Monday, June 17, 2024

Rawhide Bound - Peter Henry Morland/Max Brand (Frederick Faust)

I was a little thrown by “Rawhide Bound”, the second Jim Tyler novella which appeared originally in the April 23, 1932 issue of STREET & SMITH’S WESTERN STORY MAGAZINE under the name Peter Henry Morland and then was reprinted in the collection DON DIABLO under the Max Brand name. As you may recall from my review of “Mountain Raiders”, the first novella in the series, Jim Tyler is a drifting gunman/outlaw/adventurer sometimes known as The Wolf. When I started reading “Rawhide Bound”, I expected another epic clash between Tyler and the Mexican bandit called El Tigre.

Instead, Tyler is back north of the border, visiting an old prospector who’s a friend of his. The old-timer has discovered a fabulously valuable gold mine. Then he’s wounded and kidnapped, and Tyler sets off to find and rescue him.

The trail leads Tyler to an abandoned hacienda in a desolate mountain pass that’s been taken over by a gang of outlaws. Because of his encounter with these owlhoots, he winds up being imprisoned and tortured by yet another Mexican bandit.

At first, this doesn’t read like a sequel to “Mountain Raiders”, and Jim Tyler (who is never referred to as The Wolf in this one) could be any of Frederick Faust’s borderline superhuman protagonists. This novella also seems like it was cobbled together out of elements from several different yarns.

However, Faust’s colorful, compelling prose elevates it beyond what it might have been, and eventually, connections with the previous story are revealed. The torture scenes are harrowingly suspenseful, although I thought the ending itself wasn’t all it could have been. Overall, I liked this story, although not as much as the first one, and I’m looking forward to the third and final Jim Tyler tale, which I hope to read soon.

Sunday, June 16, 2024

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Famous Fantastic Mysteries, August 1950

FAMOUS FANTASTIC MYSTERIES was a reprint pulp, but it reprinted some great science fiction and fantasy, sometimes obscure, sometimes well-known classics. And it had new, often great covers by some fine artists. This issue contains only two stories, both of them in the classic category: THE TIME MACHINE by H.G. Wells and DONOVAN'S BRAIN by Curt Siodmak. I've read them both, although not in this pulp. The dramatic cover illustrating a scene from THE TIME MACHINE is by one of my favorite cover artists, Norman Saunders.

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Outlaws, December 1929

Walter Baumhofer is one of my favorite pulp cover artists, and I like this whimsical depiction of a harmonica-playing cowboy fending off an empty tomato can hurled at him by some listener, but I'm not sure how appropriate the scene is for a pulp subtitled "A Magazine of Hair-Trigger Hombres". But maybe that description refers to the music critic instead of the fella with the harmonica. I'd expect something more hard-bitten from a magazine called WESTERN OUTLAWS, but hey, owlhoots can enjoy a tune now and then, too. The best-known author in this issue is William Colt MacDonald, one of the big names of the pulp era and all the way through the Sixties, really. Chart Pitt and Thomas Thursday are on hand, too. Other than that, the writers are all unknown to me: Wolf Wilson, Willard E. Hawkins, Albert Wm. Stone, J.R. Johnson, Al H. Martin, R.T. Barkley, L. Simpson Turner, Charles P. Gordon, and Ludwig Stanley Landmichl. I may have heard, vaguely, of one or two of those, but I don't know anything about them. Still, I like the cover, a little odd though it may be, and MacDonald was always worth reading.

Friday, June 14, 2024

A Rough Edges Rerun: Travels With Charley - John Steinbeck

Before Captain America and Billy did it in the movie EASY RIDER, before Green Lantern and Green Arrow did it in the comic books, author John Steinbeck and a ten-year-old poodle named Charley set off in the fall of 1960 in search of America. Appropriately enough, that’s the subtitle of the resulting book, TRAVELS WITH CHARLEY: IN SEARCH OF AMERICA.

When I was a junior in high school, a friend and I went through a pseudo-intellectual phase, as sixteen-year-old boys will sometimes do. We read and discussed Hemingway and Fitzgerald, T.S. Eliot and Ezra Pound, and God knows what else. If our parents would have let us get away with it, we probably would have smoked pipes and worn jackets with leather patches on the elbows. It’s a wonder we didn’t choke on our own pretentiousness. But we actually did read some good books and discover some good authors along the way, among them John Steinbeck. Two of Steinbeck’s books stand out in my memory: the novel THE WINTER OF OUR DISCONTENT and the memoir TRAVELS WITH CHARLEY. I liked a lot of his other novels, too, most notably CUP OF GOLD, TORTILLA FLAT, and OF MICE AND MEN. I was less fond of THE GRAPES OF WRATH and EAST OF EDEN, even though those two are probably his most popular novels. It’s been more than forty years since I read TRAVELS WITH CHARLEY, so I decided to see how well it holds up.

