mysterious Press blog called "The Legacy of George Harmon Coxe" which you can read here. It includes some comments on a Coxe novel, SILENT ARE THE DEAD, which I read recently. Coxe is a long-time favorite of mine, and I'm very glad that Mysterious Press is making a number of his novels available as e-books.
I used to hear a lot about this film being one of Howard Hawks' best. For that matter, I used to hear a lot about Howard Hawks. These days, not so much on either of those things. So recently I watched ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS for the first time in about forty years to see if it holds up.
Boy, does it.
This is the story of a small flying service in South America that's trying to get a contract flying the mail over the AndesMountains. Cary Grant plays the chief pilot, and he's ably supported by the great Thomas Mitchell, John Carroll, Noah Beery Jr., Don "Red" Barry, and several more fine character actors. Grant's life is complicated by the arrival of down-on-her-luck showgirl Jean Arthur, then another pilot who has a checkered past (Richard Barthelmess) shows up with his wife, who just happens to be the ex-fiancee of Grant's character, in tow. (The wife is played by a young and beautiful Rita Hayworth.)
In other words, what you've got here is a great cast, working with a good script by Jules Furthman, and directed by one of my all-time favorite directors, Howard Hawks. The result is maybe one notch below a classic film, but it's not far from that status. For a movie with no real crime in it, this is one of the most hardboiled films you'll ever see, with plenty of tight-lipped, unsentimental dialogue and a number of flying sequences that are very suspenseful. The miniature work is outstanding, too.
Hawks is famous for his films centered around the interaction of small groups, and that's in full force here. The claustrophobic setting, a small town hemmed in by mountains, just adds to the effect. The plot is maybe a little thin, but other than that, ONLY ANGELS HAVE WINGS is a great movie and one that I'm glad I watched again after all these years. If you haven't seen it before, you should give it a try. And if it's been a long time, I bet you'd enjoy it all over again.
The Kindle edition of THE TRADITIONAL WEST, the first anthology from the Western Fictioneers, is on sale for a limited time for $3.99. This is a great price for a huge collection of stories by the best Western writers in the business. It's also available at the same price for the Nook.
We appreciate your patronage.
Tom Roberts, Publisher
Visit www.blackdogbooks.net for more information. Black Dog Books, 1115 Pine Meadows Ct. Normal, IL 61761-5432Reseller discount options available.
(I've read a number of these books, obviously, and you really can't go wrong with anything Tom Roberts publishes. There are some great deals here that you should take advantage of. And watch this space for more Black Dog Books news as it becomes available!)
I like sunset covers, and this is a pretty nice one. It appears to be a good issue, too, with stories by Paul S. Powers (a Johnny Forty-five yarn under his Andrew Griffin pseudonym), George C. Henderson, William A. Todd, Gunnison Steele (Bennie Gardner), and Emery Jackson (J. Allan Dunn). WILD WEST WEEKLY had the reputation of being somewhat more juvenile than the other main Western pulp from Street & Smith, WESTERN STORY, but I've never read an issue of WILD WEST WEEKLY that was less than thoroughly entertaining.
This is a beautiful new collection from Port Yonder Press, and while it's not a Western Fictioneers project, many of the contributors are WF members. And they're all top-notch Western authors. In addition to Livia and myself, they include Troy D. Smith, Frank Roderus, Tim Champlin, Larry D. Sweazy, Robert Vaughan, Douglas Hirt, Dusty Richards, Kerry Newcomb, Matthew P. Mayo, Robert J. Randisi, Rod Miller, and Terry Burns. Livia's story "Blue Norther", under the L.J. Washburn name, features Lucas Hallam, and my story "'Tis the Season for Justice" marks the return of Judge Earl Stark. This book has a beautiful cover and would make a fine Christmas gift for anyone who enjoys Western fiction.
The name H. Bedford-Jones is probably not one that springs to mind when you're trying to think of Canadian authors, at least not unless, like me, you're a big fan of the man rightly known as the King of the Pulps.
Henry James O'Brien Bedford-Jones was born in Naponee, Ontario, in 1887 and spent the first twenty years or so of his life in western Canada before moving to the U.S. He started selling fiction to the pulp magazines in 1911, and that's where the vast majority of his work appeared during a career that lasted nearly forty years. Unlike Frederick Faust or Erle Stanley Gardner, who were also referred to as the King of the Pulps at times, Bedford-Jones achieved nearly all of his success in the pages of the pulps, never knowing the sort of acclaim in other media that those other two writers did. That's why I think he's more deserving of the title.
Even though he was definitely Canadian, it's a bit of a stretch to call Bedford-Jones' THE MASTER OF DRAGONS a Forgotten Book, since it first appeared this year and is still readily available from the great small press publisher Black Dog Books. But to the general public, Bedford-Jones probably is completely forgotten, so I'm going to allow it. (Hey, it's my blog. This is a benevolent dictatorship here, folks.) And it's also a heck of a good book.
