Friday, February 15, 2019

Forgotten Books: Blonde Verdict - Carter Brown (Alan G. Yates)

The original edition

BLONDE VERDICT (the title of the original Australian edition) is the second book in the Lt. Al Wheeler series by Carter Brown, who, as you all know, was really English ex-pat Alan G. Yates. A revised version was published in the U.S. by Signet under the title THE BRAZEN, but the real deal is available in Stark House’s great series of omnibus reprints of the Al Wheeler series, from the start in chronological order.

This is still not quite the Al Wheeler those of us who grew up reading the Signet editions know and love, but he’s pretty darned close. Or rather, Al is the same guy, but his supporting cast is slightly different. He works for Captain Parker, and the police commissioner is named Lavers. In the Signet editions, Al is a sheriff’s department investigator working for Sheriff Lavers. There’s a Sergeant Mcnamara mentioned, but no Sergeant Polnick.

A later, retitled Australian edition

Doesn’t matter. Al is still the same wise-cracking hotshot with an eye for beautiful babes, of whom there are plenty in this book, starting with the blonde Al is with in a nightclub when one of the other patrons drops dead at his feet. Turns out the guy is a lawyer with a beautiful wife who hates him, a beautiful mistress who’s really in love with somebody else, and a partner with a good reason to want him dead. Oh, and there’s the gangster who was being represented by the dead man in a murder trial, and the even bigger gangster that guy works for, and . . . But you get the idea. Lots of suspects for Al to interrogate and cheerfully insult, and plenty of babes to come back to his bachelor pad and listen to his hi-fi with him, as well as giving him an alibi when he’s accused of one of the many murders that take place.

An early Signet edition

It’s hard to believe any book could race by faster than this one. It’s like an early Sixties Warner Brothers private eye TV show several years before there even was such a thing. Great pace, funny lines, a very likable protagonist, and a workable plot. I’ve been reading Carter Brown books for more than fifty years now and still really enjoy them. Thanks to Stark House for reprinting these original editions, and I hope there are many more to come. (A second collection is already out, and a third one is coming soon.)
Later Signet edition with Robert McGinnis cover

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Overlooked Movies: Fort Worth (1951)

I remember it was kind of a big deal when the movie FORT WORTH played on TV when I was a kid, because it took place in, well, Fort Worth, 15 miles down the road from where I lived. Not that it was filmed there, of course, although the California locations don't look too unreasonable for the setting. I hadn't seen it in more than 50 years, so I decided it was time to watch it again.

And, of course, it stars Randolph Scott, and I'm always ready to watch Randolph Scott. (At least once in every movie he's in, I hear the line from BLAZING SADDLES in the back of my head: "You'd do it for Randolph Scott.")

Anyway, in this one he plays a former gunfighter turned newspaper publisher who comes back to his hometown of Fort Worth with his partner just in time to get in the middle of a romantic triangle with his old buddy David Brian and the girl they both love, Phyllis Thaxter, as well as efforts to get the railroad to come to Fort Worth and a gang of cattle drivers who don't want the railroad to come in because it'll ruin their business. It makes for a movie that's a little on the talky side, but some nice action scenes crop up along the way. There's also a good supporting cast, with Ray Teal, Bob Steele, and Paul Picerni among the bad guys.

The problem with this one is that the script by veteran screenwriter John Twist has numerous holes in it, and the direction by journeyman Edwin L. Marin keeps things pretty bland. (This was the last movie Marin directed.) Several scenes that could have been pretty good are set up but then nothing really happens.

Despite that, FORT WORTH is a watchable Western because, well, Randolph Scott. He's perfectly cast as the noble, dignified, crusading newspaperman who can still buckle on his guns and be a tough hombre when he needs to. It's a minor entry in his career, but I enjoyed it anyway.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Coming Soon From Stark House: Carter Brown, Volume 3

Al Wheeler was Carter Brown's most popular mystery series, and these are his seventh, eighth, and ninth adventures, reprinted from the original Australian editions. The first two were revised for their U.S. Signet editions as THE BODY and THE BOMBSHELL, but CHORINE MAKES A KILLING has never been published in the U.S. before.

In which Lt. Al Wheeler investigates the murder of two young ladies--
both of whom worked at the Haven of Rest Mortuary--
both of whom had a tattoo on their upper shoulder in the shape of a dollar sign that turns into a snake--
and both of whom worked at part-time call-girls for the mysterious fellow known as Snake Lannigan, a man no one has ever seen.

In which Lt. Al Wheeler is reassigned to the Eighth Precinct under Captain Bligh in order to--
find Lili Hertz, whose sister has reported her missing--
track her to the big house of Absolem Kirch, despotic owner of a newspaper empire and the man behind a lot of dirty politics--
and crack the kidnapping ring that provides Kirch with the young girls he keeps in his mansion against their will.

In which Lt. Al Wheeler turns in his badge to become a private investigator for a lawyer's firm in order to--
investigate an open-and-shut murder case involving Walter Byrne, friend of the lawyer and now married to the lawyer's ex-wife--
determine just who really did kill the chorus girl, who was also Byrne's mistress--
and figure out who is trying to kill Byrne's wife Myra, while fending off the advances of the man's sexy daughter.

