Livia's fourth Delilah Dickinson Literary Tour mystery is now available for the Kindle, the Nook, and as a handsome trade paperback. This one finds Delilah leading a tour group to Key West to visit Ernest Hemingway's home there. Of course it's not long before murder crops up and Delilah has to become a detective again. Being a long-time Hemingway fan, I was really looking forward to editing this one. I wasn't disappointed. It's really fast-paced and funny and solidly in the amateur sleuth tradition. Check it out.
Walker Martin mentioned the music of Martin Denny in a comment on the previous post, so I thought why not post something from the long-ago TV show HAWAII CALLS? My parents both liked Hawaiian music and had several record albums of it that they played on the hi-fi, which was a substantial piece of furniture. Some of you probably don't know what I'm talking about, but I know some of you do. And if you're of a certain age, this should mellow out your evening. Anyway, take it away, Martin Denny.
Reading all those Armless O'Neil yarns from JUNGLE STORIES reminded me of none other than Jungle Jim, a character who originated in a comic strip by the great Alex Raymond, was featured in a 1937 movie serial, and then hit the big screen in a series of a dozen or so low-budget B-movies in the late 1940s and early 1950s, where he was played by Johnny Weissmuller. These are the movies I remember watching on one of the local TV stations when I was a kid, where they played almost as often as Weissmuller's Tarzan movies. Then, after the features ended, Weissmuller played the character again in one season of a syndicated TV series, which I also remember watching many afternoons when I got home from school.
In the comic strip, James "Jungle Jim" Bradley was a big game hunter, not in Africa but rather in the jungles of southeast Asia. However, to the best of my memory the movies and TV episodes were set in Africa. I say to the best of my memory because it's been at least forty years since I saw any of them. Even back then I think I probably realized just how cheaply made these were (I learned to recognize stock footage at an early age), but that didn't stop me from really enjoying them. I was a big Tarzan fan, you see, and well, Jungle Jim was the next best thing. Weissmuller was never a great actor, although he has some nice moments in some of the early Tarzan films, but he had a certain charm and screen presence. I liked the way he got to speak normal English in the Jungle Jim movies, and he could still dash through the jungle and fight the bad guys even if he was a little too chunky to wear a loincloth anymore.
These are probably pretty bad movies. But I sure enjoyed them at the time. Some of them are available on DVD, but I'm not sure I have the heart to watch them again. I think it might be better to hold on to my fond memories.
I've discovered that I really like Dan Cushman's pulp adventure yarns. For years I've heard good things about his series featuring Armless O'Neil, an American adventurer in Africa. O'Neil isn't really armless, but he is missing his left hand and has a deadly dangerous steel hook in its place. These stories appeared in the pulps JUNGLE STORIES and ACTION STORIES in the Forties and Fifties, which can be hard to come by, but they're being reprinted by the fine small press publisher Altus Press, the first volume being SEEKERS OF THE GLITTERING FETISH.
The title story, which originally appeared in the Winter 1945 issue of JUNGLE STORIES and introduced the character, finds O'Neil and his sidekick Tommy Huston on the trail of some magnificent blue diamonds. Tommy is an American musician stranded in Africa who's always after some elusive treasure or a beautiful woman or both, and his friend Armless O'Neil usually gets roped in on these risky deals with him.
"Black Mahogany", from the Spring 1946 issue of JUNGLE STORIES, finds O'Neil and Tommy trying to make a success out of a rundown mahogany plantation, despite the danger from a rival plantation owner who has plans of his own. Cushman springs a nice surprise ending in this one.
In "Jackal Kill" (JUNGLE STORIES, Fall 1946), O'Neil and Tommy join an archeological expedition that's trying to find a fabulous lost city built of pink ivory. O'Neil doesn't really believe in the city's existence, but an old enemy of his is part of the expedition, so he goes along to protect the others. I'm a sucker for lost city stories and have been as far back as I can remember, and this is a good one.
"Five Suns to Angola!", from the Winter 1945 issue of JUNGLE STORIES, has our two heroes and their sidekick Bobolongonga hired to deliver a mysterious sealed, canvas-wrapped bundle to a buyer in Angola. Unfortunately, everybody with an interest in the bundle seems to turn up dead sooner or later, and O'Neil and Tommy seem destined for the same fate. This is another excellent story with a nice mystery at its core.
"Dread Safari" (ACTION STORIES, Winter 1947) opens with a shocking twist: O'Neil is on the trail of whoever murdered his friend Tommy Huston. His vengeance quest takes him to a scientific expedition bound for the hidden jungle tomb of an ancient Egyptian pharaoh.
This volume wraps up with "Blood-Spoor of the Devil-Stones", from the Spring 1948 issue of ACTION STORIES, and once again O'Neil is searching for the fabled blue diamonds.Will his pursuit be any more successful this time? Ah, you'll have to read the story to find out.
Even though these yarns have interesting plots, stylish prose, and plenty of well-written action and local color, their real appeal is the character of Armless O'Neil himself. He's as hardboiled as they come, consumed by anger and dark thoughts but possessing a sardonic humor and a strong sense of loyalty at the same time. Although he claims that his goal is to make his fortune in Africa, then return to his native Chicago and buy a pool hall, the reader gets the sense that he would never be happy there, or anywhere else except the dangerous environs of the Congo. Africa and Armless O'Neil were made for each other.
The second volume, SWAMP FETISH, should be out soon from Altus Press with an introduction by yours truly. This will complete the adventures of Armless O'Neil, and I recommend both volumes highly. If you're a fan of pulp action yarns, you definitely should check them out.
Those of you who want to check out one of my rare ventures into science-fiction and fantasy should pick up a copy of JUR: A STORY OF PRE-DAWN EARTH, a collaboration between me and my old friend Tom Johnson that's now available as an e-book after being out of print for a while. This novel is very much influenced by Edgar Rice Burroughs and was a lot of fun to write. Tom deserves most of the credit for this one, I just helped out a little, and if you enjoy it he's written several sequels that I highly recommend.
