Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Desk Set

To be honest, I'm not a big fan of Spencer Tracy and Katherine Hepburn. I like Hepburn in BRINGING UP BABY and THE PHILADELPHIA STORY, but that's about it. I enjoy Tracy's work a little more, especially in movies like BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK and INHERIT THE WIND. And I have to admit, they work well together in the movies where they teamed up.

DESK SET is one of those I hadn't seen until now. Hepburn plays the head of the research and reference department at a TV network. Tracy is the developer of an "electronic brain" that Hepburn thinks is going to replace her and the three women who work in her department (the great Joan Blondell, a young and very lovely Dina Merrill, and Sue Randall, who to some of us will always be Miss Landers, the teacher Beaver Cleaver had a crush on). Gig Young is the TV executive who's Hepburn's on-again-off-again boyfriend. Put all that in place and complications and misunderstandings ensue.

There are a couple of really funny scenes in this movie, made that way mostly by Tracy's droll delivery of his lines, and a lot of mildly amusing ones. "Mild" is a good word overall for this movie. Its plot is an interesting look at the early days of computers moving into business. There's even a credit thanking IBM for its assistance. I enjoyed it enough to be glad that I finally saw it, although I'm not sure how I missed it, as many times as it showed on local TV when I was growing up.

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Continental Opposite - Evan Lewis

The Continental Op is one of my all-time favorite characters and has been ever since I was in high school and discovered the paperbacks reprinting the stories that featured him. If you'd asked me, I wouldn't have been sure that anybody could do justice to the character in a pastiche.

But by golly, that's exactly what Evan Lewis has done in his story "The Continental Opposite" in the May issue of ALFRED HITCHCOCK MYSTERY MAGAZINE.

He accomplishes this by doing something very clever. The Op is an important supporting character in this story, but the protagonist and narrator is another operative for Continental in 1953, a young Korean War veteran named Peter Collins (a nod to Dashiell Hammett's early pseudonym Peter Collinson). Collins works for the agency's Portland office and suspects that his boss is crooked. The Old Man, as Collins calls him (but we all know who he really is) is a retired operative sent to get to the bottom of the matter.

This set-up leads to a fast-paced adventure involving local gangsters, political corruption, opium dens, and other good stuff. Lewis doesn't slavishly imitate Hammett but instead tells the story in his own effective, hardboiled style.

"The Continental Opposite" is the first story in a series, and I eagerly await the next one. Highly recommended.

(If your local bookstore or newsstand doesn't carry AHMM, which is entirely possible in this day and age, you can buy single e-book issues or subscribe to the e-book version on Amazon.)

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Fantastic Adventures, April 1949

This has to be one of the goofier covers on a pulp that had plenty of them. The art is by Edmond Swiatek. I'm fond of FANTASTIC ADVENTURES, silly though it may be at times. This issue has stories by a couple of house-names, Alexander Blade and E.K. Jarvis; the actual authors of those yarns don't appear to be known. Robert W. Krepps is in there, too, under his Geoff St. Reynard pseudonym, as is Rog Phillips. Hey, just a mention of giant apes would have been enough to get me to read it if I'd been around to see it on the newsstand.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: .44 Western, June 1949

I'd be as wild-eyed as that horse if I was in the middle of a gunfight like that. Nice-looking issue with stories by William Heuman and Joseph Chadwick, along with some lesser-known names. "Let 'Em Eat Bullets!" is a good title. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

Now Available: The Ghost Riders - James J. Griffin

Striking ruthlessly out of the night, the Ghost Riders are the most brutal band of outlaws ever to plague Texas. Leaving death and devastation behind them, they raid town after town, slaughtering, looting, and burning. Dressed in white robes that conceal their identity and seemingly unharmed by bullets, the Ghost Riders may not even be human! 

Facing the greatest challenge of his career, legendary Texas Ranger Jim Blawcyzk sets out on the trail of the Ghost Riders, accompanied by his partners Smoky McCue and Jim Huggins. Blawcyzk is confident that no owlhoot is immune to Ranger lead. What he doesn't know, however, is that before this case over, the deadly threat of the Ghost Riders will reach out and touch his own family... 

Bestselling author James J. Griffin returns with his most epic novel yet of the Texas Rangers. THE GHOST RIDERS is thrilling, authentic action from beginning to end and sure-fire entertainment for Western readers.

Forgotten Books: When the Devil Came to Endless - Charles Boeckman

I've become a big fan of Charles Boeckman's Western pulp stories over the past couple of years, but WHEN THE DEVIL CAME TO ENDLESS is the first Western novel of his that I've read. Published by Avalon in 1996, it came out long after the pulp era was over, but it shows that Boeckman had lost none of his top-notch storytelling ability.

Endless is a small town in West Texas, and as the book opens, a huge, deadly tornado is bearing down on it. The twister strikes with incredible force, devastating the town and leaving death and destruction in its wake.