(I'm really glad Stark House is reprinting these original Australian editions. They're fast, funny, well-plotted, and great fun to read. This collection will be out in March and is available for pre-order now.)

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: The Skipper, December 1936

You know, I've never read any of this series. Are they any good? With the lead novels being written by Laurence Donovan under the name Wallace Brooker, I imagine they'd at least be entertaining. This first issue also contains back-up stories by Harold A. Davis, Carmony Gove, and Kenneth MacNicol.

Saturday, February 09, 2019

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Fighting Western, January 1947

This issue of FIGHTING WESTERN is almost all reprints from various issues of SPICY WESTERN STORIES, but among the multitude of house-names can be found stories by James P. Olsen, Edwin Truett Long (twice each), and Laurence Donovan, all stalwarts of the Spicy pulps, as well as pulps from other publishers. And all pretty darned good writers, too, making me think this would be an entertaining issue. The cover is by the prolific and dependable H.W. Scott.

Friday, February 08, 2019

Forgotten Books: Lust Tycoon - J.X. Williams

(This post originally appeared on March 22, 2008.)

This book is almost one of those little gems that you find in unexpected places. Forget the sleaze novel trappings. LUST TYCOON is actually a hardboiled mystery yarn that reads more like a Fifties Gold Medal than a Sixties Nightstand Book. The narrator is Tom Dash, a former New York City police detective who retires because he accidentally killed an innocent bystander during a shootout with an armed robber. Dash buys a wrecked ketch, rebuilds and refurbishes it, and charters it for cruises on Long Island Sound. He’s just begun a casual affair with a beautiful young woman who works for him when she’s murdered. Dash isn’t a suspect in her killing, but when he starts investigating her death on his own, two more murders quickly follow, and the cops do think he committed those. So in classic fashion, Dash has to go on the run from the police while trying to find the real killer.

There’s nothing in this book you haven’t read a hundred times before, but whoever the real author was behind the J.X. Williams house-name, he tells the story fairly well and keeps the pace crackling right along for most of the book. There are some nice turns of phrase along the way and some decent action. The character of Tom Dash bears a certain resemblance to Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder and Donald Westlake’s Mitch Tobin, but the writing isn’t that good. I don’t think either Block or Westlake wrote LUST TYCOON, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the actual author was published under other names, too.

Reading LUST TYCOON isn’t quite the same as discovering a previously unknown Harry Whittington or Charles Williams or Gil Brewer novel, but it’s pretty entertaining. The plot sort of falls apart at the end, as if the author couldn’t quite figure out how to wrap things up properly. I’m still glad that I read it, and if you happen to run across a copy somewhere, you might consider picking it up.

Wednesday, February 06, 2019

Now Available: Grip of Death - Len Levinson

Someone is murdering prominent Wall Street financiers in New York City during the first year of the Civil War.  Is the culprit a disgruntled investor?  Marxist revolutionaries?  A Confederate conspiracy to destabilize the Union banking system?

To make matters worse, a crime wave has been engulfing New York City since the War Between the States began, as if that conflict has loosened the darkest passions in the hearts of men and women. Amidst this turmoil, the Detective Precinct is under political pressure to figure out who is killing financiers.  Unfortunately, the best detectives have enlisted in the New York regiments.

Out of desperation, Deputy Chief of Detectives Timothy Flanagan hires a former army officer wounded at the Battle of Bull Run, and a former Southern Belle stranded in the Empire City.  Flanagan calls her his secretary because women can’t be detectives, but she carries a revolver and does actual detective work.

Their investigation takes them from Fifth Avenue mansions to the dangerous slum called Five Points, from Gramercy Park to Battery Park, from fashionable men’s clubs to elegant and not so elegant whorehouses, gambling dens, the glittering Broadway theater district, and the Peyster Street docks where a man’s life isn’t worth a dead fish.

Will the Detective Precinct solve the case?  They dare not fail.  The future of the war and fate of the nation is at stake!

(This is a really top-notch historical mystery, and I'm proud to have published it.)

Monday, February 04, 2019

Back Mask - Richard Prosch

Dan Spalding, former State Police investigator and owner of Spalding's Groove, a vintage record store he inherited from his late brother, is back in BACK MASK, the third novel in this fine mystery series by Richard Prosch. As most of Dan's cases do, this one involves a record that someone wants to get their hands on, an old gospel recording by the former pastor of the local mega-church, who has passed on but left his son, who has political ambitions, in charge of things. In trying to turn up a copy of the album, Dan is attacked, as well as an old friend of his, and he discovers that there may be some sort of sinister message embedded in the album if it's played backwards (the back-masking of the title, which is also clever because some readers . . . coughs, raises hand . . . can't help but think BLACK MASK when they look at that title, BLACK MASK, of course, being the most iconic hardboiled detective pulp of all time).