Like SPIDER-MAN: BLUE and DAREDEVIL: YELLOW, HULK: GRAY is a retelling and expansion of the title character's origin story, a filling in of the gaps, I guess you could say. Jeph Loeb's script and Tim Sale's art tells a story that takes place in the first 24 hours or so after Dr. Bruce Banner was caught in the gamma bomb explosion that transformed him into The Hulk. Or, as Loeb puts it in an afterword to this trade paperback that collects the mini-series, between THE INCREDIBLE HULK #1 and THE INCREDIBLE HULK #2.
Plot-wise, there's not much to this tale. General Thunderbolt Ross tries to capture or kill The Hulk. Rick Jones helps The Hulk. And The Hulk tries to get to Betty Ross, who he senses somehow that he loved when he was still Bruce Banner. Those of us who are long-time comics fans have seen variations on all those things too many times to count.
This is the first Loeb/Sale collaboration I've read that I found to be something of a disappointment. There's nothing really wrong with it, but it just didn't evoke the same sense of nostalgia in me that their other stories revisiting the early days of some iconic characters. I didn't care for Sale's versions of The Hulk or Rick Jones. They both just looked too goofy for my taste. I will say, though, that Sale does a good Thunderbolt Ross, and the first appearance of Iron Man (who plays a small part in the tale) in the original golden "tin can" armor did send one of those nostalgic thrills through me. It's a shame Loeb and Sale didn't do a similar mini-series about IronMan. (Maybe they did and I'm just not aware of it; I was away from comics for quite a while.)
If you're a big fan of The Hulk, or if you remember those early days at Marvel with fondness, HULK: GRAY is certainly worth reading. It's just not up to the high level that its creators achieved in their other projects.
[Here's an excerpt from the email Joel mentions in his comment on the previous post, with a few additions from me in italics.]
Poking around in boxes and file cabinets while looking for something else, I came across an ancient photo copy of the instructions Dad wrote for me. I'd like to warn you it is possibly politically incorrect. In addition, it may well come through to some fans of Westerns that my father scorned the genre and the fans.
To explain: at the time Dad was attempting to get one of his major novels for S&S finished, finish several other contracts, and still maintain the Westerns as a way of bringing in steady cash. He was paid about $3000 per Fargo and a similar amount would come in from the sales in Norway and much of the rest of Europe. Demand for Fargo and Sundance was there but there simply was not enough of Dad to go around. I do not recall the name, however, there was an author in upstate NY who started a number of pulp (non Western) series and farmed out the work to nearly 20 ghost writers on contract. Dad was looking to build up something along those lines as well. [Joel and I have since established that he was talking about Lyle Kenyon Engel of Book Creations Inc. -- a company for which I wrote about 50 books.]
By this point Dad had written a lot of Westerns and other pulp to support a wife, three sons, and make a mortgage payment. He was just plain tired of writing Westerns for a while. The irony is, of course, his love of writing started because of his love of Westerns. He faithfully followed the serials at the movie theaters and listened to the radio shows and read the pulp magazines of Westerns. It was with a sale of a Western story he got his start. He took annual trips to the West with my godfather and his best friend, Jim Henderson, an editor at the Norfolk Virginian Pilot.[Ben Haas wrote the comic novel THE BELLE FROM CATSCRATCH with Jim Henderson, both of them using pseudonyms, Richard Meade and Jay Rutledge, respectively. I have a copy of the book and hope to read it soon. The cover art, by the way, is by the great Jack Davis of MAD Magazine fame, and Joel sent me these scans as well.]
Dad craved recognition as a non pulp writer. Living well outside the orbit of NYCity and not able to teach at a university as he had no college degree, he probably never had the social connections for lightening to strike until the last four months of his life when a huge paperback sale of his final novel THE HOUSE OF CHRISTINA occurred. Even then, it was not reviewed widely by the major papers because it was a straight forward story. He remained a "mid list author" all his professional life and by the time he was 49, fat, and bald he was professionally interested in moving past writing paperbacks.
[Another bit of irony is that many of the literary writers from that era are forgotten and unread, while at least some of us are still reading, enjoying, and talking about books by Ben Haas and other authors like him who were great storytellers.]
Joel Haas was kind enough to send me scans of his father's instructions on how to write a Western novel. I think this is fascinating reading and contains much good advice. Many thanks to Joel for sending this document along. You can click on each of the scans to enlarge them enough to read. Warning: there are spoilers for several of Ben Haas's novels in these pages.
We were talking about this issue on the WesternPulps group the other day, so I thought I'd use it for this week's pulp cover. By this time STAR WESTERN had been around for about twenty years and was considered one of the top Western pulps, but I'd be willing to bet that sales had dropped off some by that point. The magazine seems to be going for some of the RANCH ROMANCES market with that above-the-title banner "Big Romances of the West". Regardless of the slant, this looks like a fine issue with stories by good authors such as William Heuman, Frank Castle, Jonathan Craig (better known for his hardboiled mysteries and police procedural novels), and Will Cook. I'm not familiar with Charles Beckman Jr., the author of the lead novel, but it made for good cover fodder. There's also a poem by the ubiquitous S. Omar Barker and a few other stories. My favorite title in the issue: Craig's "Honkatonk Hussy". And the reason we were talking about this on WesternPulps is that it was reprinted in part as the British edition of WESTERN STORY for October 1956, with the addition of a story by Ed La Vanway that doesn't appear in the American STAR WESTERN version.
STRICTLY FOR THE BOYS is the third and final novel in the new Harry Whittington collection from Stark House, and the only one of the three to appear originally under Whittington's name. First published in 1959 by a small paperback house called Stanley Library, STRICTLY FOR THE BOYS is domestic noir, a genre in which Whittington was never very prolific, but he does a fine job of it, as he did with everything else he wrote.
The protagonist of STRICTLY FOR THE BOYS is Amy Reader, still in her teens but already married . . . and on the verge of a divorce. She's left her abusive husband Burt and gone home to her mother, herself a bitter divorcee who wants to see Amy stay married at all costs. Not surprisingly, Burt shows up and starts stalking Amy, intruding into her life even after she manages to divorce him. She gets a job at a manufacturing plant, and there's a guy there who might offer her some hope for the future, but in the meantime Burt is determined to win her back and is getting crazier and crazier . . .