Then, Boeckman spends the first half of the book using flashbacks to give us the stories of several people affected by the tornado: the young man convicted of a murder he didn't commit; the preacher's daughter who's in love with him; the preacher facing the greatest test of his faith he's ever known; the scheming banker; the firebrand newspaper editor, and several other citizens of Endless. Boeckman skillfully makes all of these into well-rounded characters instead of the stereotypes they might have been. They all have plenty of problems before the tornado strikes, but things are going to get worse, because just as the town is starting to clean up after the storm, a mysterious stranger rides in and brings even more danger...

WHEN THE DEVIL CAME TO ENDLESS is a really well-paced book that kept me turning the pages all the way to its very satisfying conclusion. In addition to being a fine traditional Western novel, it's also a fairly clued murder mystery, and Boeckman handles both elements well. The setting also rings true, as anyone who's spent some time in West Texas will know.

I believe Amazon bought Avalon's inventory a while back, but this one doesn't seem to be in print. Used copies are available on-line, though. It's excellent work from a top professional and gets a high recommendation from me.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Three O'Clock High

(This post originally appeared on February 7, 2010.)

I would have sworn that we watched every high school comedy movie made in the Eighties, but somehow we never got around to this one. It’s what I call a “bad day” movie, where things start out wrong for our decent, everyman hero Jerry Mitchell and keep getting worse as the day goes on. The low point, though, is when a new student who happens to be a psychopathic bully decides that he and Jerry are going to have a fight on the parking lot as soon as school is out at three o’clock.

Jerry and his best friend, who’s the editor of the school newspaper, try to figure out a way for Jerry to avoid getting beaten up, but every scheme they try just backfires on them. Eventually, of course, the showdown, the moment of truth, arrives, and the question is whether Jerry will step up and at least survive.

THREE O’CLOCK HIGH is a pretty good film, with a funny script co-written by Richard Christian Matheson. The cast is populated by actors who hadn’t done much then and didn’t go on to do much, although there are a few exceptions (Mitch Pileggi, Jeffery Tambor, and Yeardley Smith, to name three). Jerry is played by Casey Siemazko and Richard Tyson plays the bully, and while both of them have worked steadily over the years, neither is what you’d call a big name. But they’re fine in their roles, as are most of the other people in the movie.

I’m glad we finally got around to watching this one. It’s no FERRIS BUELLER, mind you, but it’s pretty entertaining and well worth investing an hour and a half of your time if you haven’t seen it.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Operation Arcana - John Joseph Adams, ed.

Last year Baen Books published an anthology of military fantasy called SHATTERED SHIELDS, edited by Jennifer Brozek and Bryan Thomas Schmidt. I read it and enjoyed most of the stories. This year brings another such anthology from Baen, this time called OPERATION ARCANA and edited by John Joseph Adams. There's some overlap among authors between the two books, but not much. And similarly, there are some excellent stories to be found here. My favorites include:

"The Damned One Hundred" by Jonathan Maberry, a different and very effective twist on the old plot about a small group of warriors defending a mountain pass against an overwhelmingly large force of enemies.

"The Guns of the Wastes" by Django Wexler, a sort of naval adventure but set on land, with mechanized "ships" taking on a robotic horde. This strikes me more as science fiction than fantasy, but it's full of action and has an intriguing setting. I was impressed enough by it to pick up Wexler's first novel and will give it a try.

"American Golem" by Weston Ochse, an anti-terrorist story set in Afghanistan with a decidedly different protagonist. Despite the fantasy element, this one has a real air of authenticity about it.

"Heavy Sulfur" by Ari Marmell is a World War I yarn that finds both sides using sorcery in trench warfare. Given my fondness for WWI stories, I was predisposed to like it, which I did.

"Sealskin" by Carrie Vaughn, a Navy SEAL story with a fantasy element. This one could have used more plot and the twist is pretty obvious, but the writing is nice and the protagonist really likable.

"The Black Company on the Long Run" is, of course, a Black Company story by Glen Cook. I've read only a couple of these, and while Cook's style takes a little getting used to for me, I really like them. I have to get to the novels soon.

"Bombers' Moon" by Simon R. Green is a very different take on the firebombing of Dresden and the latter days of World War II. This is a suspenseful story and probably my favorite in the books. I recall reading a book by Simon R. Green years ago and not liking it much. I may have to rethink that and try something else by him.

Most of the other stories are good, too. There are only a couple I didn't care for, which is a pretty good ratio for an anthology. Overall, I can give a definite recommendation to OPERATION ARCANA. If you enjoy military fantasy, mostly on the gritty, hardboiled side, you should check it out.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Favorite Bookstores Update: Thompson Book Store

A few years ago I did a series of blog posts about my favorite bookstores. The second one was about Thompson's, which had two locations in downtown Fort Worth over the years. I got a comment on that post this morning letting me know that the surviving location (the other one blew up; the story is in the blog post linked above) has been turned into a bookstore-themed cocktail bar, and a pretty cool-looking one, to boot. The place has a Facebook page, which you can see here. There's a photo of the store the way it looked back in the Seventies, and although I'm not in the picture, I easily could have been. I bought a lot of books there. My bar-hopping days are long since over, but I may have to stop in there sometime just for nostalgia's sake. (In the old picture, if you look along the street next to Thompson's, you can see Barber's Bookstore at the far corner. If you walked from Thompson's to Barber's, turned left, and went another block, you'd be at the Fort Worth Public Library. I spent a lot of time in that end of downtown.)