But I'm wandering off into the weeds here. BACK MASK is the best book in this series so far, with echoes of Ross Macdonald in the plot (secrets of the past affecting the present) and Robert B. Parker in the great dialogue and the characterization of Dan and his friends. Plus the setting, the tourist town of Ozark City, is always interesting. There's also a very good dog in it, always a bonus where I'm concerned. In the short space of a few books, this has become my favorite current mystery series. Reading them in order isn't absolutely necessary, but I'd certainly recommend it. I give BACK MASK and all the Dan Spalding books a very high recommendation.

Sunday, February 03, 2019

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Detective Fiction Weekly, August 18, 1934

I'll bet Fred MacIsaac's serial (Part 1 of 5 in this issue) isn't as funny as STRIP FOR MURDER, the similarly themed Shell Scott novel by Richard S. Prather, but the title is still intriguing. Just the idea seems unusually racy for DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY. Elsewhere in this issue are stories by Cornell Woolrich, J. Allan Dunn, Laurence Donovan, Richard Howells Watkins, and John H. Knox, so it looks pretty good.

Saturday, February 02, 2019

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Thrilling Western, January 1953

This is a pulp I own and read recently. The scan is of the copy I read. The cover is by Kirk Wilson, one of the lesser-known pulp cover artists who did about a dozen and a half covers for various Western pulps during the Fifties, as well as interior illustrations for men’s adventure magazines during the Sixties. That’s really all I know about him.

For many years, THRILLING WESTERN was the home of the Walt Slade series by A. Leslie Scott, writing as Bradford Scott, as well as the Swap and Whopper series by Syl McDowell. By this point in its run, those series had dried up and the magazine was publishing all stand-alone stories. The lead novel in this issue is “Satan’s Range” by Joseph Chadwick, and at 55 double-columned pages, it actually is long enough to be called a novel, at least one that could have been published as, say, half of an Ace Double.

Years ago I read some of Chadwick’s pulp novels featuring the Thrilling Group’s series characters Jim Hatfield, the Rio Kid, and the Range Riders, and I didn’t like them much. The writing was okay, but I felt like he didn’t have a good grasp of the characters. So I’ve tended to avoid his work. In recent years, though, I’ve read some of his stand-alone Western stories that I liked a lot better, so it may be he was just one of those authors who’s not cut out for writing series books. “Satan’s Range” is an excellent hardboiled range war yarn that finds the protagonist, rancher Ed Conover, caught between the local cattle baron/range hog and the smaller ranchers in the area, who are not very trustworthy or likable, either. Conover has enemies on all sides, but the situation worsens when he has to testify in the murder trial of a neighboring rancher, who is married to a beautiful woman for whom Conover has fallen, although he’s too honorable to act on his feelings. Chadwick really puts Conover through a lot in this story, and every time it looks like he’s going to come out on top, something else bad happens. I enjoyed “Satan’s Range” quite a bit, enough that I’m going to have to pull some of my Chadwick paperbacks down from the shelves, and I may see if I have any of the hardboiled mysteries he wrote under the name John Creighton.

John Prescott wrote a number of paperback Westerns during the Fifties and Sixties, none of which I’ve read, but based on his short story “The Medicine of Malpais”, he was a pretty good author. This tale of a couple of prospectors in Arizona and their encounters with a band of Apaches is very well-written and doesn’t play out like you might think it would. Prescott does a good job with the narrator’s distinctive voice.

D.D. Sharp wrote both Westerns and science fiction and turned out a couple of dozen stories in his career, but I don’t recall ever reading anything by him other than his short story in this issue, “Tenderfoot Beef”. It concerns an elderly sodbuster put on trial for rustling and is also well-written, but it suffers from never really amounting to much, plot-wise, and reads almost like the first chapter of a larger work.

“If We Die, We Die” by Worley G. Hawthorne has an unusual setting for a Western pulp yarn, the end of the Civil War, as a stagecoach driver faces problems delivering the message that the war is over. It’s an interesting plot and the story has some good action. Hawthorne is totally unknown to me and has only three stories listed in the Fictionmags Index, all around this time and appearing in Thrilling Group Western pulps. I don’t know what happened to him, but based on this story, he had some talent.

There’s one novelette in this issue, Ray Gaulden’s “Me, Gunman”. It’s a bit of an oddity for the Western pulps in that it’s written in first person. The narrator is hired gun Wes Durgan, who’s on his way to a job when he comes across a beautiful redhead taking a bath in a creek. Before you know it, he’s mixed up in a mystery that involves not only the redhead but also a beautiful saloon singer who’s an old flame of Wes’s. He’s accused of murder, and while he’s never in any real danger of being convicted for the crime, he still wants to get to the bottom of things, which he does in very good hardboiled fashion. This is the second pulp story of Gaulden’s that I’ve read in recent months, and I enjoyed both of them quite a bit. I really do need to read some of his novels.

There are also assorted features in this issue, which as usual I skimmed but didn’t really read. The features aren’t why I collect Western pulps, although I do enjoy the occasional poem or column by S. Omar Barker. Overall, this is a really good issue of THRILLING WESTERN. The Chadwick and Gaulden stories are excellent, the Prescott is pretty good, and the other two are reasonably entertaining. If you have a copy on your shelves, it’s worth pulling down and reading.