This is a really fast-paced book in which Whittington keeps piling more and more troubles on his heroine, while at the same time providing a vivid portrait of lower middle-class life in the late Fifties, the same sort of insightful exploration that can be found in many of Orrie Hitt's novels. STRICTLY FOR THE BOYS generates a lot of suspense as it races toward its conclusion. I'm really glad to see this one back in print, since I used to have a copy of the original paperback but never got around to reading it. It's a fine companion piece to RAPTURE ALLEY and WINTER GIRL, making this collection one of the most entertaining volumes I've read in a long time. Highly recommended.
You know me and swordfights. There are plenty of them in NORTHLANDERS, BOOK ONE: SVEN THE RETURNED, a trade paperback collection of the first eight issues of the comic book series NORTHLANDERS. There's nothing swashbuckling about this swordplay, however. It's grim and bloody, like the lives of the Vikings living in the conquered Orkney Islands in the year 980.
One of them, Sven, has just returned from several years of roaming the known world as a mercenary, pirate, and soldier of fortune. He's come back to his homeland because he's gotten word that his father is dead and his villainous uncle Gorm has seized power. Naturally Gorm doesn't want to relinquish Sven's proper birthright, and he's got the warriors on his side, so Sven has to go into hiding and launch a guerrilla war against his uncle.
Gorm may be the bad guy in this story, but Sven isn't exactly what you'd call heroic, either. He kills quickly and sometimes unnecessarily, he uses people for his own ends, often to their disadvantage, and he can't really be trusted, at least starting out. He does change some in the course of events, but he's still not a very sympathetic protagonist.
The deliberately anachronistic language in Brian Wood's script bothered me at first, but I stuck with it and was glad I did, because I got caught up in the story. (And it helps that the anachronisms diminish considerably as things go along.) I wouldn't be surprised if somewhere along the way somebody pitched this series as "DEADWOOD with Vikings", because that's the sort of feeling it conjures up, and ultimately it's almost as involving as DEADWOOD. The art by Davide Gianfelice is okay, not always to my taste but not bad, and some of the sweeping landscape scenes are really good.
I have the second NORTHLANDERS trade paperback and plan to read it soon. I don't know how many there are after that, but there's a good chance I'll pick them up, too. This is good, gritty historical adventure, and if you have a taste for that, you should give this series a try.
If it wasn't for the fact that there's an IMDB page for this made-for-TV movie, I might think I just imagined that I watched it back in 1975. There are no clips from it on YouTube, no images that a Google search came up with. But I recall liking it a lot and have never forgotten watching it.
First of all, it's a private eye movie, and not only that, it's also set in the Forties. Those two things make me predisposed to like a film. Veteran character Ed Lauter, who has stayed busy in Hollywood for more than four decades now, plays one of his few leading roles as private detective Bud Delaney, who also works as the house dick in a rundown hotel, if my memories of the story are correct. That's really all I recall. IMBD says:
An ex-cop, now a private detective, investigating a gambler's murder finds that there may be a connection between that crime and the jewel robbery at a beautiful movie star's home.
I'll have to take their word for it, but that sounds right. The cast also includes the beautiful Rhonda Fleming and a young Victoria Principal, still several years away from playing Pam Ewing on DALLAS. I recall thinking at the time that the movie was well-made and that I liked the Forties/private eye music.
One thing I had forgotten was the name of the private eye played by Lauter. A couple of years later, I started writing stories about a private eye named Delaney, although I never gave him a first name. I don't recall intentionally naming him after the character in this movie, but I have to wonder if that was still lurking around in my head. At this late date, who knows? I do know that I didn't visualize him as the character for the movie. In my mind he always looked like an obscure character actor named Sandy Kenyon.
So, does anybody else remember watching LAST HOURS BEFORE MORNING?
I tend to think of Donald E. Westlake's books as either caper comedies or ultra-hardboiled crime novels, but THE COMEDY IS FINISHED, soon to be published by Hard Case Crime (you can pre-order it!), is a prime example of just how wrong that is. Sure, it has "Comedy" in the title, and it's definitely a caper, and it's really funny in places. But it's also pretty dark and bleak at times, too.
Koo Davis is one of America's most beloved comedians, star of radio, movies, and TV, but perhaps best known for all the tours he did overseas with USO shows to entertain American troops in various war zones. Yes, Bob Hope is the obvious template for Koo Davis, but Westlake fleshes out the character and gives him a history and personality of his own.
Written and set in the late 1970s, THE COMEDY IS FINISHED is the story of how Koo is kidnapped by the few remaining members of a violent protest group, hangers-on from the Sixties, who want to use him to force the government to release some so-called political prisoners. Westlake cuts back and forth between Koo, the increasingly desperate kidnappers, and the dogged FBI agent who gets the job of finding and rescuing the beloved comedian.
Not surprisingly, Westlake throws in a number of plot twists and complications, and some of the characters turn out to be much different than they seemed at first. The book is expertly paced and very well written, and the last chapters really had me flipping the pages to find out what was going to happen.
For reasons that editor Charles Ardai explains in a short introduction, this novel was never published until now, and that it exists at all is thanks to Max Allan Collins, who hung on to a copy of the manuscript that Westlake sent to him thirty years ago.Westlake fans, and anybody who loves good fiction, can be very grateful for that. THE COMEDY IS FINISHED is a fine, compelling novel, as well as a poignant conclusion to Westlake's career. Highly recommended.
Cullen Gallagher, whose blog Pulp Serenade is a regular stop of mine, is also a talented musician. You can check out his latest instrumental EP here. I listened to it several times last night while I was working. Excellent stuff.
In response to numerous requests – well, two requests, actually . . . but two's a number, innit? – I'm going to start blogging again about some of the movies we watch. ANONYMOUS is probably the first movie I've seen about Shakespeare since, well, SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE. Not surprisingly, a lot of the sets from that movie are used in ANONYMOUS, as well, so it has a familiar look to it.
Shakespeare himself is only a supporting character in ANONYMOUS, since the movie is about the question of who really wrote the plays credited to him and it doesn't take long to make the script's position clear. In this story, the true author of the plays is Edward de Vere, the Earl of Oxford, and the reason he wrote some of them is rooted in the political intrigue surrounding the question of who will succeed Queen Elizabeth on the English throne.
It's a complicated plot, and it's not made any easier to follow by the film's "flashback within a flashback within a flashback" structure.(And I'm not even counting the modern-day framing sequence.) For a while I wasn't quite sure what was going on, but I stuck with it and think I finally figured out most of it, anyway. Along with the political intrigue you get a considerable amount of swordplay and soap opera, including murder, blackmail, and incest. It's all carried out in restrained British fashion, of course, but the plot itself is entertainingly over the top.
