Saturday, June 10, 2023

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Speed Western Stories, January 1946

Looks like H.W. Scott's work to me on the cover of this issue of SPEED WESTERN STORIES. Inside are stories by the consistently good authors William Heuman and Laurence Donovan, plus James W. Routh, who was a regular contributor to RANCH ROMANCES for many years, house name Paul Hanna (possibly Donovan since he has a story under his own name in this issue), and an author I haven't heard of, Warren Bean. Heuman's story is probably a reject from a better market, but I suspect it's still good.

Friday, June 09, 2023

Satan Is A Woman - Gil Brewer

I’ve read and enjoyed many books by Gil Brewer over the years, but for some reason, two of his earliest and most successful novels have sat unread on my shelves for quite some time now. So I took the arrival of Stark House’s latest Gil Brewer double volume to be an omen that I ought to go ahead and read them. I’m going to start with SATAN IS A WOMAN, which was Brewer’s second published novel. He had previously expanded a Day Keene pulp novelette into a full-length novel that was published as LOVE ME AND DIE under Keene’s name. My review of that one can be found here. SATAN IS A WOMAN was published by Gold Medal in 1951 with a great Barye Phillips cover and launched Brewer’s career under his own name.

Larry Cole, the narrator of this novel, is one of Brewer’s everyman protagonists. He owns a not-too-successful beachfront bar on the west coast of Florida, is a World War II veteran, and is trying to live a respectable life even though he comes from a family of criminals. His father was a mob gunman, his mother was a prostitute, and his older brother Tad has been mixed up in plenty of shady deals. When they were growing up, Tad tried to keep Larry on the straight and narrow despite his own activities. As the novel opens, Tad is on the run from a murder rap and hiding out at Larry’s house. He gets caught and sent to prison, and while Larry would like to get him a better lawyer and try to help him, there doesn’t seem to be any way for him to do so. The guilt Larry feels over this tortures him.

He's about to feel a lot more guilty, because one day a beautiful blonde named Joan Turner walks into his bar, and that starts Larry on a path that includes robbery and multiple murders. Larry wants to do the right thing, but he’s so caught up by love, lust, and circumstances that he seems doomed right from the start, in the finest tradition of noir novels.

Then, late in the novel, Brewer springs a really nifty plot twist that I didn’t see coming at all. It was a real “D’oh!” moment for me because everything is set up fairly, right out in the open, and with Brewer’s angst-ridden, breakneck style, I just went right past all the clues. I love it when that happens.

SATAN IS A WOMAN is one of the best-written Brewer novels I’ve read, with plenty of action and some poetic, poignant moments that are very effective. There’s also a long scene set in a rowboat on a stormy sea that gave a confirmed landlubber like me the galloping fantods. It’s wonderful stuff.

I can see why SATAN IS A WOMAN sold well and made Brewer a successful author right off the bat. It’s really, really good. I give it a high recommendation. The new Stark House reprint, along with Brewer’s all-time bestselling novel, 13 FRENCH STREET, will be out next month and is available for pre-order now. I’ll be getting to that novel very soon.

Wednesday, June 07, 2023

The Saint Settles a Score - Keith Chapman

When I was in junior high, it would have been difficult to decide who was my favorite fictional character: the Saint, Doc Savage, or Ben Grimm. I'm sure it depended on what I was reading at the time. But I loved all three of them and still do. I've written before about how I discovered the Saint and told the story again in the introduction I provided for the most recent reprint of THE SAINT IN MIAMI, which is available in an inexpensive e-book edition and can even be read for free if you have Kindle Unlimited.

So I don't know how I missed "The Saint Settles a Score", a 16-page Saint comic book story from the early Sixties written by Keith Chapman, an old friend of this blog. It was reprinted on Gary Dobbs' Tainted Archive blog a number of years ago, but I'm just now catching up to it. And I'm glad I did, because it really takes me back to those days when I was devouring Saint stories as fast as I could get my hands on them.

"The Saint Settles a Score" is very much influenced by Leslie Charteris's early stories about the character. Simon Templar answers a call for help from an old friend, a professional burglar who's opposed to violence. The fellow is in trouble, and it catches up to him quickly when he keeps a rendezvous with Simon. He's gunned down by some thugs and lives just long enough to put Simon on the trail of his killers, an investigation that involves wealthy art dealers, a beautiful blonde, a fabulously valuable painting, and some deadly double crosses.

