Monday, April 24, 2017

Edge of the City - S.A. Bailey


S.A. Bailey's debut novel AND THE RAIN CAME DOWN was as good a traditional private eye yarn as I've read in recent years, and the second book in the Jeb Shaw series, THE LINES WE CROSS, was just as strong. Now Jeb is back in EDGE OF THE CITY, which blends the hardboiled detective elements with pure action/adventure to create an epic tale of corruption and violence.

Jeb is hired to find out who's trying to kill a Dallas politician who has a long history of graft, infidelity, and racial rabble-rousing. This ties in a young gang member Jeb was forced to shoot during an armed robbery, a politically powerful mega-church, a couple of former professional football players, a kidnapping, a rape, an international business deal gone bad, and assorted other motives for murder and mayhem. Jeb sorts through it all in fine private eye style, but then the final section of book deals with his efforts—along with some friends and associates—to deliver a witness who will break the case wide open to the Feds, even though they're outnumbered by enemies who are willing to turn Dallas into a war zone.

The plot of EDGE OF THE CITY is complex and well put together, and the action scenes have a gritty authenticity that elevates them from standard shootouts. Bailey really nails the political and criminal landscape of Dallas, as well. But what sets this book apart, as it did the others in the series, is Jeb himself and the distinctive voice that Bailey gives him as narrator and protagonist. Jeb has his flaws and plenty of them, but he also manages to be thoroughly sympathetic, a guy you can't help but root for even while he's messing up his life. And there's certainly no one else better to have on your side if you're in trouble. EDGE OF THE CITY is bloody, profane, tragic, and all kinds of politically incorrect. But it's also smart and funny and poignant when it needs to be. Highly recommended.


Sunday, April 23, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Alibi, March 1934


Walker Martin mentioned this short-lived pulp in the comments on last Sunday's post, so I thought, why not feature the cover he was talking about, another that features a decapitated head? It is indeed a gruesome cover, and none of the authors in this issue are familiar to me except for Franklin H. Martin. The covers of the other issues of ALIBI aren't all that appealing, either. I can see why the magazine didn't last very long. But it's still an interesting oddity.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Star Western, January 1950


The last few years of its existence, STAR WESTERN rather blatantly went after the RANCH ROMANCES readers. Not only do all the covers prominently feature female characters, most of the story titles do, too, such as this issue from January 1950. You've got "The Strip's Too Hot for Blondes!" by Leslie Ernenwein, "Girl Strike in Jubilee" by Joseph Chadwick, "Bride of the Killer Legion" by Talmage Powell, "The Queen, the Wench, and the Devil" by Ray Townsend, "Two Roses for Dead Man's Range" by Dean Owen (Dudley Dean McGaughey), "Girl for a Fighting Man" by Everett M. Webber, and "Brand Her Señorita Killer!" by John Jo Carpenter (John Reese). With those authors, I'll bet most of those stories are pretty good!

Friday, April 21, 2017

Forgotten Books: Rawhide Creek - L.P. Holmes


RAWHIDE CREEK, published as a paperback original by Ace Books in 1975, appears to have been the final novel in L.P. Holmes' fifty year career. It's certainly not a bad way to go out. The protagonist, Cleve Ellerson, is a down-on-his-luck hired gun who wants to put that way of life behind him. Recuperating from a wound suffered in a gunfight with a crooked gambler, he heads for the mining boomtown of Rawhide Creek, figuring it might be a good place to start over. An accident leaves the stagecoach without a driver, so Ellerson takes over the reins, meets a good-looking young woman who's also on her way to Rawhide Creek, and comes upon another stagecoach, headed the other way, that's been held up. Driver and shotgun guard are both dead.

When he gets to the settlement, Ellerson winds up taking a job with the stage line and discovers that Rawhide Creek is teeming with claim jumpers and gunmen, all of them working for saloon owner Duke Ackerman. Ellerson sticks up for the honest folks of the town, which sets up an inevitable violent showdown between the forces of good and evil.

You've probably guessed by now that there's nothing in RAWHIDE CREEK that hasn't been done hundreds of times before, by Holmes and many other Western authors who were prolific pulpsters and then moved into novels with the demise of the pulps. And if you're a regular reader of this blog, you also know that I don't care. Holmes was such a good writer that he made these old plots fresh and entertaining, at least as far as I'm concerned. Cleve Ellerson is a very likable hero, his new friends (the stage line owner and an old drunk) provide fine support, the villains are numerous and suitably despicable, and the low-key romance between Ellerson and the girl from the stage (the sister of the local café owner) is sweet without being syrupy. There are a few continuity glitches that a good editor should have fixed, but other than that RAWHIDE CREEK is the same sort of top-notch work Holmes did for five decades. I had a very good time reading it. (And the scan above is the copy I read, apparently owned at some point in its life by somebody named Moats.)

