Saturday, March 24, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Exciting Western, May 1950

Bears don't always chase beautiful Canadian girls. Sometimes they chase beautiful American ranch girls, too. This isn't a particularly realistic-looking bear, in my opinion, and I'm not that fond of the cover art overall, but there's a great bunch of authors inside this issue of EXCITING WESTERN: W.C. Tuttle with a Tombstone and Speedy yarn; a Navajo Tom Raine, Arizona Ranger story by somebody writing under the house-name Jackson Cole; and stories by L.P. Holmes, Gladwell Richardson, and Barry Scobee (the only pulp writer to have a mountain named after him, as far as I know). Below average cover or not, I'd read this issue.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Forgotten Books: "Whip" Ryder's Way - Grant Taylor (Ray Nafziger)

I recently learned that Grant Taylor was a pseudonym used by the prolific author Ray Nafziger, who wrote scores of stories for the Western pulps under his own name and as Robert Dale Denver. It was thought that Nafziger wrote only two novels, both published under the name Robert Denver, but there are a handful of Grant Taylor novels, and one of them, “WHIP” RYDER’S WAY, is available as part of an inexpensive e-book collection. So I picked up a copy right away and read it recently. The only other Nafziger novel I’ve read, HELL-ROARIN’ TEXAS TRAIL, was pretty good, and as it turns out, so is this one.

Jim “Whip” Ryder is a young, hell-raising, fast gun cowboy in the Arizona border country—or maybe New Mexico, Nafziger is never clear about that, but it’s not Texas and it’s not far from the Mexican border. The time period is a little ambiguous, too, but since there are primitive telephone and electrical power systems, it’s probably the first decade of the 20th Century. People still use horses and wagons for transportation, though; there’s no mention of automobiles.

But to get back to the story, Whip’s older brother Dan (who looks almost identical to Whip, even though they’re not twins) is a lawyer in the settlement of Reyes. Then the bank is robbed and Whip is framed for the crime. He has to flee into Mexico, where he teams up with a couple of other young firebrands, Yancy Yates and Jemez McCarthy, and goes to work fighting bandits on behalf of the American mining interests in the area. Along the way, Whip develops a talent for disguise.

And all this is back-story, mind you.

As the novel opens, after four years as a fugitive in Mexico, Whip has figured out a way to clear his name and returns to Reyes, with Yancy and Jemez accompanying him, of course. In the meantime, Dan Ryder has become the district attorney and is prosecuting one of the trio of villains who have taken over the area on a charge of murder. The defendant supposedly knows the truth about the bank robbery Whip was blamed for and Whip wants to get his hands on him and make him talk. But the rest of the bad guys plan to murder his district attorney brother before that can happen.

Whip’s old sweetheart, who owns a worthless ranch, is still around, too, and so is a Mexican revolutionary/bandit modeled after Pancho Villa who has fled across the border into the U.S. after the Federales crushed his rebellion. He’s rumored to have brought several hundred thousand dollars worth of looted gold with him. Got all that? There’s plenty in the pot for Nafziger to stir around, and I’ve probably even forgotten a few things.

But man, does this book move! There are disguises and hidden identities galore, shoot-outs, desperate chases, a Mexican carnival, hair’s-breadth escapes, and a whole bunch of last-minute plot twists and revelations that probably won’t take many modern readers by surprise but are still fun. More than anything else, the whole thing reminds me of a late Republic Western serial, with Clayton Moore, maybe, playing both Whip and his brother Dan. And lots of action directed by William Witney, of course.

I’ve already rustled up another of Nafziger’s Grant Taylor novels. If they continue to be this enjoyable, I have a hunch I may wind up reading all of them.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

More Rocket's Red Glare News

Last month I posted about the three stories from ROCKET'S RED GLARE that are going to be reprinted in THE YEAR'S BEST MILITARY AND ADVENTURE SF, VOLUME 4, published later this year by Baen Books. You can now read editor David Afsharirad's introduction to this anthology here. There are more stories from ROCKET'S RED GLARE in this book than from any other source, and I'm very proud of that fact. I'm also proud of all the other great stories in ROCKET'S RED GLARE, and it's still available in ebook and print editions from Rough Edges Press, of course.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Overlooked Movies: Trouble in Texas (1937)

When I was a kid, I was a fan of Tex Ritter’s movies and watched many of them on TV. Unlike Roy, Gene, and Hoppy, though, ol’ Tex is one of the B-Western stars whose work I haven’t revisited much as an adult. Based on my recent viewing of his 1937 feature TROUBLE IN TEXAS, I think I probably ought to remedy that.

This picture finds Tex playing Tex Masters, a drifting cowpoke and rodeo competitor who’s actually on the trail of the gang responsible for his brother’s death several years earlier. This gang travels around taking part in various rodeos, and one of them, Squint Palmer (Yakima Canutt), always takes the top prize money because the gang murders anybody who could beat him. This is what happened to Tex Masters’ brother.

Unknown to Tex, who’s accompanied by his boastful sidekick Lucky (Horace Murphy), the law is also after the rodeo gang and has an undercover agent working the case: a beautiful young woman named Carmen (Rita Cansino, who, after this movie, would be billed under another name—Rita Hayworth). Tex falls for her, of course, but he believes that she’s really a member of the gang, which causes some complications. After a lot of rodeo action, Tex gets the proof he needs to expose the gang as his brother’s killers, which leads to an epic chase scene as several members of the gang flee on a wagon.

TROUBLE IN TEXAS is an unofficial remake of a 1934 John Wayne movie, THE MAN FROM UTAH, and uses a lot of the same rodeo stock footage as the earlier picture. Too much stock footage, in my opinion, because those scenes go on and on. I would have tightened those up and maybe cut one or two of Tex’s songs, even though I do like his singing. Other than those quibbles, though, this is a pretty darned entertaining B-Western. Yakima Canutt really works overtime in this one, with stunt after stunt including some great stuff in that final chase. The other main villains are played by Earl Dwire and the always fun to watch Charles King. Glenn Strange, who usually played a bad guy, is the local sheriff in this one and looks great, although he doesn’t have much to do. And Rita Hayworth is, well, Rita Hayworth. Yowza, in other words.

This movie was directed by Robert N. Bradbury, whose low-budget Westerns were usually better than they had any right to be, always well-paced and with decent scripts. Bradbury (who was Bob Steele’s father) also directed the earlier John Wayne film THE MAN FROM UTAH, so he was certainly familiar with the material. Other than the over-abundance of stock footage, TROUBLE IN TEXAS is a pleasure to watch.

