Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Coming Soon: Latchkeys #2: The Ugly Little Bloke

Here's the great cover for the second book in the new YA fantasy series I'm contributing to.  You can read more about this book here.

Tuesday's Overlooked TV: The Rogues

THE ROGUES is another short-lived series from the Sixties. It ran for one season, 1964-65, and while I didn't see every episode (it was on opposite CANDID CAMERA and WHAT'S MY LINE, two shows that my father loved), I saw enough of them to know that it was a charming, well-written, very entertaining series.

The premise was pretty simple. Three retired con men who were cousins – Charles Boyer, David Niven, and Gig Young – used their larcenous skills to help people who'd been taken advantage of. The idea was that the three leads would alternate, but Gig Young wound up being the star of most of the episodes. British actor Robert Coote often stole the show as Cousin Timmy. The series had that sophisticated, international charm, although most of that was achieved through the use of stock footage.

THE ROGUES was a funny, lightweight piece of fluff that was never intended to be anything else. At least that's the way I remember it. I don't believe it's ever been released on DVD and there are only a couple of clips on YouTube. There probably aren't all that many people who even remember it. But as usual, I do.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Big-Book Western, April 1940

This is another Popular Publications pulp, as you might guess by the yellow background and the red banner along the top of the cover. Popular really loved yellow and red. At this stage of BIG-BOOK WESTERN's existence, Ed Earl Repp is in nearly every issue. Of course, there's really no way to know who actually wrote those stories published under Repp's name, since he's known to have used several ghosts. The other stories are by Tom Roan, John G. Pearsol (both Popular Publications regulars), Larry A. Harris (who wrote for nearly all the Western pulp publishers), and a couple of authors I'm not familiar with, I.L. Thompson and Jack Bloodhart, which sounds like a pseudonym to me but quite possibly isn't. I like this cover because it continues the tradition that nearly every woman in the Old West had red hair and was handy with a shootin' iron.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Forgotten Books: The Bamboo Bomb - James Dark (J.E. MacDonnell)

(This post originally appeared on April 26, 2006, in slightly different form.)

There's a story behind why I read this particular book at this particular time -- so naturally I'm going to tell it.

Like a lot of people who have a lot of old paperbacks, I sometimes have trouble remembering which books I own and which I don't. So when I come across something interesting in a used bookstore, I occasionally have to ask myself, do I already have this one or not? And if I can't remember, I err on the side of caution and buy it anyway, because -- in the words of a very wise man -- you never regret the books you buy, only the ones you didn't buy.

Anyway, I was discussing this with Livia the other day, which led me to remark in passing, "That's why I have five or six copies of THE BAMBOO BOMB by James Dark."

She just looked at me and asked, "Have you ever actually read it?"

I had to admit that I hadn't, so she said, "I want you to read it."

Now I have. And it's not bad.

Mark Hood is your typical Sixties secret agent: rich American playboy, Rhodes scholar at Oxford, internationally renowned cricket player, race car driver, karate master, etc. Just the sort of guy who spent the Sixties fighting the bad guys and keeping the world safe. He works for Intertrust, a top-secret international spy organization. In this book he's sent to Singapore to pull the old "American down on his luck" bit so he can infiltrate a group of villains who are out to destabilize the Far Eastern political arena . . . I think. I'll admit I had a little trouble following the plot because I know almost nothing about politics in the Far East during the Sixties. But that's okay, because Hood fights a bunch of bad guys, romances a couple of beautiful girls, and blows a bunch of stuff up real good.

One of the best things about this book is its length -- 127 pages. And there's more plot in that 127 pages than in a lot of 500 - 600 page thrillers that I've read. True, there's not much characterization or back-story, but sometimes I don't care. You pays your money and you takes your choice. More than anything else it reminded me of the Sam Durell books by Edward S. Aarons, with its hardboiled hero and exotic locations and convoluted plot. "James Dark" didn't write as well as Aarons, but then, few people ever did when it comes to this particular sort of book.

"James Dark" was really J.E. MacDonnell. I know nothing about him other than the fact that he wrote a lot of war and espionage novels in various series under various names. The Mark Hood books were originally published by Horwitz in Australia during the mid-Sixties, and at the same time about half of the books were reprinted in the U.S. by Signet, cashing in on the secret agent boom of the time. I think I have all the U.S. editions -- multiple copies of some of them, in fact.

But just to set the record straight, I checked my shelves and I don't have five or six copies of THE BAMBOO BOMB.

I have three.

(Update: I never got around to reading any more of those James Dark books, and I haven't replaced any of them since the fire. But I have fond enough memories of this one that if I ever run across any of them at a reasonable price, I'll pick them up. I might even read them. And this won't come as any shock, but I once again have multiple copies of some books because I saw them in the store and couldn't remember if I already had them. In fact, just the other day I barely caught myself in time to keep from ordering a book on ABE that I had just ordered another copy of maybe a month earlier.)

