Friday, August 31, 2012

Forgotten Books: Johnny Liddell's Morgue - Frank Kane

I enjoyed the stories in STACKED DECK, the Johnny Liddell collection by Frank Kane I read a while back, so I went ahead and read JOHNNY LIDDELL'S MORGUE, the other Kane collection I have. Once again the stories come from a variety of sources, several from MANHUNT, at least one from THE SAINT DETECTIVE MAGAZINE, and one, "Morgue-Star Final" from the July 1945 issue of the pulp CRACK DETECTIVE, making it the earliest Liddell story I've read and possibly the first in the series.

"Lead Ache" starts things off with a bang, as Liddell's investigation into the murder of a reporter leads him to a dime-a-dance racket with a sinister secret.

"Frame" is a pretty substantial novelette about a washed-up Broadway star and a diamond robbery allegedly committed by an operative who was working for Liddell. Naturally Johnny doesn't believe his associate was crooked and sets out to discover what really happened.

In "Return Engagement", Liddell's client claims to have murdered a man six months earlier, but according to the newspaper that supposed victim was killed in a hit-and-run accident the night before. Liddell's attempt to discover the truth leads to another murder before he sorts everything out.

"The Dead Grin" finds Liddell investigating another apparent accidental death, this time for an insurance company. The plot in this one starts out looking incredibly obvious, but then Kane springs a nice twist at the end.

"A Package for Mr. Big" is a novelette that begins with a beautiful, mysterious blonde giving Liddell a package to hold for her since she's in danger. It's not long before people are dying and Liddell is taking on the Mob and their hired killers. This story is full of action and the pace never lets up for long.

Liddell's sometimes-girlfriend, reporter Muggsy Kiely, appears briefly in "A Game of Murder". I would have liked to see her play a bigger part in the story. Back when I was reading the Liddell novels, I always liked Muggsy more than I liked the girlfriends/secretaries/sidekicks of most private eyes. She had spunk, and unlike Lou Grant, I like spunk. Anyway, blink and you'll miss her in this one, which is a pretty good story despite that as a beautiful redhead (is there any other kind in Liddell's universe?) involves Johnny in a messy divorce case that includes murder.

"Morgue-Star Final", in which Johnny investigates the murder of a newspaper gossip columnist who's been feuding with a mobster, reads like it might be the first of the series, all right. Liddell isn't quite the same character he is in the later stories. He's more unpolished, and at one point he's described by another character as "a dumpy little man", as opposed to the big, ruggedly handsome guy he is in the other stories. Kane's style is a little different in this one, too, as he always refers to the character by both names, rather than "Johnny" or "Liddell". Slightly inconsistent with the rest of the series or not, it's still a pretty good story.

The book concludes with "Gory Hallelujah!", one of the bad-pun titles Kane was fond of. In this one, Liddell travels to New Orleans, where he maintained an agency at one time, to investigate the suicide of a beautiful young woman. Kane does a fine job with the local color and throws in an action-packed plot involving voodoo and blackmail.

These stories are about as traditional (or old-fashioned, if you prefer) as they come, which makes them very satisfying literary comfort food for somebody like me who grew up reading hardboiled private eye yarns. I don't think this is quite as strong a collection as STACKED DECK, but I enjoyed it and think it's well worth reading. An e-book edition is available from Prologue Books, and if you're a private eye fan, too, you should check it out.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Omega Blue - Mel Odom

Set in the future a step past tomorrow, in a United States that's bleak and hard and crime runs rampant in the streets, there's only on team to call on. Omega Blue, the FBI's premiere hardcases take down crime too big or too dangerous for the average law enforcement agencies.

Tracking down a group of organ jackals dealing in the Red Market (organ harvesting), Slade Wilson goes head-to-head with an Asian gang sporting exo-skeletons and fighting to keep a secret agenda hidden from prying eyes. Equipped with state-of-the-art technology, driven to succeed, Wilson and his team of specialists keep the pedal to the metal as they race toward doomsday.

As I've come to expect from Mel Odom, this novel contains some of the best-written action scenes you'll ever come across, plus some great characters including a tough but very likable protagonist in Slade Wilson. Part near-future techno-thriller, part hardboiled crime yarn, OMEGA BLUE is a highly entertaining science fiction adventure novel. Originally published in the mid-Nineties, it has a welcome new life as an e-book, and I hope the sequel will be available soon because I want to read it, too. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked TV: G.E. College Bowl

So, how big a nerd was I when I was a kid? Well, I watched this academic quiz show on Sunday afternoons for years and years, if that gives you a hint.

Monday, August 27, 2012

New This Week

All e-books this week, and a wide assortment, at that. Check 'em out.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Fight Stories, June 1930

The cover story in this issue is a classic Robert E. Howard boxing yarn, "The Iron Man", one of Howard's best boxing stories. But it's not the only story by a notable author in this issue, as veteran pulpster Arthur J. Burks is also on hand, as is Octavus Roy Cohen, whose career as a popular mystery novelist lasted for several decades. There are also stories by writers I haven't heard of, such as Weed Dickinson and Charles Francis Coe. Howard is possibly the only author whose fiction from FIGHT STORIES is still in print, but if you're looking for top-notch boxing fiction (how's that for a segue?), you can always check out the Fight Card series.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: All Western, June 1935

This is an issue I own and read recently, and the cover scan is from that copy. The cover painting by R. Farrington Elwell, an artist I'm not really familiar with, is called "Disputed Brands", and it's exactly what it sounds like.

The issue leads off with a novelette from one of my favorite authors, W.C. Tuttle. This is a stand-alone story, rather than being from one of Tuttle's many different series, and it's a pretty good one. His hero this time is a young cowboy named Rusty Steele who has to sort out the mystery of a long-standing feud between two ranches. There are stagecoach wrecks, disappearances, and shootouts, and while the big twist in the plot is pretty predictable, Tuttle's fast-moving, humor-laced style is so enjoyable that it doesn't really matter.