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Overlooked Movies: The Shakiest Gun in the West (1968)


After Don Knotts left THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW (which we never missed in my house, by the way), he made several movies that I saw at the local drive-in, like THE GHOST AND MR. CHICKEN and THE INCREDIBLE MR. LIMPET. But somehow I never saw THE SHAKIEST GUN IN THE WEST, which is a remake of the Bob Hope movie THE PALEFACE (which I have seen and liked). Watching THE SHAKIEST GUN IN THE WEST for the first time now is kind of an odd experience. We've watched quite a few episodes of THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW on MeTV lately, and Knotts is really good as Barney Fife, especially when the scripts give him something to do other than bluster. On the other hand, he's the second banana in that show, which is a lot different from having to carry a movie. In other words, a little of that typical Don Knotts schtick goes a long way.

However, there's more to THE SHAKIEST GUN IN THE WEST than that, and Knotts is good in the more restrained moments. It also has statuesque redhead Barbara Rhoades in it, and while she might not have been a great actress, she was one hell of a statuesque redhead. Elsewhere in the cast, Don "Red" Barry and Jackie Coogan are the villains running guns to the Indians, who are supposed to be Comanches but look more like Heckawi to me. (Bonus points if you remember the Heckawi Indians.) Several other Sixties sitcom supporting actors are on hand, and in fact the whole movie has a very sitcom-ish feel, not surprising considering that the script is by two of the regular writers from THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW and the movie was directed by Alan Rafkin, who directed a ton of sitcom episodes. Also showing up briefly is poor old Ed Faulkner, who appeared what seems like hundreds of Westerns, usually getting killed after two or three minutes of screen time and half a dozen lines of dialogue.

Clearly, Don Knotts is no Bob Hope and THE SHAKIEST GUN IN THE WEST is nowhere near as good as THE PALEFACE, but I still had fun watching it and am glad I finally saw it. I probably would have enjoyed it more, though, if I'd seen it at the Eagle Drive-In in 1968.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Wildcat of the Sierra Estrada - Frank Leslie (Peter Brandvold)

A couple of years have passed since the events that took place in BLOODY ARIZONA, the first of a quartet of related novels featuring Yakima Henry, the popular Western adventure character created by Frank Leslie (who we all know is really our old friend Mean Pete Brandvold). The town of Apache Springs has been rebuilt after much of it was burned down by outlaws, and in fact the settlement is booming. Yakima has settled into the marshal's job, and his deputy is still the old outlaw known as the Rio Grande Kid. He's also settled into a relationship with Julia Taggart, the beautiful widow of the former marshal and the daughter of mining magnate Hugh Kosgrove.

Julia isn't Kosgrove's only daughter, however. Julia has a younger sister, Emma (the wildcat of the title), who has also been romantically involved with Yakima in the past and clearly would like to be again. She plays a part in it when Yakima discovers an ancient mission hidden in the badlands that contains a treasure which may be cursed. There's also a potential robbery complicating things, as well as various shootouts and domestic problems.

Yakima Henry is a fine protagonist, and once again Brandvold's gritty, superlative action sequences dominate the book. There's just nobody better at it in the business today. Fast-paced and highly entertaining, WILDCAT OF THE SIERRA ESTRADA is another winner and gets a definite recommendation from me.


Sunday, April 16, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Detective Fiction Weekly, December 22, 1934


Okay, now that's a gruesome cover. I actually had this issue years ago and I'm pretty sure I read the Park Avenue Hunt Club story because I really liked that series by Judson Philips, but I don't remember any of the others. There are plenty of good authors in this issue, too: H. Bedford-Jones, Fred MacIsaac, Richard Sale, Anthony Rud, and George A. Starbird. Mostly, though, I remember that gory cover.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Complete Western Book Magazine, October 1934


That's a pretty good cover, and the complete book in this issue of COMPLETE WESTERN BOOK MAGAZINE is "The Morgan Trail", a Hashknife Hartley novel by W.C. Tuttle, so you know you can't go wrong with that. Plus a couple of back-up short stories by Samuel Taylor and Lemuel de Bra. I think I have the book version of THE MORGAN TRAIL somewhere around here. Maybe I'll hunt it up.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Forgotten Small Town Sheriffs: The Clue of the Runaway Blonde/The Clue of the Hungry Horse - Erle Stanley Gardner


During the mid-to-late Forties, Erle Stanley Gardner wrote three short novels about Sheriff Bill Eldon, whose bailiwick is the small California city of Rockville. These stories originally appeared in the slick magazine THE COUNTRY GENTLEMAN. The first two, "The Clue of the Runaway Blonde" and "The Clue of the Hungry Horse", were collected in a volume entitled TWO CLUES and then later reprinted in paperback. The third and final story in the series, "The Clue of the Screaming Woman", has been reprinted only in an Ellery Queen anthology, as far as I can determine.