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The Green Hornet: Year One: The Biggest of All Game - Matt Wagner

A while back I read and enjoyed the first volume in THE GREEN HORNET: YEAR ONE, and now I've read the second trade paperback collection from the comic book series. Volume Two is called THE BIGGEST OF ALL GAME, and it's an appropriate title as The Green Hornet and Kato step up their war against gang boss Skid Caruso. In fact, they cause so much trouble for Caruso that he calls in the brutal gangland killer known as The Scourge and sets him on the trail of the Hornet.

Interspersed with this storyline are flashbacks detailing how The Hornet came to be equipped with his famous car The Black Beauty, his electrified weapon The Hornet's Sting, and his downtown headquarters with its secret alleyway entrance. Britt Reid's secretary Lenore Case is also introduced in this volume. All of this is classic Green Hornet lore, told in a little grittier fashion for modern readers maybe, but faithful enough to the original that a purist like me really appreciates it. I'm still not crazy about the series being set in Chicago rather than Detroit, but I can live with it.

As usual Matt Wagner's scripts are excellent, fast-paced and hardboiled and occasionally humorous. He's also credited with art direction on the series, which I suppose means he did rough breakdowns for Aaron Campbell's pencils and inks. I like Campbell's art for the most part. His storytelling is fairly easy to follow, and his characters all look right.

I've liked The Green Hornet ever since I first listened to the radio show in the early Sixties. Wagner's doing a fine job with this retelling, and when the next volume comes out, I'm sure I'll read it.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked TV: Coronet Blue

Following up on Bob Randisi's suggestion from last week, today I want to look back at a summer replacement series that surprised everybody and still has a cult following, CORONET BLUE.
Some of you probably remember summer replacement series, which were exactly what they sounded like, new programming that took the place of reruns during the summer. Bear in mind that back in those days, most TV series produced between 30 and 40 episodes per year, not the 22 that's considered a full season now. Even so, all the networks would have a handful of summer replacement shows.

When CORONET BLUE made its debut in the summer of 1967, it's likely no one expected much out of it. It had been produced a year or two earlier and had been sitting on the shelf. The premise seems to have been inspired somewhat by ROUTE 66, THE FUGITIVE, and RUN FOR YOUR LIFE: a semi-anthology series with one or two continuing characters. The twist here was that Michael Alden, the protagonist of CORONET BLUE (played by Frank Converse) didn't know who he really was. He didn't know if that was really his name. All he knew was that he had climbed out of the East River in New York, the mysterious phrase "Coronet Blue" had some meaning to him . . . and people were trying to kill him.

That's a classic thriller set-up, and CORONET BLUE made the most of it as Michael Alden spent the summer trying to discover his true identity and find out why those mysterious enemies wanted him dead. The series caught on and became extremely popular, with the ratings rising each week. The on-going mystery had something to do with that, and so, I think, did the great theme song and opening credit sequence. That song has been stuck in my head for more than 40 years now.

Then suddenly it was over, with no resolution at all. Rumors abounded that there was a mysterious final episode and CBS, for some reason, decided not to show it. That seems not to have been the case. After all, when the episodes were produced in the first place the hope was that the series would be successful and would continue. Some executive decided that wasn't going to happen, and everyone involved moved on to other project while the episodes sat gathering dust until CBS trotted them out as a summer replacement series. Even after they saw its popularity, there was nothing they could do about it. Frank Converse was already working on another series, the short-lived cop show NYPD.

The rumors about the intending ending of CORONET BLUE persisted, and eventually creator Larry Cohen revealed in an interview what his plans had been. You can find the information easily enough on-line if you really want to know. But I'll say here and now that I don't buy it, not for a second. I hate to second-guess the guy who came up with the whole series, but I would have been severely disappointed if I had seen that ending. Maybe this is one of those rare cases where something was better because the outcome was left up to the imagination of the viewer.

Monday, January 23, 2012

"The Galvanized Yankees of Company D" - Troy D. Smith

The Galvanized Yankees were Confederate prisoners who volunteered to serve with the U.S. Army on the frontier during the Civil War. I researched and used this setting in some of the novels in my Civil War Battles series and have been interested in the period ever since. Troy Smith mixes battlefield action, interesting characters, and dialogue that rings true to produce a compelling story with a poignant ending. "The Galvanized Yankees of Company D" is top-notch historical fiction.

CBS Radio Mystery Theater

I remember listening to and enjoying the CBS Radio Mystery Theater back in the Seventies. Now all 1,399 episodes are available on-line for free. I'm an OTR fan from 'way back, although I can never seem to find the time to listen as much as I want to, but I'm definitely going to check these out, probably starting tonight. Lots of great stuff here!

The Masacado Scrolls #1: The Fall of Awa - Charles T. Whipple

Charles T. Whipple is best known as a well-respected Western author under the pseudonym Chuck Tyrell. But he also writes stories set in Japan, where he's lived and worked for a number of years. His novella THE FALL OF AWA is the first in a series of fantasy yarns based on ancient Japanese mythology, and it's a good one.

The heroine, a girl named Ryo, is the daughter of a servant in the household of a local ruler. When the kingdom comes under attack by the forces of a rival warlord aided by dark sorcery, the fortress of Awa falls and Ryo and her mother are doomed to life as slaves of the conquerors. Other mystical forces are at work, though, and Ryo is destined to play a pivotal part in the battle between good and evil.