This volume contains three short stories and one novella about a pair of American soldiers of fortune, Terence O'Neill and Bert Burket, getting into and out of trouble in a China ruled by various warlords during the late 1920s. The excellent introduction by publisher Tom Roberts puts the stories into historical perspective and also provides some interesting information about Bedford-Jones's research methods. As usual, Bedford-Jones crams quite a bit of plot into these yarns, and there's always an intriguing twist or two. Also, his prose is crisp and clean and has aged very well. People who think all pulp writing was purple and overblown have never read Bedford-Jones.
Those stories, originally published in 1932 and '33, would have made an excellent Thirties adventure film starring maybe Randolph Scott or Clark Gable as O'Neill and Guinn "Big Boy" Williams or Victor McLaglen as Burket. I can see it in my head with no trouble. Although they were contemporary to the time Bedford-Jones wrote them, you can read them now as historical adventures and thoroughly enjoy them. I know I did. Highly recommended.
So, you're full from Thanksgiving dinner and you don't want to watch football (or football is over by the time you're reading this). What are you going to do instead? Well, if you have a Kindle and feel like reading a good novel, Livia and I have several e-books on sale for 99 cents for a limited time:
During the Thanksgiving weekend in 1978, Livia and I went down to Fulton, Texas with her parents for a short vacation. As always whenever I went anywhere, I was interested in hunting up the used bookstores, and there was one listed in the Corpus Christi phone book that sounded intriguing: Collector's Bookstore. (That was how you found bookstores in the days before the Internet: you looked them up in the phone book.)
So we drove over there on a cool, foggy November day, and before we found the bookstore, we stopped at a newsstand we happened to pass. Inside that newsstand, I spotted copies of the December 1978 issue of MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE, which, behind a garish cover that I've featured on this blog before, contained my first Mike Shayne novella, "Death in Xanadu". That was a pretty big thrill, let me tell you.
But there was more to come.
We drove on, following the directions I'd figured out on a map (the kind you fold up, not download), and there, sitting on a corner lot at an intersection, was a small wooden building with a sign on it that read COLLECTOR'S BOOKSTORE. It was open. We went in, the only customers at that particular time.
I had to stop and catch my breath. There were shelves and shelves of vintage paperbacks. Even better, there was a whole room full of pulps, the most I'd ever seen in one place up to that time. It was amazing.
Since we were the only customers, the guy who owned the place was very friendly and talkative. He introduced himself as Judge Margarito Garza, who in addition to being an actual judge also owned this bookstore and had created the first Hispanic comic book superhero, Relampago. I think at that time there was only one issue of the comic, and the judge had published it himself. That didn't matter to me. I thought it was extremely cool, and since he was selling copies at the store, I bought one, along with stacks of old paperbacks and as many pulps as I thought we could afford, mostly issues of DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY, ARGOSY, and some coverless, digest-sized issues of DOC SAVAGE and THE SHADOW. Actually, I probably spent more than we could afford that day, but it was the biggest and best book haul of my life to that point. And the judge was a great guy, a colorful character, and a joy to talk to.
Unfortunately, I didn't get back down to the coast for quite a few years after that, but I always wanted to pay a return visit to the judge's place, as we called it. When I finally did, the store still existed, but it had moved into a different building and was primarily a comic book store. The paperbacks were all gone. The judge still owned the store, but he wasn't there the day I dropped in. I was sort of disappointed and discouraged.
But tucked away in a back corner was a small stack of pulps, all that was left of the stock that had been there on my previous visit. There were a few Westerns and maybe half a dozen bedsheet-sized issues of DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY. I bought them all, of course, and the guys running the place for the judge were clearly happy to get rid of them. So it was a bittersweet visit to say the least.
Even that incarnation of Collector's Bookstore is long gone, but I remembered the intersection where the original store was located, so a couple of years ago while I was in the area, I drove by. Where that little brown frame building stood in 1978 is now the parking lot of a McDonald's. That's all right, I suppose. Things change. Judge Garza died in 1995. All the books and pulps I bought there were lost in the fire. But I can still drive by there and see that building in my mind and hear the judge's laugh and smell all that old paper and remember the thrill I felt that day at finding such great stuff . . .
The sixth book in the Dead Man series, KILL THEM ALL by Harry Shannon, is now available for a very limited time at the special introductory price of 99 cents. Like all the other books in the series, this is a hugely entertaining tale. Buy 'em all!
I came across this DVD on the clearance shelves at Half Price Books a while back, and when I saw that it was based on a novel by Gil Brewer, of course I had to buy it, even though I didn't even know such a movie existed before that.
And since I had a copy of the source novel, WILD TO POSSESS, and hadn't read it yet, the idea occurred to me to read the book, write a Forgotten Books post about it, and then watch the movie and follow up the next Tuesday with an Overlooked Movie post. It made for an interesting experience.
If you read last Friday's post, you'll recall that the protagonist of WILD TO POSSESS, Lew Brookbank, who is on the run from the law for a murder he didn't commit, stumbles onto an entirely different kidnap/murder scheme hatched by a couple in the town where he's sort of hiding out. Lew decides to invite himself in on the plan, save the would-be victim, and snag the ransom money for himself. Needless to say, Lew's decision is not a good one.