Chapman's script is swift, humorous in places, and has plenty of action. Its light yet adventurous tone matches up very well in comparison to Charteris's Saint yarns. The art, furnished by an unknown Spanish artist, does a pretty good job of capturing Simon's personality and conveying the action. All in all, this is a very good story and I really enjoyed reading it.

If you're a Saint fan and missed this one like I did, you can find all 16 pages in two posts on the Tainted Archives blog, here and here. Be sure and read the comments, too, as they contain further information about the story and Chapman's involvement with the character. Check out this post, as well, for more background. It's great stuff.

Sunday, June 04, 2023

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Adventure, July 30, 1923

A.G. Peck, an artist I'm not familiar with, painted the evocative cover on this issue of ADVENTURE. As usual, the line-up of authors inside is very strong: Harold Lamb, J. Allan Dunn, Georges Surdez, Hugh Pendexter, J.D. Newsom, Karl W. Detzer, Bill Adams, and Raymond S. Spears. Arthur Sullivant Hoffman was still the editor at this point. ADVENTURE was a great pulp, issue after issue.

Saturday, June 03, 2023

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Popular Western, September 1944

Sam Cherry's cover on this issue of POPULAR WESTERN is a slightly humorous one, which is a little unusual for him. His covers were dramatic and often action-packed, but most of the time they're not funny. I like this one quite a bit. The blonde reminds me of Gloria Grahame. Inside are stories by Syl McDowell (a Sheriff Blue Steele yarn under the Tom Gunn pseudonym), Johnston McCulley, Oscar J. Friend, Cliff Walters, Alfred L. Garry, and house names Scott Carleton (a Buffalo Billy Bates story) and Jackson Cole.

Friday, June 02, 2023

The Frightened Fiancee -- George Harmon Coxe

George Harmon Coxe was a prolific pulpster, contributing scores of detective and adventure yarns to BLACK MASK, ARGOSY, BLUE BOOK, and other pulps. For BLACK MASK, he created a long-running series starring crime photographer Jack “Flashgun” Casey, who also served as the protagonist in several of Coxe’s novels. Coxe became a very successful mystery novelist in the Forties, Fifties, and Sixties. When I was a kid, every public library had a couple of shelves of his books, all published by Knopf, in their mystery sections. Most of those books featured another crime photographer character, Kent Murdock, who was slightly more sophisticated than the two-fisted Flash Casey.

But Coxe wrote quite a few stand-alone novels, too, and one of them is THE FRIGHTENED FIANCÉE, published by Knopf in 1950, reprinted in paperback by Dell in 1955, and still available today as an e-book. The protagonist is oil company engineer John Holland, who returns from a business trip to find the girl he loves engaged to another man. Before leaving, Holland had asked her to marry him, but she got him to agree to a 30-day delay before she gave him her answer. When he gets back a couple of days early, he visits her family home in Connecticut, only to discover that she plans to marry somebody else—and soon.

That big house in Connecticut is full of family and friends, most of whom have secrets and hidden agendas. Domestic drama and valuable inheritances lurk behind the scenes. And sure enough, Holland isn’t there long before someone is murdered. That won’t be the last killing, either. Holland has his hands full trying to unravel what’s going on and save the girl he loves.

As I was reading this novel, with its big country house full of secrets and suspects, it struck me that THE FRIGHTENED FIANCÉE is very similar to an English country house mystery, but because there’s some tough talk and a few punches are thrown, it qualifies as a medium-boiled yarn, too. The setting, the tone, and the very complicated plot made me realize this novel is sort of like Agatha Christie and Erle Stanley Gardner collaborated on a book. Feeling as I do about Christie and Gardner, it’s no surprise that I enjoyed THE FRIGHTENED FIANCÉE quite a bit. Coxe keeps things moving along at a pretty good pace. I’m not a huge fan of the way he tends to summarize conversations rather than giving us the actual dialogue, but that’s just his style and it’s not too distracting.

The current e-book edition calls this a Sam Crombie mystery. Crombie is the owner of a private detective agency who gets involved in the story, and while he’s a very good supporting character, in no way is he the star of this book. John Holland is the protagonist and solves the mystery. He’s a little on the bland side but still likable.

