Sunday, June 12, 2016

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: North-West Romances, Fall 1947

I own a copy of this pulp and read it recently, but I had to use a cover scan from the Fictionmags Index because the copy I own is coverless. The cover painting is the usual fine work from Norman Saunders. There’s plenty of fine reading inside this issue, too.

However, it starts off with a reprint by an author I’m not particularly fond of. I know, I know, Jack London is a classic. But he’s also one of those writers whose work has just never really resonated with me. “The White Silence” is his story here, and while the writing is good and I liked one of the character names—The Malemute Kid—the story never really engaged my interest.

I enjoyed the second story, though. It’s “The Stalkers” by a little known author named J.G. Wilson. It’s a mystery of sorts, with a stranger showing up to spy on a sinister trapper and gold miner. The writing is competent, there’s some action and a decent twist at the end, and while it’s nothing special, “The Stalkers” is entertaining.

John Starr is a house-name, so there’s no way of knowing for sure who wrote the novelette “Fool’s Timber”. Which is a shame because it’s a pretty good yarn. It’s a timber war story, as you’d guess from the title, and reminded me a little of those late Forties, bigger budget pictures from Republic Studios. It’s marred a little by some muddled characterization—it’s never really clear which of two different guys is actually the protatonist—and the ending is a little bit of a letdown. Overall, though, the writing is good, with plenty of action and some nice touches of humor. The first thing I suspect when I see a house-name is that the actual author has another story in the same issue, which made me wonder if Dan Cushman wrote this one. (Cushman has the lead novel, which I’ll get to shortly.) “Fool’s Timber” doesn’t really strike me as Cushman’s work, but like I said, it’s hard to be sure.

Next up is a reprint of a Robert W. Service poem, “The Trail of Ninety-Eight”. I’m not much of a poetry guy, but I like Service’s poems, including this one.

The next novelette in this issue, Tom O’Neill’s “Whitehorse or Bust”, gives us a possible answer to the question of who wrote “Fool’s Timber” but poses a bit of a mystery as well. This is an excellent, action-packed yarn about a slightly offbeat topic—the plot concerns a dangerous rivalry between two factions trying to get a load of orange and lemons to the gold fields first, fresh fruit evidently being worth a fortune on the Yukon. The action scenes are written in much the same style as those in “Fool’s Timber”, and characters in both stories use homemade blackjacks made from a piece of garden hose filled with buckshot. That’s not enough to say definitively that O’Neill wrote “Fool’s Timber”, but it’s enough to make me have a hunch that he did. But who’s Tom O’Neill, you ask? That’s another interesting question. The Fictionmags Index tells us he wrote quite a few aviation and sports stories between the mid-Thirties and the early Fifties, along with a few Westerns and Northerns, and that’s all we know about him, other than the fact that based on this story, he's a pretty good writer. I'd like to read more by him.

Next up is a supposedly true feature by William Brockie, ex-constable of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, called “The Terror of Skeleton Valley”. I say supposedly true because it reads an awful lot like a short story about a Mountie’s attempt to capture what appears to be a cannibalistic serial killer. Not surprising since “Brockie” was really prolific pulpster C.V. Tench. This story is pretty grisly stuff for 1947, but it’s an entertaining little yarn.

The novelette “Satan’s Cache” is by R.S. Lerch, another pulpster whose name I’ve seen but whose work I’ve never read until now, as far as I recall. It’s an excellent yarn about a government geologist trying to find out what happened to a friend of his who disappeared in an area of the Alaskan wilderness supposedly roamed by some strange creature. The plot is pretty predictable, but the story moves along at a really swift pace and has some nice turns of phrase. I’ll be on the lookout for more stories by Lerch.

The short story “Long Winter of Dread” by F.C. French is the only thing listed by this author in the Fictionmags Index. It’s the only real clunker in this issue as well. The plot concerns two prospectors, one of whom is suspected of murdering his former partner, holed up for the winter in an isolated valley. The current partner worries that he’ll wind up dead, too. Except for a brief bit of action at the end, that’s all there is to it, and the writing doesn’t have any spark.

This issue wraps up with Dan Cushman’s novella “Beware the Sourdough Siren!”, which has a great blurb: “Out of the howling wastelands of frigid Alaska stalked the cunning lynx-lady to stake a naked claim in the lust-crazed fight for Malemute gold!” Well, I’m a little sad to report that the actual story is nowhere near that provocative. Nobody’s naked (it’s fifty below zero!), and the so-called Sourdough Siren is a fairly wholesome young woman, the daughter of a prospector. However, the story is a pretty good one about a rivalry between mining camps, with one side trying to claim-jump the other. The protagonist is a bit of an offbeat one. He’s a guy who delivers mail to all the mining camps. But he’s a two-fisted mailman who’s fast with a gun, so . . . Anyway, Cushman was one of the stars of the Fiction House pulps during this era, and it’s easy to see why. The story races right along and has a nice hardboiled tone with plenty of action. This one and “Whitehorse or Bust” by Tom O’Neill are the best stories in this issue.

This is the only issue of NORTH-WEST ROMANCES I own, although I have a collection of Cushman’s stories from that pulp I haven’t read yet, as well as other assorted reprints from it. I wouldn’t want a steady diet of Northerns, but now and then I like them just fine, and I was impressed with the overall quality of this issue. I wouldn’t hesitate to read another if it ever came my way.


S. Craig Zahler said...

Thanks for the review. It made me interested in checking out an issue of this pulp, though maybe not this particular issue.

Todd Mason said...

And I'll lay odds for low stakes that the clunker was a last-minute hole-filler written by the editor or one of his colleagues at Fiction House.

If I managed to edit a western magazine in some form or another, I think I'd strive to have at least one northern, and at least one paniolo or gaucho or outback "western" per issue/equivalent. I generally like what London I've read, but there's a certain coolness about his attitude that has nothing to do with the weather the stories are set in.

This should've been the Along With for your FFB this week!