Now Available: Hannibal at Risk - Wayne D. Dundee

For over three decades, Joe Hannibal has stood tall on the fictional PI landscape. The Hannibal books and stories have been translated into several languages and have been nominated for an Edgar, an Anthony, and a total of six Shamus Awards. 

Almost from the outset, Hannibal was dubbed "the blue collar PI" due in equal parts to the series' initial smaller-city setting of Rockford, Illinois, and its surrounding rural areas - as well as to the middle class roots and values that his creator brought to the writing. Later, after author and character both moved to the even more rural setting of west central Nebraska, the distinction only deepened. 

Hannibal has matured and evolved as a character and the writing has been honed to a finer edge. But the admiration for and love of the PI genre that was always at the core and heart of the series has never changed. 

While new Hannibals continue to be written, the original titles, though somewhat sketchily available over the years, remain strong, entertaining works. In order for readers to be able to discover this for themselves, a series of "boxed set" collections is being re-issued. 

Volume III, presented here, sequentially features the seventh through eighth full-length Hannibal novels, and the Casefiles collection of some of the best Hannibal short stories: 

BODY COUNT – (The Joe Hannibal Case Files, volume I)) 

Read, enjoy, stay on the lookout for more … And spread the word!

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Complete Detective, August 1938

Covers just don't get more action-packed than the ones painted by Norman Saunders, do they? And I'll bet there's plenty of action inside this issue of COMPLETE DETECTIVE, too, with stories by G.T. Fleming-Roberts, Hugh B. Cave, Wyatt Blassingame, and John H. Knox.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Speed Western, October 1944

That looks like a cover by H.J. Ward on this issue of SPEED WESTERN, the slightly toned-down version of the old SPICY WESTERN. Inside are stories by Laurence Donovan, James P. Olsen, James A. Lawson (who was also really James P. Olsen), and a host of house-names who might have really been either of those guys or several others who wrote regularly for Trojan Publishing Corporation. I've read a few issues of SPEED WESTERN and enjoyed them.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Forgotten Books: Commie Sex Trap - Roger Blake

Bill Crider posted the cover of this novel on his blog a while back, and the title intrigued me with its air of early Sixties sleaziness. I was surprised to discover that there's an e-book version available on Amazon, but when I did, of course I had to read it.

It starts out with a scenario that's actually reminiscent of the work of Cornell Woolrich. Joe Guthrie is an American GI stationed in West Berlin who's living with a blond, beautiful East German girl who managed to slip through the Berlin Wall. But when he gets back to his apartment one evening, he finds an equally beautiful American redhead waiting for him in his bed. She insists the apartment is hers, there's no sign of Joe's girlfriend, and everybody in the building claims they don't know what he's talking about, that there's no blonde who's been staying there. Joe doesn't know if he's gone crazy, or if there's some sinister plot in motion against him.

It's a really effective opening, but unfortunately the author, Roger Blake, doesn't do much with it after that. The book quickly becomes a pretty standard Cold War espionage thriller spiced up with sex scenes. It's enjoyable enough, but it could have done with a little more crazed paranoia. (There's a sentence you won't read in every review.)

I don't know who Roger Blake was. The name strikes me as a pseudonym, but it's certainly possible that was the author's real name. He published several other novels along the same lines as this one for the lower-rung sleaze publishers. He keeps the pace moving along at a good clip in COMMIE SEX TRAP, the action scenes are well done, and there are a few moments of humor. This book is very much of its time, and if you remember that era like I do, there's a good chance you might get some lightweight entertainment out of it. I did.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Now Available: The Blood of the Fallen - James Reasoner

On a November day in 1863, in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, President Abraham Lincoln spoke briefly at the dedication of a cemetery for soldiers fallen in the recent battle. He said, "The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here today", but this prophecy proved incorrect as Lincoln's remarks became one of the most famous speeches of all time.

But what if, haunted by an unexpected tragedy, the words spoken by Lincoln that day were different, words that irrevocably changed not only the course of the Civil War but also American history itself?

THE BLOOD OF THE FALLEN is a tale of Alternate History from master storyteller and bestseller James Reasoner, author of the Civil War Battles series. A compellingly different view of the bloody clash that defined a nation, this story originally appeared in the anthology ALTERNATE GETTYSBURGS.

(This is one of my few ventures into the field of Alternate History and also one of my favorites of all the short stories I've done. It's never been reprinted since it first appeared in 2002.)

