Monday, October 15, 2018

Monday Memories: Dogs and Cats

Today I thought I’d write a little about the various dogs and cats I had when I was a kid. A word of warning: for the most part, these stories do not end well.

The first dog I ever remember was a sweet little cocker spaniel named Taffy. I was around four or five at the time. I don’t know for sure how long my family had had her, but she got sick and died fairly soon after I got old enough to remember such things. I don’t recall the cause, but I do know my parents weren’t the sort to get immunizations for their dogs or to take them to the vet when they got sick. They weren’t exactly cold-hearted about such things, but they had both grown up during the Depression and they were . . . pragmatic, let’s say . . . about a lot of things. A pet dies, you get another one and go on.

We didn’t have much luck with the next dog, either, a little fluffy white spitz/poodle mix whose name I don’t remember, because we had her only a few months before she came down with distemper and passed away.

With that sort of track record, it might not have been a good idea for us to get another dog, but we did, a female beagle/terrier mix named Lady. My parents didn’t believe in getting pets fixed, either, and since Lady roamed loose in the neighborhood, it was inevitable that she’d wind up with a litter of puppies. They gave all of them away except for a fat, clumsy little pup I named Egbert (I was already a weird kid). We called him Eggy.

I’m a little ashamed to admit that I don’t remember what happened to Lady. We had her for several years, and she and Eggy made a good pair. I think she got sick and died, but she may have gotten hit by a car. I just don’t recall. But then for several more years, Eggy was my only dog.

His problem was that he really liked to wander and would be gone for several days at a time. One time when my mother was driving along the service road beside the highway about half a mile from the street where we lived, she spotted him inside the fenced front yard of one of the houses. There was no doubt about it being Eggy. He had wandered that far and the people who lived there had claimed him as their own.

Now, I have some issues with my mother to this day, but that day she rose to the occasion and marched up there to get Eggy back. Problem is, nobody was home. So my mother called him over to the fence (of course he knew her, she fed him part of the time), reached into the yard, and stole him right back from those people! I was very impressed when I heard about it.

After that, I got my dad to strengthen the fence in our back yard and we started keeping Eggy in there instead of letting him roam free. That worked for a while, but I know from later experience that when a beagle wants to get out, even a part-beagle, most of the time it gets out. And so did Eggy, and a day or two after he disappeared, my dad found his body out on the highway where he’d been hit by a car. He brought Eggy home but had to go on to work, so my mother and I buried him behind the barn down on the back of our place, not far from the creek. I was a freshman in high school by that time and that was the first time I lost a pet that I’d had for a number of years. Eggy must have been seven or eight years old when his luck ran out.

I wanted another dog but didn’t want to have to deal with one getting out and getting killed like that, so I talked my dad into putting up a good chain link fence around the back yard. We put it up ourselves, one of the few projects like that we worked on together when I was a kid. It wasn’t escape-proof, but darned near. Of course, as it turned out, our next dog was content to stay home and had no desire to get out at all.

My dad knew a guy who raised pure-bred border collies and sold them all over the United States. (No matter what you wanted done or what you wanted to buy, my dad “knew a guy”.) This breeder had a female pup who wasn’t worth anything as a show dog because of some minor misconfiguration, crooked teeth or something, so he gave her to my dad. I named her Tippy because her tail was black except for a white tip. I convinced my parents to get her fixed so she wouldn’t want to roam, but I’m not sure she would have, anyway. She was a great dog, loving and loyal and at times my best friend in the world. I sat on the cement steps leading from our back door out onto the back porch, and she would sit right beside me while I poured my heart out to her about whatever angst was going on in my life at the moment.

I finished high school and went off to college and Tippy stayed home, of course. Then Livia and I got married, but we lived in an apartment so we couldn’t take Tippy with us, and honestly, I wouldn’t have uprooted her from what was really the only home she’d ever known. I always enjoyed visiting with her whenever we went over there, though. When she finally died of old age, Livia and I buried her down behind the barn, not far from where Eggy was laid to rest. I could take you right there and point out the spots, but somebody else owns the place now.

While we went through all those dogs, we also had a cat. That’s right, a cat. His name was Tiger, and he started out as a yellow tabby kitten I brought home with me after a visit to my aunt’s house in Blanket. He was a stray who’d been hanging around her place. I was six years old. As you might guess, Tiger never got his shots or went to the vet and he had free run of the neighborhood, but he was a tough son of a gun and survived hundreds of fights over the next ten or twelve years. He would disappear for days and then show up again, battered and chewed but looking pleased with himself, as if he were thinking, “You oughta see the other cat!” Once he was gone for two weeks, and I thought, that’s it, he’s never coming back, but then I looked out the kitchen window one morning and there he was, sitting on the porch, calmly washing himself and waiting for somebody to feed him.

