Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Neither Beg Nor Yield - Jason M. Waltz, ed. (Part 3)

Today we’re moving on to my thoughts on the next four stories in NEITHER BEG NOR YIELD, the big new sword and sorcery anthology from Rogue Blades Entertainment. The previous posts in this series can be found here and here.

Author Phil Emery and his character Corlagh are both new to me, although in his afterword to this story, editor Jason M. Waltz mentions that the character first appeared in Emery’s stories all the way back in the Seventies. “Golden Devils of the Crypt” is a post-apocalyptic yarn, set on Earth after a nuclear war wiped out much of humanity and gave rise to many different types of mutations and monsters. In the void left by science, sorcery has arisen to rule much of the world. It’s an interesting setup and certainly works as a setting for sword and sorcery stories. Barbarian Corlagh and thief Norad team up with an “astromancer” to battle an even worse threat. It’s a story packed with color and action. However, I have to say it’s also the first one in this volume that wasn’t really to my taste. Emery’s style reminds me of Clark Ashton Smith and C.L. Moore, two writers whose work I enjoy but only in small doses. Your mileage, as they say, may vary, and I suspect it would for many of you. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t dislike “Golden Devils of the Crypt”, I’m just not as enthusiastic about it as I have been the other stories so far.

Now, I have to pause and wallow in nostalgia for a few lines, so if you just want to read my comments on the next story, David C. Smith’s “The Undead of Sul-Atet”, feel free to skip on down and do so. As for me, I’m going back in my memory to the first time I attended the annual Robert E. Howard Days get-together in Cross Plains, almost thirty years ago. One of the other Howard fans there that day was David C. Smith. I immediately recognized his name as the co-author, with Richard C. Tierney, of several REH pastiche novels I’d read and enjoyed. We hit it off right away and had a long, enjoyable conversation that afternoon.

Jump ahead more than two decades to the year David C. Smith was the guest of honor at Howard Days, and when we started talking we picked up the conversation as if only a few weeks had passed rather than many years. He’s a great guy and a superb writer, and I was very glad to see that his character Engor (the protagonist of his novel ENGOR’S SWORD ARM) returns in “The Undead of Sul-Atet”. In this story, Engor unwillingly helps an old friend and comrade-in-arms make a deal with a demon, then leads his friend’s army into battle against a rival. The tale is told with a fine mixture of brooding intensity and bloody action, and Smith’s prose displays the sure-handed touch of a longtime master of the genre. This is just an absolutely terrific story, one of my favorites so far in this volume.

I’m a little confused about Frederick Tor. I think that’s a joint pseudonym under which several writers spin yarns about a thief and mercenary named Kaimer, who operates in a vast and sinister city known as Skovolis. In “The Shades of Nacross Hill”, Kaimer and two companions are in a huge cemetery bent on robbing some tombs when they discover that there are more things lurking there than the dead. As one of the characters puts it, the cemetery guards are there not to keep people out but to keep things in. I wasn’t sure about this one—it’s another tale that’s not exactly to my taste—but it won me over for the most part and I wound up thinking it was well-written and enjoyable.

Time for more nostalgia. Joe R. Lansdale is my oldest friend in the writing business, other than my wife. I started corresponding with him in the Seventies after seeing his address on a letter in a fanzine devoted to hardboiled fiction, THE NOT SO PRIVATE EYE. That was the same way I met Bill Crider and Tom Johnson, both sadly no longer with us. Joe and I have met in person many, many times, and there’s no more entertaining conversationalist in the world. So I’m biased about Joe’s work, and his story in this anthology, “The Organ Grinder’s Monkey”, is a wonderful tall tale about mechanic Greasy Bob, his weapon of choice, a wrench called Ajax, his sidekick Olo, and the car in which they can travel between dimensions/alternate universes/other realms/whatever you want to call them. It’s fast and funny, and if you squint your eyes and hold your mouth just right, it’s almost sword and sorcery. But you’ll have a good time reading it, that’s for sure.

So out of this set of four stories, we have one that’s pure, classic sword and sorcery and three that are varying degrees of offbeat. But they’re all good, and NEITHER BEG NOR YIELD maintains its momentum as a top-notch anthology.