Sheriff Bill Eldon is getting on in age (he's 70) and has been in office for a long time. He has some political enemies in the county, including the district attorney and other prominent citizens of Rockville, who would like to ease him out of his job and make a younger man sheriff. Their candidate is Undersheriff George Quinlan, and it's pretty obvious they believe Quinlan will be more easily controlled than Eldon, who's pretty set in his ways. Eldon doesn't know much about scientific criminal investigation, but he's a keen observer of human nature and relies on that to solve crimes.

In "The Clue of the Runaway Blonde", he's confronted with what seems like an impossible murder. A young woman has been stabbed to death, and her body is discovered in the middle of a freshly plowed field with no footprints around her. Eldon has to figure out not only who killed her but how her body got there and how the murderer got away without leaving any prints. That investigation is complicated by the above-mentioned political enemies, domestic turmoil in George Quinlan's family, the arrival of an arrogant "consulting criminologist" brought in by the district attorney, and a visit from Eldon's meddling, acid-tongued sister-in-law. Throw in evidence tampering, young love, and a secret that goes back into the past. Eldon shrewdly deals with all of it before coming up with a logical, fairly clued solution that proves he was one step ahead of the other characters and two steps ahead of the reader all along.

"The Clue of the Hungry Horse" finds Eldon investigating the death of a mysterious young woman who appears to have been kicked fatally by a horse. Of course we know it's not going to turn out to be an accident at all, but murder. Eldon is still under pressure from his political enemies, and this time he has a rich businessman from Los Angeles against him, too. There's a romantic triangle to sort out, too, along with planted evidence and a situation that makes it look very much like Eldon helped a suspected murderer to escape. But once again he gets to the bottom of everything against seemingly insurmountable odds. I don't think the solution to this one hangs together quite as well as in the other story, but it's still a good solid puzzle mystery.

I really enjoyed these two yarns, and one of the biggest reasons I did is Gardner's simple, straight-ahead prose. He's a little more descriptive in these than he is in most of the Perry Mason novels, but still, no one's ever going to accuse him of being a fancy writer. But man, can he tell a story. Sometimes that's just what you want. Now I have to hunt up that third Bill Eldon novella!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

In a Flash: Up From the Deep - David L. Johnston


Six months after a catastrophic solar flare cracks the sky and bathes Earth in high radiation, killing much of the population and destroying most of humanity’s technology, the starving crew of the USS Colorado, a fleet ballistic missile submarine, is forced to surface and send a party ashore to forage for food. But instead of food, the sailors find a town in shambles, home after home filled with death, disease, high radiation, and bands of evil, violent men. Instead of food, the sailors discover the last thing they thought they would find—forbidden love.

Struggling with his Christian values and his desire to obey Navy regulations about fraternizing, Walter Jacks is blindsided by his own heart when he realizes he is falling deeply in love with smart and extraordinarily beautiful Seaman Sharon Parkers. The shore party’s mission, and Jacks’s grasp of reality, are further complicated when they find a mysterious young girl amoung the ruins—an adorable child with astonishing supernatural abilities.

While fighting to protect his shipmates, as well as his spiritual survival, in a dying world, Jacks is forced to face the question: Is the Bible true? If God’s Word is true, then where in the prophesy does His reality appear?

IN A FLASH: UP FROM THE DEEP is a riveting post-apocalyptic military thriller, the first in a series of truly epic scope from acclaimed author David L. Johnston.

Full disclosure: I edited this novel, Livia published it, and the author is her cousin. But you know how I love a book with a distinctive voice, and this one sure has it. A credible post-apocalyptic scenario, accurate military background, tons of gritty, well-written firefights, very human characters, a little bit of sex, and thought-provoking theological discussions. Where else are you going to find all that? Plus there's enough groundwork laid to indicate that this is just the beginning of a much bigger story, and I'm eager to read the sequels. So yes, I'm involved with this one professionally, but it's also still one of the best books I've read so far this year.

Overlooked Movies: Flashback (1990)


Livia's on a Netflix quest to find comedies we haven't seen, and this is one of 'em. I'm not sure how we missed it back in 1990, when we watched almost everything that came out, but it was new to us and fairly enjoyable.

