Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Wrap Up

I read 127 books this year, a small increase from last year's 116. 77 of them were e-books, so while that makes up the majority of my reading, I still read quite a few print books, too, and I expect that rough split to continue. 33 of the 127 were review copies. I wasn't able to review all the books that were sent to me, but I read and blogged about as many of them as I could and I'm sure some of the others will show up on the blog in the future. 21 of the 127 were books that I edited and published. In looking through the list, I noticed that I didn't read any books published in 2015 by the so-called Big Five. The only new books I read from traditional publishers came from Kensington and Baen, companies that have distribution deals with the Big Five but are independently owned, and there were only a few of those. Everything else I read was either small press, self-published, or decades old. This wasn't intentional. I'm certainly not boycotting the Big Five. But it's an unavoidable fact that they're publishing less and less that I want to take the time to read these days, while there's so much good stuff coming out from those other sources that I couldn't even hope to keep up with it. The important thing to me is that I don't think I'll ever run out of good books to read.

Which brings us to my top ten favorites of the books I read this year, in alphabetical order by author:

THE SHOTGUN RIDER, Peter Brandvold
TARZAN THE TERRIBLE, Edgar Rice Burroughs
THE BIG DRIFT, Patrick Dearen
101 ESSENTIAL TEXAS BOOKS, Glenn Dromgoole and Carlton Stowers
FIRE WITH FIRE, Charles E. Gannon
TURN ON THE HEAT, A.A. Fair (Erle Stanley Gardner)

My short list had 17 books on it, and I could have added another dozen or more that were pretty close. So it wasn't easy getting this list down to 10, but there they are, for what it's worth.


As those of you who have read yesterday's post are aware, I wrote just over a million words this year, the 11th consecutive year I've reached that mark. That breaks down to 12 novels and 7 shorter pieces of fiction, most of them novelette or novella length. Right now my plan is write at least that much in 2016. I'll need to if I'm going to keep up with the projects I've committed to do. It's a lot of hard work, but I'm still having fun so I don't see any reason to stop now.


Rough Edges Press continues to occupy a significant portion of my time. With plenty of invaluable technical help from Livia, along with some great covers, REP brought out 9 books in the Blaze! Adult Western series, along with a number of reprints and originals from Stephen Mertz, Ed Gorman, John Hegenberger, James J. Griffin, and David Hardy. We published three original anthologies, the two WEIRD MENACE volumes and the Alternate History anthology TALES FROM THE OTHERVERSE. The Blaze! series will continue in 2016, along with a full slate of original and reprint novels and collections, and we'll also have a big science fiction anthology next summer, if all goes according to plan. More details on that later. UPDATE: I added a picture of all the books REP published in 2015 to the top of the post.

So you can see there's plenty going on to keep me busy. I guess I stay out of trouble that way. Many thanks to those of you who have stuck with the blog for another year. I'll be around.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A Million Words and Counting

Yes, I know I kept saying I planned to slow down a little this year. And my writing pace did fall off, enough so that for most of the year I was convinced there was no way I'd get that million words again.

But then I realized that with a really good December, the million was in reach, so I couldn't just turn my back on that. I had to try for it, especially since I've committed to writing enough books in the next two years that I'll be right around a million words for those years as well. So why break the streak now?

In the end it was pretty close, but earlier today I hit the million word mark for the year. That's 11 consecutive years, something I never would have thought I was capable of. If I actually do achieve that goal the next two years, that'll be 13 straight, and I'm much too superstititous to leave it at that, so I'll have to try for 14 straight, and if you're going to do that, hell, you might as well go for 15.

Clearly, it's a sickness. But not necessarily a bad one to have . . .

(I realize this post sounds like I'm bragging. Honestly, I'm not. I'm not foolish enough to think that a million words is an insignificant achievement even once, let alone 11 years in a row. I'm certainly proud of it. But this is just what I do, a niche that I've carved out for myself. As Walker Martin commented on a post a few days ago, I'm a pulp writer even though there aren't any real pulps anymore. If that's the way I'm remembered, I'm fine with that.)

Night of the Ghost Cat - Peter Brandvold

Hell has frozen-over in the town of Sanctuary, New Mexico Territory... 

Clay Carmody, unwitting ghoul hunter, has no time for ghouls. He had his fill of ghouls in Poudre Canyon. (See Canyon of a Thousand Eyes.) Having forked paths with the beautiful Claudine Bridger, sheriff of Camp Hawkins, the drifter has lit out on his own to the mountains of northern New Mexico, where he is holing up in a remote line shack. 

It figures to be a quiet winter for Clay Carmody. He and his young line shack partner, Ronnie Landry, will likely fill their nights drinking and playing poker and watching the snow fall after days filled with making sure the range of their boss, Old Man Bradbury, isn’t encroached upon by rustlers or nesters. 

Unfortunately, rustlers or nesters are the least of Carmody’s problems. 

When a big cougar kills young Landry, Carmody must take to the hunting trail. The trail leads him to the town of Sanctuary, which, much to Carmody’s dismay, is no sanctuary at all. 

It turns out that Sanctuary is being stalked by the same cat that killed Carmody’s partner. The cat seems to kill indiscriminately. Its blood lust is insatiable. Not even Carmody’s boss, Old Man Bradbury, and the young Duke and Duchess of Norfolk are exempt from its savagery. It will render Bradbury’s pretty, lusty young daughter speechless and worse... 

As the storm rages over Sanctuary, the cat stalks the town—attacking and terrifying, torturing its victims. It amuses itself by torturing men in the most hideous ways imaginable. 

And it seems impervious to bullets... 

Clay Carmody, the reluctant ghoul hunter, finds himself on the hunt for yet another ghoul. At least he has a beautiful demon-hunting witch at his side. But not even the lovely witch from another time, another place may be enough to save Carmody from the cunningly wicked and shape-shifting ghoul who time and time again proves itself the Devil’s own worst nightmare. 

For the ghost cat seems intent on turning the town of Sanctuary into a blood-drenched Hell... 


(About that'd be well advised to take it seriously. However, it doesn't say anything about great action scenes, vividly described settings, and a fine protagonist in Clay Carmody, and you get all those things in this book, too. As always, Mean Pete spins a fast-paced Western adventure yarn. NIGHT OF THE GHOST CAT is one of those one-sitting books you hear about, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Highly recommended for anyone who enjoys a Weird Western!)