I’m happy to report that it holds up very well indeed. Steinbeck writes beautifully about nature and the places he visits and the people he meets. His social and political observations are always interesting, although this time around I did notice an occasional touch of smug superiority about his comments that I didn’t recall from my first reading of the book. It’s not enough to really cause a problem, though.

The best part of TRAVELS WITH CHARLEY is the relationship between Steinbeck and Charley, who becomes as vivid a character as any in the book. When Charley develops medical problems and you don’t know what the outcome will be, there’s genuine suspense. As some of you know, I’m a dog person, and Charley’s a great dog.

It’s nice to know that this is as fine a book as I remember it being. Now, will I go back and reread THE WINTER OF OUR DISCONTENT or some of Steinbeck’s other novels and see if they hold up as well? It could happen.

(News flash: It didn't happen. I don't think I've read anything by Steinbeck in the fifteen years since this post first appeared in a somewhat different form on June 5, 2009. And since then, it's become pretty well accepted that TRAVELS WITH CHARLEY is highly fictionalized, almost more of a novel based on the actual trip Steinbeck and Charley took rather than pure non-fiction. I don't care. It's still a good book, and I still have good memories of those long-ago high school days when I first read it.)

Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Drink With the Dead - Jay Flynn

DRINK WITH THE DEAD opens with our protagonist, Konrad Jensen, being questioned by the cops about a murder he’s suspected of committing. He gets beaten up and thrown into the felony tank. Being a long-time reader of hardboiled crime and noir novels from the Fifties, I immediately expected Jensen to break out of jail and spend the rest of the novel trying to find the real killer and clear his name.

As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what we eventually get, but instead of occupying the rest of the book, after that brutal opening author Jay Flynn takes us on an extended flashback in which Konrad Jensen—who’s a federal agent—investigates a moonshine ring in the northern California mountains. This isn’t a spoiler, by the way; Flynn clues the reader in on Jensen’s real identity almost right away. It’s Jensen’s partner who gets killed, giving him a personal stake in the case, and then his own life is on the line as the bad guys close in around him. Oh, and there are two beautiful women mixed up in the investigation, too, of course.

DRINK WITH THE DEAD was published originally in 1959 under the name J.M. Flynn as half of an Ace Double Mystery with a cover by Paul Rader. That cover has been preserved on the recent Black Gat reprint of the novel. Jay Flynn was as much of an intriguing character as any of those in his books, a writer of considerable talent eroded by booze and hard living and a generally screwball approach to life. He’s the subject of a great essay by Bill Pronzini, originally published in MYSTERY SCENE, that can still be read on-line. I’ve read Flynn’s novels off and on for years, and while he was inconsistent to say the least, I don’t think I’ve ever read one that failed to entertain me.

DRINK WITH THE DEAD is certainly one of his better efforts. Setting a moonshining yarn in California instead of Kentucky or Tennessee is a nice offbeat touch. A lot of the book is more G-Man Procedural than hardboiled action, but it’s well-done, and when the action does kick into gear, it really yanks the reader along full-throttle. The ending of this novel is great, with an effective final twist of the tail. If you’ve never read Flynn’s work before, it wouldn’t be a bad place to start. If you’re already a fan, you’ll want to give this one a try. Recommended.

Monday, June 10, 2024

Mountain Raiders - Peter Henry Morland/Max Brand (Frederick Faust)

Max Brand, whose real name was, of course, Frederick Faust, is another author whose work I’ve been reading for 60 years. The first thing I read by him was the novel SINGLE JACK, in a Dodd, Mead hardback checked out from the Fort Worth Public Library bookmobile that came out to our little town every Saturday morning. I loved it and have gone on to read many more of his stories and novels over the decades. (Years later, the Fort Worth Public Library discarded that same exact copy of SINGLE JACK and it wound up in our local library, where I checked it out and read it again. I wasn’t nearly as impressed with the book that time around, but I remained a Max Brand fan.)

Faust wrote three novellas about a gunman/adventurer named Jim Tyler, sometimes known as The Wolf. These were published in the venerable pulp STREET & SMITH’S WESTERN STORY MAGAZINE under the pseudonym Peter Henry Morland in the spring of 1932 and many, many years later collected in a Leisure paperback volume under the Max Brand name called DON DIABLO. That collection is still available in an e-book edition on Amazon, which is where I read the first Jim Tyler novella “Mountain Raiders”, originally published in the April 9, 1932 issue of WESTERN STORY.