I enjoyed ANONYMOUS quite a bit, but I think you'd need to know a lot about Shakespeare and English history to get the full effect of it. Reading reviews of the film in various places, I see that it seems to be one of those "love it or hate it" movies, with a recurring theme among the haters being that it's not "historically accurate", their basis for this being their belief that Shakespeare actually wrote the plays. To which my response is: it's a movie. It's fiction. The framing sequence even makes it clear that this is a case of "What if this is what really happened?" I don't know or even really care who wrote the plays. I just enjoyed the story.
This is also a very good movie for writers, with some lines that made Livia and me laugh out loud even though they probably weren't written to be funny. And it was good to see Derek Jacobi, who's the centerpiece of the framing sequence, again. Jacobi played Claudius in the mini-series I, CLAUDIUS, one of our favorites from the early days of our marriage.Overall, ANONYMOUS is an odd movie, but I liked it and think it's well worth watching.
This is the first issue of a short-lived series that featured a lead story by Arthur Lawson in each issue about a character known as White Eagle, obviously a white man raised by Indians, an old, old plot that still crops up occasionally, even now. Authors of the back-up stories in this issue are Chuck Martin, Lee Bond, John A. Saxon, and Wayne D. Overholser, solid pulpsters all. I'm not sure I'd have picked this up if I'd been browsing the newsstand in 1940, but it's an interesting oddity, I think.
I don't pretend to be an expert on the work of Donald E. Westlake, but I thought I'd at least heard of most of his books. I've even read and for a number of years owned a copy of the elusive COMFORT STATION by "J. Morgan Cunningham", a copy for which I paid an entire dime. Literally, ten cents.
Anyway, not long ago I came across a mention of a novel called GANGWAY!, which was referred to as Westlake's only Western. Of course, I knew right away that I had to read it. Further investigation uncovered the fact that the book was written in collaboration with Brian Garfield, another good reason to read it. So now I have.
First of all, it's not really a Western. The dust jacket copy describes it as "the world's first comedy romance suspense pirate western adventure novel". That's not a bad description, but actually GANGWAY! is a historical caper novel, the sort of thing you'd expect if Dortmunder somehow wound up in 1874 San Francisco and decided to rob the United States Mint located there.
Instead of Dortmunder, the mastermind of this heist is Gabe Beauchamps, a likable crook from New York who has been banished from that metropolis by his former boss. Even before Gabe reaches San Francisco, he makes the acquaintance of the beautiful pickpocket Evangeline "Vangie" Kemp, and she's the first one he recruits into his scheme. Others who become involved include Francis Calhoun, a former friend of Gabe's from New York who works in the theater in San Francisco (Westlake and Garfield never come right out and say that Francis is gay, but it's pretty obvious); Ittzy Herz, a young man with seemingly supernatural luck that enables him to emerge unscathed from all sorts of disasters; Captain Flagway, an alcoholic ship's captain; and Roscoe Arafoot, a thug who specializes in shanghaiing unwary visitors to San Francisco.
Naturally, Gabe comes up with a workable but incredibly complicated plan to rob the Mint, so when the gang actually attempts the heist there are plenty of things to go wrong and numerous obstacles to overcome, along with a great deal of hilarity and slapstick, of course. The last fourth of the book, which covers the actual robbery, just races by and is highly entertaining. So is the whole novel. It's well-written, as you'd expect from Westlake and Garfield, and the characters are very appealing. I'm not sure why it's not more well known, unless it's because the historical setting is so different from the rest of Westlake's output. If you're a fan of his work, especially the caper novels, you really ought to read it.
And now that I have, I find myself wishing that he'd written a book about a Parker-like character in the Old West to go along with this period variation on Dortmunder. It would have been good, I'll bet.
(This is the author photo from the back of the book. Westlake on the left, Garfield on the right.)
(Since I'm on a Ben Haas kick right now [the psychologically inclined among you will have noticed that I can be a bit obsessive], here are a couple of old reviews I excavated from the archives of the WesternPulps Yahoo Group. I wrote these reviews in March 2002, almost ten years ago.)
BIG BEND, Richard Meade (Ben Haas)
Sam Ramsey owns a horse ranch north of the Big Bend in Texas in 1914, at a time when there is much unrest and revolution across the border in Mexico. Ramsey is a loner and doesn't get along with his neighbors because of lingering resentment directed at his late father, a Union Army officer who commanded black soldiers posted in the area following the Civil War. When Ramsey's horse herd is stolen by outlaws who plan to take them across the border and sell them to Pancho Villa, he goes after the thieves on his own, despite the heavy odds against him.
Those odds are improved a little when he meets the giant black soldier of fortune called Concho and a young widow named Nora, who are on a mission of revenge of their own that takes them into the Big Bend. The trio of adventurers face a great deal of hardship and danger from Anglo outlaws and Mexican revolutionaries as they try to survive the badlands on both sides of the Rio Grande and catch up to the men they are pursuing.
Ben Haas is one of my favorite series writers (Sundance, Fargo, and at least one Lassiter as Jack Slade). He also writes excellent stand-alones, and this book is a prime example of that. Though the basic plot is made up of standard Western elements, Haas throws in enough wrinkles to make the book consistently interesting. The more modern-day setting allows the use of telephones, machine guns, and airplanes, but there's still plenty of traditional Western action. Haas gives his characters depth and writes such smooth, fast-moving prose that his books are always a pleasure to read.
CARTRIDGE CREEK, Richard Meade (Ben Haas)
Will Leatherman is as tough as his name, a former trail driver from Texas turned land developer, who comes to the railroad-owned town of Cartridge Creek, New Mexico, to size it up and see if he and his partner want to buy it from the railroad. Unwittingly, Leatherman has walked into a war about to erupt between two rival saloon owners, Fate Canady and Goldtoothed Bob Rigsby. Leatherman doesn't want to take sides in this trouble, although after a run-in with one of Rigsby's hired guns, both men try to hire him, thinking that Leatherman is a gunfighter himself. Leatherman's growing friendship for Tom Brand, the man who founded the town, and Bettina Grady, the pretty young widow who runs the local boarding house, finally forces him to take a hand in Cartridge Creek's troubles.