With its young heroine, you might think this is a YA novella, but not really. The battle scenes early on are bloody and almost Howardian in their sweep and pace. That hardboiled, gritty realism continues during the story of the time Ryo and her mother spend as slaves, culminating in a sorcerous conflict that sets the stage for more stories to come.

I'm not a big fan of stories set in the Orient, but Whipple does a great job with this one and has me looking forward to the rest of the series. It's a nice blend of historical and heroic fantasy, and if you're a fan of those genres, you should check it out. I enjoyed it a lot.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Check Out Latchkeys: Unlatched - Steven Savile

The first book in the Latchkeys series is now available on Amazon and will be available soon for the Nook as well. I played a small part in creating this young adult fantasy series with a number of other authors and will be writing one of the books coming later on. It's been a great experience so far, and as with the Dead Man books, one of the best parts is getting to read all the books done by the other writers. So if you're a fantasy fan, you definitely need to check this one out.

Bob's Birthday

Today marks the 106th anniversary of Robert E. Howard's birth in Peaster, Texas, about twenty miles as the crow flies from where I'm sitting. If you'd like to celebrate, the accepted procedure is to read one of your favorite REH stories and raise a glass of your favorite drink to the Greatest Pulp Writer in the Whole Wide World.  That's what I plan to be doing this evening.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: The Lone Ranger, May 1937

Earlier this week in my comments on the great new collection UNMASKED from Black Dog Books, I mentioned the pulp magazine devoted to the Lone Ranger. Here's the cover from the second issue of that pulp, which features the story reprinted in UNMASKED. The art is by H.J. Ward. The Lone Ranger novel takes up most of the wordage inside, but there are also short stories by Claude Rister, Lawrence A. Keating, and Frank Kavanaugh, an installment of a serialized biography of John Wesley Hardin by Chuck Martin, and an assortment of articles, features, and columns, including the "Lone Ranger Stamp Page", whatever that was. As popular as the radio show was, and as much other merchandising featured the Lone Ranger, I'm surprised the pulp magazine was unsuccessful. Maybe the fact that THE MASKED RIDER, a pulp series featuring a character clearly inspired by the Lone Ranger, was already being published had something to do with it. In fact, one of those Masked Rider stories, "Outlaw of the Red Hills", was written by Lawrence A. Keating, who has a story in this issue, making one more connection between the characters.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Forgotten Books: The Time Traders - Andre Norton

When I was a kid, Andre Norton books were everywhere. Every school library and every public library had what seemed like dozens of them. Plus the paperback editions of her books were plentiful and easy to find. During that era, her name was as synonymous with science fiction as those of Heinlein, Asimov, and Clarke.

I read a bunch of those books, too, although I was never as big a fan of Norton's work as I was of those other authors I just mentioned. And as time went by I stopped reading her books entirely. At least forty years went by without me picking up an Andre Norton book.

Recently I got the urge to give her work a try again and see how it holds up, so I read THE TIME TRADERS, the first in one of her many series and a book that I never read back in the old days, at least that I recall. It has an interesting set-up: young Ross Murdock, who's in trouble with the law, is given the choice of taking part in some top-secret government project or being subjected to an ominous-sounding "Rehabilitation". Naturally Ross goes with the top-secret project and soon finds himself part of an American time travel experiment in which agents are sent back into the past to vie with Soviet Russian agents for alien technology that shouldn't exist in Earth's past.

I've always liked time travel books, and this is a good one, packed with adventure as Ross and his fellow agents deal with the hardships of life in ancient Britain as well as carrying out an espionage struggle against the Russians. Then, to complicate things even more, the aliens show up . . . and they aren't happy.

I thought the writing in this book was a little bland – I always thought Norton's work, though it was written for a primarily young adult audience, could have used a little more grit – but the ideas are intriguing, the pace rocks right along with a considerable amount of action, and Ross Murdock makes a likable hero. The whole thing is pretty dated but still enjoyable. I probably won't drop everything to read more Andre Norton books right away, but I don't think it'll be another forty years before I read one, either. (For one thing, I'd be nearly 100 years old!)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Check Out Dodge Dalton on the High Road to Oblivion

(I've read the first two books in this series by Sean Ellis and thoroughly enjoyed them. I'll be reading this one, too, but in the meantime, it's now available. If you're a fan of adventure fiction, don't miss it.)

The Golden Age of Adventure has a new champion!

Twice before, Dodge Dalton proved himself a worthy heir to the heroic Captain Falcon, but saving the world has been more costly than he could have imagined. The scars of that sacrifice have only just begun to heal when disaster strikes again. Dodge's friend Doc Newcombe has been kidnapped by a gang of terrorists who plan to use his scientific expertise to build a weapon capable of destroying entire cities.

To save his friend, Dodge will have to unravel a web of intrigue where no one can be trusted, face off against enemy spies trained in the ancient arts of stealth and assassination, and travel to the very gates of Hell.

Dodge Dalton has emerged from the Shadow of Falcon's Wings...

He survived the Outpost of Fate...