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: The Mole People

This is another good one I recorded from Svengoolie's show. THE MOLE PEOPLE, from 1956, is more than just another Fifties monster movie, though. John Agar, Hugh Beaumont (yep, Ward Cleaver his own self), and Nestor Paiva play archeologists on a dig in Mesopotamia who come across an ancient stone tablet bearing a message about a lost civilization that worshipped the goddess Ishtar. The tablet carries a curse with it, and after it's accidentally broken, a convenient earthquake opens up a passage leading deep into the earth. When one of the other scientists falls into it, Agar, Beaumont, and Paiva climb down to see if he's still alive, and what do they find? An underground city populated by the descendants of the ancient Sumerians, of course.

So, what do we have here? A lost civilization, an evil high priest (played by Alan Napier, who was the butler Alfred on the Sixties TV version of BATMAN), sword fights, a beautiful slave girl, and some stalwart scientist heroes. This is pure pulp, a yarn that easily could have been a serial in ARGOSY or ALL-STORY from the heyday of the scientific romance during the first three decades of the Twentieth Century.

The mole people of the title are almost a throwaway element, a subterranean race enslaved by the Sumerians, and they actually wind up being pretty sympathetic characters. The rubber heads and gloves they wear are obviously fake but pretty effective anyway. I had no trouble suspending my disbelief.

THE MOLE PEOPLE was directed by Virgil Vogel, who directed a lot of episodes of Western and detective TV shows I watched during the Sixties, and he keeps things moving along very nicely, packing quite a bit of plot and world-building into less than an hour and a half. Agar and Beaumont are pretty good as the heroes, Napier chews the scenery as the villain, and somebody named Cynthia Patrick is bland but pretty as the slave girl. The only real problem with this movie is the unsatisfying ending, which reportedly was changed at the last minute by meddling studio executives.

That's not enough to keep me from saying that if I'd seen THE MOLE PEOPLE when I was ten years old, I would have thought it was the greatest movie ever made. There's no quicksand, but it has almost everything else I loved back then (and still do, for the most part). I'm sure most of you have already seen it, but if you haven't and you're stuck in your third or fourth childhood like I seem to be, keep an eye out for it. It's a lot of fun.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Writing the Novel From Plot to Print to Pixel - Lawrence Block

As I mentioned yesterday, I've been in the writing business for 39 years now. In the early days, when I was trying to break in and during the first few years after I started selling, I read every book on writing that the Fort Worth Public Library had on its shelves. I don't know if it did any good or not, but I immersed myself in them.

I didn't actually buy many books about writing, though, because we just couldn't afford them. But I subscribed to Writers Digest and The Writer, and I managed to acquire copies of three books on writing that I had for many years and read countless times: THE MYSTERY WRITER'S HANDBOOK, edited by A.S. Burack; WRITING POPULAR FICTION by Dean Koontz; and WRITING THE NOVEL FROM PLOT TO PRINT by Lawrence Block. I also read Block's column every month in Writers Digest.

So it was almost like a visit from an old friend when I began reading the new, expanded, and updated version of Block's book, now called WRITING THE NOVEL FROM PLOT TO PRINT TO PIXEL. Like any old friend you haven't seen for a while, it looks a little different—it's an e-book now, for one thing, at least the edition I read was—and a lot has been added to it.

But the information about how to develop ideas, to create interesting characters, to handle plot problems and all the other nuts and bolts of writing is just as useful as ever. The sections that have been updated the most are the ones that involve e-books and self-publishing, since that's what's changed the most in the publishing business in recent years.

Block talks about several things that I firmly believe: When it comes to writing, there is no right or wrong way to do anything; there is only what works. Every writer has a particular speed to which they're best suited, and the only way to discover that speed is to write a lot until you've figured out what's comfortable and sustainable. You have to be able to sustain that pace, whatever it may be, because to produce good fiction effectively and efficiently, you have to work at it consistently. You sit in a room and type. Sometimes for decades.

Because he doesn't seem capable of writing a sentence that's not entertaining, reading this book is an enjoyable experience in itself, not just for its educational and informational value. Block also provides quite a bit of background on how some of his novels came to be written, and that's always interesting to me. As for the writing, I already do many of the things he suggests, habits that I've developed over the years, and they work for me, I guess, since I've been at it for so long, but I also picked up some ideas about things I'm going to be watching for in my own books. One of the nice things about writing is that you can always get better at it.

WRITING THE NOVEL FROM PLOT TO PRINT TO PIXEL will be available soon. If you're a novice writer or an experienced writer or anywhere in between, or if you're just interested in good fiction and its creation, I highly recommend it.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Annual December 27th Post

As always on this date, I like to pause and reflect on my years in this business. 39 of them, in fact, because I made my first sale on December 27, 1976, as those of you who read this blog regularly may recall. The details of that sale, plus assorted reminiscences about the early days of my writing career, can be found in December 27 posts from previous years. I tried to think of some new, never-before-revealed detail about that first sale, or my early career in general, but really, there ain't none. It wasn't that exciting a time. (Well, it was exciting for me to get that check, of course, really exciting, and Livia was probably pretty pleased as well, since it meant I wasn't totally crazy to believe that I could write for money, but other than that...)

So I'll just fall back on thanking everyone who's helped along the way, starting with Livia, of course, and including my daughters Shayna and Joanna, who have helped out many times in many ways, plus all the editors, agents, and fellow writers who have helped make it possible. I'd list them all, but there are too many and I'd forget somebody.

Next year will be 40 years for me as a writer. I'll try to think of something more interesting to say by then.

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Black Aces, May 1932

Supposedly, BLACK ACES was Fiction House's attempt to imitate the success of BLACK MASK, but it didn't last very long, only seven issues. Its failure wasn't due to the quality of the writers, though. This issue featured stories by Carroll John Daly, James P. Olsen, Eugene Cunningham, Theodore Tinsley, William Chamberlain, and Franklin Martin, all well-regarded pulp authors. And it had a cover by Rudolph Belarski. The newsstands were just too crowded for it to stand out, I suppose.

This is the last weekend pulp post of the year. I hope those of you who read them are still enjoying them. I've started to think that I won't be doing these forever, but I'm not ready to quit yet and plan to be at it for a good while yet.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Ranch Romances, Second March Number, 1950

RANCH ROMANCES had some great covers in the Fifties, and despite the title, many of the stories had a definite hardboiled feeling to them. Authors in this issue include L.P. Holmes, Wayne D. Overholser, Frank C. Robertson, Hal G. Evarts, and Stephen Payne. I don't know if the cover goes with any of the stories, but it sure makes me want to know what's going on. Maybe I'll write it myself one of these days.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Forgotten Books: Christmas Out West - Bill Pronzini and Martin H. Greenberg, eds.