I realize I haven’t said much about Tex himself. Round-faced and a little on the beefy side, he’s not the prototypical B-Western cowboy star, but gosh darn it, he’s a likable galoot, with screen presence, a good singing voice, and enough athletic ability to look convincing in the fight scenes and on horseback. I need to look through my collections of B-Westerns and see if I have any more starring him, because I think I might like to watch another one before too much longer.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Coming From Stark House: The Second Carter Brown Collection

While in Florida on vacation, Lt. Al Wheeler tangles with a redhead with green eyes who is "Nobody's girl but my own!"... Her club-owning gangster boyfriend, who is involved in some very shady business... and his gorilla henchman, who is seven feet of muscle and bone, just waiting for the chance to crush him to a pulp when Al becomes the decoy sent in to bring their racket down.

When Lt. Al Wheeler tries to solve a murder at a science fiction convention he discovers a professor who wants to stop time by tricking the elusive Delfs... meets an intellectual gangster who wants to get his hands on the professor's latest invention... is frustrated by the generously proportioned convention organizer, who somehow manages to keep one step ahead of Al's wolfish designs.

Which finds Lt. Al Wheeler trying to solve a hit-and-run murder involving the victim's wife, who is all too glad to have lost her lush of a husband... the beautiful skip-tracer who tracked down the victim right before he met his untimely end... and her dubious boyfriend who may not be as innocent as he professes, but is certainly up to no good.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Lone Wolf Detective Magazine, June 1940

Another great cover by Norman Saunders on this issue of LONE WOLF DETECTIVE MAGAZINE, and his is probably the only real name associated with this issue. I say this because the stories inside are by Ralph Powers, Cliff Howe, Ronald Flagg, Paul Adams, Grant Mason (all house-names, and the stories are probably all retitled reprints), and Francis J. McTeague, whose story in this issue is his only credit in the Fictionmags Index, leading me to think that may be a house-name, too. Anyway, Francis J. McTeague just sounds like a pseudonym to me. Francis, if you or any of your relatives are out there reading this, my apologies for doubting you, and please let me know.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Saturday Morning Bonus Pulp: Western Trails, January 1941

This issue of WESTERN TRAILS features novelettes by two of the most dependable Western pulpsters, L.P. Holmes and Lee Bond, along with stories by Orlando Rigoni, an author whose books I've seen around forever without reading any of them (something I plan to change in the relatively near future), Clint Douglas (a house-name), and several other authors I haven't heard of before. I'd read this issue just for Holmes and Bond, though, and any other good stories would be a bonus.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Forgotten Books: White Savage - John Peter Drummond

WHITE SAVAGE may be my favorite of the Ki-Gor novels so far. Originally published in the Fall 1941 issue of JUNGLE STORIES, this yarn finds Ki-Gor and his beautiful redheaded American wife Helene affected by the spread of World War II into Africa, as they encounter some sinister Italians before running afoul of an even more dangerous lost race. It’s difficult to explain too much about the plot of this one without venturing too far into spoiler territory, so I’ll just say that this is easily the creepiest Ki-Gor novel yet.

It’s pretty well written, too, by an unknown author with a smooth, fast-paced, evocative style. The way it’s structured is a bit of a problem, because it comes across like one novelette crammed into the middle of another novelette to make a full-length novel, but the author handles this deftly enough that it works.

Ki-Gor’s sidekick Tembu George, who has become one of my favorite pulp characters, makes a brief but important appearance, as does good old Marmo the elephant. Best of all, Helene, while not quite the badass of the early books, is much tougher and competent in this story and actually has stuff to do, instead of just standing around looking beautiful and getting kidnapped, as she does in some of the other novels.

With this novel and the previous one, KI-GOR—AND THE TEMPLE OF THE MOON GOD, I get the feeling that this series is starting to hit its stride. The next volume in the reprint series from Altus Press is on its way to me, and I’m looking forward to it. In the meantime, I’d recommend WHITE SAVAGE to anyone looking for an exciting jungle pulp yarn.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Overlooked Movies: The Yellow Rose of Texas (1944)

Although there were a few directed by other hands, Roy Rogers movies generally fall into two distinct groups: those directed by Joseph Kane and those directed by William Witney. Kane came first, as he helmed most of Roy's pictures for the first decade of his career. Generally speaking again, the Kane-directed movies are more musically oriented, with half a dozen songs in each one and even some elaborate production numbers, while the Witney-directed movies have more complex plots and concentrate on hardboiled action. As I've said many times before, I prefer Witney, but there's a lot to like about many of the Kane movies, too.

THE YELLOW ROSE OF TEXAS was directed by Kane, and at least it has a plausible plot reason for all the song-and-dance stuff: much of it takes place on a showboat where Roy (playing Roy Rogers) and Dale (playing a character named Betty Weston) work as entertainers. As the movie opens, the boat, which is named the Yellow Rose of Texas, is pulling into Prairie City, which holds some bad memories for Betty. She used to live there, until her father was accused of stealing a payroll and sent to prison. Now she finds out that he has escaped recently, and the law believes he'll try to get in touch with her, so they're keeping an eye on her. I don't think anybody reading this is going to believe that Dale Evans' father would ever steal a payroll, and you're not going to be surprised that Roy winds up trying to catch the real crooks so he can clear the old guy's name.

The script by Jack Townley actually has one nice twist to it, but it tips its hand 'way too early, as far as I'm concerned. A revelation about one character should have come much later in the film. Roy doesn't really have a sidekick in this one, either, unless you count character actor William Haade, who plays an old friend of his named Buster. Haade is okay, but he's no Gabby Hayes or Andy Devine or Smiley Burnette. Heck, Gordon Jones as Splinters McGonigle is a better sidekick. But I digress . . .

I like riverboat stuff, so I enjoyed THE YELLOW ROSE OF TEXAS even though the boat is docked for most of the movie. The plot is fairly interesting, Bob Nolan and the Sons of the Pioneers are on hand and good as usual, and although the movie could have used more action, what there is of it is handled well. This is a minor entry, probably more for Roy Rogers completists than casual fans, but I enjoyed it.