Dennis Hopper plays a Sixties radical who's been on the run from the law for twenty years. When he's finally arrested, he's turned over to a young FBI agent (Kiefer Sutherland, looking like he's about fifteen years old and playing dress-up in his dad's suit) for transport from San Francisco to Spokane to stand trial. Complications and hijinks ensue, unlikely friendships are formed, secrets are revealed, and yes, everybody learns lessons. Along the way there are some decent action scenes, a good supporting cast including Carol Kane, Michael McKean, and Paul Dooley, and a good soundtrack of Sixties music. Oh, and the subtle and not-so-subtle EASY RIDER jokes, can't forget them. (I actually like EASY RIDER quite a bit, if only for the fact that it inspired those iconic issues of GREEN LANTERN/GREEN ARROW by Denny O'Neil and Neal Adams.) Anyway, FLASHBACK is a decent action/buddy/road comedy and I had an okay time watching it.

Sunday, April 09, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Super Science Stories, March 1950


Another fine Norman Saunders cover graces this issue of SUPER SCIENCE STORIES. Inside are stories by Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, A.E. van Vogt, John D. MacDonald, Raymond Z. Gallun, Robert Arthur, and Neil R. Jones. I've read and enjoyed stories by all of them, although I haven't read much by van Vogt, Gallun, or Jones. You don't hear that much about Popular Publications' SF pulps, but this looks like a very good issue. 

Saturday, April 08, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Ace-High Western Magazine, September 1936


Another excellent Tom Lovell cover featuring an angry, gun-totin' redhead on this issue of ACE-HIGH WESTERN MAGAZINE. And those story titles! "Wagon Train of the Damned". "A Gringo Rides to Hell". I want to read those right now. (If I actually owned this issue, I would.) A great line-up of authors, too: Luke Short, Walt Coburn, Harry F. Olmsted, Cliff Farrell, and John. G. Pearsol. Looks like a great issue all the way around. 

Friday, April 07, 2017

Forgotten Books: Pulp Fiction - Robert Turner


I know Robert Turner's name as the author of scores of stories (mostly mysteries) for the pulps and digests from the Forties through the Seventies. He also wrote a couple of early Ace Double mystery novels, THE TOBACCO AUCTION MURDERS and THE GIRL IN THE COP'S POCKET, copies of which I used to have but never read. He was also an editor and literary agent at various times in his career.

So when I came across a Kindle edition of this little book of Turner's from 1948, I grabbed it. I'm always interested in reading about the pulps specifically and writing in general, and given Turner's career (which was really just getting started good at this point), he knew what he was talking about.

His main point is that rules don't matter as much in writing as making your stories entertaining, and you entertain your readers by making them feel an emotional response. After establishing that, Turner discusses how to make plot, characterization, setting, and dialogue all serve that end. PULP FICTION is not a dry how-to book, though. Turner gets his arguments across in a fast, breezy, often funny way, just like his fiction. This is a very entertaining book, as well as educational.

There's also a section about how the editorial process of pulp magazines worked. Not really anything there I didn't already know, but again, Turner tells it in a light-hearted fashion that easily kept me reading.

Some of the advice in PULP FICTION would be considered old-fashioned and not the way you'd want to do things today. I grew up reading the pulps and what are now considered vintage paperbacks (they were just paperbacks then), many of which were either reprints from the pulps or written by pulp authors who moved into paperbacks when their original market dried up. So I'm pretty much in agreement with most of what Turner has to say. I've always aimed to be more of an entertaining storyteller than anything else. I like to think that I've never stopped learning, so I read this book with great interest and believe I picked up some useful things. I also had a great time reading it. Which is kind of the point, isn't it?


Wednesday, April 05, 2017

The Robert Bloch Centennial: Shooting Star/Spiderweb


(The material in this post originally appeared in somewhat different form on April 24, 2008 and May 27, 2008.)

I love the old Ace Doubles. The Westerns and the science fiction doubles were fairly common in this area when I was a kid, and I read a bunch of them. But for some reason I never saw any of the mystery doubles until 1981, when I came across a couple of shelves of them in a junk store. Needless to say, I grabbed them all.

There have been efforts to revive the Ace double novel format over the years, but the Hard Case Crime release of Robert Bloch’s SHOOTING STAR and SPIDERWEB may be the most successful yet. Of course, both of these novels were actually first published as Ace Doubles, although not back to back with each other.