Of course, the time came when Tiger didn’t come back. He was a good cat, and despite his rough life, he always seemed happy.

I’m sorry this post is a bit of a downer, but that’s part of life, too, I suppose. To quote Irving Townsend, “We who chose to surround ourselves with lives even more temporary than our own, live within a fragile circle, easily and often breached. Unable to accept its awful gaps, we still would live no other way. We cherish memory as the only certain immortality, never fully understanding the necessary plan.”

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Hollywood Detective, August 1948

This is a pulp that a friend of mine loaned me to read. The scan is from the FictionMags Index, since the copy I have on hand has a loose and considerably damaged cover.

The reason I’m reading this issue of HOLLYWOOD DETECTIVE is because it contains a story by Frank Morris, “Location for Murder”, which is suspected of being one of the unidentified stories that Mickey Spillane wrote for the pulps before he became the best-selling novelist in the world. One reason Spillane’s name has been connected to this story is because of the by-line: Frank Morrison Spillane was his real name.

However, some investigation seems to weaken that point. There appear to have been two Frank Morrises, one who wrote sporadically for the Western pulps beginning in the mid-Thirties, and another who published exclusively in various Western and detective pulps published by Trojan beginning in 1945. This later Frank Morris is almost certainly a house-name, and if Mickey Spillane wrote some of the stories published under that by-line, the similarity in names is just a coincidence, in my opinion.

But what about the story in this issue? “Location for Murder” is narrated by tough Hollywood talent scout Joe Kane, who is sent to San Francisco by his movie mogul boss ostensibly to find a suitable location for a new theater. In reality, though, Joe is searching for the killer of an old friend of his who worked for a nightclub owner. There’s a rumor that the nightclub owner had Joe’s friend killed because they had clashed over a girl, a dancer who works at the club. Joe is determined to get to the bottom of it, and things get a lot more complicated before he does, including two more murders.

Of course, I can’t say definitely that this is Mickey Spillane’s work, but it sure reads like it. The fast-paced, atmospheric Spillane style is there. It’s raining almost all the way through the story, and the descriptions of the city remind me a lot of Spillane’s vividly depicted New York City in the Mike Hammer novels. The violent action scenes read like him as well, and then you have the thematic similarities—the singleminded search for a friend’s killer, the help of another old friend (a taxi driver in this case, instead of Captain Pat Chambers)—to take into account, too. I believe this is one of the phantom Spillanes, and whether it is or not, it’s a pretty entertaining yarn.

Of course, having the pulp right there in my hot little hands, I was going to read the other stories, too. The issue leads off with the novella “Cinema Corpse” by Robert Leslie Bellem, one of the longest Dan Turner stories I’ve read. This one starts off with a potential client pulling a gun on Dan and handcuffing him to a chair in his own office when he refuses to take the job she offers him. She wants him to break into the home of her daughter’s boyfriend (a mere cameraman) and frame him for theft so he’ll go to jail and the woman’s daughter will go back to her other suitor, a powerful movie producer. Dan doesn’t want any part of a frame job like that, so the woman sets off to accomplish it herself. Of course, Dan gets loose and tries to warn the intended victim, only to run smack-dab into a beautiful young blonde and a murder. It’s not the only killing, either. Bellem never lets the pace slow down, and every time it seems like it might, then bam!, another new character or plot twist comes racing hellity-blip onto the page. The yarn is well-plotted, as Bellem’s stories usually are, and great fun to read. (Bellem’s style is contagious, if you hadn’t noticed. I used to have Longarm “set fire to a gasper” as a tip of the hat to him.)

Up next is “Blood on the Marquee” by Paul Hanna, and since that’s a house-name, it’s almost impossible to say who wrote this short story. But it’s a good one, featuring as its protagonist newspaper columnist and radio broadcaster Nick Harding. One of his radio shows is interrupted by the beautiful wife of a Filipino boxer who’s gotten himself in trouble. She begs for Nick’s help, but before the show is over, she’s jumped out a high window and committed suicide—or was she pushed? Nick, of course, has to get to the bottom of things, in a case involving prizefighters, gangsters, an illegal lottery, and a grisly discovery in a refrigerator. This is a well-written yarn that I liked a lot.