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Movies I've Missed (Until Now): The Outriders (1950)

I usually check to see what old Western movie the digital TV channel GRIT is running on Saturday nights. GRIT shows old Western movies all the time, of course, but for some reason when they run one on Saturday night that I haven’t seen before, I try to watch it. Most recently, it was THE OUTRIDERS, a Joel McCrea film from 1950 that not only had I never seen, I don’t remember ever even hearing of it before. So I had to check it out, of course.

The movie opens late in the Civil War. McCrea, Barry Sullivan, and James Whitmore are three Confederate soldiers who escape from a Union prison camp in Missouri. They throw in with a gang of irregulars led by Jeff Corey and are sent all the way to Santa Fe, where they’re supposed to infiltrate a wagon train taking several loads of hides back to St. Louis. Hidden under those hides, however, is a million dollars in gold headed for the Union treasury. Corey plans to steal it and take it to Richmond to prop up the Confederacy, but in order to do that, McCrea, Sullivan, and Whitmore have to lead the wagon train into an ambush.

Tensions develop among the three men, of course, and are made worse when a beautiful young woman played by Arlene Dahl joins the wagon train. There are Indian attacks, a flooded river, a tragic death, some fisticuffs, and finally an epic showdown. Western movie fans will have a pretty good idea what’s coming, all the way through.

Along the way, however, there’s some spectacular scenery (besides Arlene Dahl), excellent photography, and a lot of action. McCrea is his usual stalwart self and Corey hams it up effectively as the epitome of wide-eyed evil. There are a couple of lapses of logic in the plot that could have been explained away easily with a line or two, but mostly things hang together all right. THE OUTRIDERS is worth watching for Western fans, as long as your expectations aren’t set too high.

While watching this, I was struck by the fact that when it comes to Westerns, Joel McCrea and Randolph Scott are practically interchangeable. I think McCrea had considerably more range and could play effectively in different kinds of films. For example, I can’t imagine Scott in DEAD END or SULLIVAN’S TRAVELS. But the characters they played in Westerns were almost identical. THE OUTRIDERS would have been the same movie with Scott in McCrea’s part. So it’s kind of fitting that they’re both in RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY, with Scott playing a little against type for a change. And that’s a movie that I ought to watch again, one of these days.

Monday, February 26, 2024

The Floods of Fear - John and Ward Hawkins

As this novel opens, disastrous flooding from spring rains and snowmelt has spread over a large region, and a group of convict laborers under the command of one guard are stacking sandbags along a dike, trying to keep it from collapsing. But they’re doomed to fail, and when the dike gives way it’s a catastrophe that leaves only three men alive: Donavan, a murderer; Peebles, an armed robber; and Tom Sharkey, the guard who was in charge of the work detail. It’s no surprise that the three of them wind up together, trying to survive. Then, a short time later, they come across Elizabeth Matthews, a pretty young college girl who’s also been stranded by the terrible flood. Peebles wants the girl for himself, Sharkey wants to get the two convicts back behind bars, and Donavan, well, Donavan has his own agenda, and it includes murder and revenge.

Once that set-up is in place—and it really doesn’t take long—THE FLOODS OF FEAR becomes a pure, white-knuckled, man vs. nature/man vs. man suspense novel, with a little bit of a Gold Medal hardboiled crime angle as well. This wasn’t a Gold Medal book, but it certainly could have been. Instead, THE FLOODS OF FEAR by the writing team of brothers John and Ward Hawkins was serialized in THE SATURDAY EVENING POST in 1956, published in hardback by Dodd, Mead that same year, reprinted in 1957 by Popular Library under the title A GIRL, A MAN, AND A RIVER, and finally reprinted recently by Black Gat Books, the edition I read.

This is an excellent novel, well written and very much character-driven but also with plenty of action. Donavan, especially, is an intriguing and compelling character. Not everything turns out the way you’d expect at first, although along the way it becomes apparent what the authors are building toward. And the big finale doesn’t disappoint, either. I really enjoyed THE FLOODS OF FEAR and give it a high recommendation for readers who want an intelligent, fast-moving novel of suspense. It’s available in e-book and paperback editions on Amazon and from the publisher.