This volume of new and reprint Western Christmas stories was published in hardback by Doubleday in 1990 and in paperback by Bantam in 1991, which is the edition I read back then. Here are the contents:

"Three Yuletide Poems", S. Omar Barker
"How Santa Claus Came to Simpson's Bar", Bret Harte
"A Journey in Search of Christmas", Owen Wister (an excerpt from the novel LIN McLEAN)
"The Bullpuncher", James Stevens
"Standing Alone in the Darkness", Arthur Winfield Knight
"Winter Harvest", John Prescott
"Mainwaring's Gift", Ed Gorman
"Seven-Up's Christmas", Charles Alden Seltzer
"Christmas Eve in San Augustine", Edward D. Hoch
"No Room at the Inn", Bill Pronzini
"Gunman's Christmas", Caddo Cameron
"The Death of Dutch Creel", Loren D. Estleman
"Stubby Pringle's Christmas", Jack Schaefer

There's not a bad story in the bunch. One of Barker's poems is "A Cowboy's Christmas Prayer", which I posted on this blog all the way back in 2004. It's one of the most popular posts I've ever done and still gets regular hits.

For this post I found another copy and reread the two pulp stories, Seltzer's "Seven-Up's Christmas", which first appeared in the December 1949 issue of GIANT WESTERN, and Cameron's "Gunman's Christmas" from the December 25, 1946 issue of SHORT STORIES. Seltzer's story is a suspenseful yarn about two cowboys snowbound in a line shack at Christmas time, both of them with secrets in their past. Cameron's story is about an outlaw who just wants to spend Christmas alone at his hideout in Indian Territory, but dangerous strangers keep showing up. Both of these are excellent Christmas tales. In fact, this whole anthology is very good, and although it's too late for this year, if you want to read some fine Christmas Westerns next year, I highly recommend it.

Since this is the last Forgotten Books post of the year, I also wanted to mention that going into this year one of my goals was not to use any reruns in this series. I managed to do that, although I've had to fudge a few times by reading novellas and writing about them. But I've had new content every Friday all year. I may not be able to maintain it, but I'm glad I did it for a year, anyway. I didn't do anywhere near that well with the Tuesday's Overlooked Movies/TV/etc. posts. But hey, it's all for fun anyway, and I hope you've all had a good time.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

A Christmas Memory

Forty years ago tonight was the first Christmas Eve I ever spent with Livia. We had been dating since January of that year, and we'd gotten engaged in October. We weren't the sort to go out and party on Christmas Eve (we're still not), so we spent a quiet evening at her parents' house watching TV. All that was nice enough, but then something else happened that made everything even better.

It started to snow.

Now, a White Christmas, or a White Christmas Eve, for that matter, isn't unheard of around here, but they're not very common, either. I wasn't really worried about getting snowed in or not being able to get home because the temperature was above freezing and for the most part the snow was melting soon after hitting the ground. But the flakes were big and fluffy and coming down in a veritable blizzard and turning the ground white for a little while, and as I stood on the front porch with my arm around Livia and we watched that beautiful scene, I think it was quite possibly the happiest moment in my life up to that point. That glow remained strong inside me as I kissed her good night and drove home in the snow a little later, after midnight so technically it was Christmas Day.

I can feel it now, too, just like I did then. I always will. Merry Christmas, everyone, and to all a good night.

Now Available for Pre-Order: Legends of the Gun Boxed Set from Western Fictioneers

The good old shoot-'em-up westerns are still around, and this collection has six by the masters of the genre.

West of the Big River: The Avenging Angel by Michael Newton – Orrin Porter Rockwell is more than just a deputy United States marshal and a deadly gunfighter. He's a member of the Mormon Danites, the group of enforcers known as the Avenging Angels, and he's the personal troubleshooter for Governor Brigham Young. And when Young sends Rockwell to the rough-and-tumble mining town of Tartarus, there'll be plenty of trouble for him to shoot. Award-winning author Michael Newton spins an action-packed, historically accurate yarn in THE AVENGING ANGEL.

The classic, Spur Award-winning novel by Frank Roderus, POTTER'S FIELDS is the story of Joe Potter, a man haunted by the past who deals with the harsh realities of the frontier by becoming harsh and violent himself. A former lawman no longer able to find work carrying a badge because of his corruption and brutality, Potter becomes a cowboy and spends the winter in an isolated line shack, where the arrival of a stranger forces him to confront himself and his past. Rich with poignant emotion and vividly detailed ranch life, POTTER'S FIELDS is a novel that will stay with the reader long after the story is over.

Jake Scudder is just a drifting, peace-loving cowboy. So why does he find himself in jail, convicted of the murder of an old-timer he had befriended and sentenced to hang for that crime he didn't commit? Jake gets a chance to clear his name when the train taking him to the gallows crashes, but was that wreck an accident? Who's the real ringleader of the gang of vicious outlaws known as the Marauders? Jake Scudder has to dodge not only the law but also a cunning murderer as he attempts to save his own life and that of a beautiful young woman. A ROPE FOR SCUDDER is another classic, action-packed Western from bestselling author Clay More.

A fortune in gold dust, two beautiful women, a pair of deadly bushwhackers gunning for him, a dangerous blizzard, an avalanche, and an unknown plotter masterminding murder and robbery . . . These are just some of the things Clay Brand has to deal with when he signs on to guard gold shipments coming down from the mining country in California's San Bernardino Mountains. But before Clay can get to the bottom of the violence plaguing the mountains, he'll have to shoot straight and fast and escape the unexpected menace of a lynch mob! GUN FOR HIRE is the first Western ever written by acclaimed author Jory Sherman. Includes a new introduction by the author written especially for this volume in the Western Fictioneers Library.

In THE HAM REPORTER by Robert J. Randisi, Bat Masterson is no longer a sheriff in the Old West. He’s moved East to New York City where he gets a job as a sports writer for The Morning Telegraph. But when his friend and fellow-newsman, Inkspot Jones, disappears, Masterson’s wife Emma asks if he could look into it as a favor to the man’s wife. It doesn’t look hopeful—Inkspot had something on somebody, and that somebody may have decided to play rough. Pretty soon they’re up to their eyeballs in crooked politicians, hired thugs and a woman of mystery. And before it’s done, Bat may have to strap on his Colt again for some old fashioned Western justice.

Lawyer Billy Cambridge, a retired Texas Ranger, and his best friend, vaquero and ranch foreman Nacho Graves, set out by stagecoach from Pecos, Texas, to deliver $20,000 in cash to a client in Fort Smith, Arkansas. When the stagecoach is held up and Cambridge and Nacho lose the twenty grand, they set out on a dangerous quest to recover the money and bring the outlaws to justice…a quest that leads them to beautiful women, cold-blooded killers, the last Comanchero, and more surprises than they're ready to face. RED RIVER RUSE is a fast-moving Western novel packed with action, emotion, and danger, from award-winning, bestselling authors James Reasoner and L.J. Washburn.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Now Available for Pre-Order: Blaze! A Son of the Gun - Stephen Mertz

When Kate and J.D. Blaze set off in pursuit of the Ludlow brothers, as crazed and vicious a trio of owlhoots as they've ever encountered, J.D. never expected to run into the biggest surprise of his adventurous career: a fast-on-the-draw young man who claims to be his son! Not only that, but young Joe Bridge has trouble of his own dogging his trail—a ruthless cattle baron and a gang of bloodthirsty nightriders! Joe just wants to settle down with the beautiful girl he's fallen in love with, but he'll have to fight his way through hell to do it...and who better to help him than the man who just may be his father, gunfighter J.D. Blaze? 