CARTRIDGE CREEK is not as good as Haas's BIG BEND, which I also read and reviewed recently, but it deserves a high recommendation anyway.
Over the past few days I've been trading emails and talking on the phone with Joel Haas, the son of one of my all-time favorite writers, Ben Haas, who wrote dozens of Westerns under the names John Benteen (the Neal Fargo and Sundance series) and Thorne Douglas (the Rancho Bravo series), as well as historical and mainstream novels under his own name. Joel is a fascinating guy with artistic talents of his own. He's a well-known sculptor.
But in the course of our conversations he mentioned that he's a writer as well, and revealed something that as far as I know has never been suspected among fans of Western series fiction: Joel actually wrote the Fargo novels THE BORDER JUMPERS and DEATH VALLEY GOLD and was poised to take over the series from his dad while Ben Haas concentrated on mainstream novels. Unfortunately, legal wrangling with Harry Shorten, the publisher of Belmont-Tower, resulted in the premature end of the Fargo series and the turning over of the Sundance series to other authors. And it wasn't long after that that Ben Haas passed away while on a trip to New York to attend a dinner given by the Literary Guild for authors it had published. Ninety novels in seventeen years is a fine legacy, but it's a shame that there couldn't have been more.
I have a copy of THE BORDER JUMPERS and plan to read it and post about it soon. I think I have a copy of Joel's other Fargo novel DEATH VALLEY GOLD, but it's somewhere in the stacks and I haven't found it yet. He's also written a World War II novel that I look forward to reading. Meanwhile, Joel has an interesting blog that you can check out here. Ben Haas has long been one of my literary idols, one of the best action writers of all time, and it's been great to connect with his son and find out more about both of them.
Another good store I ran across in my book-hunting days was The Book Swap, in North Richland Hills on the north side of Fort Worth. It was located in an old, small strip shopping center, next to a sewing machine store, if I recall correctly. And when you went in, the space was crammed full of shelves of paperbacks with narrow aisles between them. My kind of place, in other words.
But it got better. As you worked your way to the back, more and more rooms somehow opened up off the main one. I finally figured out that they ran behind some of the other businesses in the building. Those rooms were packed just as full as the one in front, but they had the better stuff, as far as I was concerned: the mystery, Western, and science fiction sections.
The stock was a mixture of vintage paperbacks and newer stuff, and the owner's pricing system was complicated enough that I never quite made sense of it. It wasn't strictly half of the cover price, but it worked out close to that except on the older books, which did have a minimum (50 cents, I seem to recall, but it may have been a dollar). Nor was the condition of most of the older books great, but most of them were in decent shape and certainly readable, which is why I wanted them anyway, to read. I hardly ever left there without a grocery sack full of stuff.
Like some other stores, though, The Book Swap was on the wrong side of town (and don't get me wrong, I mean that in a traffic sense) for us to get there except every so often. And the busier our lives got during the Eighties and Nineties, the less often I went there. But about six years ago, I was on my way back from Dallas with one of my daughters and thought I'd take a quick side trip down to the bookstore.
When we got there, the lot was empty. Obviously, the shopping center had been bulldozed and completely cleared away. If the bookstore had a going-out-of-business sale, I missed it. If it moved somewhere else, I missed that, too. It's not anywhere around here, I know that. I don't know what, if anything, is standing in that location today. I haven't been back.
Of course, that wasn't the only disappointment that day. We also planned to stop at a place that had really good pie, and when we got there, it was out of business, too. Dang. Some days you just can't win.
I've been a fan of Audie Murphy's Westerns ever since I saw SIX BLACK HORSES at the Eagle Drive-in Theater when I was a little kid, but THE DUEL AT SILVER CREEK is one that I'd never watched until now. Released in 1952, it's a fairly early entry in Murphy's career, and it's notable as well for being one of the first handful of films directed by Don Siegel and for including a small supporting turn by a young Lee Marvin.
THE DUEL AT SILVER CREEK crams a lot of plot into a short 77-minute running time. A group of claim-jumpers led by the always dependably evil Gerald Mohr is causing trouble around Silver City. The local lawman, Marshal "Lightnin'" Tyrone (so called because he's fast with a gun) is determined to hunt them down. At the same time he's battling nerve damage from a bullet wound that makes it impossible for him to pull the trigger of a gun, even though he's as fast on the draw as ever. He's also trying to solve the murder of his elderly mentor, who was shot in the back one rainy night. A beautiful woman and her somewhat shady brother show up in town. The even more beautiful tomboy daughter of the stable owner is in love with Marshal Tyrone, although he doesn't have a clue about that. A sinister gunman known as Johnny Sombrero (great name!) is lurking around. Then another gunfighter, The Silver Kid, shows up in town on a mission of vengeance, and of course all these elements come together. As is common in Western movies from this era, the pace is a little deliberate for most of the way, although Siegel does spice things up with an occasional action scene, before letting things explode into a spectacular battle at the end featuring some good stunt work.
Murphy, who plays The Silver Kid, was never a great actor, but he sure had screen presence. Dressed all in black, he's menacing but affable and dominates most of the scenes he's in just by being there. Stephen McNally, never one of my favorites, plays Marshal Tyrone and is okay in the part, except for the fact that his character is so blasted stupid it's hard to like him very much. That's not really McNally's fault. Faith Domergue is the femme fatale Marshal Tyrone falls for, and it's so obvious she's working with the bad guys that she might as well be wearing a sign, but Tyrone never seems to notice. (That's not a spoiler, by the way; the viewer is in on that plot twist all along, from the moment when Domergue's character viciously murders a wounded witness while nobody is looking.) Susan Cabot is much more appealing as the tomboy named Dusty, and Lee Marvin steals the few scenes he's in as a minor baddie.
The photography is excellent and looks great on the DVD I watched. Not surprisingly, Siegel's staging of the action scenes is very effective.THE DUEL AT SILVER CREEK isn't a great Western. The script is a little too muddled for that, and Marshal Tyrone, who's really the lead despite Murphy's top billing as The Silver Kid, isn't likable enough. But it's a solid piece of entertainment and a very worthwhile way to spend a little more than an hour. I sort of wish Murphy had returned as The Silver Kid in more movies. I'm sure I would have enjoyed them.