The narrator of SHOOTING STAR is Mark Clayburn, a Hollywood literary agent/private eye. I don’t think I’ve ever come across that particular combination before, and it makes Clayburn different from other private eyes who specialize in cases involving the movie industry, such as W.T. Ballard’s Bill Lennox and Robert Leslie Bellem’s Dan Turner. Bloch’s familiarity with the pulp magazine markets gives this element of the novel a welcome touch of realism. There’s also a little tuckerizing going on, for example an undertaker named Hamilton Brackett. And the whole thing is told in an appealingly breezy, fast-moving style.

Unfortunately the plot, which involves Clayburn trying to find out who murdered a cowboy movie star so that the producer who hires him can sell the dead star’s old movies to television (shades of Hopalong Cassidy), never develops into anything more than a very generic private eye plot. I kept waiting for Bloch to come up with a twist on a par with making his hero a literary agent as well as a detective, but that never happens. The writing is smooth and Mark Clayburn is a likable character, but the other characters never came alive for me. SHOOTING STAR isn’t a bad book, and I enjoyed reading it, but it’s certainly a minor entry among Bloch’s novels.

SPIDERWEB is the other half of the Robert Bloch double from Hard Case Crime. I enjoyed SHOOTING STAR, but SPIDERWEB is a darker, better book, I think.

The narrator is Eddie Haines, a radio announcer from the Midwest who heads to Hollywood in the early Fifties with the intention of being a success as a TV show producer, or an announcer if he can’t sell his pitch for a TV series. Of course, neither of those goals works out, and he’s on the verge of killing himself in despair when he meets Professor Otto Hermann, a “psychological consultant” to the movie community who’s actually a swindler and conman. Hermann recruits Eddie to join his group of henchmen and gives him a new identity as the author of a successful self-help book. Eddie realizes that the professor is a crook and that he’s turning into a crook himself, but everything still goes along fine until the professor decides to target a state senator for blackmail and use the senator’s niece as part of the plot. It just so happens that Eddie has fallen in love with the niece . . .

In noirish fashion, things get worse from there, as Eddie tries to do the right thing but it won’t quite seem to work out. Bloch keeps the story perking right along, but under the smooth prose and snappy patter is a pretty bleak look at Southern California and gullible humanity itself. SPIDERWEB is a fine novel, and Hard Case Crime has done a good thing by bringing it back into print.

Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Overlooked Movies: Barely Lethal (2015)


I'd never heard of this movie that came out a couple of years ago until Livia came across it while looking for comedies. The premise is pretty ridiculous: a top-secret, quasi-governmental program takes orphans and trains them from childhood to be assassins and secret agents. One of these agents, a teenage girl played by Hailee Steinfeld, fakes her own death during a mission to get out of the program, adopts a new identity as a foreign exchange student, and enrolls in a suburban high school, only to find that it's tougher than the world of international espionage. In order to prepare for this, she approaches it like a mission and "gathers intel", which consists of watching a bunch of teen romantic comedy movies. Misunderstandings and hijinks ensue, until her past eventually catches up to her in the form of a vicious arms dealer (Jessica Alba) who wants to kill her.

So yeah, it's all pretty silly . . . but the movie plays it pretty straight, and if you buy into the premise, BARELY LETHAL is a lightweight but fairly entertaining little action comedy. We've watched a lot of teen romantic comedies over the years, and this movie does a pretty good job of having fun with the stereotypes. The cast, which includes Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark on GAME OF THRONES) as a rival agent and Samuel L. Jackson as the head of the training program, is okay. Not a great film, but I enjoyed watching it and stayed awake the whole time, which says something for it.

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: The Phantom Detective, June 1940

I've read reprints of quite a few Phantom Detective novels but have owned only a few issues of the actual pulp over the years. This is one of them, although I don't have a copy at the moment. I'm not sure who the actual author of "The Phantom Hits Murder Steel" is, either, but I recall it being a pretty good story. Other authors in this issue are Ted Coughlan and Ray Cummings. This series isn't as highly regarded as some, and it can be inconsistent because so many different writers contributed Phantom novels, but I enjoyed the ones I've read.

Saturday, April 01, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Story, August 22, 1936


The hat, the cowhide vest, and the pose of the cowboy on this cover all make me think of the great Yakima Canutt. I don't know who did the art, but I like it. Inside this issue of WESTERN STORY, Frank Richardson Pierce and Bennett Foster are the best-known authors. They're joined by James W. Routh, whose name I recognize from various issues of RANCH ROMANCES, Ray Humphreys, who wrote mostly humorous Westerns, and a few other authors whose names don't ring a bell at all.

UPDATE: According to Walker Martin, the artwork on this cover is by Walter Haskell Hinton. Thanks, Walker!