Monday, March 12, 2018

I Only Have Lies For You - Robert J. Randisi

Bob Randisi’s Rat Pack books are some of the most entertaining mystery novels currently being published. The latest one, I ONLY HAVE LIES FOR YOU, is out from Pro Se Productions, and it continues the excellence of this very strong series.

The narrator/protagonist of these books is Eddie Gianelli, better known as Eddie G., a former pit boss at the Sands casino in Las Vegas who has evolved into kind of a fixer and troubleshooter for the celebrities and high rollers who frequent the casino. In this novel, Eddie travels to Miami Beach with Frank Sinatra to meet Jackie Gleason. At first this seems like an innocent trip, little more than a vacation, but then June Taylor (of the June Taylor Dancers, featured on Gleason’s TV show) asks Eddie to look into the problem of someone who’s stalking her sister Marilyn, also a dancer on the show and maybe not so coincidentally, Jackie Gleason’s long-time mistress.

Eddie has barely gotten started on this favor when a dead body shows up, and there’ll be more murders later on, including that of a police detective, as the action bounces back and forth between Las Vegas, Miami Beach, and other locations in Florida. Eddie gets help from Jerry Epstein, a very likable character despite his connections to the Mob, and Vegas PI Danny Bardini. Randisi confronts them with plot twist after plot twist, but in the end the complicated affair all makes sense . . . but not until Eddie has risked his life to expose a killer.

As always with a Randisi book, I ONLY HAVE LIES FOR YOU is fast-paced and driven by fine dialogue. An added element in the Rat Pack series is his excellent depiction of the era, which I also remember quite well. (Bob and I are about the same age.) I recall watching and enjoying Jackie Gleason’s variety show on Saturday night. My dad always enjoyed the bits featuring Gleason as Joe the Bartender and Frank Fontaine as Crazy Guggenheim, and I did, too. In a period mystery, getting the details right is a tricky business, and so is not overdoing such details. Randisi nails both of those things in this series. I really enjoyed I ONLY HAVE LIES FOR YOU. If you’ve never read any of the Rat Pack books, it would work fine as an introduction, and if you have, you’ll definitely want to read this one, too.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Detective Novels, February 1943

This issue of DETECTIVE NOVELS sports about as busy a pulp cover as you'll see. The lead story is a Candid Camera Kid novel by Norman A. Daniels writing as John L. Benton. I've read several of the Candid Camera Kid stories, featuring diminutive but two-fisted newspaper photographer Jerry Wade, and I found them very enjoyable. If somebody wanted to reprint that series, I wouldn't mind at all and certainly would buy such volumes. Also in this issue is a story by my old mentor, Sam Merwin Jr., and yarns by a couple of writers I'm not familiar with, Victor Hailey and Louis Owens. But for me, this issue would be worth reading just for the Daniels and Merwin stories.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Complete Western Book Magazine, October 1937

Two novellas take up most of the pages in this issue of COMPLETE WESTERN BOOK MAGAZINE, and fortunately they're by two top-notch pulpsters, Will Ermine (who was really Harry Sinclair Drago) and James P. Olsen (who was really James P. Olsen but was also very prolific under the name James A. Lawson). There are also short stories by the distinctively named Carmony Gove, who wrote a lot for various Western and detective pulps, and Bob Marsh, not a distinctive name at all and also not very prolific with only three stories in the Fictionmags Index. I've enjoyed everything I've read by Drago and Olsen, though, under their real names or whatever pseudonyms they were using, so I suspect this is a pretty good issue. I like the title of Olsen's story, "Mad Dash for Hell".

Friday, March 09, 2018

Forgotten Books: The Return of the Kid - Joseph Wayne (Wayne D. Overholser)

Wayne D. Overholser is one of those writers whose books have been around on library and used bookstore shelves as far back as I can remember. For some reason, though, I’ve never read much by him. A few novellas and short stories originally published in the Western pulps, but no novels that I can recall.

However, I recently came across a large print hardback of his 1955 novel THE RETURN OF THE KID and decided to give it a try. This novel was published in hardback by Dutton under the name Joseph Wayne, a pseudonym shared by Overholser and Lewis B. Patten. Evidently, some of the Joseph Wayne books are by Overholser, some by Patten, and some are collaborations between the two men. But since the copyright on this book was renewed by Overholser and it’s been reprinted more than once under his name, I assume it’s one he wrote without Patten.

As you might guess from the title, THE RETURN OF THE KID is a prodigal son yarn. (One minor problem is that nowhere in the book does anybody refer to the protagonist as “the Kid”. But I digress . . .) Jim Dunn returns to his hometown in Colorado after three years as a drifter. He’s the son of the biggest rancher in the area, who has died under mysterious circumstances several months earlier, after marrying a beautiful, much younger woman. It was this marriage, in fact, that caused the trouble between Jim and his father and led to his leaving home. Now his father is dead and the widow and the sinister foreman she’s hired are poised to take over and cut Jim out of his inheritance. He doesn’t intend to let that happen.

But then not everything turns out to be exactly the way Jim believes it to be, and more than one person surprises him. One thing that’s not a surprise, though, is that somebody keeps trying to kill him, and lots of bullets will fly before he sorts everything out.

As you can tell from that set-up, there’s not much in this book that you haven’t seen many times before. In that way, THE RETURN OF THE KID reminds me of the work of L.P. Holmes, who also used standard plots in his novels but wrote them extremely well. Overholser wasn’t the writer that Holmes was, though, at least not in this book, so I had a little trouble with the predictability of the plot and the deliberate pace early in the book. The story never does work its way up to much of a gallop.

However, Overholser has a deft touch with his characters, and the action scenes are good and tough. There are just enough plot twists to keep things interesting. I can see why Overholser had a long, successful career as an author of traditional Westerns, even though I didn’t think THE RETURN OF THE KID was anything special. I enjoyed it enough that I’ll read more by Overholser, but it’ll probably be a while before I get around to it.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Overlooked Movies: The Range Busters (1940)

The Range Busters were Monogram's lower-budget answer to Republic's The Three Mesquiteers, with two former Mesquiteers in Ray Corrigan and Max Terhune (John King was the third Range Buster). But THE RANGE BUSTERS is also the title of the first movie in the series. The three old friends, Crash (Corrigan), Alibi (Terhune), and Dusty (King) get together to help out a rancher friend of Crash's, but it turns out the man is murdered before they ever get there by a mysterious killer known as the Phantom. But the rancher has a beautiful daughter (Luana Walters) who inherits the ranch, so of course they hang around to give her a hand and catch the Phantom.