But is he ready for the dangers that await on the High Road to Oblivion?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Hope Road - John Barlow

I hadn't read a British mystery in a while, and John Barlow's HOPE ROAD was a good choice to change that. It's a thriller with a little bit of police procedural thrown in, as protagonist John Ray, the son of a notorious British gangster, attempts to go straight with his business of selling second-hand luxury cars. John even has a girlfriend on the police force, Detective Constable Denise Danson. So he has plenty of motivation for getting to the bottom of things when one of the cars from his showroom goes missing and then turns up with the corpse of a young woman in its trunk. Not only that, but John's friend and top salesman, also missing, is considered by the police as the leading suspect in the woman's murder.

Barlow throws in plenty of twists before everything is untangled, since of course nothing in the case is exactly what it seems to be, and he spins the yarn in fast-paced, very readable prose. I'm not a big fan of books written in the present tense, but Barlow makes that technique work here. He also does a good job with the setting, the English city of Leeds, and made me feel like I'd been there. (Which I haven't, of course. I don't even go as far as Dallas unless I have to.)

HOPE ROAD is a fine novel, the first in a series, and I look forward to reading the others.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked TV: Blue Light

Like GARRISON'S GORILLAS, which I wrote about last week, BLUE LIGHT was a short-lived TV series set during World War II. It was on a year earlier in 1966, and lasted even less time, only half a season. I recall it being pretty good, though.

The emphasis was on espionage rather than combat in this one. Robert Goulet played David March, an American journalist who turns traitor and goes over to the German side early in the war, before the U.S. is involved officially. But of course, March is really an American secret agent working against the Nazis. His code name was "Blue Light", hence the name of the series.

I remember very little about this one except that I liked it. The episodes were a half-hour, which meant the plots had to be pretty tight, and it had a nice hardboiled feel to it. There are a few clips from one episode available on YouTube, but that's it.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Unmasked - Tom Roberts, ed.

As we've come to expect from publisher Tom Roberts and Black Dog Books, UNMASKED is another fine collection of vintage fiction, in this case the earliest appearances of some characters who are much better known for their movie and TV versions: Hopalong Cassidy, The Cisco Kid, Zorro, and The Lone Ranger. Two of my all-time favorites there (Hoppy and the Ranger), and a couple of other characters that I've enjoyed greatly over the years.

This volume starts off with a lengthy, informative, and entertaining introduction by Francis M. Nevins that covers the evolution of the characters from prose to screen, or in the case of the Lone Ranger, from the airwaves to prose. Nevins knows as much or more about this stuff than anyone alive, and he provides plenty of good background info.

Having read many a Hopalong Cassidy book when I was a kid, I had no idea that the original stories had been revised and rearranged for book publication. UNMASKED gives us the first six Hoppy stories as they originally appeared in THE OUTING MAGAZINE in 1905 and 1906, the first time those original versions have been reprinted in more than a hundred years. Clarence E. Mulford's style, especially the use of thick dialect, takes a little getting used to, but once I got into these stories I found them incredibly entertaining. Owen Wister gets credit (deservedly so) for coming up with many of the conventions of Western fiction, but Mulford came along only a few years later and added a lot of things that we've come to expect from Westerns, giving these stories some historical as well as entertainment value.

From the same era is O. Henry's "The Caballero's Way", the only appearance in print of the original Cisco Kid, who, like Hopalong Cassidy, was considerably different from the movie version that came along later. This one is well-written and pretty hardboiled for the time.

Next up is an excerpt from "The Curse of Capistrano", the ARGOSY serial by Johnston McCully that introduced the character of Zorro to the world, and again Roberts goes with the original magazine version rather than the rewritten later versions. I've come a little late to McCully's work but I'm quickly becoming a big fan. His stories are very well-paced, with an almost uncanny sense of what makes a story exciting and keeps the reader flipping the pages. This example is no different.

Finally, UNMASKED gives us a complete novel featuring the Lone Ranger, "The Masked Rider's Justice", from the second issue of the Ranger's fairly short-lived pulp magazine. This is my favorite story in this volume, probably because I'm such a huge Lone Ranger fan. As I began reading it, something about the opening – the Ranger rescuing an unjustly imprisoned young man from a lynch mob – struck me as familiar, so I checked my collection of Lone Ranger novels. Sure enough, this story was rewritten and expanded into THE LONE RANGER AND TONTO, the fifth volume in the hardback series published by Grosset & Dunlap. As Roberts explains in his introduction to the story in UNMASKED, the Lone Ranger pulp novels were published without a by-line, but it seems likely to me that they're the work of Fran Striker, who wrote the G&D series (with the exception of the first one, which is by Gaylord Dubois). But we can't be sure about that.

No matter who wrote it, "The Masked Rider's Justice" is great fun. The pulp version is shorter, punchier, and somewhat grittier since it wasn't intended for a juvenile audience the way the hardbacks were. And it tells you something about the quality that I remembered that opening from reading THE LONE RANGER AND TONTO at least 45 years ago.

UNMASKED is one of the best collections so far from Black Dog Books, and those of you familiar with their publications know that's saying a lot. If you have any interest at all in early Western fiction or Western film and TV, or if you're just looking for some very entertaining stories, you shouldn't miss this one.  Highly recommended. 