THREE WAY retains that basic structure but makes lots of other changes, beginning with updating the action from the Fifties to the present day, which is something I'm not fond of, and moving the setting from Florida to California. Some of the characterizations are changed as well, and the ending is considerably different. However, for a script based on a complicated novel, THREE WAY is a fairly accurate adaptation, more so than a lot of movies I've seen. If you hadn't read the book, you'd never know that the original story was different, and most of the new stuff works okay. The new ending, however, makes very little sense.
The problem I have with this movie is that the execution isn't quite there. Sometimes when I watch a new Western, I find myself thinking that the people who made it really wanted to make a good Western, they just didn't quite know how because they didn't grow up watching good Westerns. Things are just slightly off. That's how I felt about THREE WAY. The filmmakers wanted to make a good film noir (and choosing a Brewer novel to adapt is a fine start), but just missed. For one thing, having the characters say "fuck" all the time doesn't make a movie noir. And it doesn't help that the protagonist is even less likable in the movie than he is in the book. Lew Brookbank in Brewer's novel is a loser who puts himself in a bad situation, but he's not a criminal with a violent past, as the character is in the movie.
After all that complaining, I need to mention some positive things about THREE WAY. The cast is pretty good for the most part. Dominic Purcell, who plays Lew, starred in JOHN DOE and PRISON BREAK on TV, and while I didn't care for the changes in his character, his performance is solid. Ali Larter, pre-HEROES, is a pretty good femme fatale. Gina Gershon, as the kidnap victim, is fine when she's on-screen, but that's only about ten minutes. And good old Dwight Yoakum is a sleazy villain, just as you'd expect.
The lone extended scene featuring gratuitous nudity, for those of you who care about such things, is actually pretty boring.
So is THREE WAY worth your time? It is if you're a Gil Brewer fan. If you've read WILD TO POSSESS, you really ought to watch it, if for no other reason than as a good example of a film adaptation that gets some things right and some things wrong. If you've never read the book, it's still a watchable enough way to spend an hour and a half, but just barely. One of these days somebody will make a movie from a Gil Brewer book that's set in the Fifties and follows the book closely, and a handful of us will love it. Everybody else in the world will yawn, and the movie will tank at the box office, ruining the careers of the people who made it.
Just the sort of noirish outcome you'd expect, eh?
I'm very pleased to announce that RANCHO DIABLO #5: DARK HORSE, my second entry in the series, is now available on Amazon. The Nook edition should be live soon as well, and a trade paperback edition is also in the works. I'm very pleased with this one and love the cover by Keith Birdsong. Check it out!
In a fairly short period of time, Wayne Dundee has become one of my favorite Western writers. That opinion is only strengthened by his new novel, HARD TRAIL TO SOCORRO, the first in a series featuring bounty hunter Bodie Kendrick. Here's the publisher's description of the book:
Bounty hunter Bodie Kendrick apprehended his prey without too much trouble. Claiming the reward, however, turns out to be not so easy.
First there is Veronica Fairburn, the beautiful woman who has her own business in Socorro and insists on sticking with Kendrick when he sets out to return there with his prisoner … Then there's the gang of tough ranch hands dead set on relieving him of the prisoner in order to dish out their own brand of personal revenge … Add in the Mexican desperado stalking the woman, and the band of renegade Apaches raiding throughout the region—and Kendrick has his work cut out for him.
Complicating matters even more are the feelings developing between Kendrick and Veronica.
But the greatest challenge of all may come from the daring passage they must attempt over the Jornada del Muerto—the Journey of the Dead, awaiting them in the merciless White Sands desert.
That's a good solid plot, and Dundee makes it even better by throwing in a few twists along the way. Not everything is the way it seems to be at first glance, and that's always a good thing in a book as far as I'm concerned.
Where Dundee really succeeds, though, is in his gritty action scenes, his feel for the landscape, his characters, and his ability to focus on the things that make the classic Western such an appealing genre: honor, courage, determination, and redemption, even at a high price. Dundee's Westerns remind me very much of those by Gordon D. Shirreffs, another favorite of mine.
Maybe it's just because of his name, but all the way through HARD TRAIL TO SOCORRO I kept seeing Bodie Kendrick as Clint Walker. Those of you who grew up in the Fifties and Sixties like I did will understand that reference. This novel would have made a great hardboiled Western movie from that era, although it has some more contemporary touches to it as well. Mostly it's just very entertaining, and I had a great time reading it. If you're a Western fan, you really should read it. And if you know Wayne Dundee's work only from his excellent private eye stories and novels featuring Joe Hannibal, I highly recommend that you try his Westerns as well.
First of all, 100 Damned Guns is a great name for a band. They're a local group I heard the other day on the radio (KXT 91.7, for those of you in the Fort Worth/Dallas area). This song is from an album called SONGS OF MURDER, PAIN, AND WOE. Great stuff for those of you who are fans of noir.