Here's a pretty good SPEED WESTERN cover by George Rozen that has a nice sense of action and some menace in that reaching hand. Of the authors with stories in this issue, the only ones I've heard of are Laurence Donovan and Victor Rousseau, both of whom were old standbys in the Spicy/Speed line of pulps. Rousseau's career went all the way back to the early part of the Twentieth Century, when he wrote fantasy serials for a much higher class of magazine. (But not necessarily better, mind you; I'm quite fond of the Spicy/Speed pulps.) The other authors are Max Neilson (a known house name), Joe McCoy, Carl Mason, and Tonto Green (which I'd also bet was a house name, or at least a pseudonym).
"The Murder Brain", from the April 1937 issue of SECRET AGENT X, like many of the novels by G.T. Fleming-Roberts in this series, opens in the middle of the action with the Secret Agent already on the trail of a criminal mastermind known as The Brain. (No mention of Pinky, however. Narf!) The Brain is behind a series of killings that have been branded the White Cross Murders, because the victims are found with a white circle painted around them and a cross inside that circle that falls over their bodies.
Also as usual, Secret Agent X puts his skill at disguise to good use as he attempts to foil The Brain's plans. He's not known as the Man of a Thousand Faces for nothing. In addition to some of his common false identities, he also masquerades as a Federal agent, assorted criminals, a financier, and even The Brain himself.
The plotting in this one seems a little thinner and more haphazard than in some Secret Agent X novels, but with his hardboiled prose Fleming-Roberts never lets the pace slow down for very long. Not only that, but he comes up with an excellent character in Sally Vergane, a crazed gun moll who's determined to avenge the death of her former lover, gangster Wolf Hollis. But is Hollis really dead? That's an intriguing question as well, with an answer that sort of surprised me. The last couple of chapters are a veritable whirlwind of action that culminates in a fine showdown in the sewers underneath New York City.
"The Murder Brain" doesn't fall into the top rank of Secret Agent X stories, but it's still a heck of a lot of fun to read if you're a pulp fan. The upcoming reprint from Beb Books also includes a novelette from the same issue, "Redheaded Decoy" by Don Cameron. If my memory's not playing tricks on me, Cameron wrote a Phantom Detective novel that I enjoyed, "The Television Murders", but other than that I haven't read anything by him that I recall. "Redheaded Decoy" is a clever yarn about a group of G-men attempting to trap some kidnappers, as well as the case's action-packed aftermath. I liked it, too, and probably ought to read more of Don Cameron's work.
UPDATE: According to Will Murray's introduction in PHANTOMS IN BRONZE, a collection of Phantom Detective novels by Laurence Donovan, Donovan wrote "The Television Murders", not Don Cameron. But Cameron's "Redheaded Decoy" is still pretty good.
The writers of the Top Suspense Group return with FAVORITE KILLS, a collection of mystery and suspense stories picked out by the authors as representing some of their best work. I certainly can't argue with that. Here's the line-up:
"Archie's Been Framed", Dave Zeltserman
"Night Nurse", Harry Shannon
"Solomon & Lord Drop Anchor", Paul Levine
"Number 19", Naomi Hirahara
"Sweet Dreams", Vicki Hendricks
"House Rules", Libby Fischer Hellmann
"Angie", Ed Gorman
"Knife Fight", Joel Goldman
"Jack Webb's Star", Lee Goldberg
"Restraint", Stephen Gallagher
"Top of the World", Bill Crider
"A Matter of Principal", Max Allan Collins
I'd read some of these stories before, but I read them again and still loved them, and the ones I hadn't read were equally excellent and entertaining. If I had to pick a favorite, it would be Bill Crider's "Top of the World", which is a much darker and nastier yarn than most of the work for which Bill is known. But all the stories are really, really good, and you can't go wrong with any of them.
And you also can't go wrong with the price, which, as I write this, is zip, nada, nothing. Free, in other words. I highly recommend that you grab this one if you don't have it already. It's an absolutely top-notch anthology.
This turns up a lot on lists of worst songs or most-hated songs, but I gotta tell you . . . when it's the spring of 1972 and you're a freshman in college and you're sitting around the dorm with people who are somewhat under the influence of various illegal substances and your arm is around a girl who's inexplicably called Moose even though she looks nothing like a moose . . . well, take it from me, this is a great song. The radio station we always listened to, KRMA, with studios in Buda, Texas, played it all the time. Catch those call letters? Every DJ who worked there, all of whom sounded just like Tommy Chong, did station IDs by saying, "Hey, this is Radio Karma, man." And then they'd play "A Horse With No Name" for the twentieth time that day.
And this is what happens when you get me reminiscing about college. Best not to do that.
Yeah, I know, when it came out DOCTOR ZHIVAGO was hardly overlooked. It was nominated for ten Academy Awards and won five of them, and it played for 46 straight weeks at the 7th Street Theater in Fort Worth, which was a local record for first-run movie longevity at the time and may still be, for all I know. Of course you have to remember that in those days new movies didn't open simultaneously in a dozen different multiplexes. No, during its run at the 7th Street, that was the only theater in Fort Worth showing DOCTOR ZHIVAGO, so with an auditorium that seated, at a guess, 850 people, it took a lot longer for everybody who wanted to see a movie to get a chance to.
So, DOCTOR ZHIVAGO was popular, no doubt about it. But when was the last time you read anything about it on somebody's blog? Been a while, more than likely. And since this series is often just an excuse for nostalgia on my part, we're going to say that it's overlooked, okay?
When the movie came out I was sort of living with my sister. Not officially, but I spent a lot more time at her house, about a quarter of a mile away from my parents' house, than I did at home. And she was a big fan of thick historical novels (she once said that she bought books by the pound, the bigger the better). So she read Boris Pasternak's novel DOCTOR ZHIVAGO before the movie version came out. Since she was reading it, so did I. As much as I've talked about reading comic books and Doc Savage and Robert E. Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs paperbacks when I was a kid, I read other things, too, and I enjoyed big historical novels like that. (No way I'd read anything that long and dense now; I just don't have the patience for it anymore.) I thought DOCTOR ZHIVAGO was pretty darn good. It even sparked an interest in Russian history and literature in me. (Don't worry, I got over it.) So naturally my sister and I went to see the movie when it came out.