Legendary author Stephen Mertz, creator of the BLAZE! series, returns with another fast-action novel filled with all the thrills and passion of the Old West. Read A SON OF THE GUN and see why BLAZE! is the bestselling all-new Adult Western series.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Trail of Robin Hood

(This post originally appeared in slightly different form on December 20, 2011.)

Despite the title, TRAIL OF ROBIN HOOD is definitely a Christmas movie. The whole plot centers around Christmas trees, after all! It seems that retired actor Jack Holt (father of Tim Holt, by the way) has a Christmas tree farm where he plans to sell his trees at such low prices that every family can afford to have one. This plan doesn't sit well with the bad guys who own the neighboring Christmas tree farm, so they set out to sabotage Holt's operation and run him out of business. This attracts the attention of forest ranger Roy Rogers, who comes to Holt's aid along with his sidekick Splinters McGonigle (Gordon Jones) and Splinters' tomboy little sister, who decides they need more help so she summons a whole passel of cowboy movie stars including William Farnum, Tom Tyler, Rex Allen, Rocky Lane (later the voice of Mr. Ed, the talking horse), Monte Hale, Ray "Crash" Corrigan, Kermit Maynard, and Tom Keene. Even George Chesebro, who always played dog heavies, shows up and has a nice line about how he gets to be one of the good guys for a change.

Yes, the plot's pretty silly, but look at that cast! In addition to all those cowboy stars, Penny Edwards plays the girl (Dale Evans was semi-retired by then), and Foy Willing and the Riders of the Purple Sage provide the music, including several Christmas songs like "Every Day is Christmas in the West".

Best of all, though, TRAIL OF ROBIN HOOD was directed by William Witney, and one thing you could always count on in his movies was that you'd get plenty of great action, no matter how far-fetched the plot, and that's certainly true here. The climax is especially spectacular, with wagons full of Christmas trees racing over a burning bridge while Roy fights a battle royal against the baddies.

I absolutely love this stuff. Modern viewers might watch this and other Roy Rogers movies and be utterly baffled as to their appeal, but I grew up on 'em, and looking back on them now, I definitely think they had an influence on my writing. Those wild, action-packed, over-the-top climaxes that Witney always provided show up again and again in my Westerns, and some of that has to come from watching Roy Rogers movies on TV nearly every Saturday when I was a kid. TRAIL OF ROBIN HOOD is a good one. It was released on December 15, 1950, and if you want to see a Christmas movie that's not one of the old standards, give it a try.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Argosy, December 23, 1939

The Christmas issue of ARGOSY from 1939, with one of Frank Richardson Pierce's No-Shirt McGee yarns as the featured story. From the looks of the titles, that's the only actual Christmas story, but since the other authors are Philip Ketchum, Robert Carse, Bennett Foster, Jack Mann, and Leslie T. White, it's probably a pretty good issue anyway.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Wild West Weekly, December 28, 1929

The Christmas issue of WILD WEST WEEKLY from 1929, with several Christmas-themed stories inside including two by J. Allan Dunn, a Bud Jones yarn under his own name and a Whistlin' Kid story as Emery Jackson, and a Kid Wolf story by Paul S. Powers writing as Ward Stevens, to boot. Quite a few of the Street & Smith pulps published Christmas issues.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Forgotten Books: Last Call for Doomsday - Edmond Hamilton

I wrote about Leigh Brackett last week, so it seemed fair to read something by her husband Edmond Hamilton this week. LAST CALL FOR DOOMSDAY is a short novel that first appeared in the December 1956 issue of IMAGINATION under the house-name S.M. Tenneshaw. It uses the old plot of an asteroid closing in for a collision with Earth and the efforts to evacuate the planet's population, in this case to a colony that already exists on Mars.

Instead of focusing on the evacuation, though, Hamilton centers his story on those who don't want to be evacuated and who, in fact, believe that the whole thing is a hoax and Earth won't be destroyed. The astronomer who discovered the asteroid that's on a collision course has disappeared, and the novel's protagonist, an Earth official named Jay Wales, is given the job of finding him so he can convince the holdouts to go ahead and leave. Wales soon discovers that there's more going on than there appears to be, and he has to untangle a dangerous plot to get to the truth.

Even though Hamilton had been a very successful author of science fiction for more than a decade before he ever met Brackett, he credited her with making him a better writer, and I think he was correct. LAST CALL FOR DOOMSDAY has the great narrative drive of Hamilton's pulp work, but it also has decent characterization and some passages that are both poignant and evocative. Hamilton has long been one of my favorite SF authors, and while this novel may be one of his minor efforts (because it lacks the epic scope of his best work), it's still well written and quite entertaining. It's been reprinted as part of the Armchair Fiction line under Hamilton's name, and if you're in the mood for some fine SF adventure, it'll do very nicely.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Somebody Out There Needs This

I've been contacted by a person who has a complete set of the Mike Shayne novels for sale, along with correspondence between Davis Dresser and his wife Mary. Anybody who might be interested, let me know and I'll put the seller in touch with you. I don't know what the price is going to be or any details about the books (edition, condition, etc.).

But it's a good reason to post a McGinnis cover, right?

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Pixels

Okay, I know a lot of you really don't like Adam Sandler movies, but I usually do, and I'm stubborn enough to keep posting about them. PIXELS got the usual bad reviews. I enjoyed it quite a bit. The concept is pretty silly—a war-like alien civilization picks up a broadcast of a 1980s video game tournament, takes it as a challenge, and attacks Earth in the present time using light-based creatures modeled after Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Asteroids, and other games from that earlier era. Adam Sandler plays the usual good-hearted sad sack who was once a great video gamer, his buddy Kevin James is the President of the United States (I know, that's a real stretch), and the always gorgeous Michelle Monaghan is a scientist who works for DARPA. It's up to them, along with fellow nerd Josh Gad, to save the planet from the alien invaders.