Sam Garson, the author of “L.A. Mix-Up”, is another one-story wonder, as far as I can tell, leading me to believe this is probably a pseudonym, too. The story involves private detective John Park being hired by a beautiful actress to stop someone from blackmailing her with nudie pictures taken when she was young and hungry. Turns out there’s more to it than that, of course, although admittedly not much. This reads like a Dan Turner story at times, and so I suspected that maybe “Sam Garson” was really Bellem, but by the time I finished I had rejected that theory. The plot’s a little too thin and the writing not good enough. But I think there’s a very good chance the writer, whoever he was, had read a bunch of Bellem’s stories and was trying to write something similar, not a bad strategy for breaking into a magazine.
Along in the middle of the magazine comes “Mysto-Magic Murder”, an 8-page Dan Turner comic strip story written by Bellem and drawn by Adolphe Barreaux. I like these, although Barreaux’s version of Dan Turner doesn’t really look like how I visualize him when I read the prose stories. The plot, involving a beautiful stage magician who performs at stag shows, isn’t very complicated but works just fine, and the snappy patter is good as always.

Norman Daniels wrote a lot for the pulps, mostly detective stories but some Westerns and adventure yarns, too, and then went on to a long career as a paperback novelist writing, well, just about every kind of book. I’ve read quite a bit of his work, but I don’t think I’ve ever read a private eye story by him until now. His novella in this issue, “Cradle of Death”, checks most of the classic boxes. Tough, wisecracking first person narrator. Rich client. Rich client’s beautiful nymphomaniac daughter with a gambling problem. Shady nightclub owner. Antagonistic cop. A second beautiful dame, this one a radio actress. Assorted colorful Hollywood characters. Daniels mixes them all up in a plot involving the rich client’s wayward son, who has dropped out of sight but seems to be sneaking back into his father’s house at odd times and then disappearing again. Everything moves along at a nice pace, and there are some good lines here and there. It’s not a great story, but it’s a well-written, entertaining one.

This issue wraps up with the short story “Mediocre Living” by Ralph Sedgwick Douglas, a Trojan Magazines house-name. Any time I see a three-name by-line in one of these pulps, I immediately think it might be Robert Leslie Bellem, but that’s not the case here. I don’t know who wrote this one, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Bellem. It’s the weakest story in the issue, a twist ending yarn about a con job pulled by a shady Hollywood sanitarium owner that’s not very surprising. A readable story, but that’s about all.

That’s not enough to lower my overall opinion of this issue of HOLLYWOOD DETECTIVE. I think it’s a very good assortment of stories with Bellem’s Dan Turner yarn and the story by Frank Morris, whoever he was, being the best of the bunch. I nearly always enjoy HOLLYWOOD DETECTIVE, and that’s certainly the case here.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Super Western, December 1937

An action-packed Norman Saunders cover graces this issue of SUPER WESTERN, a pulp that lasted only four issues before its name was changed to VARIETY WESTERN (which wasn't that successful, either, running only eight issues before another name change). But SUPER WESTERN had some excellent covers while it lasted, and stories by some good writers, too, including in this issue Tom Roan, S. Omar Barker, George Bruce Marquis, and Kenneth L. Sinclair.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Forgotten Books: Pin a Star on a Girl?--Johnny Nelson

PIN A STAR ON A GIRL? is a retitled reprint of a Western novel originally published in 1965 under the title SIX-GUN LAW. The by-line in both cases is Johnny Nelson, but the actual author was Leonard F. Meares, an Australian Western author best known as “Marshall Grover”, the creator of the long-running Larry and Stretch series, as well as the series Big Jim. Some of the books in both series were published by Bantam in the U.S., under the pseudonym Marshall McCoy, with the characters changed to Larry and Streak and Nevada Jim. Those were my introduction to Meares’ work.

Regular readers of this blog know that I’ve written about Len Meares and his work many times. He’s been a favorite author ever since I read those Bantam editions in the Sixties. Years later I got to know him through correspondence and considered him a good friend. It was a sad day when I heard that he had passed away.

His work remains, though, and I’ll never run out of his books to read. His stand-alone novels, including this one, are just as good as his series entries. For the most part, Meares made use of very traditional Western elements. That’s true in this book. You’ve got the brutal cattle baron with a shady past who controls the town and the surrounding area; the bought-and-paid-for local lawman who grows a spine and decides to stand up for what’s right; the fast-on-the-draw stranger who rides in with a mysterious agenda of his own; and the beautiful blonde of the title who winds up wearing a deputy’s badge.