This one is set in the mountains of Mexico, where the manager of a group of silver mines owned by an American syndicate hires Tyler to fight off the raids of a notorious bandit known as El Tigre. Tyler rounds up a group of fellow gunfighters and adventurers to deal with El Tigre. This part of the story has a definite Magnificent Seven feeling to it. There’s a huge battle, of course, in which (SPOILER—but not much of one) Tyler and his men emerge triumphant through the use of a clever trick on Tyler’s part. Then, halfway through the story, things abruptly change and Tyler, at the behest of a beautiful seƱorita, gallivants off to rescue a Mexican revolutionary who’s been unjustly imprisoned.

Despite the fact that “Mountain Raiders” reads more like two short stories crammed together than an actual novella, the writing is excellent, as you’d expect from Faust, with vivid descriptions, top-notch dialogue, and some great action. El Tigre is a fine villain and I’m sure he and The Wolf will clash again. Jim Tyler is an intriguing character, and I’m eager to read more about him, although I’ll probably space out the other two novellas. If you’re a Max Brand fan, though, I think I can already recommend DON DIABLO.

Sunday, June 09, 2024

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Thrilling Wonder Stories, April 1939

I like the cover by Howard V. Brown on this issue of THRILLING WONDER STORIES, and the lineup of writers inside is very impressive: Henry Kuttner, Alfred Bester, Clifford D. Simak, Eando Binder (probably just Otto at this point), Frank Belknap Long, Ray Cummings, Ward Hawkins, and an author I haven't heard of, Roscoe Clark. If you want to check it out, the entire issue is online here, along with numerous other issues of THRILLING WONDER STORIES. 

Saturday, June 08, 2024

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Texas Rangers, June 1945

This is a pulp that I own and read recently. That’s my copy in the scan. I think the cover may be by George Rozen, but I’m far from sure about that. Sam Cherry was doing most of the covers for TEXAS RANGERS by this point, but that just doesn’t look like Cherry’s work to me.

I’m much more certain about who wrote the Jim Hatfield novel in this issue—but we’ll get to that. “Gun Governor” is set in the Texas Panhandle and concerns the efforts of a gang of carpetbagger politicians and owlhoots to hang on to power as Reconstruction ends and Texans control their own destinies again. Some of those Texans have banded together and planted wheat rather than trying to rebuild the cattle business. The above-mentioned gang of robed and hooded marauders terrorizes them and tries to run them out of business. Enter Texas Ranger Jim Hatfield, sent from Austin to restore law and order and bring the leaders of the gang to justice.

Hatfield starts out by working undercover, as he often does. He manages to infiltrate the gang, but he has to abandon his masquerade to save the life of the leader of the wheat farmers. This leads to an epic cattle in which Hatfield is almost trapped in a burning building, and once his true identity is exposed, it’s all-out war between the Texas Ranger and the carpetbagger gun-wolves as Hatfield battles a scheme that threatens not only the Panhandle but the entire state of Texas.

“Gun Governor” is a well-written, very entertaining yarn with plenty of fast-paced action. The Reconstruction references place it in 1870, which is just one of the reasons I believe it was written by Tom Curry under the Jackson Cole house-name, rather than A. Leslie Scott, to whom it’s attributed in the Fictionmags Index. Curry wrote at least one other Hatfield novel with a Reconstruction background, “The Black Hat Riders” (TEXAS RANGERS, December 1942). Most of Curry’s Hatfield novels seem to take place in the 1870. They don’t all have such specific references as this one, but when they do, that’s the era in which they take place.

Leslie Scott’s Hatfield novels, on the other hand, take place in the 1890s, based on their frequent mentions of the oil business and the spread of railroads across the state. This creates a bit of a time paradox since Hatfield is approximately the same age no matter who the writer is, but evidently the pulp readers didn’t worry about such things and neither do I.

“Gun Governor” bears several other hallmarks of Curry’s work. It has a couple of introductory chapters in which the situation is developed, the villains and their victims are introduced, and so is a proxy hero, in this case wheat farmer Ken Toll, who is a Yankee but befriends the Texans anyway. Hatfield doesn’t show up until the third chapter. The descriptive passages are much shorter and lack Scott’s highly detailed and dramatic (some might say melodramatic) prose. None of Scott’s usual catch-phrases appear. Nobody gets “a surroundin’ of chuck”. While pursuing bad guys, Hatfield never shouts to his horse, “Trail, Goldy, trail!” In the final showdown with the outlaw mastermind (whose identity is never in doubt, by the way), Hatfield’s powerful voice doesn’t ring out “Elevate! In the name of the State of Texas!” Curry’s Hatfield gets down to business in a much more prosaic fashion. Nobody even raises hell and shoves a chunk under the corner!