My experience with video games goes back even farther, all the way to the Pong game that my buddy and future brother-in-law Bruce and I fed quarters into in Angel's Pizza, our version of "Cheers" in the mid-Seventies. Livia and I had a first-generation Nintendo when our kids were little. So all the game stuff in this movie had a lot of nostalgic appeal for me, plus there's some decent music from the Seventies and Eighties. (That's kind of an oxymoron, but still...) Anyway, PIXELS is silly, the critics hated it, and I sat there smiling all the way through it. I'm good with that.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Peter McCurtin Catalog/Checklist from Lynn Munroe

Anybody who has seen one of Lynn Munroe's on-line book catalogs knows that's not your typical book catalog. His latest features the work of the legendary Peter McCurtin, and as usual it's a treasure trove of information (including previously unknown pseudonyms) and great cover scans. If you have any interest at all in paperback Westerns and men's adventure novels from the Sixties, Seventies, and Eighties, you really do have to check this out.

On a personal note, I recall buying a copy of the Lassiter novel THE MAN FROM DEL RIO at Lester's Pharmacy, in the edition shown above, and realizing as I was reading it that this wasn't really the same sort of thing as Zane Grey, Max Brand, and Clarence E. Mulford (my main Western reading up to that point). Nice to know it was actually written by Peter McCurtin, possibly in collaboration with George Harmon Smith. If I ever come across a copy of that edition again, I'll probably buy it just for old times' sake.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Short Stories, April 25, 1931

It may not be politically correct, but this is one of cleverest uses of the red sun motif on SHORT STORIES covers that I've come across. The art is by Remington Schuyler. Inside are stories by Robert Carse, Charles Alden Seltzer, Cliff Farrell, and several lesser known writers. I've enjoyed everything I've read by Carse, and I'll bet this is a good yarn, too.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Story, March 23, 1940

That's a pretty violent cover by H.W. Scott on this issue of WESTERN STORY. The stories inside are probably pretty hardboiled, too, with authors such as Ray Nafziger, Harry F. Olmsted, and Frank Richardson Pierce writing as Seth Ranger. There's also a story by Wilfred McCormick, famous to me as the author of the Bronc Burnett boy's sports novels that I read avidly as a kid. I had no idea at the time that he started out in the pulps.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Forgotten Novellas: Queen of the Martian Catacombs - Leigh Brackett

Since the hundredth anniversary of Leigh Brackett's birth was earlier this week, I wanted to write about something of hers. So I read a novella I'd never read in its original form (more on that later), "Queen of the Martian Catacombs", which originally appeared in the Summer 1949 issue of PLANET STORIES and has since been reprinted numerous times.

Brackett was famous for a lot of things, of course, including her science fiction. She contributed to the scripts for several iconic films, wrote some well-regarded mystery and Western novels, and was married to another great science fiction writer, Edmond Hamilton. Picking her best work out of a long and splendid career is probably a matter of personal taste more than anything else. A lot of people are fond of her science-fantasy (just like it sounds, a mixture of science fiction and fantasy), and I'm one of 'em.

"Queen of the Martian Catacombs" is an important story in Brackett's career because it introduced Eric John Stark, her most famous series character. Stark is an Earthman, but he was orphaned at an early age and raised on Mercury by a band of the primitive indigenous people who lived there. His Mercurian name is N'Chaka, meaning Man Without a Tribe. It's a Tarzan-like origin that serves as back-story here. Stark has become a pretty shady interplanetary character, being mixed up with gun-running and smuggling and serving as a mercenary soldier on several different worlds. (This is the old-style SF, where several of the planets in the solar system are inhabitable and have their own native races.)

In this one, Stark is drafted by an old friend who works for the Terran government to infiltrate a rebel group planning to start a war on Mars. Some of the barbarian tribes are about to rise, fueled by a leader who claims to have the secret of the ancient Martian mind transference process. Stark is one of the mercenary captains hired to lead them, but actually his job is to expose a plot rife with double- and triple-crosses and prevent the rebellion.

In reading this novella, I was struck by how much the intrigue reminded me of Robert E. Howard's El Borak stories. Brackett was influenced by both Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs, and you can sure see that in "Queen of the Martian Catacombs". It races right along with beautiful women, blood feuds, scientific mumbo-jumbo, sand storms, and some beautifully described settings. Brackett often manages to be hardboiled and poetic at the same time. This is just a wonderful story, one of the best pieces of fiction I've read this year.

"Queen of the Martian Catacombs" was expanded into the novel THE SECRET OF SINHARAT, which was published as half of an Ace Double. According to my friend Morgan Holmes, Edmond Hamilton did the expanding, which I guess makes the novel version an uncredited collaboration between Brackett and Hamilton. I read that version more than thirty years ago and remember nothing about it other than that I liked it. But it's hard to imagine that it could beat the original novella.

Now, in the spirit of full disclosure, I should mention that I also read Brackett's post-apocalyptic novel THE LONG TOMORROW, in which the United States returns to an agrarian society following a nuclear war. I didn't care for it. I thought it was slow and dated and I never really bought the premise. It's certainly not terrible, but gee, "Queen of the Martian Catacombs" is so much better. This could well be because at heart I'm still a 12-year-old boy (as if you haven't long since guessed that, what with all the posts about monster movies and comic books and pulps), and 12-year-old me would have gobbled down this Eric John Stark yarn in one breathless gulp. At this late date, I doubt if I'm going to I might as well enjoy my lingering adolescence.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Detective Fiction Weekly, January 8, 1938

I like all the Park Avenue Hunt Club stories by Judson Philips that I've read in DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY. I haven't read this one, "The League of Disaster", but I'm sure it's good. Somebody needs to do a complete collection of this series. While they're at it, a collection of the Morton and McGarvey stories by Donald Barr Chidsey would be welcome, too. This issue also has a Bulldog Drummond story in it, as well as part of a serial by T.T. Flynn. DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY was a fine pulp featuring many of the best authors.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Fifteen Western Tales,June 1946

I like this cover! Busting into a saloon on horseback with guns blazing! That's my kind of Western pulp. Lots of good authors in this issue of FIFTEEN WESTERN TALES: Walker A. Tompkins, Joseph Chadwick, Giles A. Lutz, Walt Sheldon, Lee E. Wells, Rod Patterson, Thomas Thompson, Art Lawson, and more. I like that title, too: "Texans Don't Eat Crow!" Damn straight.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Forgotten Books: A Haven for the Damned - Harry Whittington

Harry Whittington has never disappointed me. Oh, sure, some of his books are better than others, but I've never read a bad one, or one that failed to pull me along with its breakneck pace, tight plotting, and brooding sense of desperation.

A HAVEN FOR THE DAMNED is one of Whittington's rarer books. At least it was in my experience. I never owned a copy of the Gold Medal edition, and I kept my eye out for Whittingtons in used bookstores literally for decades. Recently it was reprinted by Stark House as part of the Black Gat Books imprint, in a very nice edition with a fine introduction by David Laurence Wilson. And now I'm glad I never found it before, because I had an excellent, new-to-me Whittington novel to read.