I've seen several of the Range Buster movies, and the scripts are usually the weakest element, often making little if any sense. This one's actually not bad, though. It hangs together fairly well, and I was even mildly surprised a couple of times by plot twists. However, there are some really dubious scenes along the way, such as the one where Crash sends Alibi into an ambush so he can circle around and get the drop on the bad guys from behind. It's a good thing those bushwhackers are such bad shots, or the Range Busters would be down a man.

Overall, though, Corrigan and Terhune are likable as always, King is less annoying than usual, Luana Walters is beautiful, the stunt work is okay, and there are dependable supporting cast players such as Frank La Rue and Kermit Maynard. THE RANGE BUSTERS is an entertaining way to spend an hour if you're a B-Western fan and probably the best one in the series I've seen so far. It's nowhere near as good as the best of the Mesquiteers movies, though, such as RIDERS OF THE WHISTLING SKULL.

Sunday, March 04, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: G-Men, December 1937

As far as I've been able to tell without doing a lot of research, the cover painting for this issue of G-MEN isn't a redone Western pulp cover and wasn't turned into a Western cover after being used here. But it sure looks like it could have been. Change the guns, put the guy in a yellow or blue cowboy shirt, and give him a bandanna instead of a tie, and you've got a TEXAS RANGERS or THRILLING WESTERN cover. Artist Richard Lyon provided numerous covers for both of those pulps.

Inside is a Dan Fowler story, of course, and I've always enjoyed those yarns about the stalwart FBI agent. The author behind the C.K.M. Scanlon house-name on this one may have been Whitney Ellsworth, best remembered these days as an editor for DC Comics. The back-up short story is by William T. Cowin, an author I'm not familiar with.

Saturday, March 03, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Adventures, February 1942

WESTERN ADVENTURES may have been Street & Smith's third-string Western pulp, behind WESTERN STORY and WILD WEST WEEKLY, but I've always thought it had some pretty strong issues. I like the cover on this one, and there's a fine line-up of authors inside including Cliff Farrell, Norman A. Fox, Gunnison Steele, Jim Kjelgaard, S. Omar Barker, and Charles N. Heckelmann.

Friday, March 02, 2018

Forgotten Books: Hazzard: The Complete Series - Frederick C. Davis

The more I read by Frederick C. Davis, the more he becomes one of my favorite pulp authors. He was the original author on the Operator 5 series (the forerunner of James Bond, the Man From U.N.C.L.E., and all the other secret agent adventurers of the Fifties and Sixties), and I first encountered his work in the Corinth paperback reprints of novels from that series close to 50 years ago. Of course, at the time I had no idea who “Curtis Steele” (the pseudonym that later became a house-name) really was, but I sure liked those stories.

In recent years I’ve read more by Davis, who went on to write a ton of pulp stories in various genres, then became a respected mystery novelist whose books appeared in hardback and paperback. His stories are always well-plotted and have plenty of action, and he writes in a clean, fast-paced style.

In 1935, Davis wrote six novellas featuring redheaded, two-fisted district attorney Mark Hazzard that ran as a back-up series in the pages of the pulp SECRET AGENT X. Hazzard has a tragic secret in his past that makes him more concerned with justice than with the niceties of the law. Most pulp characters with a similar background would don a disguise to fight lawlessness and be district attorney by day, masked avenger by night. But not Mark Hazzard. He does all his crime-busting, whether technically legal or not, as himself, with the help of his beautiful secretary (they love each other, of course, but can’t act on that love because of the dangers in which Hazzard is always putting himself) and an escaped convict who was framed for murder and is really a good guy.

The six stories are:

“Coffins for Two”, August 1935
“Juggernaut Justice”, September 1935
“Corpses’ Court”, October 1935
“The Murder Crypt”, November 1935
“Terror Tribunal”, December 1935
“The Death-Chair Challenge”, January 1936

I’m not going to summarize them, but each involves some sort of miscarriage of justice that Hazzard has to resolve as a tough-guy vigilante rather than an attorney, all while fending off the dangerous investigations of Inspector Trencher, a police detective who’s convinced that Hazzard is hiding some secret and is really a crook.

There’s not much in these stories that you haven’t seen in dozens of other pulp yarns (the police detective nemesis, for example, was a staple of the Secret Agent X series, the very magazine in which the Mark Hazzard stories appeared). One of the stories near the end has a surprising and intriguing twist that I wish Davis had made more of, but by the next story it seems to have been forgotten. Also, like most pulp series, the saga of Mark Hazzard just comes to an end and has no real conclusion.

But Davis tells the stories so well, with such skill in plotting, pacing, and action, that I had a great time reading them anyway. The entire series has been reprinted in one volume from Altus Press, and if you’re a pulp fan, I give it a high recommendation.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Overlooked Movies: Clearing the Range (1931)

I haven't seen very many Hoot Gibson movies, but I've enjoyed all the ones I've watched. The jovial, almost pudgy Gibson, with a goofy grin on his face and his six-gun tucked behind his belt or shoved into a hip pocket instead of riding in a tied-down holster, isn't your typical B-Western hero. And his movies tend to be on the lightweight side. But they're fun.

In CLEARING THE RANGE, he plays Curt Fremont, a drifting cowboy who comes back to his hometown to find that his banker brother has been murdered. Friends of the family, including a crusty old rancher and his beautiful daughter, suspect that the bank's cashier, who has taken over running things, is the killer. But Curt shows no interest in finding out who murdered his brother, which leads people, including the rancher's beautiful daughter, to consider him a coward.

Ah, but is it a coincidence that a dashing, mysterious Mexican bandit known as El Capitan shows up about the same time and starts wreaking havoc with the crooked cashier's plans? I think not! Luckily, the screenwriters don't even attempt to make a mystery out of this, as it's obvious all along that Gibson's character is just pretending to be a coward and is also the dashing El Capitan.

Gibson's sheer likability carries this movie, along with the fact that he's a surprisingly athletic hero and handles some of the rough-and-tumble stuff himself. Nobody's going to mistake CLEARING THE RANGE for a lost classic, but it is a pleasant way to spend an hour if you're a B-Western fan.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Dime Detective, April 1, 1935

What a great cover by Walter Baumhofer on this issue of DIME DETECTIVE. Inside are stories by some of the top pulpsters: T.T. Flynn, Hugh B. Cave, Cornell Woolrich, John K. Butler, and Edward Parrish Ware. DIME DETECTIVE deserves its reputation as one of the very best pulps.