Pasternak's novel, for all its literary qualities, was kind of a soap opera. The movie is even more so, the sort of big, glossy, historical epic soap opera that they just don't make anymore. Great photography, a beautiful musical score ("Lara's Theme" was a radio hit, back in the days when radio hits could still be instrumentals), sweeping vistas, battle scenes with thousands of extras, and enough human stories with the right mixture of pathos and optimism to be very involving. The cast, with Omar Sharif playing Zhivago, Julie Christie, Alec Guinness ("These are not the Bolsheviks you're looking for"), Rod Steiger, Tom Courtenay, and a host of others, was pretty good all the way around, although the acting styles were a little overwrought to match the subject matter. I loved it, the same way I loved RICH MAN, POOR MAN about a decade later (and thanks to Patti Abbott for writing about that one last week; lots of good memories). I think I saw DOCTOR ZHIVAGO at least three times in the theater, and I watched it on videotape back in the Eighties and thought it still held up pretty well. I haven't tried it since then.
Modern viewers might find a movie like this a little too slow and stodgy and overdone. But every so often, I need a great storytelling wallow, and I think DOCTOR ZHIVAGO would fit the bill nicely. One of these days, when I have the time . . .
If you're in the mood for a good international conspiracy thriller, Jeremy Burns' debut novel FROM THE ASHES certainly ought to do the trick. His protagonist, graduate student Jonathan Rickner, is the son of a famous archeologist, but the murder of Jon's older brother draws him into the investigation of a not-so-ancient mystery that still goes all the way back to the closing days of World War I, with stops along the way in the Cold War era and World War II.
The trick to a novel like this is to mix the historical speculation with interesting characters and enough action to keep things perking along. Burns does a fine job of that. Jon Rickner is a good hero, smart and brave, able to rise to the occasion when threatened, but still quite human, especially in his relationship with his late brother's fiancée Mara who is drawn into investigating the conspiracy with him. Naturally, the shadowy figures behind all the villainy are willing to go to any lengths to keep from being exposed, and since they've murdered many times before, they don't hesitate to go after Jon and Mara as well.
Burns has come up with a very plausible plot that involves a number of famous historical figures and also includes a desperate hunt for clues reminiscent of the NATIONAL TREASURE movies (which I enjoyed quite a bit).I liked FROM THE ASHES, too, and think it's well worth reading.I suspect – and hope – that there'll be a sequel on the way.
Just a reminder that the Kindle version of my short story "The Red Reef" is still free on Amazon for the rest of the day. Those of you who are pulp fans will recognize nods to several of my favorite authors in this one.
Livia has made HALLAM, which collects two long stories featuring her private eye character Lucas Hallam, free for today only. This e-book volume includes "Hallam", the 10,000 word story that introduced the character, which originally appeared in the first Private Eye Writers of America anthology, THE EYES HAVE IT, and "Hollywood Flesh", a 7000 word yarn that has Hallam coming up against zombies in Hollywood. (That's right, Hallam was fighting the Zombie Apocalypse before it was cool!) This one originally appeared in the anthology THE BOOK OF ALL FLESH. These are fine stories, and you sure can't beat the price.
And don't forget, my short story "The Red Reef" is still available for free today and tomorrow.
This is another pulp that I own and read recently.As usual with a Popular Publications pulp, it has an eye-catching cover with that vivid yellow background and bright red logo, just like Popular's DIME WESTERN.I'm not sure I've seen another case of a bad guy using a spur as a weapon on a pulp cover, but with those sharp rowels, it makes sense.
As usual for this title, the lead "novel" is more like a novelette, and it's by an author who's not one of my favorites, Tom Roan."I'll Tame Any Town!" (the editors at Popular loved their exclamation points) is the story of a gunfighter known as Hell Morgan, who comes to clean up the wild Wyoming town of Rattlesnake Rock, which is under the thumb of outlaw brothers Gun and Big Pistol DeMoanie.Roan seems to have liked bizarre names like that, especially for his villains.Like Dan Cushman, he's an author whose work often doesn't appeal to me, and that's the case here.This isn't a bad story, but I never could get very interested in it.
Moving on to the stories that are actually billed as novelettes, they're considerably better, which isn't surprising considering who wrote them.Tom W. Blackburn and H.A. DeRosso were consistently good pulp authors.
Blackburn's "Juan Poker's Gallows Goal" is a little unusual in that it's set in California not long after it becomes a U.S. territory, while tensions between the Yankee newcomers and the Californios who lived there when the area was still part of Mexico are high.Adventurer and all-around shady character John Poker, or Juan Poker as he's known to most people, is recruited by the U.S. government to act as a secret agent and get the goods on a criminal mastermind who's out to take over California and make it into his own little empire.In the course of this assignment, Poker is framed for murder and the people who are supposed to be his allies wind up trying to hunt him down.This is an excellent story, full of action, plot twists, and political intrigue to go along with the gunfights.Blackburn wrote at least a dozen or so stories in the Juan Poker series for 10 STORY WESTERN, and I'll definitely be on the lookout for the others.
The other novelette, "The Cold Running Iron", is by one of my favorites, H.A. DeRosso.It's set in one of the fictional mountain ranges DeRosso liked to scatter across the West, the Predicadores, and is narrated by a former rustler known as Cold Iron Smith who wants to put his criminal ways behind him.As always, though, the past makes that difficult, and so does the beautiful wife of the rancher Smith works for.To me, DeRosso's stories often have some of the same feel as a Gold Medal crime novel, and that's true in this yarn.It doesn't quite belong in the top rank of his work because it's a little rushed and probably could have benefited from more wordage, but it's still very good and for my money the best story in the issue.
As for the short stories, one of the best in the issue is by the other well-known writer from Cross Plains, Texas, C.S. Boyles, who wrote under the name Will C. Brown."Button Savvy" centers around an imaginative boy, the son of a sheriff, whose fantasizing about battling badmen becomes real.The plot is pretty predictable, but the story is well written and effective, and Boyles, not surprisingly, does a fine job of capturing life in a small cowtown.