The Argosy Library from Altus Press

Altus Press Announces The Argosy Library

The First Series of Releases Features Popular Authors Such as Lester Dent, Otis Adelbert Kline, W.C. Tuttle, and George F. Worts

March 18, 2015: Altus Press today announced the premiere of its new line of books: The Argosy Library series.

Founded at the end of the Nineteenth Century by publishing tycoon Frank A. Munsey, Argosy Magazine quickly became one of the most popular—and prestigious—fiction magazines of its day and spawned a publishing revolution.

Known as one of the most literate pulp magazines, Argosy published thousands of short stories and novels, many of which features some of the most influential series characters in popular fiction.

With the inauguration of The Argosy Library, Altus Press plans to bring back into print the best of the Frank A. Munsey Company, sourced from its suite of sibling titles such as Argosy, The All-Story, and Flynns Detective Fiction Weekly, among others.

The Argosy Library expects to showcase the varied mix of genres that made Argosy one of the most popular pulps of all time, and Series 1 does just that by showcasing adventure, mystery, western, science fiction, fantasy, and crime stories by some of Munseys most popular authors such as Lester Dent, W. Wirt, Otis Adelbert Kline, W.C. Tuttle, George F. Worts, and Theodore Roscoe, among others.

The Argosy Library will be released in series of ten books at a time—in matching trade dress—and will be available in softcover, hardcover, and ebook editions. In addition to being available separately, each series of releases can be purchased as a single, heavily-discounted set.

Series 1 of The Argosy Library is expected to be released in May.

For more information, please visit Altus Press.com.

Titles in Series 1 of The Argosy Library:

Genius Jones
by Lester Dent, introduction by Will Murray

The gold-dusted saga of a red-bearded young giant, raised in the Arctic on seal-meat and encyclopedias, who descends on civilization with a loud and solid crash. In his search for wisdom and adventure, the man Jones doesnt have Aladdins lamp—but he doesnt really need it…. Never before reprinted, its the longest novel Lester Dent ever published, and one of the most famous. This edition restores text cut from its original publication. Part of The Argosy Library of classics.

271 pages / $19.95 softcover / $29.95 hardcover

When Tigers Are Hunting: The Complete Adventures of Cordie, Soldier of Fortune, Volume 1
by W. Wirt

The sagas of Jimmie Cordie and his crew were among Argosys most popular series when it was brought to that magazine during its early 30s renaissance. Quite clearly an inspiration for the creation of Doc Savage, this edition collects his first nine adventures. Part of The Argosy Library of classics.

240 pages / $19.95 softcover / $29.95 hardcover

The Swordsman of Mars
by Otis Adelbert Kline

Harry Thorne, explorer and swordsman, had scarcely more than heard of the Red Planet, Mars—when an amazing thing happened…. Otis Adelbert Kline is well-known as one of the best fantasy/adventure contemporaries of Edgar Rice Burroughs. This edition is sourced from the original magazine text and includes all of the original illustrations. Part of The Argosy Library of classics.

237 pages / $19.95 softcover / $29.95 hardcover

The Sherlock of Sageland: The Complete Tales of Sheriff Henry, Volume 1
by W.C. Tuttle, introduction by Sai Shankar

Once voted Adventure Magazines most popular author, W.C. Tuttle introduced the world to one of his longest-running, and most popular series characters, Henry Harrison Conroy, in the pages of Argosy. Collected here are the first four stories. Part of The Argosy Library of classics.

269 pages / $19.95 softcover / $29.95 hardcover

Gone North
by Charles Alden Seltzer

When Jim Fallon started for the Hudson Bay country, he wasnt sure whether he was on a man-hunt or a wild goose chase—but he found his quest was fraught with real enough peril. Among the best novels ever written by one of Argosys most popular authors. Part of The Argosy Library of classics.

220 pages / $19.95 softcover / $29.95 hardcover

The Masked Master Mind
by George F. Worts

One of Argosys most popular authors pens this never-before reprinted novel of a trail of crime that ran from sleepy Maple Hollow to Steel City. Part of The Argosy Library of classics.

265 pages / $19.95 softcover / $29.95 hardcover

by Fred MacIsaac

Trees of living gold in the Amazon jungles, guarded by alligators, poisoned darts and rival hunters—such was the lodestone that drew an American expedition, and the unwilling Pete Holcomb…. Part of The Argosy Library of classics.

216 pages / $19.95 softcover / $29.95 hardcover

by Philip Ketchum

Twas the mightiest weapon the eyes of man had ever beheld; its mystic name meant “Ruler of Briton.” And from over the Northern Sea came a Vikings thrall—the only man in the world who could wield that fearsome steel—to save good King Alfred and the homeland he scarce remembered. Collecting—for the first time—all 12 stories of the Bretwalda saga. Part of The Argosy Library of classics.

