Sunday, December 04, 2022

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Astounding Stories, August 1936

I'm not sure what's going on in this cover by Howard V. Brown, but that looks like a mosh pit in the background. Well, they do say that science fiction can predict the future. Inside this issue of ASTOUNDING STORIES are stories by some great writers: Jack Williamson, Murray Leinster, Stanley G. Weinbaum, Nat Schachner, Raymond Z. Gallun, Ralph Milne Farley, and Wallace West. F. Orlin Tremaine was still the editor at this point, but John W. Campbell has an article in this issue. The whole issue is on-line at the Internet Archive, so I guess if I'm curious enough about that cover, I can find out. 

Saturday, December 03, 2022

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Action-Packed Western, September 1954

Action-packed, indeed. ACTION-PACKED WESTERN was one of the Columbia Publications pulps edited by Robert A.W. Lowndes on a very low budget. But he always got good writers despite the pay rates. This issue includes stories by Gordon D. Shirreffs, Seven Anderton, A.A. Baker, Gene Rodgers, and Lowndes himself writing under the name John Lackland. 

Friday, December 02, 2022

Battle at Rattlesnake Pass - Tom West (Fred East)

Tom West was actually an Englishman named Fred East who moved to the United States after being wounded in World War I, and after knocking around in various jobs, including journalism, he broke in as a Western novelist in the early 1940s, publishing books under the Tom West name as well as the pseudonym Roy Manning. He also wrote several novels under the Peter Field house-name in the Powder Valley series. I’ve found his work to be a little inconsistent, but generally I like his books quite a bit and really ought to read more of them. Here’s an excellent blog post about him with reviews of some of his books.

Many of the Tom West books were published originally as half of Ace Double Westerns. BATTLE AT RATTLESNAKE PASS was published in 1965 with TRAIL OF THE VANISHING RANCHERS by Stephen Payne on the other side of Ace Double M-124. It was reprinted by Ace sometime in the Seventies by itself, and that’s the edition I read recently. That’s my copy in the scan at the top of this post.

As this novel opens, hardbitten young cowboy and ex-convict Mike O’Brien is on a stagecoach heading back to his hometown in Arizona. He’s just served five years in Yuma Territorial Prison for shooting (but not killing) the man who killed his father in a shootout. O’Brien’s father was a hardscrabble rancher suspected of being a rustler, and he was gunned by the foreman of a rival cattleman after being caught with some cattle with blotted brands. Of course, O’Brien believes his father was framed. He intends to go back and take over the family ranch, but he knows everybody in the valley hates him and will try to run him out. On the stagecoach, he meets a beautiful young blonde, but he discovers that she’s the daughter of a sheepherder who’s trying to extend his grazing land.

Not surprisingly, trouble comes at O’Brien from all sides, and his only ally is a crippled gunfighter he befriends. He winds up being framed not only as a rustler but also as a murderer and has to go on the run to try to clear his name and uncover the mastermind behind all the trouble plaguing the valley.

As you can tell, the basic plot of this novel is pretty standard stuff, but West takes it in directions that I didn’t really expect. Honestly, I didn’t know what was going to happen or who the real villain was until the end, and that’s very unusual. There’s a lot of great action along the way, some humor, and colorful characters who speak in colorful dialogue that never quite reaches “Why, yuh mangy polecat!” levels. Mike O’Brien is a good protagonist, stubborn as all get-out, not quite likable some of the time, but always sympathetic.

Now, this is a book that sure could have used some better editing. There are quite a few typos, some awkward writing that could have been fixed pretty easily, and despite the title, there is no Rattlesnake Pass in this book. The only pass that’s ever mentioned is Sidewinder Pass. Somebody should have done something about that.

All that said, I really enjoyed BATTLE AT RATTLESNAKE PASS. It’s just a good, old-fashioned action Western, the kind of book I never tire of. I had a fine time reading it and I’m glad I have quite a few more Tom West books on my shelves. I need to get to some of them soon.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Clues, November 1931

This cover is by H.W. Wessolowski, best remembered for his science fiction pulp covers, usually billed as Wesso or H.W. Wesso. But he did a number of covers for pulps in other genres, such as this issue of CLUES. Oddly enough, a number of the authors in this issue are probably best known as Western writers: T.T. Flynn, Tom Curry, Edward Parrish Ware, Oscar Schisgall, and Johnston McCulley. Although to be fair, all of those guys were very prolific in the detective pulps as well. Also on hand are John Wilstach, Richard Howells Watkins, Eric Taylor, and Lemuel de Bra, none of whom I actually think of as mystery writers. But they were good writers, and being good pulpsters, they could do a lot of different things in order to make a sale. Which makes me think this would be an entertaining issue.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Novel and Short Stories, August 1934