Next up is the second part of a three-part series of articles called "I Rode With the Daltons!" Supposedly written by Emmett Dalton, the lone survivor of the famous outlaw gang, "as told to" Charles M. Martin, it's a fictionalization of several historical incidents. I suspect that former cowboy and prolific pulpster Martin, who sometimes wrote as Chuck Martin, wrote the whole thing with little if any input from Emmett Dalton. Either way, it's an entertaining piece that stops just short of the gang's raid on Coffeyville, Kansas, which turned out to be their Waterloo.

The short story "Coffin Talk" is by-lined Walt Remington, which sounds like a pseudonym to me. I don't know who wrote it, but this yarn about a sinister undertaker and a couple of vengeance-seeking cowboys is enjoyable.

Eugene Cunningham had an odd, distinctive style that takes some getting used to, but once you do, it's very effective. His novelette in this issue, "Concho Guns", finds a young cowboy on the run from the law for a shooting that wasn't his fault, and naturally he finds himself in even more trouble when he winds up in the middle of a war between two rival store owners, one of whom is also the local sheriff. Cunningham's work has the reputation of being some of the most violent in the Western pulps. That's true here as there are shootouts and corpses galore, and it's hard to guess who will survive and who won't.

E.W. Thistlethwaite (there's a rugged Western name for you) evidently wrote a series of articles for ALL WESTERN about various professions. "Ranger!" isn't about the Texas Rangers, as you might suppose. It's an examination of a Forest Ranger's work and daily life. Pretty interesting stuff.

James P. Olsen was a prolific pulp writer who also used the pseudonym James A. Lawson. Under that name he wrote a fine series of slightly wacky hardboiled crime yarns about oilfield troubleshooter Dallas Duane. Olsen could write straight action yarns as well as Bellemesque goofiness. His short story "Matagorda Man" is the more straightforward type and concerns a mysterious manhunter tracking down a notorious outlaw. This one also has a "twist" ending that's anything but. I enjoyed it anyway because of Olsen's terse, fast-moving style.

"Johnny Colt Rides" is by Hapsburg Liebe (really Charles Haven Liebe), another author who shows up all the time in the Western pulps. He wrote for just about every publisher in the business and turned out competent stories like the one here, which finds the young gunslinger of the title venturing below the border to trap an outlaw gang.

Clay Starr is a house-name, so there's no telling who wrote "Too Many Cattle". It's about a rancher trying to prevent a tick-infested herd from contaminating his range. A decent story, but like the one by Liebe, nothing special.

This issue is rounded out by "Burnin' Powder", a column on guns and ammo by Philip B. Sharpe, a name that's familiar to me. I think he wrote about similar subjects for other pulps.

I came across a stack of ALL WESTERN issues the other day while I was looking for a particular one (I didn't have it), and it appears to have been a pretty good Western pulp. June 1935 is certainly a fine issue, with three excellent stories (by Tuttle, Cunningham, and Olsen), and readable ones by the other authors. I'm not sure I'd ever read a pulp published by Dell before. I'll definitely read more of ALL WESTERN.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Forgotten Books: The Silver Desert - Ernest Haycox

I've said some less than complimentary things about Ernest Haycox's work in the past, but I think maybe I'm finally starting to develop an appreciation for it. Earlier this year I enjoyed his collection of pulp yarns TRIGGER TRIO, and now I've read one of his full-length novels, THE SILVER DESERT, and liked it quite a bit, too.

This is a modern-day Western, set in the mid-Thirties, the same time it was originally serialized in the slick magazine COLLIER'S, weekly from mid-August through mid-October, 1935. It begins with beautiful young actress Lily Tennant arriving in Nevada, where she immediately encounters embattled rancher Tom Sebastian, owner of the vast Barrier spread. Lily is on the verge of a career breakthrough in Hollywood but is no longer sure she wants it. Tom is trying to defend his ranch against rustlers led by his old enemy Buffalo Galt, who is backed by some shadowy political powers. Naturally Tom and Lily fall for each other, but there are all sorts of complications keeping them from getting together, ranging from gunfights to romantic triangles.

Ernest Haycox in credited with bringing realism to Western fiction, which in this case consists of a lot of angst, most of it centered around a beautiful young woman named Charm who lives on Tom's ranch with her illegitimate son. Everybody just assumes that Tom is the boy's father, despite the fact that he and Charm have never married. Then Lily's former flame, a retired matinee idol, arrives on the scene, and since he's the one who got Lily her big break in the movies, everyone assumes that she's been sleeping with him.

Thankfully, these soap opera elements are balanced by some well-done fistfights and shootouts. As I've noted before, Haycox skimps on the action in some of his work, postponing it and then having it occur off-screen. Not so in THE SILVER DESERT, although there are a few times when Tom Sebastian chooses to wait when he should have slapped leather. Everything builds to an excellent showdown at the end.

Haycox writes very vividly about the landscape and about human emotions, so much so that every now and then it causes the pace of the story to slow down a little too much, in my opinion. But I didn't have any trouble staying with it, and overall I really enjoyed THE SILVER DESERT. I'll always be more of a shoot-em-up fan at heart, but from time to time I like a more literary Western such as this one. It's not one of Haycox's best-known novels, but I think it's worth reading.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Amazon Recommends Fort Worth Nights and Texas Wind

A friend of mine sent me this screen shot of an email he got today from Amazon recommending FORT WORTH NIGHTS and TEXAS WIND to him. It's always nice to see Amazon publicizing the books. Such things are more important than ever these days. When I review a book here I always try to post the review on Amazon as well and "Like" the page. If I review something of yours and fail to post it on Amazon, too, don't hesitate to drop me an e-mail and remind me, because that's always my intention. The little things really add up in this business.

I also find it funny when I get a recommendation e-mail from Amazon and one or more of the books they're recommending to me are ones that I've written under other names. That happens more often than you might think.

Vin of Venus - Paul D. Brazill, David Cranmer, and Garnett Elliott

Remember when you were in high school and your buddy who read the same kind of stuff you did came up to you in the hall between classes and shoved a book in your hand and said, "You gotta read this! It's great!"?

Well, that's what I'm doing with VIN OF VENUS. I'm shoving the e-book into your virtual hand and saying, "You gotta read this! It's great!"