479 pages / $29.95 softcover / $39.95 hardcover

Draft of Eternity
by Victor Rousseau

A groundbreaking science fiction, post-apocalyptic & time travel classic from the early days of The All-Story by an underrated writer. Part of The Argosy Library of classics.

183 pages / $17.95 softcover / $29.95 hardcover

Four Corners, Volume 1
by Theodore Roscoe

Mystery runs rampant in the quiet, upstate New York town of Four Corners…. Easily one of Roscoes best-written series, Volume 1 collects the first half of this lost masterpiece of the pulps. Part of The Argosy Library of classics.

201 pages / $19.95 softcover / $29.95 hardcover

(Needless to say, I'm really looking forward to these. It's a great time to be a pulp fan!)

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: All About Steve

Like many of you reading this, I'd heard what a dreadful movie ALL ABOUT STEVE is and what a terrible misfire it was for Sandra Bullock, so we never watched it until now. And as happens many times, I'm left scratching my head in puzzlement. ALL ABOUT STEVE isn't a great movie by any means, but I thought it was a pretty decent one.

Bullock plays a very intelligent but very eccentric crossword puzzle creator for a Sacramento newspaper. (She carries a press card identifying her as a "cruciverbalist".) She goes out on a blind date with a TV news cameraman played by Bradley Cooper and immediately falls in love with him, but he doesn't return her interest. When she loses her job at the newspaper, she decides that's a sign she's meant to be with Cooper, so she pursues him across country as he tracks down news stories with an ambitious and full-of-himself field reporter played by Thomas Haden Church. From that point on, this becomes a road movie, with lots of encounters with colorful characters and bizarre situations.

Most of the dislike for this movie seems to stem from the fact that Bullock's character basically stalks Cooper's character, and also that she's weird and annoying. So? The movie admits from the beginning that her behavior isn't normal. Despite the set-up, it becomes obvious early on that this isn't a typical romantic comedy, although it does manage to be somewhat romantic at times and also very funny at others. Most of the humor comes from Thomas Haden Church, who's playing a caricature, but he winds up being a likable one despite his flaws. I always like Sandra Bullock and the way she takes chances with some of the characters she plays, and I think she's really good in this one. Bradley Cooper doesn't get to do much but stand around and look handsome. The rest of the cast includes such character actor stalwarts as Howard Hesseman, Keith David, D.J. Qualls, and Katy Mixon.

I guess I'll just have to be out of step with the majority of the movie-watching public on this one. I liked ALL ABOUT STEVE and found it to be a lot more entertaining than I expected.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Now Available and On Sale For A Limited Time: Relentless - Ed Gorman

Marshal Lane Morgan already has plenty of trouble on his hands. The son of the richest man in town has taken a shot at him, and the boy's father is willing to go to any lengths, including intimidation and blackmail, to keep him out of jail. But then a mysterious stranger is murdered, and Morgan's beautiful wife is the number one suspect. With hidden dangers on all sides, Morgan may not live to get to the bottom of all the secrets and lies haunting his town—and if he does, the truth may be the last thing he wants to find!

Ed Gorman has produced another exciting, vividly written Western mystery that demonstrates why he's one of today's master storytellers. RELENTLESS lives up to its title. It's a whirlwind tale of crime, suspense, and plot twists with one of Gorman's most compelling protagonists. This is Western noir at its finest.

RELENTLESS is on sale for the special introductory price of only 99 cents. If you've never read an Ed Gorman Western, this is the perfect way to find out what you've been missing.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Ace G-Man Stories, Nov.-Dec. 1937

That's a nice action cover on this issue of ACE G-MAN STORIES. A lot of good writers turned their hands to this sub-genre while it was popular, including, in this issue, Wyatt Blassingame, best known for his Weird Menace yarns, W.T. Ballard, one of the top Western writers for many years, W. Wirt, whose adventure stories showed up in many issues of ARGOSY and SHORT STORIES, and the prolific and enigmatic Emile C. Tepperman. (Some of you will remember the fanzine article "The Tepperman Quest".)

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: New Western, July-August 1936

This cover has the stalwart hero and the angry, gun-totin' redhead, but the other guy's not an old geezer. I guess the old-timer was busy back at the ranch that day and missed the shootout. There's a good collection of stories in this issue of NEW WESTERN by top-notch pulp authors Frank C. Robertson, W.T. Ballard, J.E. Grinstead, James P. Olsen, and Jack Bechdolt.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Forgotten Books: The Buzzards of Rocky Pass - L.P. Holmes

This Ace Double Western from 1963 gets off to a fast start with a brutal whipping in the main street of a settlement called Rocky Pass. That violence is interrupted by the protagonist, rancher Rick Dalton, and his interference deepens the conflict between him and the crew of gun-wolves working for the local cattle baron, Matt Iberg. Rick doesn't like the way Iberg is trying to run off the smaller ranchers in the area and take over their range, and the two of them clash as well over the affections of the beautiful Kit Rowan, whose half-brother is one of Iberg's allies. A bloody showdown seems inevitable.