Saturday, February 24, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Texas Rangers, August 1949

This is a pulp that I own and read recently. That’s my copy in the picture, although it’s a photo and not a scan this time.

I’m a long, long time fan of Texas Ranger Jim Hatfield, having first encountered the character approximately 50 years ago when I read a Popular Library paperback reprint of one of the novels that originally appeared in the pulp TEXAS RANGERS. I was in high school at the time, and I remember sitting in the old army barracks building my school used as a study hall and flipping the pages, absolutely enthralled by the yarn. (I seldom if ever actually studied in study hall, preferring to use that time to read paperbacks or library books, but as I’ve mentioned before, I really was studying for my future career, wasn’t I?) The book was titled GUNFIGHTER’S RETURN, but that was actually a retitling from the pulp, and I no longer recall what the original title was. At the time, I’d never heard of TEXAS RANGERS, didn’t know that the author listed on the cover, Jackson Cole, didn’t really exist but was actually a house-name, and had no idea that the real author was Tom Curry. But I learned all that later.

All that long-winded reminiscing leads up to the fact that Tom Curry is also the author of the Hatfield novel in this issue, “Rustlers of Black Range”. Curry wrote 55 of the Jim Hatfield novels, tied with series creator A. Leslie Scott for the most. (Actually, Scott later wrote a few paperback original novels featuring Hatfield, so technically, he wrote the most overall . . .) Curry’s entries are pretty easy to spot. He usually spends some time at the first of the novel setting up the situation and introducing a secondary hero before Hatfield ever appears, and his stories often have some sort of historical angle, too. That’s the case here, as “Rustlers of Black Range” centers around the Alsatian, Swiss, and German immigrants who settled in central Texas. It’s specifically set in and around the real town of Castroville, west of San Antonio in the rangeland between the Hill Country to the north and the thick chapparal to the south. The villain is a German baron who’s trying to take over the ranches in the area for some unknown reason. He has a gang of rustlers working for him, trying to drive the honest cattlemen out of business. The secondary hero is wandering cowpoke Aje Pickett, who first falls in with the rustlers, then goes over to the side of the good guys once he realizes what’s going on. The victimized settlers have written to Austin asking for help from the Rangers, and that’s where Jim Hatfield comes in.

For a stretch during the Forties, Curry introduced a couple of supporting characters in a number of his stories, pretty schoolteacher Anita Robertson and her teenage brother Buck. Anita, of course, was a low-key love interest for Hatfield, who’s much too devoted to his job to indulge in much actual romancin’, and Buck was Hatfield’s sidekick, helping him out with his assignments. I’ll be blunt: I never liked Anita and Buck. I mean, Hatfield is known far and wide as the Lone Wolf. Why saddle him with a kid sidekick? (It’s even worse in the Fifties, when author Roe Richmond introduces a whole gaggle of irritating sidekicks for the so-called Lone Wolf.) But I have to say, Buck isn’t too annoying in this novel and actually serves a purpose in the plot, and Anita barely appears, so there’s not too much of that sappy mush to steal pages from ridin’ and fightin’ and shootin’, which of course is what we’re there for.

Anyway, Hatfield, Buck, Aje Pickett, and the good guy settlers put the kibosh on the evil baron’s plans (did I mention that the evil baron has a pair of wolfhounds?) and the motivation behind the whole scheme won’t come as any surprise, making this a fairly undistinguished but still enjoyable yarn. And I really liked using the European immigrants and their transplanted culture as part of the setting and plot. That’s a little unusual. I mean, how many Western novels have you read where there’s a chapter entitled “Guns at the Biergarten”?

There are three short stories backing up the Hatfield novel in this issue. The first, “Long Sam’s Hangnoose Swap”, is part of a long-running series by Lee Bond about heroic outlaw Long Sam Littlejohn, who is always pursued by deputy U.S. marshal Joe Fry. The first Long Sam story appeared in the very first issue of TEXAS RANGERS in 1936, and the series continued to appear in almost every issue until 1952. The stories are very formulaic but still great fun if they’re spaced out. Bond was a good writer. In this one, Long Sam and Joe Fry are forced to team up (as they often are) in order to battle against a gang of vicious Comancheros. It’s an entertaining yarn.

“Louisiana Lobo” is by Clark Gray, a Western pulpster who was reasonably prolific for a time in the Forties and Fifties and who wrote a couple of Jim Hatfield novels as Jackson Cole. I read one of those Hatfield novels a long time ago in the paperback reprint (LOBO COLONEL) and recall not liking it much. That being said, this story is a pretty good hardboiled Western yarn about a Cajun ex-Confederate sergeant who travels to Texas after the war to help his old commanding officer start a ranch, but instead he winds up in the middle of a deadly hunt for a fortune in gold. I enjoyed this one enough that I may have to dig out the issue of TEXAS RANGERS containing Gray’s other Jim Hatfield novel, “Warpath”, and give it a try.

Clee Woods wrote hundreds of stories for a lot of different Western pulps, but his work appeared regularly in RANCH ROMANCES for almost three decades, from the mid-Twenties to the mid-Fifties. “Nurse’s Big Call”, his story in this issue of TEXAS RANGERS, could have just easily appeared in RANCH ROMANCES, since it’s a modern-day Western about a love triangle involving a nurse, the doctor she works for, and a young rancher. There’s a little action, a decent fistfight, but overall there’s not much to this one and it’s easily the weakest story in the issue.

So overall, this is a fairly average issue of TEXAS RANGERS, with a solidly entertaining, slightly unusual, but not top rank Hatfield novel by Tom Curry, and two out of three pretty good short stories. Not an issue to give somebody who’s never read an issue before, but if you’re already a TEXAS RANGERS fan, it’s well worth reading.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Forgotten Books: The Men From the Boys - Ed Lacy (Leonard Zinberg)

Over the years I’ve found Ed Lacy (real name Leonard Zinberg) to be a pretty dependable hardboiled/noir author. Some of his books I like less than others because he lets too much of his politics seep into them, but most of them are good, tough, fast-paced yarns about characters who aren’t necessarily sympathetic, but by golly, the reader winds up rooting for them anyway.