Sunday, February 25, 2024

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Detective Novels Magazine, February 1939

That looks like a Richard Lyons cover to me, but I could certainly be wrong about that. This issue of DETECTIVE NOVELS MAGAZINE has stories by some fine authors in it. The lead novella is by the always entertaining E. Hoffmann Price, and there's also a novella by Norman A. Daniels, who's almost as dependable as Price. Three short stories round out the issue. The three authors responsible for those are Donald Bayne Hobart (with an entry from his long-running series about private eye Mugs Kelly); a pulpster I haven't heard of, Avin H. Johnston, who wrote more than two dozen detective, Western, and adventure yarns for various pulps; and John L. Benton, a Thrilling Group house-name who was probably Daniels in this case but might have been Hobart. I don't own a copy of this pulp, but it looks like it would be enjoyable reading if I did.

Saturday, February 24, 2024

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Double Action Western, September 1953

This is a pulp that I own and read recently. That’s my copy in the scan. The cover is another by A. Leslie Ross, even though it’s not credited as such. The distinctive hats make me confident that it’s Ross’s work, as does the sketchiness of the background which was common on his pulp covers from this era.

I don’t recall if I’ve read anything by Richard Brister before (and I’m too lazy to look it up), but I’m impressed by his lead novelette in this issue. “Death Rides for Doom Ranch” (I’m betting editor Robert W. Lowndes came up with that title) has an unusual protagonist: a doctor sent to prison for the mercy killing of his best friend who had cancer. After escaping, the doctor heads west, where a disastrous train derailment gets him involved with a rancher and the rancher’s beautiful daughter. At this point, I was expecting a save-the-ranch story, albeit with an offbeat protagonist, but that’s not what Brister has in mind. Instead he introduces the local sheriff, who’s in love with the rancher’s beautiful daughter, and what we get is a story that mixes psychological suspense and soap opera, with very little action. What’s surprising to me is how much I enjoyed it anyway as Brister kept me flipping the pages to find out what was going to happen. That takes some skillful writing. I’m going to have to delve deeper into Brister’s work.

As we all know from the Internet, Leo Tolstoy has taught us that there are only three plots in fiction: A man goes on a journey. A stranger comes to town. Godzilla versus Megashark. (I’m sorry. I just really like that meme.) Barney Stuart’s short story “He Just Walked Away” takes place entirely in the small town of Tall Timber, Montana, so it doesn’t really fit the first category, and there are no monsters in it, so this must be a “stranger comes to town” story. The stranger is a bad guy, too, and it looks like he’s going to cause considerable trouble until one of the locals takes action against him in an unusual manner. There’s a sort of twist ending that’s not very surprising, but it is effective. This is Barney Stuart’s only credit in the Fictionmags Index. A pseudonym? Who knows? But it’s a decent little yarn.

“Command Performance” is by David James, a fairly prolific pulpster whose work appeared only in pulps from Columbia Publications, which always makes me suspect a house-name. Be that as it may, this story has an interesting protagonist, too: a former New York City police detective who has to move west for his health and winds up becoming the sheriff of a mining town. A famous female opera singer comes to town for the opening of its new opera house. The sheriff has a crush on the opera singer and gives everybody he arrests the choice of sitting in jail or buying a ticket for the opening night performance. That results in a packed house, but cowboys and miners being what they are, chaos ensues. This is a decent setup and the story is mildly amusing, but in the end it doesn’t amount to much and seems like it needed another plot angle or two to make it interesting.

C.C. Staples wrote about 50 Western and adventure stories for various pulps between the late Thirties and the early Fifties. His story in this issue, “Golden Boy”, is about an Arizona Ranger on the trail of a horse thief turned murderer and kidnapper. It’s not bad, plenty of action and fairly well written. I’m not going to rush out and look for more stories by Staples, but I enjoyed this one.