A couple of new interviews with Livia have been published recently. You can read them here and here. Her latest Fresh Baked Mystery is gettinggreatreviews, too. And let's not forget WITCH GOT YOUR TONGUE. There's a new review of it here.
This is the second story in Heath Lowrance's new zombie series, and it's just as entertaining as the first. Flashing back to the night the so-called zombie apocalypse started for the narrator Sammy, it features the same highly appealing voice, the moments of pathos and humor, and the frantic action. Plus it ends on a cliffhanger. Bring on the next installment, I say.
I don't know about you, but I love a title like "Ghost Killers of Skull River". Actually, it's my inner ten-year-old that loves it, but hey, he's in charge most of the time anyway. I'm also fond of this one because the lead novel featuring range detectives Steve Reese, Hank Ball, and Dusty Trail is by "Gunnison Steele", who was of course Bennie Gardner, father of long-time mystery fan and all-around great guy Barry Gardner, who is no longer with us, unfortunately. Bennie Gardner was a fine writer who often had a strong mystery element to his Western yarns, especially his novels. He was also a master of the short-short story. The back-up stories in this issue are by Cliff Walters, Ralph Yergen, Frederick W. Bales, and Harold Cruikshank. Cruikshank's Pioneer Folk stories are about as bland as they can be, but they're readable. I'm not familiar with those other authors. It's hard to go wrong with a Gunnison Steele story, though.
There's just something endlessly appealing about the noir formula: an unlucky protagonist, usually already in trouble of some sort, makes a bad decision and winds up in an even worse mess, and things just keep going wrong as he tries to dig himself out of the hole he's fallen into.
Gil Brewer plays this plot like a finely turned instrument in WILD TO POSSESS, a novel originally published by Monarch Books in 1959 and then reprinted a few years ago by Stark House Press in a double volume with Brewer's A TASTE FOR SIN.
In WILD TO POSSESS, Brewer throws in some subtle variations on the standard noir plot. His protagonist Lew Brookbank isn't lured into trouble by a beautiful woman but rather gets into it all on his own. As the book opens, he's already on the run, hiding out in a small Florida town because he discovered his wife and her lover had been murdered and then covered up the crime because he thought he'd be blamed for it. But he's afraid somebody will find out what happened and the cops will come after him, so he's in a bad frame of mind to start with when he accidentally stumbles on a plot by a couple of locals involving kidnapping and murder. Desperate for money and drinking heavily, Lew decides to horn in on the plan and grab the ransom money for himself.
Needless to say, that turns out to be a bad move.
Rather than lust, Lew is driven by greed, guilt, and gin, and naturally things don't turn out the way he expects them to. Then a stranger shows up to complicate things as Lew's past comes back to haunt him. Brewer just piles the trouble on Lew until it seems almost impossible for him to get out of it, and knowing the way books like this work, maybe he will . . . or maybe he won't.
Lew's not a particularly likable protagonist, but he's so blasted unlucky that the reader can't help but root for him. Brewer keeps things racing along, tightening the screws more and more, until an over-the-top climax. To be honest, it struck me as a bit of a deus ex machina, but in the crazy, fate-doomed world Gil Brewer's characters inhabit, what else would you expect? The important thing is that he makes it work and really had me flipping the pages to find out what was going to happen.
Even though it's not a Gold Medal, WILD TO POSSESS is one of the best Gil Brewer novels I've read, and I had a great time with it. Highly recommended.
We just added a new book to the Hard Case Crime Web site (www.hardcasecrime.com), a first novel by a young Baltimore-based writer named Ariel S. Winter that we’ll be publishing next summer. It’s not the sort of book that generally attracts a lot of coverage merely as a result of being announced – obviously no one knows the author’s name yet, since he hasn’t published any books before. The main thing it does have going for it is that it’s an amazing, amazing book – one that really knocked my socks off – but that’s something no one else will appreciate until they actually get to read it, which is months away.
There is another story here, which is the book’s very unusual structure. The book is called THE TWENTY-YEAR DEATH, and it’s the story of a husband and wife whose lives collapse as violence intrudes – not an unusual premise for a noir novel. But the form Winter chose for it is very unusual: he decided to tell the story of these two doomed characters in the form of three separate old-fashioned crime novels, each set in a different decade and written in the style of one of the iconic mystery writers of that time. It feels a little like opening a Christmas package and finding new novels by three of your favorite pulp-era crime writers. The first is set in 1931 and features a French police inspector investigating the death of a convict in a rain gutter 20 miles away from the prison where he was supposed to be serving a 40-year jail sentence. The second is set in 1941 and features a hardboiled private eye in Hollywood who is hired by one of the big movie studios to watch over one of their leading ladies, who either is showing signs of paranoid dementia or is actually being stalked by a mysterious man on the set of her new picture. And the third is set in 1951 and puts us deep inside the dark and troubled mind of a desperate man, a drunken writer who has lost almost everything he had and is about to tip over the edge separating ‘troubled’ from ‘dangerous.’