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Aces, August 1943

This issue has an action-packed cover by Allen Anderson, and I'd be willing to bet that the stories inside were pretty action-packed, too. The featured story is by my old favorite J. Edward Leithead, who also has a story in this issue under his Wilson Covert pseudonym. There's also a novelette by the always dependable Dean Owen and short stories by Gunnison Steele and old cowboy Chuck Martin, among others. The Ace Western pulps, WESTERN ACES and WESTERN TRAILS, were considered lower-tier markets, and maybe they were, but I've enjoyed all of them that I've read.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Forgotten Books: Rapture Alley - Whit Harrison (Harry Whittington)

RAPTURE ALLEY, another novel in the latest Harry Whittington triple volume from Stark House, ventures into Orrie Hitt territory, since its plot includes both nude modeling (sort of) and the plight of unwed motherhood. For the most part, though, this is Whittington's dope novel, and in that respect it reminded me of Robert Silverberg's first Don Elliott novel, LUST ADDICT.

Originally published in 1953 by Carnival Books under the pseudonym Whit Harrison, RAPTURE ALLEY is the story of Lora Cassel, a beautiful young woman who moves to New York in an attempt to become successful as a singer and actress. She lives with her sister, a sweet-natured invalid who's confined to a wheelchair, and her brother-in-law, a virile, successful salesman. Doesn't take a genius to figure out what's going to happen from that set-up, and as Whittington quickly reveals to the reader, an affair is already going on between Lora and her brother-in-law Ken.

The stress and guilt of this affair, plus her continuing trouble finding any success in her career, lead Lora to make a bad decision and start going to marijuana parties with a TV industry flunkey she meets on a job. From here the plot begins to take on a slight feeling of REEFER MADNESS as Lora's life spirals more and more out of control. Whittington does a great job with it, though, keeping the story moving along at a brisk pace and making the reader feel Lora's desperation as she makes bad decision after bad decision.

Eventually things work out, as they usually do in books from this era, but not until there's a minor but interesting plot twist late in the game. RAPTURE ALLEY is a very solid, very entertaining entry from Whittington, and one more reason, as if you needed it, to pick up this collection from Stark House.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Just a Couple of Guys on Top of a Mountain

You may have noticed on Bill Crider's blog today that he ran a picture of us at the Western Writers of America convention in Jackson, Wyoming in 1992. Here's another picture from that same convention (which he was kind enough to send to me, along with some others) of the two of us standing on top of Snow King Mountain. I have no idea why I'm looking so suspiciously at Bill, as if he'd just tried to push me off the mountain or something. But if you ignore the two writers, there's a pretty nice view in the background.

Favorite Bookstores #6: The TV Repair Shop

Like The Old Man's Place, I'm sure this business had a real name, but I either never knew it or have forgotten it.  We called it The TV Repair Shop or sometimes The Other Old Man's Place, because the owner was an elderly gentleman who repaired television sets in the front part of the building, but probably 80% of the space was taken up by shelves and shelves of old used books.  This was on the near north side of Fort Worth, on Sylvania Avenue, I think.  I have a hunch the building is long gone, and I doubt if I could even find where it was.  Livia and I didn't go there very often; it wasn't on our regular circuit of used bookstores.  But when we did, I always found some good stuff.

Most of the books were what would now be considered vintage paperbacks.  Lots of Midwood and Beacon soft-core erotica novels.  If I'd only known then what I know now, I'd have probably bought more of those.  As it was, I picked up all the ones I found by Mike Avallone (who I was corresponding with at the time) and a few others, but I'm sure I passed up Orrie Hitt, Loren Beauchamp, Sheldon Lord, Edwin West, and others like that.  But the store had quite a few Gold Medals from the Fifties, especially Westerns, and I pretty much cleaned it out of those.  Early Avons by authors such as Harry Whittington (I remember I bought 69 BABYLON PARK there).  It was just a good assortment of Fifties-era paperbacks, with some newer stuff, mostly men's adventure, mixed in, too.

The old fellow who ran it was friendly, if not as colorful as George Snapka, the proprietor of The Old Man's Place.  The store was located in an old house, and I'm sure it had termite damage because the floors sagged in places and you had to be careful where you walked.  That just added to the place's personality as far as I was concerned.  I always enjoyed my visits there and wish I had gone more often.  As it is, it's another good memory of the days when bookstores like that were common (or a lot more common than they are now, anyway).

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Guest Blog: Brian Drake on The Rogue Gentleman

Thank you, James, for allowing me to promote my new ebook on your site. Much appreciated, as always. I'm doing something different this time, though one might say I'm duplicating what Lee Goldberg and Paul Bishop have done with their own recurring series. THE ROGUE GENTLEMAN will be a monthly serial, with stories anywhere between 80 and 100 pages; basically long books broken into pieces. This is the nice thing about the ebook world. A project like this would be unheard of otherwise.