John Jo Carpenter is one of several authors here whose work I hadn't read before now.His story "Hangover in Helltown" packs a lot of plot and back-story into a yarn that's mostly a domestic drama about a blacksmith struggling with a drinking problem and a cattle baron's son who wants to marry a divorced woman over his father's objections.The plot is a little unusual for a Western pulp and the writing is pretty good, but the story never really came together for me and the ending left me scratching my head.
"Fog It, Pilgrim – or Kill" is by Reynolds Phillips, an author I'd never even heard of, let alone read.It's a good story, too, the old "tenderfoot turns out to be tougher than he looks" plot, but very nicely done.
Richard Brister's "Railmen Come Up Scrapping" is a decent little actioner about a range hog trying to force a former railroader off his land.Brister is probably best known for his biography of Wild Bill Hickok, but he turned out some good fiction, too.
"Twin Terrors of Texas" is a short-short about a mild-manner Dallas storekeeper who has two large, rambunctious twin sons.Someone like Robert E. Howard probably could have made a colorful, action-packed tall tale out of this plot, but in the hands of author Jimmy Nichols, it reads more like a synopsis than an actual story.I didn't really care for it.
"Blood is Thicker – and Hotter!" by Dennison Rust is an interesting story for a couple of reasons.First of all, it's a well written, fairly suspenseful story about a couple of old trail pards who wind up on opposite sides of the bars in a jail cell.There's also the question of who actually wrote it.The name "Dennison Rust" strikes me as pretty blatant pseudonym, and my first thought was that the author was really Bennie Gardner, whose most famous pseudonym was "Gunnison Steele".Also, the story is fairly short and concerns a lawman and a prisoner, two things that are common in Gardner's work.Seems pretty obvious, doesn't it?The only thing that makes me wonder is a passing reference to an outlaw known as Gentleman Jack D'Arcy.D.L. Champion, the originator and one of the principal author of the Phantom Detective novels, also wrote as Jack D'Arcy.(Champion's initials stand for D'Arcy Lyndon.)So the question becomes, is the name totally coincidental, or was Bennie Gardner acquainted with D.L. Champion and nodding to a friend, or was Dennison Rust really D.L. Champion himself, although I don't find any indication on-line that Champion ever wrote any Western stories?Or, I suppose, was Dennison Rust the real name of the person who wrote this story?Based on reading it, I still vote for Gardner, but it intrigues me.
The final short story in this issue is definitely by an author who created a well-known pulp hero, Paul Chadwick, who wrote the first Secret Agent X novel."Redmen Blaze the Way" is about an Indian attack on a wagon train and its aftermath.There's not much to it, but it's all right.
So overall, this issue of 10 STORY WESTERN, like most issues of that pulp, is a mixed bag, with two very good stories – the DeRosso and Blackburn novelettes – some other entertaining yarns, and a few I didn't care for.That's not unusual for this title.I've found that 10 STORY WESTERN wasn't as strong most of the time as STAR WESTERN and DIME WESTERN, Popular's flagship titles in the Western field, but there are enough good stories to make it worth reading.
Several years ago I wrote a pulp-inspired adventure story called "The Red Reef" for the final issue of Dave Zeltserman's HARDLUCK STORIES. Since that version is no longer on-line, I've just published an e-book version of the story on Amazon, and for the next three days it's absolutely free. This is a 4300 word short story, not a novel, but I think it's pretty good stuff. Check it out!
According to TWENTIETH CENTURY WESTERN WRITERS, this novel was originally a pulp serial, but TCWW doesn't say when and where it was first published. Doubleday did a hardback version in 1941 under the title WHEREVER THE GRASS GROWS, and then Bantam reprinted it in paperback in 1947. That's the edition I just read. (And as a side note, while the plastic coating on the paperback covers is starting to show a little wear, the paper is just barely tan and in beautiful shape, better than most two or three year old paperbacks these days. But then, that's common for paperbacks from that era, at least in my experience.)
In 1875, Ruck (short for Rucker, which was Bosworth's middle name) Hanna returns to Texas after spending five years in Wyoming. Ruck had to leave the family ranch because he shot and killed a crooked carpetbagger who was trying to kill him. Knowing he wouldn't get a fair trial from the Reconstruction government, he went on the run instead. But by the beginning of the novel, Reconstruction is over, Ruck's father is dead, and Ruck has to return to save the ranch. All of the Nueces brush country in South Texas is under assault from Mexican raiders and rustlers led by Cheno Sandoval, whose sister Olivia is an old friend (and potential romantic interest) of Ruck's.
There are other problems besides the rustlers. The open range era is ending, and there are clashes among the local ranchers over how to handle this evolution in cattle-raising. The spectre of barbed wire is looming. Ruck has a lot of trouble to handle, including a romantic triangle with Olivia and Hattie Blake, the daughter of a carpetbagger who has remained in Texas to become a business tycoon. Texas Rangers led by Captain Leander McNelly show up to put a stop to the rustling and wind up crossing the Rio Grande to invade Mexico, and Ruck goes along with them.
This is a very well written novel with good characters, a historically accurate background, and a fine sense of time and place. I've been to many of the places Bosworth describes, and he gets it right. The only flaws, in my opinion, are a shortage of action and the lack of a sense of urgency, especially in the first half of the book. The second half is considerably stronger. Overall, I'd highly recommend this one, and I intend to look for more novels by Bosworth.
(Bosworth was one of the regular stable of authors on the various house-name series in WILD WEST WEEKLY. I don't know which particular stories he wrote, but I'll bet they were good.)
If you travel in the same blog circles I do, you've probably read quite a bit about Lee Goldberg's new e-book McGRAVE in the past twenty-four hours. Well, I just finished it, and I'm here to tell you it's the best thing I've read so far this year. LA cop John "Tidal Wave" McGrave is straight out of an Eighties action-adventure movie, and in this yarn about McGrave's international pursuit of a thief and killer, Goldberg pulls off a very neat trick, producing a yarn that's part serious, part satire, and all action. It seemed like I had a grin on my face the whole time I was reading it. McGRAVE comes out tomorrow, and it gets a high recommendation from me. I loved it.
And I'm ready for the next McGrave book right now.
If you've been meaning to try the Rancho Diablo series, today is the perfect time because the first book in the series, SHOOTER'S CROSS (by Mel Odom writing as Colby Jackson), is absolutely free on Amazon. Today only, though, so grab it while you can.