One final bit of evidence: this novel was reprinted in the Sixties by Popular Library under the title SHOOTOUT TRAIL. Most of the Hatfield novels Popular Library picked to reprint were by Tom Curry. Of course, there were books by other authors in the Popular Library series, including a few by Scott, so that’s not definitive proof, just a little more weight on the side of the conclusions I’ve drawn from the story itself.

All this speculation aside, is “Gun Governor” worth reading? I’d say so without hesitation. The wheat farming angle is a little offbeat, the villains are properly despicable, and Hatfield is his usual stalwart self. I had a very good time reading this yarn.

There are three back-up stories in this issue, which is fairly thin due to wartime paper restrictions. I’m sure it’s a matter of coincidence, but all three have young protagonists.

“Voice From Boothill” by Gunnison Steele is about a young man trying to avenge his brother’s killing. Bennie Gardner, who is best remembered under the Gunnison Steele pseudonym, was a fine Western pulp novelist. His three Jim Hatfield novels under the Jackson Cole name are excellent, some of the best entries in the whole series. But he also wrote a lot of short-short stories like this one, which pack action and interesting plots, usually with some twist, into 1500-2000 words. I picked up on the twist in “Voice From Boothill” before it arrived, but it’s still very effective and I enjoyed the story.

“Salvage of the Box M” is by J.R. Jackson, an author about whom I know nothing except that he published a dozen or so stories in various Western pulps in the Forties. In this story, in order to save his ranch, a young man tries to get a job as a deputy and goes after an outlaw to prove he’s worthy of a badge. This is another well-written, entertaining tale.

“A Pard for Pedro” is by Cliff Walters, a prolific but almost completely forgotten contributor to the Western pulps. It mixes Mexican sheepherders, fly fishing, and murder in an unlikely combination, but it’s well-done and I thorougly enjoyed it.

Overall, this is a really solid issue of TEXAS RANGERS with a top-notch Hatfield novel and good back-up stories. If you have a copy on your shelves and are in the mood for a few hours of good reading, I recommend it. Likewise if you have a copy of the paperback reprint, SHOOTOUT TRAIL, although you won’t get the other stories with it.

Friday, June 07, 2024

A Rough Edges Rerun: Taboo Thrills - Orrie Hitt

“A Novel Book is a Man’s Book!” It says so right on the spine of Orrie Hitt’s TABOO THRILLS. That’s right, we return to the work of Orrie Hitt and it’s a good one.

First, some history. This book was originally published by Novel Books in 1962 under the title WARPED WOMAN. It was reprinted in 1963 as TABOO THRILLS, the edition I read. Then it was also reprinted in 1964 as WILMA’S WANTS. The folks at Novel Books, a Chicago publisher of soft-core porn and crime novels, must have really liked it.

Although the cover and the various titles make it sound like one of Hitt’s lesbian novels, it’s really not. It’s actually a semi-autobiographical yarn narrated by one Chet Long, a prolific author of what he refers to as “realistic” novels, by which, of course, he means the sort of Adults Only, early Sixties soft-core novels that this is. Chet lives in upstate New York (like Orrie Hitt), broke in by writing articles for hunting and outdoors magazines (like Orrie Hitt), and bangs out his books on a manual typewriter sitting at the kitchen table (like Orrie Hitt). The main difference is that while Hitt was a happily married man with a family, Chet Long is single and has a rich girlfriend, along with a number of other women on the side.

There’s not much plot here. Most of the book is concerned with a soap-opera-like romantic triangle involving Chet, Wilma (the rich, repressed girlfriend who hates the books he writes), and Sandy, a beautiful young free-spirited waitress who is much more suited to him. There’s also a peeping tom prowling the small city where they all live. (The peeping tom novel was another of Hitt’s specialties.) The plot just serves as an excuse for a number of lengthy rants against censorship and big government, both of which Hitt seems to have disliked equally.

But in the midst of all that are some wonderful bits about the life of a freelance writer, such as this comment from Sandy:

“I don’t get it,” she said. “I’ve read about writers and it seems crazy to me. You just write this junk and somebody prints it?”

I don’t know, of course, but I suspect that Hitt had a smile on his face when he wrote that paragraph.

