I keep telling guys, never trust a suit of armor. Nine times out of ten, there's a killer hiding inside it. But do they listen to me? No. But if they did, there wouldn't be a story, would there? Day Keene is the biggest name in this issue of DETECTIVE TALES, at least he is unless you know that one of the other authors, John Lane, was really John D. MacDonald. C. William Harrison has a story in here, too, but I think he was best known as a Western pulpster. The other authors are either house-names or writers I've never heard of, like Philip Weck and Robert Zacks. So I can't guess at the overall quality of the fiction, but I like the cover and I'm sure the stories by MacDonald and Keene are good. (I wish somebody would do a complete collection of JDM's pulp detective yarns.)
I keep posting about issues of LARIAT STORY MAGAZINE because I love the covers, the authors, and the story titles. This cover scan, like most featured here, comes from the Fictionmags Index. The lead story in this issue is by one of the most prominent authors in the Fiction House Western pulps of this era, Les Savage Jr., and the title, "Six-Gun Bride of the Teton Bunch" is pure greatness as far as I'm concerned. It was also the title story in the Barricade Books collection of stories by Savage that was published in the Nineties. Other top authors featured in this issue include L.P. Holmes, D.B. Newton, Dan Cushman (also a Fiction House top-liner), and Ray Gaulden. That's a pretty impressive line-up.
WAYWARD GIRL starts out about as bleak as any Orrie
Hitt novel I’ve read so far. The protagonist, Sandy Greening, is a 16-year-old
prostitute and heroin addict who lives with her drunken, slutty mother and is a
member of the Blue Devils, the local gang of young hoodlums who are at war with
a rival gang, the Black Cats. Sandy was raped by a neighbor when she was 14,
she has to fend off the advances of her mother’s drug-dealing boyfriend, and when
the leader of the Blue Devils kills a guy during a rumble, she’s hauled in by
the cops for questioning in a murder case!
With all that going on, it’s a little surprising that when Sandy does finally
get in trouble with the law, it’s a simple prostitution bust that gets her sent
to a reform school. That reform school is a progressive one that tries to
rehabilitate the girls sent there. At least it is on the surface, but the
school has some criminal secrets of its own . . .
As you’d expect from a novel published by Beacon Books in 1960, WAYWARD GIRL gets
pretty doggone lurid. And after a little bit of a slow start, man, does our old
friend Orrie Hitt keep the pedal to the floor. This book races along and is
hugely entertaining. Brian Greene, who contributes the introduction to the
Stark House volume that reprints this novel and another Hitt tale, THE WIDOW,
compares WAYWARD GIRL to a drive-in movie, and that’s pretty accurate. I can
see it being filmed in gritty black-and-white.
What elevates it from the usual story like this, though, is the theme of
sympathy for the underdog that runs through most of Hitt’s novels. He doesn’t
sugarcoat things, and he doesn’t blame society for the characters’ problems. They
bear the responsibility for their own actions and bad decisions. But there’s
also a sense of understanding what led them to those actions and decisions, and
Hitt seldom comes right out and condemns his protagonists. They usually find
their way back to the possibility of happiness, at least. Hitt’s novels are
like no others in the so-called sleaze genre, and while some are better than
others, I’ve never read one that failed to leave me both entertained and
emotionally moved. If you’ve never read his work, WAYWARD GIRL would make a
decent starting place. If you’re already a Hitt fan, like me, you’ll want to
grab this new reprint right away.
Another fine, colorful Rudolph Belarski cover on this issue of ARGOSY, one of my favorite pulps. This issue features an installment of the serial "Seven Footprints to Satan" by A. Merritt (reprinted from its original appearance in ARGOSY ALL-STORY WEEKLY in 1927), plus a South Seas novella by Allan Vaughan Elston and stories by Garnett Radcliffe, Walter C. Brown, and more serials by Walter Ripperger and Howard Rigsby. I'd love to have a complete run of ARGOSY from the Twenties and Thirties. So many great serials . . .
Like RANCH ROMANCES, THRILLING RANCH STORIES may have been aimed at a slightly more female readership, but at least during the Fifties it featured quite a few hardboiled Western action yarns. In this issue, with a good cover by Sam Cherry, there are stories by Walker A. Tompkins, Wayne D. Overholser, Giff Cheshire, Paul Evan Lehman, Cibolo Ford, and Samuel Mines.
I’ve seen the
name Van Cort in the table of contents in numerous Western pulps and have read
at least one story under that name that I recall. I enjoyed it, too. I found
out recently that Van Cort was a pseudonym for Wyatt Blassingame, a prolific
and well-respected author of Weird Menace and detective tales for various
pulps. (I believe he was also the brother of well-known literary agent Lurton “Count”
Blassingame.) I don’t think I’ve read any of Blassingame’s work under his own
name, although I have a couple of collections of it, but I did just read his
short Western novel “Hot Lead for Gleaming Rails”, published in the August 7,
1937 issue of WESTERN STORY (with the first name of the pseudonym misspelled),
and thought it was very good.
The protagonist of this violent yarn is Lee Carey, a young man who works for
the railroad obtaining right-of-way for new lines. He returns to the town and
the valley where he grew up and still owns an abandoned ranch, with the
intention of building a spur line into the area, but he’s also out for revenge
on the crooked cattle baron who ran him out years earlier. Along the way he
helps out a young newspaper editor and the man’s wife and child, so Lee decides
that starting a newspaper and getting his new friend to run it will help him
mold public opinion in favor of the railroad. He also meets a beautiful young
woman who’s come to the area to search for her missing father, but she winds up
throwing in with Lee’s old enemy the cattle baron. One more complication is the
presence of the Laredo Kid, an old friend of Lee’s who has turned outlaw.