Robert Sidney Bowen is probably best remembered for his air war stories, but he wrote quite a few Western and detective yarns, too. “Gambler’s Pot” in this issue is a rare Western pulp story in that it’s written in first person, by a crooked gambler who has a plan to bilk a successful rancher. Naturally, things don’t work as he expects. There’s really not much to this story, but Bowen was a good enough storyteller to make it readable, if not memorable.

Norman Ober wrote a lot for the Columbia pulps, mostly sports stories but some Westerns, too. His story in this issue, “Election in Creek Bottom”, is a comedy about a crooked saloon owner running his own candidate in the election for sheriff, only to have the scheme backfire on him. It’s a fairly amusing yarn and could have made a good movie starring, say, Don Knotts.

“Drygulch Range” by E.E. Clement uses the save-the-ranch plot that I thought I was going to get in Richard Brister’s story, only this novelette doesn’t have an offbeat protagonist. Instead, our hero is the usual drifting cowpoke, in this case stalwart Texan Steve Crane who is on his way to the Black Hills of South Dakota to start a horse ranch there. A reference to the Spanish-American War places the time period of this one around the turn of the century. Crane encounters a pint-size rustler hunter and then the little boy’s beautiful older sister shows up and mistakes Crane for a rustler, too, at least at first. A little bit later, a bushwhacker tries to ventilate him. Yep, our boy Steve shore is ridin’ into trouble.

While the plot of this one may not be anything new, Lowndes does an excellent job of spinning an entertaining yarn. He gives us a tough, likable protagonist, plenty of action, and a few humorous touches. Some of the “yuh mangy polecat” dialogue is so over the top, I’m convinced his tongue was firmly in his cheek as he wrote this, but if he’s making a little fun of the genre’s conventions, he’s doing it in a very affectionate way. I enjoyed this one a lot, and I’m going to have to go through my stack of Columbia Western pulps looking for more E.E. Clement stories.

There are also several fact-based features by Lauran Paine, Lee Floren (writing as Lee Thomas), and A. Hyatt Verrill, but as usual I just skimmed these. I don’t actually read features in a Western pulp unless they’re about some historical subject in which I’m particularly interested.

This is a pretty solid issue of DOUBLE ACTION WESTERN, another good example of how Lowndes, as an editor, could make something out of almost nothing (the magazine’s tiny budget). There are no truly outstanding stories, although the Brister and the Clement novelettes come close, but they’re all readable and entertaining.

Friday, February 23, 2024

A Rough Edges Rerun: Odds Against Linda - Steve Ward (Norman Rosenthal)

(This post originally appeared in a somewhat different form on January 16, 2009.)

Steve Ward’s ODDS AGAINST LINDA seems to be the only book Ward ever published, at least under that name. The writing is good enough, and the name so generic, that I have to wonder if Ward is a pseudonym.

The narrator of this novel is Peter Conrad, a Korean War vet who lost a leg in that conflict. Following the war, he moved to Mexico to make a living as a commercial artist, but as the book opens, he’s returning to San Francisco with his new wife Linda. Before he even gets out of the airport, though, he gets knocked out, kidnapped, and Linda disappears. From there on, Things Get Worse. Soon enough, Pete’s on the run, charged with a murder he didn’t commit, and as he himself notes, a guy with one leg can’t do much running.

This is a short novel (107 pages), but the author packs in a lot of stuff: a piano-playing dwarf, beautiful strippers, double identities, gunplay, brutal fistfights, torture, truth serum . . . You get the idea. Halfway through, there are two big twists, one of which you’ll see coming. But the other you might not. I didn’t. The whole plot is familiar enough that you’ll probably have a pretty good idea where the author is going, but he throws in enough oddball notes along the way and the writing is smooth enough so that I found reading the novel a fast, very entertaining experience. Highly recommended if you run across a copy of it.

But I’d still like to know if Steve Ward was really somebody else.

(In the comments on the original post, Bill Crider clued me in that Steve Ward was really Norman Rosenthal, who wrote another Ace Double novel, SILENCED WITNESS, under his own name. Below is more information about him that I got from an email exchange with his son.)