Here’s a more serious passage I liked:

They say there’s tension in the advertising business but filling a blank sheet of paper is just as much tension. Your belly crawls when you can’t seem to do what you want to do. You struggle, you sweat – that’s nerves – you do the best you can, which is seldom good enough, and then you go to a bar where nobody gives a damn about what you do. You talk to men on the railroad, a retired lush who’s trying to stretch his Social Security check to the end of the month, some dame who’s got more kids than she needs and is knocked up again. You listen, buy a drink for somebody who can’t afford it – and maybe you take something about one, add it to the tragedy of another, and put it on paper. Or maybe the next day you’ve forgotten, lost in your own world because it is a world that is yours alone, since, as with all men, you are finally alone. Every man is an island, John Donne to the contrary. In the morning you make your coffee, read an out of town paper if it arrives on time, place your cup and saucer into the sink with assorted dirty dishes, and become a machine that spews words for readers you will never meet. You hope it’s a creative machine.

That’s not the most smoothly written passage in the world, but it’s got a passion and intensity to it that lifts this book to something more than sleaze, at least as far as I’m concerned. In another place, in talking about his writing career, Chet says something that reminds me of Robert E. Howard:

. . . people will suffer to accomplish what they want. Or perhaps it isn’t suffering so much as it is to have the guts to aim at a target and not be satisfied until they hit it. To many, mine wasn’t a very large target but it was one that many missed.

Finally, there’s another funny bit where Chet grabs a book off the newsstand at the train station so he’ll have something to read on a trip to New York City. He picks the book because the title intrigues him and doesn’t notice the name of the author, never realizing until he starts to read it that it’s one of his own novels, with his original title changed by the publisher. Given the history of this particular book – three editions in three years with three different titles – that’s a bit of inadvertent humor.

Unlike some of the other Hitt novels I’ve read, the ending of TABOO THRILLS is pretty believable and satisfying. Hitt evidently did some of his best or at least some of his most personal work for Novel Books, and I’m going to be on the lookout for more of those books. If you run across a copy of TABOO THRILLS (or WARPED WOMAN or WILMA’S WANTS), I think it’s well worth picking up and reading.

(This post originally appeared in a somewhat different form on May 22, 2009. I found an image of the cover of WARPED WOMAN, which you can see below, but WILMA'S WANTS seems to have disappeared from the face of the earth. Irwin Shaw's story "Main Currents of American Thought" captures being a freelance writer better than any other piece of fiction I've ever read, but this Orrie Hitt novel comes close to the same level.)

Wednesday, June 05, 2024

Casinos, Motels, Gators: Stories - Ben Boulden

I really like Ben Boulden’s writing. His prose is as terse and tough and hardboiled as any you’ll find these days. He’s just released CASINOS, MOTELS, GATORS, a collection of four stories that originally appeared in various anthologies and an on-line magazine, and I enjoyed it a great deal.

The first three stories feature narrator/protagonist Jimmy Ford, a former FBI agent who messed up his life somehow. The details remain mostly a mystery to the reader, although Boulden alludes to a few things in one of the stories, but it was bad enough that Ford winds up working as a security consultant/troubleshooter/fixer for a shady character who owns a casino in a town on the border between Utah and Nevada. Boulden does a fine job depicting this stark, hardscrabble location, by the way.

In “121”, a casino employee is murdered, and Ford’s investigation leads to a surprising twist. “No Chips, No Bonus” is about a casino robbery that also leads to murder. In “Junkyard”, a casino employee’s granddaughter is kidnapped, and Ford sets out to rescue her. All these stories are well-plotted, fast-paced, and have plenty of gritty action and surprises. Ford is a sympathetic but not really all that likable protagonist. I really hope we haven’t seen the last of him.

I’d previously referred to “121” as a MANHUNT story for the 21st Century. Having reread it and read the other two Jimmy Ford stories, I’d say that not only would the series have worked in MANHUNT, it would have been right at home in the late Seventies/early Eighties issues of MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE. With some adjustment to the trappings, they could have even been BLACK MASK stories in the early Thirties. Boulden’s writing has definite echoes of Paul Cain, Raoul Whitfield, and Frederick Nebel.

The fourth and final story, “Asia Divine”, is a non-series yarn about a prostitute’s murder and the police detective investigating it. This one also has a twist ending and is the most noirish of the four stories in the book. It’s also superbly written, although really bleak, too. Of course, there’s a pretty thick thread of bleakness that runs through all these stories, although Boulden leavens it with a few little rays of hope here and there.

CASINOS, MOTELS, GATORS is one of the best books I’ve read this year. It's available in print and e-book editions from Amazon. If you’re a fan of hardboiled fiction, I give it a very high recommendation. I don’t throw those Cain, Whitfield, and Nebel comparisons around lightly, you know.