Having the Kid on his side may be more hindrance than help for Lee.
Blassingame does a fine job of weaving these strands together into a fast-paced
plot that includes a number of shootouts and bushwhackings, culminating in an
epic battle. Even while he’s doing this, however, he manages to work some moral
complexity into the story, as not everything turns out to be as black and white
as it appears at first. The good guys are not always sympathetic, and all the
bad guys aren’t stereotypical villains. Blassingame writes in a smooth, clean
style as well, without the overdone dialect and flowery descriptions that
sometimes show up in Western pulp stories. This reads more like a novel that
would have been published by Gold Medal in the Fifties.
As far as I can tell, Blassingame wrote only a couple of full-length novels as
Van Cort, but I’m going to hunt down copies of both of them. “Hot Lead for
Gleaming Rails” is available in an e-book collection, which is where I read it,
and if you’re in the mood for a good hardboiled Western yarn, I recommend it.
HOSTAGE FOR A HOOD Cribbins has the heist planned down to the last detail. He and Santino are driving one of the cars, on their way to hold up an armored car to remove its quarter of a million dollars. The only thing Cribbins doesn't plan on is being run into by Joyce Sherwood's Chevy. All they can do after that is quickly take over Joyce's car, including Joyce and her dog, and finish the job. When her husband Brad comes home and finds no Joyce and no dog, he knows something is wrong. He calls the police, but they only put him off, assuming that a missing wife could have run off with somebody. Brad knows different. But can he find her before the cops put so much effort into solving the armored car hold that they lose sight of the missing wife who is now part of the same crime?...before Cribbins decides he doesn't need a hostage anymore....before Santino finally flips out and starts to use his knife....? THE MERRIWEATHER FILE Ann Merriweather thinks someone is trying to kill her. She shares her fears with an old friend of the family, her lawyer friend Howard Yates, but though he believes her, there is nothing he can do. Then Ann's husband, Charles, is found by the cops with a flat tire by the side of the road and a murdered body in his trunk. The man had been shot. Charles is held for questioning, then arrested, and Howard agrees to take the case. But nothing is as it seems. The police quickly determine that the murder occurred at the Merriweathers' house. But Charles has an alibi. He was gone from the house all night. And Ann was asleep under the heavy influence of some sleeping pills. But someone killed the man in the trunk, and the more Howard discovers about the case, the less inclined he is to assume the innocence of his client. I've enjoyed everything I've read by Lionel White. I think I may have read HOSTAGE FOR A HOOD years ago, but I'll be reading it again in this reprint.
Brett Halsey has had a long, successful career as an actor
in movies and TV, but he’s also written a number of novels over the years and
in fact, according to his website he thinks of himself as a writer who acts,
rather than an actor who writes. I tend to agree with him. His latest novel,
and his first Western, WEST OF HELL, is a well written and solidly entertaining
The protagonist is bounty hunter Chris Tracy, who uses his manhunting skills to
finance his on-going search for his younger sister, who was carried off by
outlaws who raided the family farm years earlier. A veteran of the Civil War,
Chris is a decent but highly dangerous man when he needs to be. In this book,
he teams up with a friend from the war and an old desert rat in a quest to recover
some ancient golden figurines hidden in the New Mexico Territory wilderness.
These little statues, known as the Golden Apostles, date back to the days of
Spanish rule over the territory.
Naturally, several hardcases are after the valuable statues, too, and along the
way Chris and his companions also run into a shady gambler and the man’s wife
and stepdaughter. This trio complicates things quite a bit, too, and eventually
tragic violence breaks out.
WEST OF HELL is a pretty gritty book, the sort where you never really know
who’s going to survive and who isn’t, and Halsey springs a number of unexpected
plot twists as well. This one doesn’t play out in some respects as you’d
probably expect. Having written and read so many Westerns, I’m generally pretty
confident that I have a good idea what’s going to happen. In WEST OF HELL, not
Halsey does a fine job of developing the characters and depicting the
landscape. It’s easy to imagine him playing Chris Tracy in a Spaghetti Western
version of this tale from the Sixties, when Halsey was in Europe making some of
those films. He admits in an afterword that that experience was an influence on
the writing of this book.
I enjoyed WEST OF HELL quite a bit. It’s a good hardboiled Western and could
easily be the first of a series. I wouldn’t mind a bit if it was. Recommended.
You don't hear as much about the Dell pulps as you do about some from other publishers, but from what I can tell, they were consistently high quality productions. This issue of ALL FICTION STORIES, Dell's general adventure fiction pulp, sports a good cover by H.W. Reusswig, and inside you'll find a great group of authors: H. Bedford-Jones, Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, Tom Curry, and Seven Anderton, among others. Looks thoroughly enjoyable to me.
As usual, the poker game gets interrupted by a gunfight. Makes you wonder if they ever finished a hand in the Old West without burning powder. But there are some good authors in this issue of GIANT WESTERN, starting with two of my favorites, Walt Coburn and Leslie Scott (writing as A. Leslie this time around). There are also stories by Robert J. Hogan (probably best remembered for his aviation stories, including G-8 AND HIS BATTLE ACES, but he wrote a lot of Westerns, too), Ben Frank, Francis H. Ames, and house-names Sam Brant and Clay Starr.