The Flash Casey stories and novels are my favorites of Coxe’s work, and I liked all the Kent Murdock novels I’ve read, too. But his stand-alones are good as well and always worth reading, so if you’re a fan of traditional, semi-hardboiled mysteries, you’ll probably enjoy THE FRIGHTENED FIANCÉE like I did.

Sunday, May 28, 2023

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: All Star Adventure Fiction, September 1935

I'm not sure I've ever heard of ALL STAR ADVENTURE FICTION, let alone come across a copy. But I'm also not sure why it's not better known and wasn't successful at the time, running for only seven issues. It had decent covers by J.W. Scott, including this one, and some fine authors. This issue features stories by Donald Barr Chidsey, J. Allan Dunn, Frank Richardson Pierce, Lemuel de Bra, Rollin Brown, and Arthur Hawthorne Carhart, all of them fine pulpsters who appeared regularly in the top magazines. Their stories here may well have been rejects from ARGOSY, ADVENTURE, etc., but they were probably still pretty good.

Saturday, May 27, 2023

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Best Western, August 1953

Norman Saunders' work is instantly recognizable on the cover of this issue of BEST WESTERN, and he's probably the best-known name associated with this issue, too, although Noel M. Loomis and Lauran Paine are well-regarded as Western pulpsters and novelists. The other stories are by Robert L. Trimnell, Paul L. Peil, Theodore J. Roemer, and Jim Brewer. And of course, this is yet another appearance of our old friends The Stalwart Cowboy, The Beautiful Redhead (she may be angry, but she's not gun-toting this time), and The Wounded Old Geezer. I have got to write those three into a book.

Friday, May 26, 2023

The Man Who Tamed Dodge - Philip Ketchum

Philip Ketchum had a long, very successful career as a Western pulpster and novelist and also wrote many excellent crime, detective, and historical adventure yarns for the pulps. THE MAN WHO TAMED DODGE, published in 1967 by Lancer Books as a paperback original, is one of his later novels and is the first of at least three books about the character known as Cabot.

However, despite the title, the cover copy, and the cover art by Don Stivers featuring the iconic model Steve Holland, THE MAN WHO TAMED DODGE is not about a gun-slinging, town-taming lawman. Cabot, whose real name is Elijah Cabot Pickering, is a former sea captain who, after an argument with his shipping magnate father, heads west to make his own fame and fortune after vowing to return to Massachusetts someday and buy his family’s shipping line. On his way to Dodge, he makes the acquaintance of an affable gambler who promptly robs him. But when he reaches his destination, he finds that the gambler has used the stolen money as the stakes in a poker game and won big, which he splits with Cabot. Now Cabot has enough money to put his plan into motion: He’s figured out a way to cut in on the town’s fledgling cattle shipping business.

You should be getting the idea by now that this is not a shoot-em-up Western. In fact, it’s pretty deliberately paced and thoughtful, with a protagonist who’s not a traditional Western hero. But don’t assume it’s slow and boring, either. Cabot was tough enough to captain ships, and he doesn’t back down from trouble. He gets into several brutal fistfights, and although he’s not a natural gunman, he handles a Colt fairly effectively when he has to. He’s also smart and has the knack of getting people on his side. Ketchum piles on the twists and turns in the plot until everything comes together for a classic Western showdown at the end.

This is the first book I’ve read from the Will Robertson Collection, and that’s the copy in the scan above. It’s the third printing from 1969. As far as I know, it’s never been reprinted since then and neither have the other Cabot novels. THE MAN WHO TAMED DODGE is really good, a slightly offbeat Western that I had a great time reading. Ketchum never disappoints, at least in my experience.

Monday, May 22, 2023

The Will Robertson Collection

Will Robertson and I became friends through his comments on this blog and from emails we traded over the years. He passed away a while back, and before he died, he told his wife that he wanted me to have his book collection. She honored those wishes and passed the books along to me. It took a while for everything to line up so that I could get them, but Saturday I drove down to where she lives now and picked them up. Will and I shared very similar tastes in reading. So far I've opened only one of the boxes, but you can see from the photo that there are a lot of good books inside it. And there are 32 more boxes. I'm reading that Philip Ketchum Western now, and it's great so far. From now on, every time I read and review one of the books from this collection, I'm going to be sure to mention where it came from. So get used to posts tagged "The Will Robertson Collection". It's the least I can do to remember a great guy and a good friend.