Here's the story:
Steve Dane, The Rogue Gentleman, an international adventurer who rights wrongs wherever he finds them, fails to prevent a young woman’s abduction.  But that doesn’t stop him from finding her.
Officially hired by the girl’s father, Dane battles gunman and evades police as he discovers the decades-old vendetta behind the kidnapping; he soon learns that the grudge is just the beginning and peels back the layers of a more fiendish plan that goes beyond a desire for vengeance.
Assisted by his lover, the luscious Nina Talikova, Steve Dane dives in head first, the only way he know how, into a conspiracy of terror the likes of which the world has never seen, orchestrated by a powerful and mysterious woman known only as “The Duchess”.
When Dane finds The Duchess, he will sacrifice anything, including his life, to destroy her.

Once again Ian Fleming is partially responsible for the creation of Steve Dane. Author Ben Macintyre published a book, appropriately titled For Your Eyes Only, that was part of the Fleming Centennial celebration which listed some of the ingredients Fleming mixed into the Bond character—the exploits of real-life British agents such as Eddie Chapman and Biffy Dunderdale, who lived lavish lifestyles while fighting for queen and country. Chapman is unique since he was a full-time crook rescued from prison in return for serving his country. He was ordered to be an international playboy while tripping up the Germans and he went all out. I wanted to do a character like that, but, of course, make him an American; since I didn't want to do a World War Two story (maybe someday!) I needed a reason to have him operating in contemporary times. Having already done a spy story, I didn’t want this to be about a secret agent, per se, but somebody who could get involved with international intrigue and mix it up with the usual spy novel suspects.

Instead of a government agent, Steve Dane is a former spy and mercenary now living lavishly and chasing trouble and intrigue on his own terms. How he supports himself is part of the on-going subplot. Did he acquire his wealth honestly or by nefarious means? The good guys think he's a bad guy; the bad guys think he's one of them; he's able to play both sides against each other and, like Boston Blackie and The Saint before him, come to the aid of those who have nowhere else to turn as long as he can stay one step ahead of the cops and the crooks.

There's a bit of Nick & Nora Charles mixed in with Steve Dane and his lady friend, Nina Talikova; the stories mix adventure with light humor and so far readers think the combination works. They’re perfect if you’re one of those who ride a commuter train every day and want something quick to read.

Anyway the first installment, PRIVATE VENDETTA, is out; MOVING TARGET and THE ZETA CONNECTION will follow in February and March and, of course, three more after that. After the first six, I’ll write a totally different book but that’s something we’ll talk about later. I hope you have as much fun reading the stories as I have had writing them.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked TV: Garrison's Gorillas

I've probably mentioned before that I was a big fan of the TV series COMBAT!  That, along with numerous issues of comic books such as OUR ARMY AT WAR (with Sgt. Rock) and OUR FIGHTING FORCES (with Gunner and Sarge) made me a fan of World War II fiction.  So it's not surprising that I was a faithful viewer of GARRISON'S GORILLAS, a 1967–'68 World War II TV series that was a spin-off from COMBAT!, as well as being heavily influenced by the success of the novel and film versions of THE DIRTY DOZEN.

It uses the same basic set-up of a group of convicts being recruited for highly dangerous commando missions behind the lines, although there's only four of them instead of a dozen.  And they're led by the usual stalwart American officer, in this case Lt. Craig Garrison, played by Ron Harper.  The four convicts, who are known by their nicknames, are Actor (Cesare Danova, who usually played gangsters), Goniff (Christopher Cary), Casino (Rudy Solari), and Chief (Brendon Boone).  I remember Danova and vaguely remember Ron Harper, but the others not at all.

I liked the show well enough that I bought and read the tie-in novel, which was written by Jack Pearl.  I don't remember anything about it except that I read it while I was a freshman in high school.  In addition, there was a juvenile tie-in novel, GARRISON'S GORILLAS AND THE FEAR FORMULA, published by Whitman and also written by Jack Pearl.  I never read the Whitman book and don't recall ever seeing it, or I probably would have.  It shows you how much things have changed in the tie-in market when a fairly unsuccessful series that lasted only a year could spawn two novels back in those days.

I was surprised to see that quite a few episodes of GARRISON'S GORILLAS are available to watch on YouTube.  I don't think it's ever been released on DVD.  It must have been at least somewhat enjoyable to me, because I think I watched the entire season when it was new, but I didn't like it as much as COMBAT!  I haven't tried watching any of the episodes again to see how they hold up.  I ought to do that.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Criminal, Vol. 6: The Last of the Innocent - Ed Brubaker

As much as I enjoy Ed Brubaker's writing in CAPTAIN AMERICA and other superhero comics, I think his best work is to be found in his on-going series of noir graphic novels, CRIMINAL. The most recent on, THE LAST OF THE INNOCENT, with art by Sean Phillips as usual, pushes the standard for this series even higher.

The narrator, Riley Richards, grows up in a small town in the Fifties and Sixties, hangs around with his pals, and has to decide between two girls, sweet girl-next-door Lizzie and beautiful, sophisticated, rich Felix. Yes, it's all very much like Archie Andrews, and Phillips even draws some of the sequences in that style, very effectively, I might add.
But those sequences are flashbacks, because the main story is set in the Eighties, when Riley finds himself trapped in a loveless marriage, swamped by gambling debts, and driven by desperation to murder and acts even more despicable.