While the plot and characters may be traditional, Meares utilizes them with such skill and enthusiasm that I couldn’t help but be drawn into the story. There’s plenty of action leading up an excellent and satisfying final showdown. Sometimes I just want to read an old-fashioned Western adventure yarn, and PIN A STAR ON A GIRL? really hit that spot for me. Recommended.

UPDATE: Reliable information has surfaced indicating that Len Meares did NOT write this book, after all. However, everything else I said above remains true. It's a very entertaining Western yarn, whoever the author was.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Detective Yarns, June 1938

This is the first issue of the detective pulp that changed to BLACK HOOD DETECTIVE a few years later. I like that cover, and the line-up of authors inside is pretty darned good, too: Arthur J. Burks with the third and final story in his Harlan Dyce series (the first two ran in CLUES DETECTIVE MAGAZINE in '36 and '37; for what it's worth, I never heard of Harlan Dyce), Norvell Page twice (once as himself, once as N. Wooten Poge), L. Ron Hubbard, Carmony Gove, Cyril Plunkett, and a couple of house-names, Mat Rand and Cliff Campbell. Also, I just like the name DETECTIVE YARNS. Sounds like my kind of pulp.

Saturday, October 06, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Aces, April 1943

This issue of WESTERN ACES sports an action-packed cover by Allen Anderson, an artist usually more associated with Fiction House pulps, instead of Ace. But it's a good one, and I like it. J. Edward Leithead has only one story in this issue, the lead novelette, which is kind of unusual because he often had two stories in an issue of WESTERN ACES, one of them under his Wilson L. Covert pseudonym. In my experience, Leithead is always worth reading, no matter what the by-line, and I love the title "Trail of the Hoodooed Herd". Also in this issue are stories by another favorite of mine, Gunnison Steele (Bennie Gardner), Lee E. Wells, Joe Austell Small, Stephen Payne, Orlando Rigoni, R.S. Lerch, and none other than Leslie Reasoner, no relation to me but the only Reasoner to get his name in a pulp magazine, as far as I know. (And technically, we are related, I suppose, because all the Reasoners can trace their ancestry back to one guy who came to this country in the early 1700s. But I digress . . .)

Friday, October 05, 2018

Forgotten Books: The Case of the Singing Skirt - Erle Stanley Gardner

I read one of Erle Stanley Gardner’s Doug Selby books a while back, and that put me in the mood to read one of his Perry Mason novels. Now, I’m on record as claiming that the Donald Lam/Bertha Cool books are his best series, but I really enjoy the Perry Mason novels, too. So I picked up THE CASE OF THE SINGING SKIRT, originally published in 1959.

As usual, the plot is incredibly complicated and almost impossible to summarize coherently, so I won’t even try. I’ll just say it involves a beautiful singer/cigarette girl, a small town run by crooked gambling interests (complete with a corrupt chief of police—shades of countless Gold Medals from the Fifties), a runaway yacht, adultery, multiple identical revolvers (one of which is a murder weapon . . . maybe), and several tricky legal points, including one that may wind up with Perry Mason being an accessory after the fact to murder!

The actual murder doesn’t show up until almost halfway through the book, and the entire second half of the novel consists of a series of those courtroom scenes Gardner was so good at. Nobody was ever better at that rapid-fire examination and cross-examination stuff. Does the solution of the crime come out of left field? Well, short left field, just out of the shortstop’s reach, maybe. I had a pretty good idea who the real killer was and had some of the details figured out, but not all of them, by any means.

All the usual suspects are on hand, and Mason, Della Street, and Paul Drake are in fine form, as are Lieutenant Tragg and poor old Hamilton Burger. There’s some nice humor here and there, as well as a few good hardboiled scenes with the gamblers and gangsters involved with the plot.

No doubt the Perry Mason books are just comfort reads for somebody like me who’s been enjoying them for more than fifty years. But THE CASE OF THE SINGING SKIRT strikes me as one of the better ones from the late Fifties era. I had a great time reading it.

(That’s my copy in the scan. The Perry Mason novels have been reprinted many, many times, but my favorites are those small-size Pocket Books editions with the Robert McGinnis covers. Those are the ones I was buying and reading back in the Sixties . . . although the first Masons I read were library books checked out from the bookmobile that came out to our little town every Saturday morning.)