As you can tell from that description, THE BUZZARDS OF ROCKY PASS is a pretty traditional Western novel. As usual with the work of L.P. Holmes, you won't find anything groundbreaking in this one, but also as usual, it's so well-written and Holmes handles those traditional elements so skillfully that it makes for a thoroughly entertaining book. Holmes keeps up a relentless pace of tense confrontations, shootouts, fistfights, and desperate chases, slowing down just enough now and then to craft some believable romantic tension as well. Sure, I had a pretty good idea what was going to happen, but that didn't stop me from racing through this novel and having a great time reading it.

As I was reading this book, I had a very strong hunch that THE BUZZARDS OF ROCKY PASS originally appeared in one of the Western pulps. Its short length (about 30,000 words, I'd say) and relatively simple plot would have made it a good candidate to be published as a complete novel. Further investigation proves that to be the case. It was first published in the August 1941 issue of ACTION STORIES under the title THE BUZZARD'S BRETHREN. It was reprinted nine years ago under that title in the Leisure paperback RIVER RANGE along with a couple of other Holmes novellas. That edition might be easier to find than the Ace Double version. There's even an e-book edition that's still available from Amazon. But whichever way you pick it up, what's important is that this is a very entertaining yarn and well worth reading if you're a fan of traditional Westerns.

By the way, the cover scan above is from the actual Ace Double copy I read. The other side is another L.P. Holmes novel, SIDE ME AT SUNDOWN. I'll probably be reading it in the relatively near future, as well as the other two novellas in RIVER RANGE.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Now Available: War on Whiskey Row - David Hardy

Backed up by a crew of merciless gun-wolves, gambler and saloon owner Blaze Jeter makes a ruthless bid to take over the Kansas trail town of Samaria. Only four people dare to oppose him: tough town lawman Tom Briscoe, his stalwart deputy, an old judge, and a soiled dove. Despite the odds against them, they'll put up a fight that Samaria will never forget! 

WAR ON WHISKEY ROW is another action-packed Western tale from David Hardy, author of BOUNTY FOR A LAWMAN. Hell's always popping in Samaria, Kansas, and this great yarn is no exception! 

(Dave Hardy is creating a violent, compelling history of a Kansas cowtown. These are fine stories with plenty action and interesting characters, and I'm proud to be publishing them. Check these out, and there'll be more tales of Samaria, Kansas, coming soon.)

Hell Town Shootout - Edward A. Grainger (David Cranmer)

The dependably entertaining author Edward A. Grainger (aka the astute editor and publisher David Cranmer) returns with HELL TOWN SHOOTOUT, a new tale featuring Deputy U.S. Marshal Gideon Miles. Grainger plunges right into the action with this one, which finds Miles in the appropriately named settlement of Hell Town, Wyoming, to take a gang of bank robbers into custody. He finds himself ambushed instead and is forced to hole up in the local hotel with a dwindling supply of ammunition as the gang lays siege to the place. But even though he's outnumbered, outgunned, and faced with treachery within as well as a savage assault from outside, it never pays to underestimate Gideon Miles...

Grainger does a great job with the almost non-stop action of this tale, told in appropriately terse and tough prose, then elevates it to an even higher level with a lengthy epilogue that delves deeper into the character of Gideon Miles. Over the past few years, the Cash Laramie/Gideon Miles series by Grainger and several other authors has produced some of the best hardboiled Westerns being written today. HELL TOWN SHOOTOUT is a fine addition to the series. If you've read the others, you'll want to read this one, too, and if you haven't, HELL TOWN SHOOTOUT would serve as an excellent introduction. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Fire With Fire - Charles E. Gannon

This science fiction novel by Charles E. Gannon was nominated for a Nebula Award last year (as is the sequel this year). That honor was well-deserved, in my opinion, because this is the sort of adventurous, big-idea SF that I grew up reading and loving.

The protagonist, Caine Riordan, is an investigative journalist about a hundred years from now. He's on the moon, probing into the mysterious activities of a retired general and a former British commando when somebody jumps him and puts him into cryosleep for thirteen years. When he's finally awakened, he discovers that the two guys he was investigating are the top brass in a ultra-top-secret intelligence agency—and they're going to press him into working as a reluctant secret agent investigating reports of a sentient alien species on a distant planet. Earth has developed a faster-than-light drive and established a few interstellar colonies, but so far they haven't run into any other species. Caine doesn't particularly want this assignment, but he's missing some of his memories from before he was put into cryosleep and his captors/new bosses dangle that information in front of him like a carrot to get him to work for them.

This is just the beginning of a long, very complex plot. FIRE WITH FIRE is a kitchen-sink book, but in a good way. It's a First Contact novel with a lot of mysterious layers about the history of the galaxy. It's an espionage/intrigue/corporate shenanigans novel, and these sections read much like a well-done contemporary thriller. It's an epic space opera with the threat of interstellar war looming massively over everything, including some elements that put a grin on my face as they reminded me of the work of E.E. "Doc" Smith.