As much as I love both hardboiled crime fiction and swashbuckling Sword and Planet adventure, I probably never would have thought of merging the two. Luckily, Paul D. Brazill, David Cranmer, and Garnett Elliott did think of it, and the result is this collection of several short stories and a novella that form the first part of a series I hope will run for a long time.

The title character wakes up missing his left arm, his left leg, and his memory. Some people try to help him, but naturally, sinister forces are at work, too, as Vin (that's the only name he knows himself by) tries to find out who he really is and what happened to him. Along the way he's haunted by dreams of himself living another life, one of sword-swinging adventure on the planet Venus before a catastrophe turned it into the unlivable planet it is now.

The authors do a great job of moving back and forth between the two storylines and dropping hints and clues about what the truth really is. And even more impressively, the hardboiled thriller elements and the fantasy elements are handled with equal skill, so that both ring true.

VIN OF VENUS is really entertaining, and I'm looking forward to finding out what happens next. In the meantime, if you haven't picked this one up, I highly recommend that you get in on the beginning of this saga.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

36 Years Ago Today . . .

Tuesday's Overlooked TV: Captain Gallant of the Foreign Legion

I barely remember watching this short-lived syndicated series as a kid, but not long ago I came across a DVD set containing ten episodes and decided to give it a try. I've watched a few of them now, and they're not bad for what they are: cheaply made adventure yarns starring a long-past-his-prime Buster Crabbe and former Western sidekick Fuzzy Knight, plus Crabbe's real-life son playing Captain Gallant's adopted son Cuffy. The plots might as well be Westerns, with the Foreign Legion standing in for the cavalry and the local Arabs getting to handle the Indian parts. What sets the series slightly apart from similar fare is that it was produced in Morocco and there's a lot of exterior filming, giving it an authentic look. Crabbe has never been a favorite of mine, but he's suitably stalwart as Captain Michael Gallant. This series has some definite nostalgia value and it's watchable on its own merits, an episode or two at a time.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Time Again DVD Release

TIME AGAIN, the action movie directed by my friend Ray Karwel, will be released on DVD tomorrow by Brain Damage Films. Check it out:

Brain Damage Films is proud to announce the August 21, 2012 release of “Time Again” on DVD.  Coming off a successful festival run where it won an Award of Merit and was twice nominated for Best Action Film, “Time Again” takes the audience on a wild sci-fi adventure into the notorious criminal underworld as a young waitress must travel back in time to change the course of events that led to the death of her sister.
First time director Ray Karwel, delivers a fun, swift-moving action flick that really takes off.  “Time Again” was edited by renowned Hollywood film editor John Rosenberg and stars veteran actress Gigi Perreau (Journey to the Center of Time, The Brady Bunch).  It also features in starring roles Scott F. Evans (Big Bag of $, Alien Abduction), John T. Woods (Mega Snake, Zombie Strippers, House, NCIS, and 24), Angela Rachelle (The Kiss, Sexy Evil Genius, The Mentalist), and Tara Smoker.
People say you can’t change the past, but what would you say if you were given the chance to make things right?  That’s the question answered in “Time Again” as two sisters make their way through operatic shootouts and heroic bloodshed.
The “Time Again” DVD includes director commentary, an extended scene and audition tapes of some of the main actors.

New This Week

This week I paid a visit to a Half Price Books location I'd never been to before (the one in Burleson, Texas) and came away with a few things. First up are three books by John Whitlatch: FRANK T.'S PLAN, GANNON'S VENDETTA, and TANNER'S LEMMING. Whitlatch is something of a legendary figure among action/adventure fans because not much is known about him. I've seen his books around for years and at one time owned all of them, but I've never read any of them. I have to remedy that soon.

Next a trio of vintage hardboiled mysteries: BLOW HOT, BLOW COLD by Gerald Butler, THE FOURTH POSTMAN by Craig Rice, and SHAKEDOWN by Richard Ellington. Butler was a British author who came up with one of the all-time great hardboiled titles, KISS THE BLOOD OFF MY HANDS. I have several of his books but have never read any of them. This one is set on the French Riviera. The Craig Rice book is one of her novels featuring lawyer John J. Malone. Everything I've read by her has been good. I've also read several novels by Richard Ellington that I liked. SHAKEDOWN, originally published in hardback under the title JUST KILLING TIME, features his private eye character Steve Drake.

I nearly always pick up Zebra horror novels from the Eighties and Nineties when I come across them, especially if they're by William W. Johnstone. In this case I found two of them, WOLFSBANE and THE DEVIL'S CAT. I may already have one or both of these, I'm not sure, but I wasn't going to leave them there.

Finally a couple of Westerns: THE KINCAID COUNTY WAR, another entry in the Wild Bill series by Judd Cole (John Edward Ames) and BLOOD ON THE GRASS by Lewis B. Patten, a Leisure paperback that includes the title novel and a bonus novella "Sharpshod", both of which appeared originally in Western pulps in the early Fifties, the former in the April 1953 issue of GIANT WESTERN under the name Lewis Ford, a Patten pseudonym I wasn't aware of, and the latter in the May 1953 issue of WEST. Should be good.

New e-books this week include a handful of pulp reprints from Radio Archives, including The Spider, Operator #5, The Scorpion, and The Mysterious Wu Fang.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Thrilling Mystery, March 1942

I don't think you can go wrong with this issue. The lead novel is by Norman Daniels, not one of my favorites but a prolific pulpster whose work was consistently good. He's backed up by stories from Henry Kuttner, Sam Merwin Jr. (my old MSMM editor), G.T. Fleming-Roberts (probably the best of the Secret Agent X authors), and Joseph J. Millard, better known as the dependable paperbacker Joe Millard. And when I'm in the right mood, I can't resist stories with titles like "The Murdering Ghosts" and "The Man With Two Heads".

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Frontier Stories, Winter 1949

Here's another Fiction House pulp with a pretty good cover and a fine line-up of authors. Les Savage Jr. was probably the star of Fiction House's Western pulps during this era, and you can't argue with a title like "Whip-Woman of the Santa Fe". I believe I've read this story in one of the Leisure paperback collections of Savage's pulp stories, and it's a good one. Emmett McDowell, who also has a story in this issue, wrote some pretty good hardboiled crime novels for the Ace Double line, as well as turning out science fiction yarns for PLANET STORIES. I'm not familiar with R.S. Lerch, but I love the title of his Saga of the Overland Trail in this issue, "Wagons of the Damned".