 “I found your blog, posted January, 2009, about the ACE paperback book title, "Odds Against Linda." I was very pleased to read what you had to say. Steve Ward was a pseudonym for Norman Rosenthal, who also wrote "Silenced Witness." They are the same person and that I know because it is my dad. He loved to write and wrote on the side while holding down a regular job. Unfortunately he had no other books published. He was working on several, but died before any could be completed.”

“If you would like, here's some biographical information on my father. During WWII my dad was a bombardier on a B-24. He flew out of Italy and while on a mission over Vienna was shot down and became a POW. He spent his time in the famous Stalag Luft III until General Patton liberated the camp at the end of the war.

In 1947, he graduated with a degree in journalism from the University of Missouri. He and my mother lived in California for almost 20 years where he worked as a general manager for an established newspaper publisher. While in California he belonged to the Northern California Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America and at one time held an officers position in the chapter. Such people as Lenore Glen Offord and Anthony Boucher also belonged at that time.

My parents then moved to Ohio where he became Advertising and Marketing Director for Jacobs, Visconsi & Jacobs, a shopping center developer. (Yes, the same Jacobs that owned the Cleveland Indians, but not until several years after my dad retired).

My dad not only loved to write, but to read and listen to music. He had a very extensive library and record collection. Writing was a passion of his, but it's hard to support a family on writing alone. "Silenced Witness" was published in 1955. He then wrote "Odds Against Linda" under the name of Steve Ward which was published in 1960. Both were written while living in California. Over the years he had worked on several novels but because of work, was never ever able to finish any of them to his satisfaction. However, after his retirement, he did have two short stories published in the Sunday magazine section of the "Cleveland Plain Dealer." He retired in the late 1980s and really started to delve into his writing. Unfortunately shortly afterwards he became ill with Alzheimer's and it progressed rather rapidly before he could finish any other books. He died in November, 1998.”

(Thanks to Norman Rosenthal's son for this information. I'm glad I was able to pull it all together into one post. I have a copy of Rosenthal's other novel SILENCED WITNESS somewhere, but I've never read it.)

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

The Belen Breakout - Orrin Russell

The protagonist of this short Western novel is a young man named Balum. I assume that’s his first name; we don’t ever get another. He’s an orphan, and I get the feeling his parents died of some illness. But that’s another assumption because the author doesn’t fill in that detail, either. What we know is that he’s 16 years old, he’s alone in the world except for a horse, the bank has taken the family ranch in West Texas, and he’s heading into Mexico to start a new life.

Things do not go well for Balum.

For a while, it looks like things may work out all right. He gets a job as a vaquero on a ranch and does well at it. But he runs afoul of the foreman and makes things worse by falling in love with the ranch owner’s beautiful granddaughter. Not surprisingly, Balum winds up in trouble and is taken to Mexico City where he’s thrown into a notorious prison known as Belen. That begins a years-long ordeal of violence and survival, an ordeal that Balum might not survive without the help of a fellow prisoner, an old Irish prizefighter.

Finally, Balum receives some news that makes him realize he has to get out of Belen—and the only way to do that is to break out. Hence the title of this novel.

I don’t know much about the author. Orrin Russell sounds like a pseudonym to me, but it may not be. That may be the author’s real name. He’s written and self-published several Western series, including ten more books about Balum. THE BELEN BREAKOUT is a prequel to that series, and as far as I can tell, it’s only available (for free) by signing up for the author’s mailing list on his website.

I’m glad that I did so because I have to say, THE BELEN BREAKOUT took me completely by surprise. While the plot may be pretty traditional, this book is very well-written and reads more like the work of a seasoned author, one who’s turned out hundreds of Westerns. It reminded me very much of the sort of paperback Western series published in the Seventies such as Lassiter, Fargo, and Sundance, with a Piccadilly Cowboys influence as well. In fact, there were several times when I suspected that Orrin Russell might actually be British. The action is very well done, especially Balum’s spectacular escape from Belen Prison.

If you’re a fan of gritty Westerns with a tough, hardboiled protagonist, I give THE BELEN BREAKOUT a high recommendation. It’s not a book you’re likely to run across by accident, but I think it’s well worth seeking out.