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Overlooked Movies: The Hurricane Heist (2018)

I'd never heard of this one and suspect it went straight to video, but I still found it to be entertaining. The title gives away the whole plot: a crew of thieves takes advantage of an impending hurricane to loot a federal facility where 600 million dollars of old money is due to be shredded. Opposing them are a disgraced Treasury agent seeking redemption (Maggie Grace), a two-fisted meteorologist (Toby Kebbell), and the meteorologist's redneck brother (Ryan Kwanten). The action is ridiculously over the top, of course, and there are a lot of stunts with big trucks, as you'd expect from director Rob Cohen, the guy who created the Fast and the Furious franchise. But silly or not, I had a good time watching it. My editor and I actually talked about doing a book with a similar plot a few years ago but never got around to it.

Monday, October 01, 2018

Monday Memories: The Creek

I’ve mentioned the creek that ran behind my parents’ house several times, so I thought maybe I should write a little more about it. Officially, on the maps, it’s the Paschal Branch of Ash Creek, Ash Creek being one of the major creeks that runs through this area. We always just called it the creek. It’s spring-fed and rises in some rugged hills about two miles west of where I grew up. One time some friends and I followed it all the way to its source in an area we called the cliffs because there were so many steep sandstone bluffs. I’ve used those memories as visual references in many scenes I’ve written over the years, transporting them in my fiction to different locations all over the West. Since it’s spring-fed, I don’t believe the creek has ever run dry in my lifetime. I’ve never seen it when it didn’t have water in it, and sometimes, during floods, it could get pretty big. It merges with the main branch of Ash Creek on the other side of the highway, maybe half a mile from where I lived then, and shortly thereafter flows into Eagle Mountain Lake.

That gives you some geographical background, but we seldom ventured beyond the stretch that ran behind the houses on the street where I lived, and that was just a few hundred yards long. In those days, of course, our parents had no idea where we were most of the time, and there were cliffs, snakes, bobcats, and all kinds of other ways for us to hurt ourselves, but we all survived with no major injuries as far as I know. The worst I ever hurt myself playing along the creek was when I ran into a single strand of barbed wire fence that somebody had strung between two trees for some reason and ripped a good gash in my forehead. I don’t know what my mother thought when I came running in with blood all over my face. I got hurt a lot worse mowing the back yard one day, though, when the mower threw a little piece of metal all the way through my leg like a chunk of shrapnel.

One of my most vivid memories of the creek involves the swimming hole, which I mentioned in a previous post. We built a log, rock, and mud dam across the creek, which didn’t stop it completely but backed it up enough to form the swimming hole. It wasn’t much of one, though: maybe twelve feet across and a foot and a half deep. In other words, you couldn’t actually swim in it, but you could get in and splash around some. I was around fifteen years old at the time.

Now, the rest of the story gets a little racy, so those of you with delicate sensibilities may want to skip to the end.

There were four of us who regularly spent time at the swimming hole: me, a girl my age, and a boy and girl a little younger. We were down there clowning around in the water one day, as usual, when the straps on the one-piece bathing suit one of the girls was wearing suddenly gave out. The front of the suit dropped, and there they were: bare boobs. The first time I’d ever laid eyes on such a wondrous sight in the flesh.

Now, lest you think this is about to turn into some Seventies porn movie (boom-chicka-wow-wow!), we were all just friends, there was never anything the least bit romantic between any of us, and she immediately pulled the suit up, tied the straps together securely, and we all had a good laugh about it. Despite that, the memory remains clear in my mind, fifty years later.

The sad part is that of the four of us who were there that day, two are gone for sure, that I know of, and the third one may be, too, because we lost touch many years ago. It’s entirely possible that I may be the only person left alive who remembers what happened at the swimming hole that summer day so long ago. But I’ll cling to the memory for a while yet, just as I will all the other memories of good friends and good days spent roaming up and down the creek.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Fighting Aces, January 1943

I believe those are Dauntless dive bombers featured on the cover of this issue of FIGHTING ACES, but I could be wrong about that. I wrote about a Dauntless pilot in one of my World War II novels and had a great time researching it, but that was more than a decade ago. What I'm sure of is that the author of the lead story in this issue is David Goodis, remembered as the author of a number of bleak crime novels, but before that he was a prolific contributor to the air war pulps. Also in this issue are Western author Orlando Rigoni, house-name Ray P. Shotwell, and several other authors whose names aren't familiar to me. I don't know who did this cover, but I like the action on it.