Friday, August 17, 2012

Forgotten Books: The Ill Wind Contract - Philip Atlee (James Atlee Phillips)

Recently there was some discussion about the Joe Gall series on one of the Facebook groups I belong to, and since I hadn't read one of the books in a long time I figured that would be a good excuse to do so. For those of you unfamiliar with the series, which has been out of print for quite a while now, Joe Gall is a former pilot who knocked around the Far East after World War II, had some adventures there (one of which is the basis for PAGODA, the actual first book in the series), and eventually became an agent for the CIA. Between missions he spends time at his isolated home in the Ozark Mountains.

THE ILL WIND CONTRACT, published in 1969, finds Joe being sent to Indonesia, with a stopover in Japan first, to find out why an Indonesian army officer is trying to recruit an American mercenary. That's how it starts out. After that . . . well . . .

I've read about half of the Joe Gall novels, and one thing is consistent in all of those: the plots never make sense to me. Maybe I'm just dense. At first this one seems to be about some sort of new wonder drug that makes people either super-smart or super-dumb (I was never sure which), which would make it fit right in with the Sixties secret agent boom which produced James Bond, The Man From U.N.C.L.E., Our Man Flint, etc. But then that part of the plot goes away and the book reads like it's going to turn into an Indiana Jones-style adventure as Joe tries to retrieve a fortune in gold and silver bullion that's hidden in an ancient temple. Suddenly, though, civil war breaks out in Indonesia (a development based on actual events), and Joe is caught in the middle of it. Characters and storylines are introduced and then promptly discarded (or forgotten). And this is one of the more coherent novels in the series, as author Philip Atlee (really James Atlee Phillips) at least makes an attempt to tie everything together in the end.

So given all that, is this book actually worth reading? Well, yeah. Definitely. Joe Gall can be unlikable at times, but he's an interesting protagonist/narrator. The action scenes are pretty good, the local color is excellent, and Phillips wrote terse, hardboiled, at times lyrical prose that's very effective. I don't know if the messiness of his plots was a deliberate attempt to capture the murky world of international espionage or if he just couldn't keep up with what he was writing. Somehow, though, it all works fairly well. I suspect that somebody will reprint these as e-books one of these days. In the meantime, copies of the original paperbacks are readily available on-line and not expensive, and they still show up in used bookstores. (I bought this one from Half Price Books' nostalgia section for a dollar.) The series can be read in any order, although the books sometimes refer back to previous entries, so if you run across any of them and have never made Joe Gall's acquaintance, give 'em a try.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Review Copies of Wolf Creek, Book 1: Bloody Trail

I'm going to be sending out a limited number of review copies of WOLF CREEK, BOOK 1: BLOODY TRAIL, the first collaborative novel from the Western Fictioneers. It won't be released until next month, but if you're a blogger/reviewer and would like an advance look, drop me an email. I have it available in Kindle, PDF, and Word formats. This will be an ongoing series, and you can learn more about it here. WF's publishing program has a number of exciting projects in the works, so keep an eye out for future announcements.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Men's Adventure Magazines: Man's Illustrated, December 1958

This isn't going to be a regular series like the weekend pulp features I run, but from time to time when I finish reading one of these magazines I'll have a few comments about it. This is actually the first men's adventure magazine I've read in many years, and I enjoyed it.

Start off with a pretty good cover by Stanley Borack. With that torn shirt, our two-fisted hero bears a distinct resemblance to James Bama's version of Doc Savage, doesn't he? I'm not well-versed enough to know for sure, but the model for this one could have been Steve Holland, who modeled for hundreds of paintings that wound up as covers on men's adventure magazines. And of course a few years later Holland was the model for Bama's Doc Savage paperback covers. I also like the guy in the back clutching the ax. Old Torn Shirt better watch out.

Moving on to the inside, the Action-Packed Book-Length Bonus mentioned on the cover is "Colter's Run", a lightly fictionalized retelling of frontiersman John Colter's famous run that allowed him to escape from his Blackfoot captors. It's well-written and pretty entertaining. The author is listed as Gene Caesar, but nearly all the bylines in these magazines were pseudonyms.

Speaking of which, the World War II story "That's No Fence – That's Germans!" is credited to George Bush. The story itself is again a lightly fictionalized version of a historical incident, in this case one of the side battles that went to make up the Battle of the Bulge, in which a group of support troops – clerks, cooks, mechanics, even some entertainers from Special Services – have to fight off a German flank attack behind the front lines and hold a town for several days against superior forces for several days until reinforcements arrive. It's a good yarn and pretty accurate historically.

"Case of the Nude Tattoo" by Henry Durling is a true-crime yarn set in New York in the 1890s. It's written well enough, but there's not much to it. The same is true of "Go-Devil and the Butcher of Triton's Tolt" by Colin Thompson, a purely fictional story about an American flyer who crash-lands in Labrador during World War II, falls in love with the girl who nurses him back to health, and returns after the war to marry her, only to run afoul of some local bullies. This one could have been pretty good, but the plot runs out of steam and the story suffers from an odd structure as well.

"Dead Man's Ride" by Stan Smith is considerably better. It's a runaway train story, set in Chicago in 1875, and concerns a young man's gallant attempt to stop an out-of-control elevated train after the engineer suffers a heart attack and dies with his hand on the throttle. I don't know if there's any history to it or if it's all fiction, but it's fairly suspenseful. This one could have easily appeared in the pulp RAILROAD STORIES.

This brings us to the cover story, "Ed Caine and the Love-Cabin Girls of Alaska" by none other than Edwin Caine his own self. I don't have any idea who wrote this, but his tongue had to be firmly in his cheek as the over-the-top action never stops. You've got a tough, hardboiled pilot who flies prostitutes into the wilds of northern Alaska ("a brushhopping pimp", he calls himself), fistfights, shootouts, beautiful girls strung up and whipped by a crazed sex maniac/geologist (you know how those guys are), a plane crash, and an avalanche. Man, if the author had worked in some quicksand and a gator, this story would have had everything. It's great fun, marred only by a slight letdown of an ending after all the wild stuff that's come before.