That’s certainly the case in THE MEN FROM THE BOYS, a novel published in hardcover by Dutton in 1956, reprinted by Pocket Books in 1957, and soon to be available again from Stark House in their fine Black Gat Books line. The narrator/protagonist is Marty Bond, a disgraced former cop who’s been reduced to working as the house detective in a sleazy hot-sheet hotel in New York City. He’s battling health problems, too, and discovers that he may have cancer. You’d think we would feel a little sorry for a sad sack like that, but Lacy makes it difficult to like Marty: he’s a drunk, a racist, was corrupt when he was a cop and is still on the shady side, and he treats everybody like crap.

But then his stepson, who’s an auxiliary cop and wants to work his way up to being the real thing, comes to see Marty and tells him about a big case he’s stumbled on. Marty thinks the kid is nuts for wanting to poke his nose into something that’s none of his business and tells him so. But then the kid gets beaten up and nearly killed, and Marty is mad enough about that he decides to look into the case himself, maybe get vengeance for what happened to his stepson and crack one last big case before the cancer in his gut kills him.

As you probably can tell, this novel borders on nasty at times (but in a good way), and unlikable though he is, you really want Marty Bond to get to the bottom of things and deliver justice to the bad guys. Now, if you’ve read more than a dozen mystery novels in your life, you’ll see all the big twists in the plot coming from far, far away, but that doesn’t really matter all that much. Lacy kept me flipping the pages through the sheer raw power of the prose and the great character of Marty Bond. I thoroughly enjoyed THE MEN FROM THE BOYS. Lacy takes us on a walk down some ugly streets and does a fine job of it.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Overlooked Movies: Colorado Sundown (1952)

Rex Allen may have been Republic Pictures' second-string singing cowboy behind Roy Rogers in the early Fifties, but I've always enjoyed his movies. The production values were always top-notch as well. Take COLORADO SUNDOWN, a 1952 entry that I've just watched. The director is William Witney, the special effects are by the Lydecker brothers, and there are plenty of great stunts choreographed by stunt coordinator Fred Graham, who also plays one of the bad guys. The movie gets off to a fast start, too, with a musical number, a runaway stage coach, and a murder in the first ten minutes.

The screenplay by Eric Taylor and William Lively is fairly complicated, involving a villainous brother and sister who inherit a ranch and plan to strip it of its timber, causing erosion and flooding that will ruin the other ranchers in the valley. Their scheme goes awry when a couple of unexpected other heirs show up, one of them none other than Slim Pickens, who was usually Rex Allen's sidekick. Rex has come along with his buddy Slim, of course, to make sure that no one takes advantage of him. It doesn't take Rex long to figure out that something crooked is going on, and before you know it, ridin' and shootin' abound, mixed in with at least three brutal fistfights (a Witney trademark) and a flash flood.

Slim Pickens is always fun to watch, the fine character actress Louise Beavers does what she can with a stereotypical role as a maid, and Allen is very likable, as well as an excellent rider and athlete. He was a good singer, too, although not as good as Roy. In fact, when I was a little kid I saw him perform at the Fat Stock Show rodeo in Fort Worth, and I've never forgotten it. (I saw Roy and Dale at the same rodeo a different year. No wonder I grew up to write cowboy stories.)

If you've never seen a Rex Allen movie, you should check out COLORADO SUNDOWN. It's a well-written, well-directed, well-made B-Western, not in the top rank of the genre but certainly worth watching.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Good News for Rocket's Red Glare

Three stories from ROCKET'S RED GLARE, the science fiction anthology I edited and published last year, have been selected to be reprinted in the next volume of THE YEAR'S BEST MILITARY AND ADVENTURE SF, edited by David Afsharirad and published by Baen Books. The stories are "Orphans of Aries" by Brad R. Torgersen, "A Hamal in Hollywood" by Martin L. Shoemaker, and "A Man They Didn't Know" by David Hardy. I'm really excited that these fine stories are being honored this way and can't wait to see them appear in the anthology. Makes me feel proud to be an editor.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: All Detective Magazine

ALL DETECTIVE MAGAZINE wasn't all that successful for Dell, running less than three years, but it had some good covers, like this one by Rafael DeSoto, and some fine authors, including in this issue Erle Stanley Gardner, Frederick C. Painton, Dwight V. Babcock, Edward P. Norris, and Hapsburg Liebe. I love that redheaded babe's expression.

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Mammoth Western, March 1948

I can't tell if this hombre's hat got shot off or just fell off, so I can't say for sure if it's an Injury to a Hat cover. But I can tell you that the cover is by Robert Gibson Jones, this issue was edited by Ray Palmer, and the authors who have stories inside include Dwight V. Swain, "Alexander Blade", Chester S. Geier, Robert Moore Williams, Paul W. Fairman, William P. McGivern, H.B. Livingston (who was really Berkeley Livingston), and Lester Barclay (who was also Berkeley Livingston). In other words, the usual suspects for a Ziff-Davis pulp. But it's a pretty entertaining group of usual suspects.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Forgotten Books: Oh, For the Life of an Author's Wife - Elizabeth Charlier Brown

I’ve mentioned before that I like to read books about writers. Here’s one that’s a little bit different. OH, FOR THE LIFE OF AN AUTHOR’S WIFE is by Elizabeth Charlier Brown, Fredric Brown’s second wife who was married to him from 1948 until his death in 1972, during the most successful part of his career.

Elizabeth, or Bethie, as Fred called her, wrote this book in 1958, but it’s gone unpublished until now. It’s a fine memoir. Elizabeth Brown wrote and sold a few stories to the love pulps in the early Fifties, so she wasn’t exactly an amateur writer, but this book does have a charmingly unpolished air about it, more like you’re sitting with her and she’s telling you the stories in person. She writes quite a bit about the domestic side of the life she shared with Fredric Brown, the moving from state to state (Fred Brown was a very restless person and never liked to stay in one place for too long), the houses where they lived, the friends they made, the parties they attended, etc. But for those of us more interested in the writing side of things, she also goes into detail about what Fred was working on when, how some of the books came about, how his famous habit of taking long bus trips to work out his plots originated, even how much money he was paid for his books and stories. I’m often surprised by how little money was made by writers I’ve thought of as having long, successful careers. The Browns, for example, sometimes had to borrow money just to pay bills.

There are also numerous passages about other writers the Browns met and befriended, including a mention of Sam Merwin Jr., my old mentor from the MSMM days. It’s all fascinating stuff, and I had a hard time putting the book down because it seemed like there was always another nugget about the world of mystery and science fiction publishing in the 1950s just waiting to be discovered in its pages.