THE LAST OF THE INNOCENT is about as bleak as it can be as Brubaker tightens the screws on Riley, and he saves his last kicker for the final page. It's subtle enough that if you haven't been paying attention all the way through, you might miss it, but when you figure out what's going to happen, it's very effective.

Those of you who enjoy crime comics really should check out CRIMINAL. Each story is a stand-alone and is collected in its own trade paperback, although there are some connections between them that reward reading all of them. THE LAST OF THE INNOCENT is the sixth volume in the series. Highly recommended.

Saturday, January 07, 2012

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Texas Rangers, September 1954

This is another one I've read, and here are the contents:

"Barbed Wire and Bullets", Jackson Cole (Jim Hatfield novel)
"Gun Job", Will Cook (novelette)
"No Second Chance", Giles A. Lutz (novelette)
"The Measuring", Ben Smith (short story)
"Scalp Lock", Talmage Powell (short story)
"Charlie Yawl's Hat", Ben Frank (short story)
plus The Frontier Post by Captain Starr and a few fillers, but no letters column

This is the first issue of Texas Rangers I've read in a while and a surprisingly good one. I say surprisingly because the Jim Hatfield novel is by Roe Richmond, probably my least favorite of the Hatfield authors. Richmond's stories have always bothered me because he has a habit of saddling Hatfield with so many sidekicks that the Lone Wolf is anything but. In this story, however, only one of Richmond's usual supporting characters, outlaw-turned-Ranger Fox Edley, appears, which means that "Barbed Wire and Bullets" isn't that much different from most of Tom Curry's Hatfield novels, many of which also feature a proxy hero to give Hatfield a hand. This story concerns the introduction of barbed wire into the Texas Panhandle and the resulting trouble, and it reads a lot like a Rio Kid novel because of the appearance of historical characters Joseph Glidden (the inventor of barbed wire), cattleman Shanghai Pierce, and range detective Charlie Siringo. Plenty of action here.

The back-up stories are also good. The hero of "Gun Job" is an ex-convict who was sent to prison for shooting his mistress's husband in the back, a crime which he actually committed, but naturally there's more to the story than that. "No Second Chance" is one of the bleakest, most noir Western stories I've read, which I didn't expect from Lutz at all. I've read some of his novels but don't remember them being this dark. "Scalp Lock" is probably the best story in the issue, a character study in which a rancher and the narrator, a young cowboy, pursue the Indians who killed the rancher's wife and son. "The Measuring" is another character study, this one of a man on the run from a hidden past who has to come to terms with it. The only story I didn't finish was "Charlie Yawl's Hat". Just don't care for Ben Frank's writing.

Back to the matter of Richmond's use of sidekicks. In the Forties, Tom Curry gave Hatfield a kid sidekick in some of his stories, and the readers hated it, complaining frequently in the letters column. By the time of this issue, there is no letters column. I have to wonder how the readers felt about Richmond including so many supporting characters in most of his stories. But we'll never know.

All in all, an excellent issue.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Forgotten Books: Wild Bill #1: Dead Man's Hand - Judd Cole

This is the first in a series of totally fictional adventures starring Wild
Bill Hickok, published a few years ago by Leisure. The author, Judd Cole, is probably really a New Orleans writer named John Edward Ames, who also wrote the Cheyenne series under that name.

The gimmick, at least in this book, is the old chestnut about a young
reporter from back East tagging along with Wild Bill in order to write a
series of articles about his adventures. It works pretty well in this case
because the reporter, Joshua Robinson, is such a likable character. In
fact, everybody in the book except the villains is pretty likable. Wild
Bill is a little crusty, but he takes Josh under his wing and a real
friendship develops between the two.

As for the plot, Wild Bill is hired by Allan Pinkerton to guard an eccentric scientist who has invented a machine that makes ice. Business rivals want to kill the scientist and steal the secret of his invention during a cross-country train trip intended to show off the newfangled contraption. Wild Bill not only has to deal with that but also with a lovesick Calamity Jane, who has been chasing him around the country determined to marry him.

All this is every bit as silly as it sounds. The book is also crammed full of historical inaccuracies and anachronisms. It's enough to drive anyone who takes Westerns seriously a little nuts. And yet, I enjoyed it quite a bit. The author writes with such enthusiasm and is clearly having so much fun with what he's doing that I was willing to forget about accuracy and accept the setting as some sort of bizarre alternate universe West. I intend to find and read the rest of the books in the series, and I can recommend this one to anybody who is willing to put tongue firmly in cheek and not expect anything too realistic.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Cash Laramie: Manhunter's Mountain - Wayne D. Dundee

David Cranmer continues to allow other authors to contribute to the on-going saga of U.S. Marshals Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles, and he couldn't have made a better choice for MANHUNTER'S MOUNTAIN than Wayne D. Dundee, who has rapidly vaulted into the top ranks of current Western writers.

The manhunter of the title is Arapaho-raised, hardnosed lawman Cash Laramie, who arrives in the dying mining town of Silver Gulch on the trail of a fugitive. He finds and arrests his quarry in pretty short order, but as it turns out, that's not his main challenge. There are other manhunters, too, and Cash's big job will be getting out of the mountains in the middle of a winter storm with some murderous miners and a ruthless bounty hunter on his trail. The two soiled doves he's trying to get back to civilization at the same time will only complicate matters.