What’s more, these aren’t just pastiches – what's wonderful is that each book works not only as a tribute to a great mystery writer of the past but also as a standalone novel with substance and emotional heft, and as part of the combined larger whole. It’s fascinating, for instance, to watch a background character in the first book become a more central figure in the second and then the first-person narrator in the third. I don’t know any other book that’s ever done anything like it.
In any event…I fell in love with the book, and bought it even though it’s three times the length of our usual books (by far the longest book we’ve ever published – 180,000 words), and even though you’re always told, as a publisher, that first novels don’t sell. I did it because it’s a stunning performance and just left me grinning the widest grin I’ve had on my face for a long, long time.
THE CUTMAN, by Mel Odom writing as Jack Tunney, is the second installment of the new Fight Card series, and it's every bit as good as the debut novel, Paul Bishop's FELONY FISTS.
This one is narrated by Mickey Flynn, brother of Patrick Flynn, the hero of the first book.The Flynn brothers are orphans who grew up at St. Vincent's Orphanage (better known as Our Lady of the Glass Jaw) in Chicago, where they were taught to box by the priest Father Tim. Mickey travels the world as a sailor on the cargo ship Wide Bertha, and as THE CUTMAN opens, the ship is docked at Havana, Cuba, where Mickey and his colorful friends among the crew quickly run afoul of gangsters who have moved in and taken over Havana in those pre-Castro days. The friction escalates until Mick finds himself in the ring battling a vicious boxer who works for one of the local mob kingpins, with the fate of his ship riding on the outcome.
That long, epic battle is a classic, and Mickey Flynn would be right at home next to some of the "iron man" characters who populate Robert E. Howard's boxing stories.There's plenty of local color and tough-guy action, and Odom keeps the story moving along at a great pace. The best thing about this novel, though, is Mick's voice, which is just about perfect.
Like FELONY FISTS, THE CUTMAN is pure entertainment, and Fight Card is shaping up to be a great series.Highly recommended.
Fellow Western Fictioneer James Clay is trying an interesting experiment that looks like it's going to be a lot of fun. Every weekday on his blog, Wild West Detective, he's posting an installment of a serialized Western story featuring range detective Rance Dehner. The first two episodes of the first story, "The Redeemed", are up now, and I believe he already has a number of stories written and ready to go. This is an entertaining yarn so far, and I love the concept, sort of a cross between the pulps and movie serials. Check it out.
A few weeks back in a Saturday Morning Western Pulp post, I mentioned Luke Short's novel DEAD FREIGHT FOR PIUTE. The movie version of that book, ALBUQUERQUE starring Randolph Scott, was little seen after its 1948 release, almost to the point that it was considered to be a lost film. It was finally released on DVD, though, in a set with four other Western movies (THE DUEL AT SILVER CREEK, WHISPERING SMITH, and WAR ARROW). Even though I've been a Randolph Scott fan for as far back as I can remember, this is one I'd never seen until now.
Scott plays Cole Armin, a Texan summoned to New MexicoTerritory by his uncle, who owns a successful freight business in Albuquerque. The uncle, who is in poor health and confined to a wheelchair, wants Cole to take over the business. Following a stagecoach holdup that opens the movie, Cole arrives in town and quickly discovers that his uncle is, in fact, a crook who wants to wipe out his competition, another freight outfit owned by the beautiful Celia Wallace and her brother Ted. Celia was on the stagecoach that was held up, and none other than Cole's uncle was behind that robbery. (This all becomes obvious very quickly, so I'm not really giving anything away.)
Cole, being an upstanding Texan and Randolph Scott to boot, wants nothing to do with such chicanery, of course, so he goes to work for his uncle's rivals, which naturally leads to a war between the two freight outfits.
ALBUQUERQUE is a movie with a few weaknesses but considerable strengths. To get the flaws out of the way first, there's a fairly major continuity gaffe about halfway through, and a lot of the time the movie is pretty talky and light on action. The villains are a fairly tame bunch, and there's a feeling that Cole could take care of them whenever he wants to. A lengthy fistfight between Scott and Lon Chaney Jr., playing the bad guy's chief henchman, isn't staged well at all. However, there are a few other action scenes that are very well done, including some runaway freight wagons careening down a steep mountain road and an epic shootout at the end. The real strength of the movie is its cast. Scott is always a stalwart cowboy hero, and he's got the number one sidekick of all time with him in this one, Gabby Hayes, playing a driver named Juke. Maybe I'm just showing my age here, but when Gabby Hayes starts ranting, it's always funny to me. Lon Chaney Jr. makes a pretty good henchman, although he doesn't have a lot to do, and the lovely Barbara Britton has a nice juicy role as a femme fatale who's maybe not all bad.
ALBUQUERQUE certainly isn't top-rank Randolph Scott. That tier is reserved for RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY and the Fifties films Scott made with Budd Boetticher. But it's a solid lower-level A Western with a good cast, mostly good production values, a few nice stunts, and a so-so script. I'm glad I watched it, and if you're a Randolph Scott fan, you should check it out. It's a nice enjoyable way to spend an hour and a half.