All the other articles, like "The Plot to Suppress a Cancer Cure" and "Secrets Behind Your Sex Dreams", I found pretty much unreadable. But with two pretty good stories and several more that were entertaining, I enjoyed the issue quite a bit overall.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked TV: Odd Guest Hosts on The Tonight Show

Writing about the Muppets last week reminded me of a rather odd appearance by one of them. The Muppets were guests on THE TONIGHT SHOW from time to time, but back in the days when Johnny Carson had a wide variety of guest hosts, Kermit the Frog actually hosted the entire show one night, doing a monologue, exchanging banter with Ed McMahon, and interviewing guests. I don't recall who else was on, and I wish I did, but I've never forgotten the somewhat surreal sight of Kermit sitting behind Johnny's desk as if he were born to it. (Well, maybe not "born" . . . but you know what I mean.) There are no video clips of this on YouTube or anywhere else that I could find, and if Livia didn't remember it, too, I might think I'd imagined the whole thing.

Which reminds me of another bizarre episode of THE TONIGHT SHOW where Steve Martin guest hosted wearing a giant bunny head. As Martin commented at the time, "Imagine somebody really drunk turning on the TV right now."

Since I don't have a clip from either of those episodes, I leave you with a musical number from Kermit:

Monday, August 13, 2012

Devlin and Johnny Forever - Peter Brandvold

Peter Brandvold is best known for his Westerns under his own name and as Frank Leslie, but in DEVLIN AND JOHNNY FOREVER, his latest e-book short story from Mean Pete Press, he ventures not only into the current time but also into the horror genre. College student Devlin Mason has retreated to her family's cabin in the woods to get over her breakup with her abusive former boyfriend Johnny. Unfortunately, Johnny shows up looking for her, and since he's pretty much a psycho, things don't look too good for Devlin.

How things play out, though, is maybe not what the reader expects. There are a couple of quiet moments, but mostly this story is full-throttle action and generates a lot of suspense along the way. The cliché about a story not being for the faint of heart is certainly true here. I thoroughly enjoy Brandvold's Westerns, but if he wants to continue exploring horror or other genres, you can bet I'll be right there to see what he comes up with.

New This Week

Only one new print book to mention this week (it's also available in a Kindle edition), but it should be a good one: THE BELLS OF EL DIABLO, the first book in a new Western series by Frank Leslie, also known as Peter Brandvold, also known these days as Mean Pete his own self, head honcho of Mean Pete Press.

Speaking of which, one of the new e-books I picked up this week is DEVLIN AND JOHNNY FOREVER, also by Mr. Brandvold. This Southern horror yarn may be his first published contemporary story. My review of it is coming up later today.

Another old friend has his first original e-book out. That's Stephen Mertz with THE CASTRO DIRECTIVE. I don't like to think about how long I've known Steve, but his top-notch thrillers have been entertaining me for decades and I'm sure this one will, too.

I didn't buy any used books this week, but my daughter Shayna put together some shelves for me, she and my other daughter Joanna sorted all the paperbacks that had been piled around in my office/studio, and now they're all where I can see them again, prompting me to say on numerous occasions, "I didn't know I had that book!" It was almost like buying them all over again. (Which I actually did in a few cases, as multiple copies of some titles showed up. I was a little surprised there weren't more like that.) At any rate, now I've started trying to organize all the hardbacks and trade paperbacks. Then there are all the graphic novels, and several thousand pulps . . . I have a feeling this is a job that will never end. Not that I'd really want it to . . .

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Rio Matanza - Wayne D. Dundee

Bounty hunter Bodie Kendrick returns in RIO MATANZA, the second in the series by Wayne D. Dundee after HARD TRAIL TO SOCORRO. In this one, when two outlaw gangs team up, Kendrick joins forces with another bounty hunter, Doc Turpin, to bring in all of the owlhoots. But following the successful conclusion of that job, Doc suddenly disappears with a beautiful, mysterious señorita before he and Kendrick can collect the money that's owed to them. Even though Kendrick and Doc aren't actually partners, Kendrick feels enough loyalty to his comrade in arms to want to find out what happened to him. The trail leads Kendrick below the border and right into the middle of a rebel uprising against the corrupt, brutal Rurales who rule northern Mexico.

As usual with Dundee's Westerns, the protagonist is tough and likable, the villains are suitably evil (and stubborn about dying), the setting is rendered in vivid prose, and there are plenty of great action scenes. The Bodie Kendrick novels are classic hardboiled Western adventure yarns that would have been right at home as Gold Medal paperbacks in the 60s and 70s. Highly recommended.

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Fantastic Adventures, July 1947

This is an issue I read several years ago. The William P. McGivern novel is a pretty good one, starting out as a hardboiled espionage yarn before turning into a lost race story. When I was younger I knew McGivern only as a mystery writer (the local library had a number of his books) and was surprised when I found out how much science fiction and fantasy he had written. Also in this issue is a Toffee story by Charles F. Myers, and those are always entertaining. Plus stories by Theodore Sturgeon and several other writers I'm not familiar with, who may or may not have been house-names. I'm not a huge fan of FANTASTIC ADVENTURES, but there are some good stories to be found in it.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Story, December 10, 1938

I haven't featured a cover from WESTERN STORY in a while, so I thought it would be a good time to do so. With its odd perspective, this is an interesting cover and would have made me look twice at it on the newsstand. And then the words "The Quickest Draw -- A Complete Novel by T.T. Flynn" probably would have inspired me to part with a dime, if I had one in my pocket. Flynn is one of my all-time favorites. Also in the table of contents for that issue are stories by W. Ryerson Johnson, Tom Roan, and Seth Ranger (Frank Richardson Pierce), all of them top Western pulp authors. Yep, I would have bought that one.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Forgotten Books: Wild Wives - Charles Willeford

Charles Willeford is one of those writers whose work has been recommended to me many times over the years, but for some reason I've never read much of it. A few short stories, maybe. But I recently read his early novel WILD WIVES, and I can see why people like his writing. It's distinctive, to say the least.