Monday, February 19, 2024

Neither Beg Nor Yield - Jason M. Waltz, ed. (Part 2)

Last week, I reviewed the first four stories in NEITHER BEG NOR YIELD, the massive new sword and sorcery anthology from Rogue Blades Entertainment. This week I’m moving on to the next four stories.

I’ve read and enjoyed Steve Dilks’ Gunthar stories. His novella in this volume features one of his series characters I hadn’t encountered before, Bohun, a giant black warrior from a world that seems to be very loosely based on our own. “Harvest for the Blood-King” is set in an alternate version of Britain, which is ruled by a Rome-like empire called Valentia. Bohun and a Valentian soldier named Tibeirus are dispatched to rescue the son of a Valentian politician who has been kidnapped by barbarians that bear a resemblance to the Scots. Dilks doesn’t belabor the background or the world-building, though, a quality I’ve noticed in his work that I really like. He’s more about character and action, and he does a great job with both in this yarn. He’s written other stories about Bohun and I have to seek them out, because this one is excellent.

I’ve been a fan of Chuck Dixon’s work going all the way back to his great runs on THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN, THE PUNISHER, BATMAN, NIGHTWING, and AIRBOY. In recent years he’s become a bestselling novelist with his Levon Cade series (Soon to Be a Major Motion Picture, as they say). His story in this volume, “The Stone From the Stars”, features a new pair of heroes, Hagen and Pilsner, a couple of mercenaries who find themselves on the wrong side of a war and have to strike out on their own. They wind up trying to save a wizard and his beautiful redheaded daughter from a monster summoned up by an evil necromancer. This story has some great action scenes and really races along, and Hagen and Pilsner wind up being very likable protagonists. I thought at first they might be a bit of an homage to Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, but they’re actually very different from those characters and stand just fine on their own. This is a thoroughly enjoyable yarn.

John R. Fultz’s “Evil World” features a series character I hadn’t encountered before, an indomitable warrior named Gnori. This story begins when Gnori is a child and follows him as he becomes that fierce battler, giving the reader just the right amount of world-building as the story moves along but never sacrificing the pace and scope that give it an epic feel. This is the darkest story in the anthology so far, but it works very well considering the story that Fultz is telling. Another excellent tale.

Keith J. Taylor has been writing sword and sorcery tales even longer than Chuck Dixon. His series character Nasach the Firbolg, a reiver and mercenary in and around medieval Ireland, has been the protagonist of stories since the 1970s. In “Reckoning”, Nasach and some companions of his find themselves throwing in with a motley crew of pirates. The captain is married to a woman who may or may not be a mermaid, and he's convinced she can find a sunken treasure for them. Unfortunately for him, even though he doesn’t recognize Nasach, the Firbolg has an old grudge against him, and when the time is right, Nasach intends to settle that score. This is a wonderful story full of action and humor and color, and it’s very well-written. I haven’t read any of Taylor’s Nasach stories until now. I hope at some point there’ll be a complete collection of them.

Four more stories into the book now, and NEITHER BEG NOR YIELD hasn’t taken its foot off the gas. It’s picking up speed and getting even better. So far, this is a terrific anthology and I give it a very high recommendation. You can find the e-book edition on Amazon while the print editions are still in the works.

Sunday, February 18, 2024

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Adventure, January 1946

This is a pulp that I own and read recently. That’s my copy in the scan. The cover art is by Robert Stanley. I’m so used to seeing his work on mystery and Western pulps and paperbacks, I’m not sure I would have recognized it in a pure adventure setting like this. But it’s a good cover and I like it.

If you’re like me, you saw “One For France and One For Me” by Georges Surdez and thought, “Ah, a French Foreign Legion yarn!” Surdez was famous for them. But no, this novella (and it’s almost long enough to be an actual novel) takes place entirely in France. Captain Norman Kenton, an American pilot who was shot down over France during the war, returns several months after V-E Day to look up the members of the Resistance who helped him avoid capture by the Nazis. It’s not just gratitude that motivates Kenton. One of those Resistance members was a beautiful young woman.