A HAVEN FOR THE DAMNED is a "Grand Hotel" book, although the hotel in it is far from grand. In fact, it's a dusty, rundown place in a ghost town called Lust, New Mexico. (Whittington is one of the few writers who could get away with setting a book in a town called Lust and not have it come across as silly.) The only regular inhabitant of the town is a prospector named Josh Carrdell, but as often happens, a number of other people with back-stories of their own show up at roughly the same time: a couple of bank robbers and their wounded hostage; the hostage's wife, who gets roped in on the robbers' scheme; a middle-aged businessman running away with a woman thirty years younger than him so she can get a divorce in Mexico and marry him; and the woman's husband, following his wife and her lover and carrying a gun so he can have his revenge when he catches up to them. There's one other character, the prospector's dog, but he's not exactly cute and cuddly.

With a cast like that, you know there's going to be lots of angst and drama going on, and the way Whittington packs most of the book into a span of less than a day just increases the tension. Nobody was ever better at milking a plot for every bit of suspense in it, and he does a fine job of that in A HAVEN FOR THE DAMNED. I had to heave a sigh of relief (but in a very good way) when I came to the end of this novel. If you're a Whittington fan and haven't read it, you should grab it right away. If you've never read his work, it would be a good place to start. This is a top-notch suspense yarn and gets a high recommendation from me.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Small Change: A Casebook of Sherer and Miller, Investigators of the Paranormal and Supermundane - Andrez Bergen

I’ve said many times that I like a book with a distinctive voice, and Andrez Bergen’s work consistently hits that mark. Not only that, he’s never been content to write the same book twice. His latest, SMALL CHANGE: A CASEBOOK OF SCHERER AND MILLER, INVESTIGATORS OF THE PARANORMAL AND SUPERMUNDANE, ventures into the realms of occult detective fiction. Set in Melbourne, it’s a collection of short stories and one novella narrated by private detective Roy Scherer, who along with his partner, the beautiful blonde Suzie Miller, investigates cases involving zombies, mummies, werewolves, immortals, and other sorts of bizarre creatures. There’s a bit of jumping around in time as well (not literally), as the novella explains how Roy came to work for Suzie’s father, who founded the agency.

All this would be fine and entertaining by itself, but Bergen’s fast-paced prose also includes a steady stream of pop culture references. For someone like me who grew up watching movies and TV and reading comic books and hardboiled paperbacks, this is great fun. Bergen even provides an appendix explaining the references, in case you missed any of them. (I didn’t, I have to say.)

SMALL CHANGE is perhaps the most traditional of Bergen’s books so far, and being a traditional sort of guy for the most part, I think it’s my favorite. I hope we haven’t seen the last of Roy and Suzie, because I really enjoyed this volume and would love to read more about them.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Tomorrowland

TOMORROWLAND bombed at the box office and got mostly bad reviews, and I think I know why both of those things happened. This film is pretty much a love letter to anybody who grew up reading science fiction from the Twenties, Thirties, Forties, and Fifties (one of the supporting characters even uses the name Hugo Gernsback!), and that description probably doesn’t fit many film critics these days, or a vast portion of the movie-going public, either. But for those who are the target audience, like me, it’s a wonderful little film.

The plot’s kind of hard to describe. It involves Gustave Eiffel, Jules Verne, Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison, the 1964 New York World’s Fair, alternate universes, and killer robots from the future. It’s complicated, but it all makes sense in the end (I think). George Clooney is a disillusioned inventor, Britt Robertson is a brilliant teenage girl who has to save the earth, and a little girl named Raffey Cassidy sort of steals the show as a visitor from the future.

TOMORROWLAND was directed and co-written by Brad Bird, who did THE IRON GIANT and THE INCREDIBLES, so it’s not surprising there’s a sense of wonder and an optimism that are missing from a lot of contemporary films. Though clearly in the minority, I think it’s great, and if you’re a science fiction fan, there’s a chance you might, too. Highly recommended. 

Monday, November 30, 2015

Gravedigger: Hot Women, Cold Cash - Christopher Mills and Rich Burchett

GRAVEDIGGER: HOT WOMEN, COLD CASH is a trade paperback collecting a pair of hardboiled crime yarns written by Christopher Mills with art by Rick Burchett. As you can tell by that great cover, the protagonist, "Gravedigger" McCrae was inspired visually by Lee Marvin, and there's a lot of Richard Stark/Donald E. Westlake influence, too, since the character is a professional criminal. There's also a bit of Dan J. Marlowe's THE NAME OF THE GAME IS DEATH in this graphic novel's lineage. These are all good things, of course, and Mills and Burchett make excellent use of these influences.

In the first story, "The Predators", Digger, as he's usually called, is in Florida trying to relax after a job, but when he gets involved with a mob boss's daughter things quickly go to hell and he finds himself targeted for death. There are some great scenes in the Everglades involving an airboat. I've never actually been on an airboat, but I find them fascinating anyway, for some reason. And of course I'm a sucker for swamp scenes.

The second story, "The Scavengers", is a heist yarn, very Parker-like in its planning, execution, and inevitable double- and triple-crosses. This one is set in the desert Southwest, another great locale for hardboiled and noir tales.

I like Burchett's stark, black-and-white art, and Mills' scripts race right along with fine dialogue and excellent voice-over narration from Digger. I haven't read any of Mills' other work, but I enjoyed this volume enough that I'm going to seek it out. If you're a fan of Darwyn Cooke's Parker adaptations, Ed Brubaker's CRIMINAL, or any of the other hardboiled/noir graphic novels out there, you definitely should check out GRAVEDIGGER: HOT WOMEN, COLD CASH. It's good stuff.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Now Available: The Last Martian Chronicles - John Hegenberger

From the cold, rocky surface of Mars to the vast reaches of deep space, from the dusty pages of the pulps to the cutting edge medical technology of the future, the stories in John Hegenberger’s THE LAST MARTIAN CHRONICLES span the frontiers of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Unlikely friends try to survive the dangers of future war in “Keys to the Kingdom”. A bizarre fate befalls a famous author in the alternate history story “Howard’s Toe”. Sinister forces are on the prowl in “Dead Dames in Dayton”. Alien visitors come to Earth with surprising results in “Last Contact”. And two races face a poignant destiny in “The Last Martian”. These stories and others from popular author John Hegenberger are filled with imagination, ingenuity, and heart.