I’ll admit, I’m woefully under-read when it comes to Fredric Brown. I’ve read two or three novels and a handful of his short stories, but I’ve enjoyed them all and really need to read more by him. This volume may prompt me to do just that. I really enjoyed it, and if you’re a Fredric Brown fan or just someone who likes reading about authors, I give it a high recommendation.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Overlooked Movies: Impact (2009)

(This post originally appeared in somewhat different form on September 1, 2010.)

From what I can tell, this is a Canadian/German TV mini-series released as a feature film on DVD. It’s an old-fashioned disaster movie, complete with brilliant but impossibly good-looking scientist heroes, cute kids, grumpy but heroic old-timers, clueless politicians and military officers, and no real villains other than a capricious universe. In this case, the trouble starts when during a meteor shower, a chunk of a brown dwarf star slams into the Moon and imbeds itself deep beneath the lunar surface. The impact, plus the added weight of the incredibly dense dead star, throws the moon into a crazy orbit that makes gravity go crazy on Earth. Even worse, the Moon’s orbit is going to deteriorate to the point that it will eventually crash into Earth itself, shattering the planet.

I’m no scientist, but most of the scientific explanations in this movie sound pretty sketchy and the actors rush through them as if the director doesn’t want the audience thinking too much about them. To be honest, though, nobody watches stuff like this for the science. We watch for soap opera and stalwart heroics, both of which are in abundant supply in IMPACT. David James Elliott is the strong-jawed scientist hero, playing the role like something out of a Doc Smith novel, and Natasha Henstridge is the most gorgeous brainiac since Denise Richards in that James Bond movie, whichever one it was. James Cromwell is the father-in-law of Elliott’s character, Steven Culp is the President, and the rest of the cast consists of actors I’ve never heard of, although they may be well-known in Canada and Germany. Everybody is very earnest, which is understandable when the Moon is going to crash into the Earth in a month.

Despite my borderline snarkiness and the predictability of the script, IMPACT actually is pretty entertaining and manages to generate considerable suspense at times. I’m not suggesting you rush right out to pick up a copy, but watching it is an okay way to spend a couple of evenings or a long afternoon when you don’t have anything better to do.

Monday, February 12, 2018

Bill Crider

The world is an emptier place tonight for readers, writers, book collectors, and everyone who ever met the man. Rest in peace, Bill.

Outlaws of the Legion - David Hardy

I enjoyed David Hardy’s CODE OF THE LEGION so much I went ahead and read his other French Foreign Legion yarn, OUTLAWS OF THE LEGION, and I think I liked it even more. This one finds a group of Legionaires, including a Texas gunfighter (shades of El Borak!), leaving their post and raiding a sheikh’s stronghold to rescue a beautiful dancing girl and avenge a friend’s death. As always, Hardy does a fine job with the setting and the history and packs plenty of gritty action into the tale he’s telling. This is pure pulp in the best way, with echoes not only of Theodore Roscoe and Georges Surdez but also Robert E. Howard and Talbot Mundy. I hope Hardy keeps writing these, because they’re some of the best stories I’ve read recently. Highly recommended.

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Transformers: The Last Knight

Have you ever been watching DOWNTON ABBEY and said to yourself, "Y'know, this is a pretty good show, but what it really needs is giant robots that can turn into other stuff fighting each other"?

Because that's kind of what you get in TRANSFORMERS: THE LAST KNIGHT, at least part of the time. Some of the film is set on an English country estate, complete with big, castle-like house, and Jim Carter, who played Carson the butler on DOWNTON ABBEY, plays another butler in this one, only he's a Transformer. And if you think that's kind of weird, hearing Carson's voice coming out of a robot, you'd be right. Elsewhere, Anthony Hopkins is the nobleman Carter's character works for, Mark Wahlberg and Josh Duhamel are our stalwart heroes helping the Transformers fight the evil Decepticons, and a whole crew of veteran voice actors are behind all the computer-generated robots.

The plot, you ask? Well, it fills in some of the Transformers' back-story and how they came to earth, which involves King Arthur and Merlin (no, I'm not making this up), and a secret weapon they create and give to Merlin which has been hidden for centuries, until it becomes the only thing that can prevent the Transformers' home planet of Cybertron from crashing into Earth. And Earth holds another secret that effectively sets up the next movie in the series, which I'm sure we'll watch, too, since we've seen all the others. Sure, the Transformers movies are big and loud and silly, but a few times in every one of them, they manage to create the sort of epic feeling that I enjoy. And to be honest, I'm still enough of a 12-year-old boy at heart that giant robots whaling the tar out of each other still seems like fun.

I thought about doing this post as part of the Overlooked Movies series, since I didn't know this movie had even been made, let alone was available on DVD, until I happened to come across it, but it seemed too recent and probably was too successful for that. So if I'm still doing the blog in a few years and the Overlooked Movies series is still going on, I'll do a repost of it when I'm stuck for anything else.

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Bedtime Stories, February 1937

A Valentine's Day-related pulp cover by H.J. Ward. I don't know much at all about BEDTIME STORIES except that it looks pretty risque for the era and that Robert Leslie Bellem wrote for it, including a story in this issue. The names of the other authors mean absolutely nothing to me.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Ranch Romances, Second November Number, 1936

With Valentine's Day coming up next week, it seemed like a good time to run a RANCH ROMANCES cover . . . because nothing says romance like a gun battle. I don't like RANCH ROMANCES from the Thirties as well as I do the issues from the Forties and Fifties, but it still had some good covers and fine authors writing for it. In this issue, there are stories by Stephen Payne, William Freeman Hough, Clee Woods, Cliff Walters, and Elsa Barker, all regulars in RANCH ROMANCES.

Friday, February 09, 2018

Forgotten Books: The Black Ice Score - Richard Stark (Donald E. Westlake)

I imagine many of you are long-time fans of Donald E. Westlake’s Parker novels, written under the Richard Stark pseudonym. I’ve only read about half the series but read one often enough that I plan to get around to all of them eventually. I just read one I’d never read before, THE BLACK ICE SCORE, published as a paperback original by Gold Medal in 1968 (the edition I read).

In this one, Parker and his girlfriend Claire are in New York on a shopping trip when three men break into their hotel room and try to warn Parker off from a job they seem to believe he’s taken. This is not the way to get on Parker’s good side, of course. Bad guys never seem to learn: don’t go after Doc Savage because you think he’s going to interfere with your plans. That holds true for Parker, too.