What ties it all together is Caine Riordan, who's a great character, tough but flawed, extremely smart, and able to navigate not only through ambushes and other dangerous action but also hold his own in all sort of diplomatic intrigue on the galactic level. Gannon populates his story with plenty of other good characters, too, but Caine serves excellently as the focus for most of the book.

It's hard to talk about FIRE WITH FIRE because there's just blasted much in it, all of which works pretty well. It's a much longer book than I normally read, but it held my interest all the way through with no problem. This is science fiction in the classic tradition and one of the best books I've read so far this year, so it gets a very high recommendation from me.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Dark City

(This post originally appeared on March 28, 2010.)

Somehow this movie came and went a dozen years ago without me ever hearing of it. It starts out like a Forties film noir: a guy (British actor Rufus Sewell) wakes up in a sleazy hotel room with no memory and a dead hooker. Even not knowing who he is or what happened, he’s smart enough to figure that he needs to get out of there, so he escapes just ahead of several creepy, sinister guys in trenchcoats. Then he gets involved with a mad doctor (Kiefer Sutherland, of all people, who at times seems to be doing a Peter Lorre impression). There’s a sultry torch singer (Jennifer Connelly, as always yowza!) who may or may not be the amnesiac’s wife. The fugitive is also being pursued by a dogged police detective played by William Hurt, who believes that Sewell’s character is a serial killer responsible for murdering half a dozen prostitutes. The whole thing takes place at night, hence the dark city of the title, where the streets are always wet and everything has a sort of bizarre art deco look.

Then things start to get weird.

This is one of those movies where you really can’t discuss the plot without giving away too much for people who haven’t seen it. About halfway through I was thinking that the filmmakers should have just stuck with a straight film noir homage, the way it starts out, but by the end the rest of it had won me over. DARK CITY is a good film that ultimately makes sense, even though for a while you’ll probably wonder. The version I watched was the expanded director’s cut. Since I never saw the theatrical release, I don’t have anything to compare it with. But I liked it, and if you haven’t seen it and have a fondness for oddball movies and film noir, you ought to give it a try.

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Ten Detective Aces, October 1940

Another action-packed Norman Saunders cover on this issue of TEN DETECTIVE ACES. I realized recently that one of the featured authors, Carl McK. Saunders (no relation to Norman, since it's a pseudonym) was really Philip Ketchum. There's a collection in the works of some of Ketchum's detective stories under the Saunders by-line, and I'm looking forward to reading it. Also in this issue are stories by Harold Q. Masur, better known as a hardcover mystery novelist with a long series about lawyer Scott Jordan, the prolific and genre-hopping Joe Archibald, and a lead novel by Donald E. Keyhoe (yeah, the flying saucer guy).

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Story, July 13, 1940

Stampede! That's a fine cover by H.W. Scott, one of the most prolific cover artists for WESTERN STORY during this era. There's a good bunch of authors inside, too: Walt Coburn, Cliff Farrell, James B. Hendryx, and Frank Richardson Pierce with a story under his name and another under his Seth Ranger pseudonym. I'd like to see some of Pierce's work reprinted, especially the novels he did under the Seth Ranger name.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Forgotten Books: The Traditional West - Western Fictioneers

I don't know if this massive anthology is actually forgotten, but it's been out for almost four years now and I haven't mentioned it lately. Not only that, but it's on sale for a limited time for only 99 cents, and you can't beat that price. At approximately 120,000 words, I'm pretty sure THE TRADITIONAL WEST is the biggest anthology of original Western fiction ever published. Several stories in it either won or were nominated for Peacemaker and Spur Awards, including Livia's "Panhandle Freight", an excellent Western mystery featuring Lucas Hallam. My story is a short, odd piece called "Rattler". The other authors in the book are Steven Clark, Phil Dunlap, Edward A. Grainger, James J. Griffin, Jerry Guin, C. Courtney Joyner, Jackson Lowry, Larry Jay Martin, Matthew P. Mayo, Rod Miller, Clay More, Ross Morton, Kerry Newcomb, Scott D. Parker, Pete Peterson, Cheryl Pierson, Kit Prate, Robert J. Randisi, Dusty Richards, Troy D. Smith, Larry D. Sweazy, and Chuck Tyrell. That's quite a line-up. Check it out!

Thursday, March 05, 2015

Now Available: Holt County Justice - Richard Prosch

Lines are being drawn in the unorganized territory west of Holt County, but deputy sheriff Whit Branham is still the law, still the man they called to clean up after a killing. But are the remains hanging from a tree in the middle of the Niobrara River the result of vigilante justice –or murder? And who, in the remote village of Slocum is a friend and who’s a deadly enemy? In order to uncover the secrets of the dead, Branham might just have to join them!