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Dime Detective, May 1, 1934

This DIME DETECTIVE cover has a real Weird Menace look to it. The contents appear to be pure hardboiled detective, though, with stories by Frederick Nebel (a Cardigan yarn), Erle Stanley Gardner, and Roger Torrey, along with a couple of lesser known authors, Maxwell Hawkins and Anson Hatch.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Popular Western, September 1941

A busy but effective cover on this issue of POPULAR WESTERN, and the contents look good, too, with a Sheriff Blue Steele story by Tom Gunn (Syl McDowell), a Buffalo Billy Bates story by Scott Carleton (a house-name, so I don't know who wrote this one, although for some reason I seem to recall that Walker Tompkins wrote the Buffalo Billy Bates series), and yarns by William L. Hopson, Wayne D. Overholser, Donald Bayne Hobart, and Larry A. Harris.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Forgotten Books: Terror Station - Dwight V. Swain

I guess I've been watching too many of those 1950s science fiction movies lately, because I was in the mood to read something along those lines. What better place to look for it than the pages of the SF digests from that era, especially those published by William Hamling?

Well, you could check out a publishing company called Armchair Fiction, which has reprinted a lot of short novels from those magazines. That's where I read Dwight V. Swain's TERROR STATION, which appeared originally in the September 1955 issue of IMAGINATIVE TALES, with a cover by Harold W. Macauley that matches the story quite well. I met Dwight Swain at a convention in Oklahoma City in 1991, a year before he passed away, and I'm glad I got a chance to talk to him, even briefly. I hadn't read much of his work at the time, but I've since read quite a bit and enjoyed most of it.

TERROR STATION, like a lot of those movies I was talking about, is set in the desert, although it involves a military base, not a small town. The protagonist is Carl Stone, the head of security for the base, where some top-secret research is going on. Stone is driving back to the base one night, returning from a trip to Washington, when a terrified woman runs out in front of his headlights, an opening a little reminiscent of Mickey Spillane's KISS ME, DEADLY.

The story isn't the least bit Spillane-like after that, however. The woman is being pursued by a tentacle-waving alien. Stone tries to rescue her, but she's cut down by a death ray. The alien gets away. But when Stone takes the woman's body to the base, nobody believes him about the alien, and he's accused of murdering her. Everybody on the base is on edge and paranoid and acting out of character, including the director of the research project, who's Stone's old friend, and the base psychiatrist, who happens to be Stone's former girlfriend. Could it be that the evil aliens are influencing their minds? Why has a mysterious giant tower been erected on the base while Stone was gone? What are those strange lights in the sky?

I think you can probably answer all those questions without even reading the book, but if you're looking for a groundbreaking plot, TERROR STATION isn't the place. If you're in the mood for a slam-bang, two-fisted, hardboiled SF adventure yarn with a satisfying ending, this one is just about perfect. Swain really knew how to keep a story racing along for 30,000 words with hardly a pause for breath, and old geezer that I am, I had a great time reading it. I have a big stack of these Armchair Fiction double volumes, which are made to look a lot like the old Ace Doubles, so expect more posts like this to be showing up in the near future.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to all o' yuh durn galoots. In these days of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, and all the other social media I can't keep up with, I'm thankful for those of you who still take the time to stop by an old-fashioned blog. I plan to work a little today, take a little time off, and eat more than I should. That sounds like a good holiday to me.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

The Secret of Satan's Spine - Kenneth Robeson (Will Murray and Lester Dent)

All of Will Murray's Doc Savage novels have made me feel like I was back in high school, reading one of the Bantam paperbacks that I bought the first Tuesday of every month at Mott's Five-and-Ten Cent Store. (I doubt if anything in there was actually five cents or ten cents, but what the hey.) Murray's most recent Doc novel, THE SECRET OF SATAN'S SPINE, evidently based on an unused outline by series creator Lester Dent, really captured that feeling for me. I might as well have been back in that World War II-era army barracks my high school used as the study hall.

I realize I'm wallowing too much in nostalgia, but it's hard not to with these books. I mean, look at that great Bama-like cover by Joe DeVito. Kudos, too, to Matt Moring, who makes the layout of the pages look like those iconic Bantam editions.

But what about the story, you ask? Well, it's classic Doc Savage, as you'd expect from Will Murray. Monk Mayfair falls for a beautiful blonde who winds up being kidnapped. It's all a ruse to keep him from sailing to England to do some important war work for the Allies (this one is set in 1943). Doc, Monk, and Ham Brooks wind up on the ship that Monk planned to take anyway, but there are a bunch of villains on board, as well as some unexpected friends from one of the original novels by Lester Dent. There's a mysterious, sinister island in the Caribbean called Satan's Cay, and of course that's where you'd expect to find Satan's Spine, the secret of which is creepy, awe-inspiring, and also connected to some of the previous adventures of Doc and his crew. On top of all that, our heroes have to deal with a monster of a hurricane that's looming through most of the book before it finally strikes.

Add all that up and you've got pure pulp adventure of the sort that I love. As I've probably said before, when I bought the paperback of METEOR MENACE (my first Doc Savage novel), I never dreamed I'd still be reading new stories about him more than fifty years later. But I'm very glad that I am, and THE SECRET OF SATAN'S SPINE is great reading for any Doc fan.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: The Deadly Mantis

I thought I'd seen nearly all of these movies, but Svengoolie keeps coming up with ones that I hadn't, or at least don't remember. Obviously, my cultural education was severely lacking in some respects. THE DEADLY MANTIS is from 1957, and as giant bug movies go, it's not bad.

It starts from a pretty ridiculous premise, though. A volcano erupts in Antarctica, and somehow that thaws out a giant prehistoric praying mantis frozen in the Arctic. Okay, we'll go with that, I guess. The mantis destroys an isolated radar station manned by the Air Force, which brings it to the attention of our stalwart hero, a colonel played by Craig Stevens. Yep, Peter Gunn his own self. But that not all. The scientist called in by the Air Force to help figure everything out is played by none other than William Hopper, best known as Paul Drake on PERRY MASON. So we have two iconic private eyes fighting a giant praying mantis. Yeah, I'll watch that. There's also a spunky gal reporter involved, but I thought she was kind of annoying.

The movie takes a documentary-like approach to a lot of the scenes, and that works pretty well. The mantis itself doesn't appear on-screen until well into the film, which is probably good. In some shots it appears fairly scary (well, it would have scared me when I was ten years old, which is how I try to approach movies like this), but in others it just looks fake and silly.

The odd thing is, as the movie goes on, I started to feel sorry for the mantis. I don't know if this was intentional or not, but the final scenes kind of tug at the ol' heartstrings, and I found myself not liking the human characters as much. I don't really think the filmmakers were trying to make any sort of statement, but looking at it from that angle, it's kind of a powerful ending.

Anyway, I'm glad I finally saw THE DEADLY MANTIS. It's not a great film, by any means, but I enjoyed it.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Now Available: Tales From the Otherverse

Other times, other places, other stories than the ones we know...These are the Tales From the Otherverse, where anything is possible and things never work out quite the way you'd expect. Some of today's top talents in popular fiction turn their hands to tales of alternate history. Featuring new stories by bestselling, award-winning authors Bill Crider, Lou Antonelli, Scott A. Cupp, Robert E. Vardeman, James Reasoner, and more. Explore the Otherverse and see what might have been! (Amazon links are below. Also available from Smashwords for all platforms.)

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Speed Adventure Stories, January 1946

By this time in SPEED ADVENTURE's run, the publisher was calling itself Arrow Publications, but it still looks to me like good old Trojan Publications. The authors are still the usual suspects, that's for sure. I'm pretty sure I have a reprint of E. Hoffmann Price's "Guns for Sumatra" in some anthology or collection. I don't know anything about Felix Flammonde (sounds like a pseudonym to me), Randolph Barr is a house-name, and Clive Trent, Hugh Speer, and Lew Merrill were all Victor Rousseau (although Trent and Speer were used occasionally as house-names as well, so we can't be 100% sure). The stories may have been formulaic as all get-out, but I've still enjoyed everything I've read from the various Spicy/Speed pulps.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Ace-High Western Stories, November 1946

An old codger with a bullet hole in his hat and his hands full of dynamite . . . he told those darn kids to stay off his lawn and away from his gold mine! I like this cover, probably because a lot of the time I feel about like this guy looks. But inside this issue of ACE-HIGH WESTERN STORIES are yarns by Ed Earl Repp, Barry Cord, Ray Gaulden, and some lesser-known names and house-names, so I'm sure if I sat down and read it, my mood would improve.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Now Available for Pre-Order: The Last Martian Chronicles - John Hegenberger

From the cold, rocky surface of Mars to the vast reaches of deep space, from the dusty pages of the pulps to the cutting edge medical technology of the future, the stories in John Hegenberger’s THE LAST MARTIAN CHRONICLES span the frontiers of science fiction, fantasy, and horror. Unlikely friends try to survive the dangers of future war in “Keys to the Kingdom”. A bizarre fate befalls a famous author in the alternate history story “Howard’s Toe”. Sinister forces are on the prowl in “Dead Dames in Dayton”. Alien visitors come to Earth with surprising results in “Last Contact”. And two races face a poignant destiny in “The Last Martian”. These stories and others from popular author John Hegenberger are filled with imagination, ingenuity, and heart.

Forgotten Books: The Pusher - Ed McBain (Evan Hunter) (A Winter Holiday FFB)

I almost reread this one for Ed McBain Week a while back but finally decided to go with a book I'd never read instead. Still, I had very good memories of THE PUSHER from the last time I read it, more than 40 years ago when I was in high school, and I recalled that it takes place around Christmas, so when it came time to do a Forgotten Books post featuring a winter holiday, it jumped to the top of my list.

This was not the first 87th Precinct novel I read, but it was among the first half-dozen or so. It's also the third novel in the series, so while some of the characters are very familiar—Steve Carella, Bert Kling, Meyer Meyer, Lt. Byrnes, Hal Willis—many of the characters who would become prominent in later entries haven't come along yet. That's all right. I have a real fondness for the early books where the 87th Precinct "mythology" wasn't quite so sprawling.

This one opens with the discovery of a young man's body in what appears to be a suicide by hanging. The cops discover pretty quickly that he was already dead when the rope was put around his neck. But there's an empty syringe beside him, and when it's confirmed that he died from an overdose of heroin, the focus shifts to either suicide by overdose or an accidental death. Nope. It's murder, and there'll be several more before the detectives from the 87th figure out what's going on and close in on the killer.

As usual with this series, THE PUSHER is a very readable blend of terse, no-nonsense police procedure reminiscent of DRAGNET with more introspective, even literary passages of characterization and setting. I'm not sure anybody's ever done this better than Evan Hunter. Not many have come close. He does a fine job of capturing the feeling of Christmas time in a big city. The actual plot, the revelation of the killer and the motive, is functional but nothing more, but what sets this novel apart is the way that plot involves two of the main characters on a very personal level. There are probably a few of you who haven't read the book (the ones who have likely know what I'm talking about), so I won't go any deeper into that for fear of spoilers. But there's some gut-wrenching stuff here, and I remember sitting in study hall barely able to breathe as I read the last five or six pages, they were so suspenseful. And that was having already read later books in the series, so I already knew how this one was going to end! Hunter/McBain was just that good.

However, for the record, his agent and editor were right when they talked him into changing the original ending of the manuscript, at least as far as I'm concerned.

I've long said that THE PUSHER is my favorite of the 87th Precinct series, and after rereading it I think it still is, although all of the first eight or ten books are at a very high level. If you haven't read it, it gets a big recommendation from me. If you have, it's worth rereading, like visiting an old friend. (That's the original Pocket Books edition above, the later Dell edition--the one I read in high school--below.)

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: The Bold Caballero

I've been a Zorro fan almost as far back as I can remember, starting with the Guy Williams TV version, but I'd never seen this 1936 feature film until now. It stars Robert Livingston, probably best known for playing Stony Brooke in a bunch of Three Mesquiteer movies, as Don Diego Vega, who in this version is a poor but charming adventurer rather than a Spanish aristocrat. And of course he's also the masked rogue/hero Zorro.

The film opens with Zorro about to be hanged by the brutal Spanish commandant, played by Sig Ruman in an odd performance in which the character comes across as part bumbling comedy relief, part ruthless psychopath. Strange it may be, but it's effective. Anyway, Zorro escapes the gallows, of course, and then a new Spanish governor shows up in California, accompanied by his daughter (Heather Angel, British accent and all, even though she's supposed to be a Spanish noblewoman). The governor is murdered in short order, Zorro is framed for the killing, and the beautiful orphaned daughter takes over as the new governor and vows to hunt him down.

The script by Wells Root (who also directed) is fairly complex and has some nice lines. The photography is pretty good, although I watched the black-and-white version, rather than the "thrilling natural color' version mentioned on the poster above. The acting is adequate at best. I've never been much of a Robert Livingston fan. The movie also gets a little bogged down in the middle with too much silliness. But overall things move along nicely and there's some excellent stunt work here and there, leading up to a big battle at the end that finds Zorro fighting off a bunch of Spanish soldiers by using a couple of flaming arrows as if they were swords. That's a really nice scene.

So in the end I found THE BOLD CABALLERO to be worth watching, especially if you're a Zorro fan. And it put me in the mood to read some more of Johnston McCulley's Zorro stories, as well. Will I find the time? We'll see.