Dundee keeps the action moving along at a rapid pace, and as always, Cash Laramie is a compelling character, a testament to Cranmer's creation of him in the first place. The supporting characters are interesting as well, and the fact that not everything turns out exactly as you might expect is an added bonus. So are the excellent descriptions of the landscape and the way the mountains and the weather almost become characters in their own right.

MANHUNTER'S MOUNTAIN is a fast, very entertaining novel, and I'm sure fans of Cash Laramie and of Westerns in general will thoroughly enjoy it. I certainly did.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Music: Knife Fight - Calhoun

Here's another group and song I came across the other day that I like. Like Burning Hotels, Calhoun is from the North Texas area. I'm not a big music guy, but I've been poking around YouTube quite a bit lately, usually in the middle of the night when I can't sleep.

The Only Things Better Than Free Books . . .

. . . are free books as good as these. Really, don't pass up this opportunity to get started on an excellent series.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Rusty Burke Interviews Glenn Lord, 2007

You can listen to Rusty Burke interviewing Glenn Lord at the 2007 Pulpcon here. Thanks to William Lampkin for providing this audio.

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Freebie and the Bean

You may or may not remember this action comedy about a couple of mismatched San Francisco cops -- James Caan as Freebie and Alan Arkin as the Bean, so called in those pre-PC days because his character was Hispanic -- trying to take down a mobster played by Jack Kruschen. I only saw it once and remember it as being fairly entertaining despite some trying circumstances . . . but I'll get to that later.

For now let's say that the movie was directed by Richard Rush, who went on to direct the far superior THE STUNTMAN, and had a good cast that also included the fine character actor Mike Kellin, Loretta Swit, Valerie Harper, and Alex Rocco. As I recall it had lots of well-done action scenes, including all the chase scenes that BULLITT made obligatory in those days for movies set in San Francisco. I suspect it would come across as pretty dated now, but I might watch it again one of these days.

Now, as for those trying circumstances. FREEBIE AND THE BEAN came out on Christmas Day 1974 and was actually pretty popular. I know that because I saw it during the first week of 1975 and the theater was so full we wound up sitting on the front row, not the best place to sit for a loud, frantic action comedy. I say "we" because this was the movie Livia and I saw on our first date, 37 years ago this week. I'm a lucky son of a gun, because she agreed to go out with me again even though I took her to a movie where she had to get a crick in her neck in order to watch it.

And that's why this week's Overlooked Movie is the immortal FREEBIE AND THE BEAN.

Music: Beard - Burning Hotels

So, you're up in the middle of the night like me and can't sleep and want to listen to some good music by a band you've probably never heard of (I hadn't). Well, here ya go:

Sunday, January 01, 2012

About That Favorites List . . .

In looking over yesterday's post after it went up, I realized that none of the twenty books I listed as my favorites from 2011 were by women. Before somebody calls me on that, I figured I'd better bring it up myself. But it gets worse. I checked my list of all books read, and only seven of the 168 were authored or co-authored by women. I assure you, this was not intentional. In past years Christa Faust and Megan Abbott have appeared on my favorites list, and I'm sure they will again when I get around to reading something else by them. I also have a number of books by female authors on my Kindle, ranging from Patti Abbott's MONKEY JUSTICE and Anonymous-9's HARD BITE to classic SF and mysteries by Andre Norton and Leigh Brackett. I wouldn't go so far as to say that I'm making a vow to read more by female authors, but I think that's likely to happen in the natural course of things. You have to remember, though, when it comes to reading I'm like a puppy: easily distracted.

A couple of other interesting notes about my reading list, interesting to me, anyway: out of the 168 books, 44 were e-books. Actually, I thought that number would be higher, since it seemed like sometimes everything I read in a long stretch was on the Kindle. The 44 included books I bought on Amazon, books that were sent to me to review or provide a blurb, and manuscripts that were sent to me as Word documents or PDFs that I converted to Kindle. Speaking of review copies, in all the different formats I read a total of 46. I tried to get to everything that was sent to me, but inevitably I failed. If you sent me a book and I didn't blog about it, either I didn't like it (very, very rare) or I just didn't get to it (much more likely, and some of those will still crop up).

If you've read this far, what the hell. You already know I obviously don't have enough to do. So here's how the reading breaks down by genre:

59 Graphic Novels
44 Mystery/Suspense
23 Westerns
14 Horror
11 Science Fiction
11 General Fiction (a catch-all category that include pulp adventure and Sixties erotica that doesn't fall into the crime and suspense category)
4 Non-fiction
2 War Novels

If I did the math right, that jibes with my total of 168. If it doesn't, it would probably be better if you didn't tell me. I'd obsess with digging out the discrepancy.

I could do some other breakdowns, like how many pulp reprints there were, or how many books I checked out from the library, but you get the idea. Like I said, easily distracted, and I don't like to read too many of the same genre in a row. This comes, I think, from growing up in the Sixties before fiction became as balkanized as it is today and people who were big readers read a little bit of everything and never found it the least bit unusual. That's still the way I am, and I don't expect I'll change any time soon.