This one starts like a typical private eye novel: the narrator, PI Jake Blake, lives in a San Francisco hotel and has his office there as well, on the mezzanine above the lobby. A couple of young women come into the office, one after the other. The first is an underage seductress with a gun; the second is a wild beauty in her twenties who wants Blake's help in escaping from the bodyguards/watchdogs her father has hired to follow her around.

The plot that Willeford spins out from this stereotypical set-up isn't really that complicated, although the reader needs to pay attention to small details because they usually turn out to be important later. What Willeford does, though, is to gradually turn most of the usual private eye novel clichés on their head, all the way to an ending that's very different from what you'd expect to find in a novel that starts out like this one does.

WILD WIVES is short, around 30,000 words, and although it was first published as half of a double volume with a reprint of Willeford's HIGH PRIEST OF CALIFORNIA, it's been reprinted by itself a number of times. It's fast-paced, the writing is an effective mix of oddball humor and graphic violence, and Jake Blake is an interesting, though not very likable, protagonist. I enjoyed this novel and definitely will read more by Willeford.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Now Available: Nirvana Gates (The Fathomless Abyss) - J.M. McDermott

(Another new novel in the Fathomless Abyss series. These are excellent fantasy yarns.)

She was born there, in the Smog, every day breathing more smoke than air. She was strange, even in a bottomless hell full of creatures from a million worlds. She was doomed to a life of servitude. She was lonely. She was worried about her dying father. She was suspicious of her lying mother. She was scared. She was getting angry.

And she wanted answers.

The Fathomless Abyss can open any time and anywhere, and things fall in, or crawl in, from a million worlds across a million years. Deep in the bottomless expanse of this impossible world lies a doorway to truth, or an entrance to an even worse hell.

Join ground-breaking fantasist J.M. McDermott, author of Last Dragon and the Dogsland Trilogy for a trip deep into the nightmare of self, and the burning desire for redemption.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Now Available in Trade Paperback: Bruce Minney: The Man Who Painted Everything

Some of you expressed an interest in the print edition of Tom Ziegler's book about the great cover artist Bruce Minney. It's now available from Amazon with hundreds of beautiful cover reproductions from paperbacks and men's adventure magazines, plus lots of interior illustrations from the magazines as well.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked TV: Rowlf the Dog on The Jimmy Dean Show

A while back we watched the most recent Muppet movie (the one with Jason Segel and Amy Adams – which we liked, by the way), and that got me to thinking about when I first saw the Muppets. In the early Sixties I liked Jimmy Dean's hit song "Big Bad John" (little boys on school playgrounds liked singing it because you could drop your voice down as low as you could get it on the "Big Bad John!" part). So when the musical/comedy/variety program THE JIMMY DEAN SHOW premiered on ABC in 1963, naturally enough I watched it. My dad liked country music, and he enjoyed the series, too, because singers such as Roger Miller, Buck Owens, and George Jones appeared regularly on it.
My favorite guest star, though – and this falls into the "variety" area – was Rowlf the Dog, a wisecracking puppet operated and voiced by a young puppeteer named Jim Henson. Henson's "Muppets" had been around since the mid-Fifties, appearing on various local TV shows, but THE JIMMY DEAN SHOW was their first national appearance. And Rowlf never failed to crack me up. I always looked forward to his appearances. He's long since been shoved aside as the star of the troupe, of course. While I like Kermit as much as anybody, I'll always have a soft spot for Rowlf.

Monday, August 06, 2012

One More Reason I Love the Internet: Pulp Author Charles Beckman Jr. Edition

Months ago I wrote about the October 1953 issue of STAR WESTERN in the Saturday Morning Western Pulps series. Well, here's a comment that popped up recently on that post:

I ran across your comment about your unfamiliarity with my husband, who wrote as Charles Beckman, Jr., back in the vintage pulp days. He wrote for a wide variety of magazines in the mystery, detective, suspense, western genres. At 91, he has recently discovered the pulp fans around the country and is now putting together a collection of some of his stories. This is a do-it-yourself project, so the going is slow, but we'll get there. Just thought you might want to know that an old pulp author is still among the living. By the way, his real name is Charles Boeckman.

I'm always happy to hear that anyone who wrote for the pulps is still with us, and when that collection of Charles Beckman Jr. stories is published, I'll certainly pick up a copy and spread the word that it's available.

New This Week

I'm trying to cut back on the number of print books I'm buying because of space issues, but this week I ran across a couple of old Westerns I wanted. THE TENDERFOOT KID is an early Peter Field novel, and in this case Harry Sinclair Drago was the actual author behind that house-name. Although later on the Field name was used exclusively on the Powder Valley series, featuring rancher Pat Stevens and his sidekicks Sam and Ezra (and I've read many of those), it also appeared on some stand-alone Western novels, and this is one of them. It's about a washed-up prizefighter who goes west, and I expect it to be a good one. CUTLER #5: MUSTANG is by H.V. Elkin again, which I've discovered in HAWK'S WESTERN SERIES AND SEQUELS is a pseudonym for Vernon Hinkle. The four books Hinkle wrote in the Cutler series, plus two mystery novels he did for Leisure under his own name about the same time, apparently represent Hinkle's total output as an author.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Fight Card: Tomato Can Comeback - Jack Tunney (Henry Brown)

One thing I really like about the Fight Card series is that the authors (and editors/creators Paul Bishop and Mel Odom) have found ways to keep the series fresh and different from book to book. For example, the latest entry, TOMATO CAN COMEBACK, by Henry Brown writing under the Jack Tunney house-name, is narrated by sportswriter Gil Schwartz instead of one of the boxers involved in the story.

I also learn things from this series. I didn't know that "Tomato Can" is a derogatory nickname for a fighter who bleeds easily and profusely. In the case of this story, that's Tom Garrick, an alumnus of St. Vincent's in Chicago and a Korean War vet who launches a boxing career with his former sergeant as his trainer. Garrick's career is coming along nicely until he runs into an opponent who not defeats him but gives him a brutal beating that leaves the ring splattered with blood. The rest of the story, as you might expect from the title, is about Garrick's comeback and Schwartz's efforts to uncover the reason for Garrick's uncharacteristic behavior in the fight where he was beaten so badly.

Unlike most of the other Fight Card stories, there's no real crime angle to TOMATO CAN COMEBACK, but it's plenty hardboiled anyway with its mean streets portrayal of Detroit and a sense of gritty, sweaty desperation reminiscent of the work of Orrie Hitt. Schwartz and Garrick are flawed but sympathetic characters, as is Garrick's old sergeant. There's a romantic triangle, but it's handled in a low-key, realistic fashion rather than becoming more of a soap opera. Although as I've said many times, there's nothing wrong with soap opera where I'm concerned, it just wouldn't have worked as well here.

This is one of my favorite Fight Card books so far, and that's saying a lot because I've thoroughly enjoyed all of them. I haven't read anything else by Henry Brown, but I'm going to remedy that as soon as I can.

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Weird Tales, April 1933

This is one of my favorite covers. It's by J. Allen St. John and illustrates Part I of the serial "Golden Blood" by Jack Williamson. I read the Lancer paperback of GOLDEN BLOOD many, many years ago, and it's one of the books I definitely want to read again one of these days. As for the rest of that particular issue of WEIRD TALES . . . how about stories by E. Hoffmann Price, Edmond Hamilton, Clark Ashton Smith, Carl Jacobi, Otis Adelbert Kline (a serial installment from one of his Venus novels), August Derleth, and Mary Elizabeth Counselman. That's all. I'd pay a quarter for that, wouldn't you?

Saturday, August 04, 2012

Fight Card: A Mouth Full of Blood - Jack Tunney (Eric Beetner)

A MOUTH FULL OF BLOOD is the sequel to Eric Beetner's previous Fight Card book, SPLIT DECISION, and as always in this series, it's a great yarn, well-plotted, well-written, and true to its time period.

After the events of the earlier book, boxer Jimmy Wyler has left Kansas City behind and returned to Chicago, where he grew up in St. Vincent's Orphanage. He's working as a dishwasher in a Greek restaurant, trying to stay out of trouble, but his friendship with a fellow employee results in Jimmy being drawn into the effort to save the young man's sister from being forced into a life of prostitution. The only way to do that is to buy her freedom from the pimp who's grooming her for a life on the streets, and the only way for Jimmy to come up with the money is for him to enter the ring again, in a series of brutal, unregulated boxing matches.

Beetner does a fine job with his characters, and he writes some bloody, really brutal fight scenes that are very effective. In addition, for the first time in this series that I recall, Father Tim, the mentor to all the fighters who come out of St. Vincent's, plays an on-screen role in the plot. I really raced through this one and thoroughly enjoyed it. FIGHT CARD continues to be one of the strongest of the original e-book series, and if you haven't given it a try yet, you really should.

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Red Seal Western, December 1939

This is another fairly obscure pulp, at least to me, but from the authors in this issue it must have been a decent magazine: J. Edward Leithead (I love the title "Buckskin Bombshell"), Barry Cord, Orlando Rigoni, and Claude Rister were all popular, prolific pulpsters. There are also short stories by a couple of authors I'm not familiar with, C. M. Miller and Frank Carl Young. That's a nice colorful cover, too, with a sense of looming menace.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Forgotten Books: Claiming of the Deerfoot - Peter Dawson (Jonathan Glidden)

In "Barbed Wire", Texan Jim Lance wins a small ranch in a poker game, but when he arrives on the place he finds that the previous owner was run out by Big Ed Nugent, the local cattle baron/range hog. Nugent sends his foreman to run off Lance, too, but the foreman comes back beaten up and with a bullet hole in his hand where Lance shot a gun out of it. This makes Nugent more determined than ever to force Lance off the range. Lance throws in with several other small ranchers whose spreads border his, and the war is on.

It's an old plot, of course, but Dawson (really Jonathan Glidden, the brother of Fred Glidden, aka Luke Short) throws in some refreshingly different angles. Instead of 30,000 words of ridin' and shootin', we get some legal and political maneuvering as Nugent first tries to get rid of the small ranchers without resorting to burning them out or some other violent means. Lance and his partners fight back with brains instead of bullets. Eventually this runs its course and everyone involved has no choice but to reach for their irons, and the story concludes with one good shootout and one that feels a bit contrived and tacked on.

As always, Dawson writes tight, fast-moving prose. This one suffers a little from a lack of characterization--Nugent, for example, seems to have no reason for being a range hog other than the fact that the story requires one--but the way Dawson twists the plot around helps make up for it.

This short novel was originally published under the title "Partner, Get Your Gun" in the July 18, 1942 issue of WESTERN STORY, and reprinted as half of the Leisure paperback CLAIMING OF THE DEERFOOT, where I read it.

The second half of that Leisure paperback, the title novella was originally published as "Trailblazer Wanted for Drive Through Hell" in the December 1939 issue of COMPLETE WESTERN BOOK MAGAZINE. Although the pulp title makes it sound like a cattle drive story, at least to me, it's really a stagecoach yarn. Former stage driver Ed Thorn, who is in disgrace because of his alleged involvement with the robbery of a coach he was driving, drifts into a gold mining boomtown and takes a job with the Deerfoot Stage Line. In a coincidence that stretches credibility a little, the Deerfoot line is owned by the father of a man who was killed in the robbery that cost Thorn his reputation. Thorn wants to prove he was framed for that crime, but that becomes harder when someone from his past shows up and drags him into being the inside man on another stagecoach robbery. From that point it's a matter of double-cross and triple-cross until everything gets sorted out in the end.

This is a pretty good story with most of its action taking place in one eventful night. The one false note is that the romance between Thorn and the daughter of the stage line owner springs up awfully quickly. But the plot is nice and tight otherwise and comes to a satisfying resolution.

As I mentioned in my post about the H.A DeRosso collection RIDERS OF THE SHADOWLANDS a while back, I often prefer the authors' original titles to the more lurid titles stuck on by pulp editors. In this case, though, I think I like the pulp title better. Although "Trailblazer Wanted for Drive Through Hell" is a little misleading, it's better than the bland and inappropriate "Claiming of the Deerfoot". Nobody claims anything, and "Deerfoot" is just the name of the stage line and is mentioned only a couple of times in the course of the story. It could just as well be the Acme Stage Line (which would, of course, be run by Chuck Jones).