More guys show up later and turn out to be the ones the first group was worried about. They’re from the African nation of Dhaba (to quote Woody Allen’s WHAT UP, TIGER LILY, a fictional but real-sounding country) and they want Parker to teach them how to steal a bunch of diamonds that the country’s strongman dictator has smuggled into New York because he’s planning on abandoning the country. This bunch wants their guy to replace the soon-to-be-absconding dictator. The other bunch supports a rival strongman. Parker is just intrigued enough to take on the job of teaching how to pull off a diamond heist. But he’s not going to take part in the actual robbery.

How do you think that turns out?

Things always go wrong in these books, and THE BLACK ICE SCORE is no exception. Lots of stuff happens, and Parker deals with it in his usual badass manner.

To get a minor complaint out of the way, the fictional nation and the rival groups battling over who’s going to rule it give this plot a bit of a melodramatic feeling. It strikes me as very Sixties TV, as if Parker wandered into an episode of MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE or THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. This sort of takes away from the air of hardboiled realism I’m used to in this series.

However, the writing is so good, so terse with not a word wasted, that THE BLACK ICE SCORE is a sheer joy to read anyway. Which leads me to another point: at 144 pages of average size type, plus the occasional blank page between chapters, I’d be surprised if this book is much more than 50,000 words. It might not even be quite that long. Most of today’s thrillers, if they had the exact same set-up, would be twice that long, with half a dozen plot detours and an extensive back-story on every character. It’s true that we don’t know much about some of the characters in this book . . . but we know enough.

Overall, I wouldn’t put THE BLACK ICE SCORE in the top rank of Parker (or Westlake) novels, but it’s still very good and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Enough so that I probably won’t wait as long to read another one.

(And a tip o’ the hat to Fred Blosser for this one.) 

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Spalding's Groove - Richard Prosch

I already knew that Richard Prosch is a fine Western writer. Turns out he’s pretty darned good with contemporary crime fiction, too. SPALDING’S GROOVE is a collection of two short stories and the intro to a series that continues in a later novel. The title story finds ex-cop Dan Spalding running a vintage record store that he inherited from his late brother. It’s located in Ozark Lake, a town with a big tourist industry that seems to be based on Branson, Missouri. The former child star of a popular TV show from the Eighties brings in several boxes of old records to sell, and that’s the start of a yarn that involves gangs, Russians, tragedy, and a dangerous shootout. Dan Spalding is an excellent character, just hardboiled enough, with his cop instincts still intact, to know when trouble’s about to strike. I’m looking forward to reading his next adventure.

The second story, “Cinderella Makes Good”, is a non-series tale set in Nebraska during the Eighties that’s a fine example of semi-rural noir involving street racing, a fatal crash, and vengeance. Prosch’s style is really evocative in this one. I grew up in Texas in the Sixties, rather than Nebraska in the Eighties, but some things are universal. Both of these stories are well worth reading, and if you’re a fan of top-notch crime fiction, I recommend you do so.

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Code of the Legion - David Hardy

French Foreign Legion stories were a staple of the general fiction pulps such as ARGOSY, ADVENTURE, BLUE BOOK, and SHORT STORIES. But as popular as they were during that era, nobody writes them anymore.

Nobody, that is, except David Hardy. And he does a great job of it. CODE OF THE LEGION is a novella about the Legionaires assigned to Post 13, an isolated blockhouse in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco, in the early 20th Century. They’re surrounded by hostile Berber tribesmen, the supply train that they’re depending on is ambushed and wiped out, and they’re facing a mysterious threat inside their own ranks. When the enemy lays siege to the outpost and begins to pick off the Legionaires one or two at a time, it begins to look as if none of them will survive.

Hardy does a fine job with the setting and the history, but mainly CODE OF THE LEGION is an adventure yarn that provides plenty of gritty action and genuine suspense, not to mention a thrilling conclusion. I really enjoyed this novella and give it a high recommendation.

Tuesday, February 06, 2018

Coming From Stark House: Flight to Darkness/77 Rue Paradis - Gil Brewer


I murdered my brother with a sculptor's mallet. But it was only a dream. It was a dream I always had. I hated my brother. I was going home to see him now, get it out of my System, and then spend the rest of my life hunting Leda. She was my wife and she belonged to me. All I remember of that searing journey was the sun blazing down, and there, framed in the doorway, were my brother Frank and Leda, my lovely Judas wife. So when they found my brother with his head battered in by a sculptor's mallet, they said I had murdered him. But did I?


It began here for Baron, the whole grotesque skein of terror here in this Marseilles street of despair, the street called the Rue Paradis. There was Gorssmann, fat and corrupt, who waited until Baron scraped bottom and then blackmailed him into treason. And Lili, the dark, lovely gamin, who fell in love with Baron--and worked for the man determined to destroy him. Altogether for Frank Baron it was a small hell on the street called Paradise!

This looks like another great double volume Gil Brewer reprint from Stark House, including a fine introduction by David Rachels and an eye-catching cover. I've read one of these novels, FLIGHT TO DARKNESS, and here's part of what I said about it here on the blog back in 2009:

FLIGHT TO DARKNESS is the story of Eric Garth, a sculptor from an old, fairly well-to-do Florida family who is wounded in the Korean War. The book opens with him about to be released from the psychiatric ward of a VA hospital in California. His physical wounds have healed, but he’s been troubled by a recurring dream in which he murders his brother. Eric has fallen in love with one of his nurses at the hospital and plans to marry her, but first they’re going to drive cross-country to return to his family home in Florida.

I’ll bet you can guess that doesn’t turn out to be a good idea.

Actually, they make it all the way to Alabama before trouble crops up, but when it does, it lands Eric in a sanitarium, and then his girlfriend disappears, and then he escapes, and when he does finally make it to Florida . . . well, you guessed it.

Things get worse.

And looming over the whole thing are Eric’s doubts about his own sanity, so always in the back of his mind (and the reader’s mind) is the possibility that he really is crazy, and when he’s framed for murder, well, maybe he wasn’t framed after all. Before the book is over, Eric can’t fully trust anything or anybody, including himself.

Murder, madness, swamps, gators, a savagely beautiful woman . . . it doesn’t get much better than this for noir fans, and the last fifty pages or so are about as crazed and breakneck as anything you’ll find in the genre. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough.