You just don't run across stories with titles like "Fokker Dust" anymore. Thomson Burtis was a well-known writer of aviation and air-war stories, but I don't believe I've ever read anything by him. Also in this issue of WAR BIRDS are stories by O.B. Myers, another prolific and well-regarded aviation pulpster, Allan R. Bosworth, an excellent Western author who wrote a little bit of everything for the pulps, William E. Barrett, best remembered for the novel THE LILIES OF THE FIELD, and several authors whose names are unfamiliar to me. I've never really read much from the aviation pulps compared to some of the other genres, but I've generally enjoyed what I've read.
As I've said before, no poker games ever ended peacefully in the Old West, at least according to the Western pulps. This issue of NEW WESTERN is another example. Although violence hasn't broken out yet, you just know it's about to. So while the brawl's going on, you can read stories by Wayne D. Overholser ("Gun-Cure for Lava City" is a great title), D.B. Newton, C. William Harrison, Thomas Thompson, M. Howard Lane, Ralph Yergen, Theodore J. Roemer, and Charles Hammill, an author I've never heard of. Any Western pulp with Overholser, Newton, Harrison, and Thompson is going to be worth reading.
I’ve been aware of the Hank Janson series for many years
(and the gorgeous covers by Reginald Heade), but never got around to reading one
until now. Although it might not have been the wisest course of action, for
reasons I’ll get into below, I started with the very first Hank Janson novella,
WHEN DAMES GET TOUGH, published in 1946.
Some quick background: Stephen D. Frances was a young, struggling writer/publisher
in England who had been writing what were known as gangster stories, lurid,
hardboiled tales set in America, mostly written by authors who had never been
in America and had only a loose grasp of American slang and geography. As a
publisher, Frances found himself in need of urgent need of a 15,000 word novella
over a weekend, and not having anyone else to do it, he wrote it himself,
dictating it to a secretary. Not only is the protagonist named Hank Janson,
that was the by-line on it, as well.
This was WHEN DAMES GET TOUGH, a fast-paced, first-person yarn narrated by a
traveling salesman (of ladies’ cosmetics) named Hank Janson. Hank happens upon
a beautiful young blonde being interrogated and tortured by thugs, so naturally
he wades in and rescues her, which lands him up to his neck in a criminal scheme
involving black market goods (still a hot topic in those days just following
World War II), mistaken identity, yet another beautiful blonde, and more than
one attempt on his life.
This novella is certainly not without its flaws. Frances’s American tough-guy
patter is less convincing at this point than that of James Hadley Chase (Rene
Raymond) or Carter Brown (Alan G. Yates), the other two English authors I’ve
read who produced mainly American-set mystery novels. The plot is driven by several
pretty hard to swallow coincidences. And making your wise-cracking, two-fisted
hero a salesman of ladies’ cosmetics is, well, an unusual choice, to say the
However . . . WHEN DAMES GET TOUGH is pretty darned entertaining. Frances’s
style may be a little crude at times, and his Americanisms may not ring true,
but dang, this yarn rockets along and is told in a distinctive voice, which I
always like. There’s plenty of action, the girls are sexy, and Hank is a
likable galoot. The Heade cover depicts an actual scene from the story with a
fair degree of accuracy (the girls are both blondes in the story). I wound up
liking this one quite a bit.
There are a couple more early novellas before Frances retooled the character as
a crime-busting reporter from Chicago, and those tales are included in an ebook
currently available, along with two short stories featuring the later
incarnation of the Janson character. I plan to read those as well and then move
on to the ebooks of the full-length novels. I’m glad these reprints are available
since the original editions are sort of hard to come by, and I want to read
more about Hank Janson.
THE RED SCARF Roy Nichols needs to find some quick cash to keep from losing his motel. The new highway was supposed to go through, providing plenty of business, but now it's been delayed. The bank refuses to help, and his brother turns him down. Desperate and on the way back home, he catches a ride with a bickering couple named Vivian and Teece. They start drinking, then Teece gets spooked, and crashes the car. That's when Nichols discovers that his travelling companions have been carrying a briefcase full of cash. Teece appears to be dead, and Vivian confesses that they have robbed the mob, and begs him to help her escape. But to do that, Nichols will have to lie to his wife Bess...to the cops...and ultimately, to a very dangerous man named Radan. A KILLER IS LOOSE Ex-cop Steve Logan is down on his luck. With a baby on the way, Logan decides to pawn his last pistol to a bartender friend. On his way, he rescues a stranger, Ralph Angers, from being hit by an oncoming bus. Angers is an eye surgeon and a Korean War vet, and he has plans to build a hospital in town. Unfortunately, he is also prepared to kill anyone and everyone who gets in the way of his plans. So when Angers manages to get a hold of Logan's Luger, he also drags his rescuer into a nightmare of murder and insanity. Logan becomes a hostage to Angers' plans, and there will be no mercy to anyone who gets in his way. This Gil Brewer double volume will be available from Stark House in a few months. That's a quote from one of my reviews on that gorgeous cover, and I'm very happy for my words to be sharing space with some beautiful artwork by Robert McGinnis. Man, when I was buying all those Carter Browns and Mike Shaynes with McGinnis covers off the spinner rack at Lester's Pharmacy when I was a kid, I never dreamed that I'd be part of a cover like that someday. This is very cool for me. Not to mention, THE RED SCARF is a great noir novel. I read and reviewed it back in 2011. But I haven't read A KILLER IS LOOSE, and I remember Bill Crider telling me about it. I thought there was a review of it on Bill's blog, but I can't find it now. Maybe we just talked about the book. But I'm sure looking forward to reading it in the near future, and when I have, I'll be writing about it here. In the meantime, this Stark House edition is available for pre-order, and like everything from Stark House, if you're a fan of great hardboiled and noir fiction, it's going to be well worth your time and money.
John M. Whalen’s new novel TRAGON OF RAMURA is a
sword-and-sorcery adventure in the classic mold, set in a world that seems an alternate history approximation of our own. The protagonist Tragon has
been framed for the murder of his king and is already on the run when this yarn
begins, having fallen in with the crew of the ship Orion. But he has sworn that someday he’ll return to his home of
Ramura and overthrow the sorcerer Caldec, who is responsible for all the evil
that plagues the country as well as for framing Tragon.
While in a dangerous port city, Tragon encounters an old soldier/mentor of his
named Darius who has fallen on drunken hard times. When Tragon and his
companions on the Orion are hired to
travel to a lost city and rescue the daughter of their client, Tragon decides
to sober up Darius and take him along.
The man who hires them has been to the lost city of Caiphar before, in search
of a mystical gem called the Crimson Eye. His daughter was captured during this
trip, and he barely got away. Now he has to return and rescue her before the
time rolls around for a ritual in which the city’s evil king will take her as
his wife. And of course, stealing the Crimson Eye is still on the table as
well, so in addition to hiring Tragon and his crew, the man also brings along a
group of hardened mercenaries.
Of course, the whole thing winds up being complicated by double crosses, traps,
monsters, immortal evil, a tower full of dead souls, and a beautiful high
priestess who may or may not be trustworthy. There are a lot of influences in
this book: Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN, THE
DIRTY DOZEN . . . and plenty of Whalen’s own talent, as he spins a fast-moving
yarn with interesting characters, a lot of well-written action, and some
surprisingly poignant moments. There’s enough back-story left unresolved for a
number of sequels, too, although this novel is quite satisfying on its own.
I’ve written many times before about what I call front porch books, the sort of
thing I read sitting on the front porch of my parents’ house on long summer
days when I was a kid. TRAGON OF RAMURA, although it’s brand new, is that same
sort of pure pleasure, so I’m naming it an honorary Front Porch Book and
recommending it if you’re a fan of sword and sorcery action.
This movie has maybe the weirdest opening of any B-Western I've ever seen. It starts with a shot showing part of a Western pulp cover (more about this later), then a close-up of a page from a Western manuscript, then a voice-over as an actor reads from this story while the action takes place on screen. The bad guys have captured the beautiful girl and have her tied up, and then the stalwart hero shows up to rescue her. It's all silly and deliberately terrible, as we find out when we see that the old-timer reading the story is the protagonist's father, said protagonist being Western novelist Robert Morris (played by Tom Tyler). Never mind that what the guy is reading is clearly a pulp, not a book. Anyway, the old-timer makes fun of his son's writing and says that it's not realistic. The son explains that he's been invited to visit a real Western ranch and so he'll find out first hand whether or not his stories are authentic. However, the ranch in question--the Mystery Ranch of the title--is actually a dude ranch and the people running it intend to stage a lot of phony Western action to impress the visiting author. Of course, none of this works out as planned, and then a real bank robbery happens, and naturally enough, the author has to turn hero . . . and you can write the plot from that point on just as well as the actual scriptwriters did. Possibly better. Don't get me wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, although the bizarre opening sequence is the real highlight. Nobody would mistake Tom Tyler for a great actor, but he's okay and has enough screen presence to make up for a lot. Veteran heavies Charles King and George Chesebro are on hand to liven things up, and blond Roberta Gale, an actress I'm not familiar with, is really good-looking. There's some decent stunt work by Tyler and others. As usual with Hollywood, the screenwriters have no real idea how publishing works, but I'm used to that. The whole thing is a little off-kilter, but in this case, that's good. Note that there's a better known B Western from a couple of years earlier called MYSTERY RANCH. That one stars George O'Brien. There's also a Max Brand novel with the same title. This movie doesn't have anything to do with either of those. Now, about that pulp . . . As soon as I saw the opening shot, I thought it was a real pulp featured in it. You can't see anything except the middle part of the front cover, with some of the art and the word "Magazine" visible, along with the bottom of the word "Western". But something about it seemed familiar to me, and I realized it looked like it might be a cover from an issue of ALL WESTERN, published by Dell. So it was off to the Fictionmags Index, and sure enough, it's the cover from the June 1934 issue, which was probably on the stands when the movie was filmed. So somebody went down to the newsstand, bought a copy, brought it back to the studio, and ALL WESTERN made what may well be its only movie appearance. You can see the cover, which is a pretty good one and was painted by R. Farrington Elwell, below. And if you want to watch MYSTERY RANCH, the whole thing is available on YouTube, although I watched it as part of a DVD set of public domain Westerns.
This issue of DETECTIVE NOVEL MAGAZINE features an eye-catching cover by Rudolph Belarski. And that's the purpose of a pulp cover, isn't it? The featured story in this issue is a reprint (possibly abridged) of a 1939 novel by Q. Patrick, actually Richard Webb and Hugh Wheeler, who also wrote as Jonathan Stagge and their best-known pseudonym, Patrick Quentin. There are also stories by William Campbell Gault and Arthur Leo Zagat, both top-notch pulpsters, and John L. Benton, a Thrilling Group house-name, so the author of that one was probably pretty good, too.
The cover on this issue of FIGHTING WESTERN is just oddball enough that I really like it. Inside are stories by E. Hoffmann Price (one of his Simon Boliver Grimes series), Chuck Martin, Branch Carter, and two by Victor Rousseau, one under his own name and one as by Lew Merrill. This looks like a good issue of a generally underrated Western pulp.