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Rogue Angel: Destiny and Rogue Angel: Magic Lantern - Alex Archer (Mel Odom)

For several years now I've been meaning to give the Rogue Angel series a try. I love action/adventure novels, I love history, I love fantasy, and I love stories with kick-ass heroines. So I'm definitely the target audience for a series like this. The fact that I hadn't read any of the novels until recently is just another case of too many books, not enough time.

But the release of the latest entry in the series, MAGIC LANTERN (by my buddy Mel Odom writing under the Alex Archer house-name), finally prompted me to get around to it.

Before I read MAGIC LANTERN, though, since I already had a copy of DESTINY, the first book in the series (also by Mel Odom), it seemed to make sense to go ahead and start with it. The books are stand-alones for the most part, which is common in a series written by multiple authors, but DESTINY serves as the protagonist's origin story, to use a comic book term.

Annja Creed is an archeologist who finances her academic efforts by working as one of the hosts of a cable TV series called CHASING HISTORY'S MONSTERS. It's pretty sensationalistic, but it allows Annja to pursue various historical mysteries that interest her. She's in France trying to hunt down the truth about a rash of serial killings several centuries earlier that were attributed to an alleged supernatural beast, when she stumbles into a dangerous criminal's search for some ancient treasure. In the course of this, Annja also encounters a couple of enigmatic, somewhat sinister individuals, Roux and Garin, who are either old (and I do mean old!) friends, deadly enemies, or both.

The upshot of this is that Annja winds up recovering the last fragment of the broken sword that once belonged to Joan of Arc, and once it's placed with the other fragments, the sword reforms into a mystical weapon that only Annja can use, as well as giving her increased speed and strength to go with her already formidable fighting and survival skills. (That's not really a spoiler, since it is the basic concept of the series and is spelled out pretty plainly in the cover copy on all the books.) Naturally Annja untangles a centuries-old conspiracy, uncovers the truth about the treasure and the murders, and defeats the villains.

As MAGIC LANTERN opens, she's in London on the trail of a new serial killer who calls himself Mr. Hyde and claims to have uncovered the formula that transformed Robert Louis Stevenson's mild-mannered Dr. Jekyll into the brutal monster. However, she's quickly diverted into a different mystery involving the murder of an 18th Century French phantasmagorist who staged horrific magic lantern shows for wealthy Parisians. At least two different groups of villains are after an ancient lantern the murdered Frenchman brought back from China, a lantern which has recently surfaced in London and is in the possession of an English professor of literature befriended by Annja.

As you can tell, these books are not lacking for plot elements. Odom does a very skillful job of weaving them all together, even though there were a few times when I wondered how in the world he was going to tie everything up. But he does, and in ways that make perfect sense. Along the way there are plenty of very well-written action scenes, and Annja is a very likable heroine who reminds me a little of Modesty Blaise. I really enjoyed the well-researched history angles of these novels, as well.

Several other authors have written Rogue Angel novels, with Victor Milan being the most prolific of them. I plan to read some of them as well. And I think I have most, if not all, of the ones Mel has written, so I definitely plan to read them. For now, though, I had a great time reading DESTINY and MAGIC LANTERN, and both of them get a high recommendation from me. 

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Bruce Minney: The Man Who Painted Everything - Thomas Ziegler

As some of you know, I've developed an interest lately in the men's adventure magazines of the Fifties and Sixties, even joining the Facebook group devoted to them. There's also an excellent blog about them run by Bob Deis, the founder of the Facebook group. (The scans that accompany this post come from Bob's blog.) These publications, with titles like FOR MEN ONLY, MALE, and STAG, always fascinated me as a kid when I saw them on the magazine racks while I was buying my comic books, probably because they were forbidden fruit. My mother already had enough of a dislike for me reading comics. If she'd caught me with my nose in an issue of FOR MEN ONLY with a racy cover, she would have pitched a conniption fit and that magazine would have been in the garbage faster than you can say, "Smut".

Now, of course, I can read whatever I want to, but the magazines that would have cost me a couple of quarters back in 1968 now fetch considerably more than that on eBay. Even so, I've picked up a few of them and will probably buy more once I've read the ones I have.

In the meantime, that Facebook group I mentioned above has been an education, as well as being highly entertaining. For example, I'd never heard of Bruce Minney, although I was familiar with his work without really being aware of it. (I'll get to that.) From the mid-Fifties through the early Seventies, Minney was a prolific artist for the men's adventure magazines, providing scores of cover paintings and interior illustrations. He painted rampaging elephants, runaway trains, aerial dogfights, gun battles, explosions, evil villains (many of them Nazis), stalwart heroes, and lots and lots of beautiful girls. If there was a way to work it into a cover painting that would catch a newsstand browser's eye and induce him to part with his quarters, Bruce Minney painted it.

Hence the title of this excellent new biography and appreciation of Bruce Minney's work by Thomas Ziegler, BRUCE MINNEY: THE MAN WHO PAINTED EVERYTHING.

Ziegler is in a good position to produce such a book, since he's Bruce Minney's son-in-law, but this volume doesn't whitewash the inevitable hills and valleys of a freelancer's career. It's a fascinating, well-written look behind the scenes of the men's adventure magazine industry, a large neglected sub-genre of popular fiction. (And despite the preponderance of magazines with "True" or "Real" in their titles, most of what was published in them actually was fiction.)

Ziegler doesn't stop with those magazines, however. He explores Minney's career as a fine artist and, of most interest to me, as a paperback cover artist. Until I saw all the cover reproductions in this book, I didn't realize he had painted the covers for so many books that I've read or at least owned during my life.

I bought the e-book edition of this one, read the text on my Kindle, and used the Kindle app on my computer to appreciate the hundreds of excellent color cover reproductions. A trade paperback edition will also be available soon. If you have an interest in the men's adventure magazines, paperback covers, cover art in general, or the life of a freelance artist, BRUCE MINNEY: THE MAN WHO PAINTED EVERYTHING gets the highest recommendation from me. It's one of the best books I've read this year.