Since this book has been announced officially, I might as well jump in and mention that I have a story in it. I've been a Lone Ranger fan literally as far back as I can remember. One of my first memories of television is watching the origin episodes of THE LONE RANGER. (They were in reruns, mind you; I'm not quite old enough to have seen them the first time around.) I also have very fond memories of listening to the Lone Ranger radio show when it was being broadcast in syndicated reruns in the early Sixties. And here's something I've probably mentioned before: the first novel I ever attempted to write was a Lone Ranger novel I started when I was in high school. (Never finished and long since lost.) So being asked to write a story for this anthology was really a dream come true, to fall back on a cliche. My story is called "Hell on the Border" and also features Judge Isaac Parker, the famous "Hanging Judge". I'm looking forward to seeing it in print and also to reading all the other stories by a great lineup of authors!
What, after I've watched and loved the first four movies in this series, you thought I wouldn't watch and love this one, too? (Actually, "love" is too strong a word for TOKYO DRIFT, but it's okay.)
As someone I know once said, "You know what's been missing from the Fast and Furious series right from the start? The Rock!" Well, he's in this one, and of course he has an epic slugfest with Vin Diesel. Throw in the usual assortment of spectacular car stunts, motorcycle stunts, train stunts, some colorful Brazilian scenery, shootouts, fistfights, an evil drug lord, a 100 million dollar caper, and that pretty well sums up FAST FIVE. I didn't think it was quite as good as the last one, but I still thoroughly enjoyed it. There was a late plot twist I didn't see coming (but should have) and a nice teaser at the end setting up the next installment in the franchise. Vin Diesel and Dwayne Johnson are going to be in that one, too, and it's rumored that Jason Statham will also be on board, as proof, I suppose, of the theory that you can never have too many bald guys trying to kick each other's ass in a movie.
Hey, you already know I'm gonna watch it and love it . . .
The eagerly-awaited FIGHT CARD series makes its debut with the novel FELONY FISTS, written by Paul Bishop under the house-name Jack Tunney. Set in 1954, an era that really resonates with me, it's the story of Patrick "Felony" Flynn, a Los Angeles cop who's also an amateur boxer. Flynn gets a chance to combine those two parts of his life when he's offered a promotion to Detective that involves him taking down a fighter owned by gangster Mickey Cohen, thereby thwarting Cohen's attempt to take over the boxing game in LA.
As if that's not enough for Flynn to deal with, Bishop also includes counterfeiting, kidnapping, and a beautiful redheaded torch singer, as well as setting up the back-story for the rest of the series, which will be written by assorted top-notch hardboiled authors. He does a great job of capturing the time period with its swanky nightclubs, sweaty boxing gyms, and seedy back alleys. The story races along at a fine pace, culminating in an epic battle in the ring between Flynn and Cohen's fighter.
Boxing scenes are harder to write than you might think, but Bishop makes the action easy to follow for the reader, as well as skillfully mixing the fisticuffs with the hardboiled crime angle. I haven't read a lot of boxing fiction – Robert E. Howard's boxing stories are some of my favorites among his work, and the Battlin' Jack Murdock scenes in DAREDEVIL #1 by Stan Lee and Bill Everett are still etched in my mind more than forty years later – but Bishop's efforts here are right up there with those yarns. FELONY FISTS is a great debut for what promises to be a highly entertaining series.
And next up is THE CUTMAN, by Mel Odom writing as Jack Tunney.
Here's another pretty good stampede cover (the painting is called "Prairie Fire" and is by R. Farrington Elwell), this time from an early pulp published by Dell. There are quite a few excellent authors represented inside: Walt Coburn, Eugene Cunningham, J.E. Grinstead, Robert J. Hogan, Hapsburg Liebe, Tom J. Hopkins, William Freeman Hough, and George Cory Franklin. All of those authors showed up frequently in a variety of pulps. I wouldn't quite call it an all-star lineup (Coburn and Cunningham are probably the only ones who fall into that category), but it's close.
(This post originally appeared in somewhat different form on June 19, 2006.)
Some of you reading this may not know that in the early days of my writing career, more than twenty-five years ago, I was "Brett Halliday" for a while, penning more than three dozen short novels about Miami private eye Michael Shayne for MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE. And I do mean penning -- most of my first drafts in those days were written in spiral notebooks with a fountain pen. I'd been reading the full-length Shayne novels for years and read a lot more of them after MSMM's editor, Sam Merwin Jr., asked me to try my hand at writing a Shayne story. So I have a great fondness for the series and have always considered it somewhat underrated by the critics. These days, of course, Mike Shayne is mostly forgotten. But not by me. I still read (or sometimes reread) one of the novels now and then.
From 1949, CALL FOR MICHAEL SHAYNE is one of the books I hadn't read until now. It's by Davis Dresser, the creator of the series and the original Brett Halliday. It starts with a situation that's very familiar to readers of hardboiled mystery novels: Insurance executive Arthur Devlin wakes up in a seedy hotel room with no memory of where he's been or what he's done during the past two weeks. And oh, yeah, there's a dead body in the room, too, a weaselly-looking guy with his head bashed in by a blackjack. Instead of muddling through and finding out what's going on by himself, though, Devlin does the smart thing. He turns to Mike Shayne for help.