But he runs into more trouble than he expects and finds himself involved in black marketeering, a vengeance quest against people who collaborated with the Germans, murder, espionage, and tragedy. Sounds great, doesn’t it?

Well, it’s actually just okay, because the plot pokes along at an exasperating pace, and a lengthy flashback in the middle of the story derails things even farther. I generally like Surdez’s work, and the final scene of this one, which takes place in a courtroom, is pretty good, but things just take too long to get there. Good plot, good characters, not so good execution.

The next story, “Un-Reversible Error” by Wallis Reef, also involves a court case, as you might guess from the title. It’s a contemporary (for the time the pulp was published) Western mystery with the protagonist being an old sheriff. The tone is a little light without the story being an actual comedy. The plot involves a hoodlum who looks like he’s going to get away with murder until the sheriff comes up with a surprise. Not an outstanding yarn, but fairly entertaining.

Stuart Cloete’s name is familiar to me. I think I may even own a few of his novels set in Africa. His short story in this issue, “A Death in the Family”, is a grim tale about two twin brothers discussing a family tragedy that took place in the trenches of World War I. The whole thing is a little slow and bland until Cloete springs a wry, triple-twist ending that took me by surprise and redeems the story for the most part.

“The Peacekeeper” by Hugh Fullerton is a short bit of folklore/tall tale about Finn McCool. Or something. I can’t be more precise than that because I didn’t read much of the story before saying, “Nope, not for me.” Something about Fullerton’s style just grated on me.

“Blood and Guts” by William Langer is much better. It’s a well-written, character-driven story about an Army medic seeing his first action during an assault on a Japanese-held island in the Pacific.

“You Ain’t Gonna Believe This” is a Runyonesque tale about a prizefighter with four arms. Lawton Ford’s story evokes a few smiles, but no outright chuckles.

“The Shadow of a Mountain” by William Arthur Breyfogle is set in an unnamed Central American country where the German general who’s in command of the army stirs up a war with a neighboring country. There’s also a volcano that’s about to erupt. This starts out like it’s going to be a comedy but turns pretty grim before it’s over. Not a bad story, but decidedly odd.

It's not surprising that my favorite story in the issue is by Day Keene, who had a good career in the pulps before becoming one of the top paperback authors of the Fifties and Sixties. “In the Halls of Montezuma” is a crime yarn that also has a military angle, as a prizefighter-turned-gangster sets out getting his revenge on the guy who caused his fall from grace. The big twist at the end is completely predictable, but Keene was such a good storyteller that it doesn’t matter.

The final story in the issue, “The Mule That Loined Brooklyn” by Nick Boddie Williams, is similar in one way to Surdez’s “One For France and One For Me”. It’s about a downed pilot trying to escape from the enemy in World War II, only Williams’ story is set in Burma, the enemies are the Japanese, and the story is more of a farce than anything else. It’s okay, but lightweight enough to float off.

With that lineup of stories, this issue never rises above the merely okay level and flirts with below average. Day Keene’s story is good but definitely a minor entry in his body of work, and it’s the highlight. Langer’s story about the Army medic is also worth reading. There are some good issues of ADVENTURE from this era, but this one is pretty forgettable.

Saturday, February 17, 2024

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Famous Western, March 1939

This issue of FAMOUS WESTERN has a good cover, but I'm afraid I don't know the artist. The only guess I can venture is A. Leslie Ross, and I'm not convinced of that at all. There are some good writers inside this issue, with the best-known being Harry Sinclair Drago with a novella called, "The Gun Notch That Didn't Count", a great title. There's also a story by Abner J. Sundell under his "Cliff Campbell" pseudonym that later became a house name when other authors besides Sundell began using it. Another house name, James Rourke, also has a story in this issue, plus yarns by some apparently real but completely forgotten writers: Wilcey Earle, Brian Loomis, Gratton Boone, and Thomas Tyler Jackson. I don't know anything about Gratton Boone, but it would be a great name for an evil gunman character. I don't own this issue of FAMOUS WESTERN. The scan and the author information come from the Fictionmags Index.