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Now Available: Blaze! #4: Six-Gun Wedding - Jackson Lowry

The only thing J.D. and Kate Blaze planned to do in the settlement of Wilderness, Wyoming, was attend the wedding of one of Kate's friends. Instead outlaws launch a bloody raid on the church in the middle of the ceremony and kidnap the groom. It's up to J.D. and Kate, the wild West's only husband-and-wife gunfighters, to track down the gang, rescue the groom, and find out the reason behind the shocking violence. 

Acclaimed Western author Jackson Lowry (THE SONORA NOOSE and WEST OF THE BIG RIVER: THE ARTIST) spins a colorful, action-packed yarn in SIX-GUN WEDDING, the fourth book in the bestselling Adult Western series BLAZE!

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Now Available: Wading Into War - Scott Dennis Parker

Houston, 1940 

Benjamin Wade is a laid back private investigator whose jobs are so mundane that he doesn't even carry a gun. He thought his latest job was going to be easy. 

He thought wrong. 

Hired by beguiling Lillian Saxton to find a missing reporter with knowledge of her brother’s whereabouts in war-torn Europe, Wade follows a lead and knocks on a door. He gets two answers: bullets and a corpse. 

Now Wade must unravel the truth about the reporter’s death, Lillian’s brother, and the whereabouts of a cache of documents that reveal a shocking story from Nazi-controlled Europe and an even more sinister secret here at home.

(I was fortunate enough to read an advance copy of this book, and it's an excellent period private eye yarn with a great pace. Scott nails the setting and the time period as well. Highly recommended. It's available on the various platforms and I believe a print edition is in the works as well.) 

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Australia

(This post originally appeared on March 14, 2009)

This movie is a good example of how out of sync I am with the critical establishment (and most of the viewing public, too, for that matter). It was roundly panned, and I enjoyed the hell out of it. Yes, it’s hokey. Yes, it’s extremely predictable. I don’t care. It worked for me. That’s probably because it’s the sort of big, historical soap opera that I used to write for various book packagers.

Nicole Kidman is Lady Sarah Ashley, an English noblewoman who arrives in Australia in 1939 to visit her husband’s cattle station, only to find that her husband has been murdered and the local cattle baron had his greedy eye on the station. Her only ally is the mysterious Drover (Hugh Jackman), who helps her save the ranch . . . I mean the cattle station. Nah, hell, I mean the ranch, because the first half of this movie is pure Western. It’s the John Wayne/Maureen O’Hara movie that the Duke and Maureen never made. I’m sure James Edward Grant could have come up with some reason for an American cowboy to be in Australia. I knew everything that was going to happen, right down to the way many of the scenes were staged. The only real difference is that there’s a little Aboriginal mysticism thrown in.

The second half of the movie turns into a World War II epic, as the Japanese attack northern Australia, but that’s all right with me because I like World War II movies, too. It’s slightly less predictable than the Western half, but only slightly. Stuff blows up. Heartstrings are tugged. Bad guys get their comeuppance. What’s not to like?

Some critics even blasted the look of the film. The colors are too bright, they said. Well, why wouldn’t they be bright? This is a Fifties Technicolor movie, a big, sweeping, melodramatic potboiler. Why criticize a movie for being exactly what it sets out to be? I’m not saying that AUSTRALIA is a great film, but it’s nearly three hours long and I was wide awake the whole time. Take that for what it’s worth. AUSTRALIA is as old-fashioned as a movie can get, and sometimes that’s just what I want.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Beating the Bushes - Christine Matthews

Vincent Lloyd and Baylor Kracher have something in common nobody would want: each of them has had a child disappear. In Lloyd's case, it happened several years earlier when his six-year-old daughter was abducted, raped, and murdered. The killer was never found, and a cloud of suspicion has hovered over Lloyd ever since. With Kracher, it's his fifteen-year-old son who vanishes without a trace. Haunted by his own tragedy, Lloyd volunteers to help in the search for Stevie Kracher, and a friendship forms between the two men that lasts for years, beyond the death of one of them, leading to a search that won't end until the survivor finally uncovers the truth about Stevie's disappearance.

BEATING THE BUSHES is an excellent suspense novel from Christine Matthews, dark and twisty, written in a number of different but equally powerful voices. The two protagonists are compelling characters with plenty of flaws and virtues, and throughout their search, Matthews does a great job peeling back the layers of the plot, which is a lot more complex than it might seem at first. BEATING THE BUSHES is a grim book, no doubt about that, but it's also uplifting in its own way and demonstrates the power of hope and persistence in even the worse circumstances. If you like top-notch psychological thrillers, this one gets a high recommendation from me.

Sunday, March 01, 2015

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: All Detective Magazine, February 1934

An early Norman Saunders cover that's certainly striking, plus stories by Lester Dent (a Foster Fade yarn), Erle Stanley Gardner, Hugh B. Cave, and Norman A. Daniels. That strikes me as a pretty darned good detective pulp.