As always in a Shayne novel, there are plenty of twists and turns in the plot. Some of it is fairly easy to figure out, but there was one "D'oh!" moment near the end when I smacked my forehead and realized I should have made a certain connection a lot earlier. Dresser was a master at staying one or two or sometimes three jumps ahead of the reader.
There's no sign of Shayne's faithful secretary Lucy Hamilton in this one, or his reporter friend Tim Rourke, but Miami Chief of Police Will Gentry and Shayne's longtime adversary Peter Painter make appearances. The fact that all the action in the novel takes place in less than twenty-four hours just didn't leave room for Lucy or Rourke, I guess. The scenes where Shayne spars verbally with Painter are great fun, as usual.
CALL FOR MICHAEL SHAYNE belongs in the second or maybe even third tier of Shayne novels, but it's still very entertaining. The cover illustration above is from the Dell mapback edition and is probably by Robert Stanley. (I didn't look it up to be sure.)
Regular readers of this blog know that I'm a big fan of Captain America and have been since that day in January 1964 when I went to Tompkins' Drugstore after school and bought AVENGERS #4 off the spinner rack, along with a handful of other early landmark issues such as FANTASTIC FOUR #25, AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #11, and X-MEN #4. Man, that was a great time to be a ten-year-old comics fan.
Anyway, it was inevitable that I'd watch the recent movie version of CAPTAIN AMERICA. Equally inevitable is that I'd carp about some of the changes the filmmakers made from the source material, such as Bucky being all wrong. However, this is one of those cases where all the things the movie gets right far outweigh the things it doesn't. THOR, which I saw, liked a lot, but didn't blog about, falls into the same category. See, you can make changes that I don't necessarily agree with, but if you get the spirit right, such things don't bother me much. It's only when you completely pervert the source material (as in the first HULK movie, the one directed by Ang Lee) that I wind up hating the film.
But back to Cap, I think this film is a perfect example of how to do comic book movies correctly: spend plenty of money and take the material seriously. Nothing looks cheesy (well, not too much) and even though most of the film takes place in the Forties, there's not an ounce of post-modern irony to be found. Everything is played straight, as it should be. And especially during the scenes that cover Cap's origin, I felt like I was watching TALES OF SUSPENSE pages scripted by Stan Lee and drawn by Jack Kirby come to life, despite the additions of Peggy Carter and Howard Stark to the story at that point.
One more minor complaint: the post-credits scene, a staple of these Marvel movies, didn't amount to much and was the weakest so far. You should watch it, but don't expect a lot.
Overall, I liked CAPTAIN AMERICA as much as any movie I've seen in a long time, and the rest of the family (none of whom have ever read a Captain America comic book in their lives) seemed to enjoy it quite a bit as well. Not as much as me, though.
Oh, and don't blink, or you'll miss the cameo appearance by the original Human Torch. Man, what a joy an Invaders movie would be, done right . . .
Heath Lowrance's debut novel THE BASTARD HAND is one of the best books I've read so far this year, so I had high hopes for a couple of his short stories I read recently, "That Damned Coyote Hill" and "Deadland, USA: Mindless Consumerism", both of which are available as e-books on Amazon.
"That Damned Coyote Hill" is a Weird Western, a crossover genre that's a lot older than some people think ("The Horror From the Mound", anyone?), but it's enjoying a well-deserved resurgence right now. Some of the new stories I've read have suffered from being unbalanced: the horror elements are strong and done well, but the Western elements aren't, or vice versa. Lowrance, however, does a fine job with both. You've got a mysterious gunfighter on a mission of vengeance, an isolated settlement, a trio of fairly formidable bad guys, a kidnapped little girl . . . but you've also got an even more mysterious old Indian, townspeople who don't act quite right, strange creatures that haunt the prairie . . . mix that together and you have a very entertaining yarn that's an excellent example of the Weird Western. I'm hoping that Lowrance's protagonist in this story, the gunfighter called Hawthorne (named after Nathaniel Hawthorne, perhaps?) will soon make a return appearance.
Not having read a lot of zombie fiction and written even less (one unsold novelette that's now lost), I hardly qualify as an expert on that genre, but it seems to me that zombie fiction can be viewed as an oddball variation of the old "man vs. nature" plot, only in this case it would be the "man vs. unnature" plot. But a horde of hungry zombies is as much a vast, inexorable threat as a flood, a forest fire, or an earthquake. You can't really identify with them, they have no back-story (or rather, they have so many back-stories that it's too unwieldy to deal with them), and so the writer has to focus on their potential victims, as Steven Booth and Harry Shannon do so well in THE HUNGRY, which I blogged about a few days ago.
"Deadland, USA: Mindless Consumerism" is definitely the first in a series, and Lowrance makes it work by giving us a really likable narrator/protagonist, 19-year-old would-be slacker Sammy, who's forced to grow up and take over the leadership of a small group of survivors on the run from a zombie apocalypse. The supporting characters are good, too, but Sammy really carries this story, which reads like the first chapter in an on-going serialized novel. The focus is very tight, the reader doesn't really know what's going on beyond this small group of characters, but I'm sensing some sort of epic structure behind it all. I guess we'll have to wait and see.
I also have Lowrance's short story collection DIG TEN GRAVES (a great title), but I haven't gotten to it yet. Between THE BASTARD HAND and these two stories, though, I'm very close to saying that whatever Heath Lowrance wants to write, I want to read it. Highly recommended.
In our never-ending quest to goose sales, Livia and I have put a new cover on my recent crime novel TRACTOR GIRL. So if you've been meaning to pick up a copy and haven't yet, now would be a perfect time. (In other words, buy my book, please, please, please!)
This is another of those fondly remembered TV series from my childhood, a very short-lived (20 episodes total) Western about U.S. marshals bringing law and order to the Dakotas. The lead was someone named Larry Ward as Marshal Frank Ragan, and his three deputies were an impossibly young Chad Everett, an obscure actor named Michael Greene, and the real star of the show as far as me and most of my friends who watched it were concerned, the great Jack Elam as Deputy J.D. Smith. Elam is one of my favorite character actors, and his character in THE DAKOTAS started out as somewhat villainous, being a gunslinger who was hired to kill Marshal Ragan but wound up working for him instead. Definitely a Hipshot Percussion sort of character, and even though he was one of the good guys, he always had a borderline craziness about him. I suspect that one reason the series wasn't successful was that viewers in 1963 really didn't know what to make of Elam's character. The ten-year-old boys knew, though: he was cool.
The scripts were a bit odd, too, often starting in the middle of the action, and they were very violent for the time, to the point that controversy, along with low ratings, helped kill the series after less than a season. The episode in the YouTube clip below, "Sanctuary at Crystal Springs", prompted a lot of protests because its final shootout took place in a church.
Of course, I didn't really know much about any of that at the time. I just liked the show and was sorry when it went off the air. I didn't know that it was a spinoff from CHEYENNE, either (CHEYENNE being another favorite of mine from that era). As far as I know, THE DAKOTAS isn't available on DVD except maybe on the gray market, but it's one of those shows that ought to be.
I don't normally take part in the "New in the House" series, as a number of my friends and fellow bloggers do, but I came across something today I have to share. One of the items from my collection that I really regretted losing in the fire was a hardback copy of a Mickey Spillane novel (I don't remember which one) that Bill Crider took to the Milwaukee Bouchercon when Spillane attended and got signed for me. I've always appreciated Bill doing that for me. Well, today I was in Half Price Books browsing through their nostalgia section when I saw a paperback copy of what I consider to be Spillane's best novel, ONE LONELY NIGHT. I pulled it off the shelf to look at it, even though I have a policy of not buying books I've already read, and it had a sticker on it that said "Signed". Of course I had to open up the bag and take a look at the inscription, which starts off (wait for it), "Hi, James." Not me, naturally, but still, there it was in Mickey Spillane's handwriting: "Hi, James."
Yes, it came home with me. And I had to sit down and read the opening chapter again, one of the very best opening chapters in all of mystery fiction. For my money, the only one that can match it is the opening chapter of THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, and that's only because that chapter has such a great last line. I'm not sure anything will ever equal the impact the first chapter of ONE LONELY NIGHT had on me when I read it the first time on the front porch of my sister's house in 1970. Reading it today, it's still great. And I have a signed Spillane again.
A few days ago I mentioned that I'd bought the new anthology BEAT TO A PULP: HARDBOILED and was eager to read it. Well, now I have, and the verdict is that editors David Cranmer and Scott D. Parker have put together a really fine collection of stories that is well worth your time and money.
The book begins with a good introduction by Ron Scheer about the origins of the hardboiled genre and proceeds to thirteen stories of various sorts of crime, mayhem, and suspense. Some stand-outs for me:
"Obstruction" by Glenn Gray is a suitably graphic story about crime in an autopsy room that manages to be funny, gross, and violent at the same time. Gray's writing has a unique voice, always a good thing.
"Ric with No K" by Patricia Abbott is another story with an excellent voice. If there's a better short story writer around these days than Patti Abbott, I haven't run across him or her.
"Black-Eyed Susan" by Thomas Pluck is short and mean and well-written. I don't think I've read anything by this author before, but I'll be on the lookout for his name now.
And my favorite story in the anthology, "Bull's-Eye View" by Wayne D. Dundee, a novelette featuring Joe Hannibal, one of the most enduring and appealing PI characters of the past 25 years. This is the sort of story for which the word "hardboiled" was invented: fast, gritty, with good characters and a fully-realized setting, the spiritual descendant of Hammett's Continental Op stories.
There's 'way too much good short fiction being published these days for me to keep up with all of it, but BEAT TO A PULP: HARDBOILED provides a great sampling of some of the best authors. Highly recommended.