Here's a Sidney Riesenberg cover I like a little more than the one on last Saturday's Western pulp. This issue of WESTERN NOVEL AND SHORT STORIES lives up to its name. Most of the pages are occupied by Clarence E. Mulford's Hopalong Cassidy novel "Black Buttes". I don't know if it was abridged for this pulp appearance. Even at 98 pages of double-columned small print, it probably was. Backing it up are two stories, one by Raymond W. Porter (who I've heard of but never read, as far as I recall) and James Corson (who I've never heard of). 

Friday, November 25, 2022

The Deadly Pay-Off - William H. Duhart

I had a copy of the original Gold Medal edition of THE DEADLY PAY-OFF by William H. Duhart on my shelves for more than 30 years and never got around to reading it. That copy was lost in the Fire of ’08, and I never replaced it. But Black Gat Books is about to reprint the novel next month and I was fortunate enough to get an ARC. I know when the universe is telling me to read something. And I’m very glad I did.

The protagonist of THE DEADLY PAY-OFF is professional gambler Tank Tabor, whose younger brother Bill is a private detective. Bill is poking around in a case and annoys Arky Calahan, the crime boss of Milwaukee, where this novel takes place. Calahan puts pressure on Tank to get his brother to back off, and when Bill refuses to do so, Tank finds himself framed for several crimes, including hooking an underage girl on drugs. Bill still refuses to drop the case and winds up dead. And Tank is framed for that killing, too, and has to go on the run to clear his name, solve several other murders, and keep himself and his friends alive.

Boiled down, this is a pretty standard hardboiled crime novel plot, but Duhart puts a number of interesting and unexpected spins on it. He also keeps things moving at a good clip, provides some swift and effective dialogue, and really heaps problem after problem on his hero. I had no idea how Tabor was going to get out from under the sheer weight of everything stacked against him. THE DEADLY PAY-OFF is a good book, not the same level as those from Gold Medal stalwarts such as Harry Whittington, Day Keene, Charles Williams, and John D. MacDonald, but for a first novel it’s really solid and very much worth reading.

And the author is just about as interesting as the book, as we discover from the fine introduction to the Black Gat edition by Bill Kelly. William H. Duhart was a black ex-convict with literary ambitions who started this novel in prison and finished it while attending a prestigious writer’s colony in Illinois. You can’t tell that from the writing. Like Frank Yerby and John B. West, Duhart seems to have been a black author writing for a primarily white audience. However, probably the most sympathetic character in the book is Jock Adams, a black former numbers runner who’s had a falling out with the crime boss. He meets Tabor while both are in jail and teams up with him to bring Arky Calahan down. Jock is an excellent character, and I wish Duhart had given us some novels featuring him as the protagonist.

However, after his debut with THE DEADLY PAY-OFF, Duhart published only 11 short stories in the lower-rung crime fiction digests of the late Fifties and early Sixties, and then the novel RAVISHING SEDUCTRESS, which came out from Merit Books in 1962. That seems to be the end of his writing career, although he didn’t pass away until 2003. There are some great titles among the short stories: “Fear Stacks the Deck!”, “Lust of the Damned!”, “Never Con a Killer!”, “Passion Swamp!”, and more. I realize it would really be a niche market item, but a reprint of RAVISHING SEDUCTRESS, along with those short stories, would be a great thing to have. I know I’d want a copy. Maybe one of these days.

In the meantime, the Black Cat edition of THE DEADLY PAY-OFF will be out in a couple of weeks, and you can pre-order it on Amazon. I had a fine time reading it, and if you’re a hardboiled crime fiction fan, you should check it out.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Monday, November 21, 2022

Riders of Fortune - Walt Coburn

Walt Coburn remains one of my favorite Western authors. RIDERS OF FORTUNE, published by Five Star in 2007, reprints two of Coburn’s novellas and one of his novelettes from the pulp ACTION STORIES that originally appeared in 1925, during an era in which Coburn was writing exclusively for Fiction House.

The first novella, “Ride ‘Im, Cowboy”, is from the January 1925 issue of ACTION STORIES. Young cowboy Tom Rawlins, who rides for the Circle C ranch in Montana (a spread owned by Coburn’s father in real life, and where he grew up), gets word that he’s inherited a ranch in Arizona from a long-estranged uncle. Tom heads south to claim that legacy, but along the way he’s drugged and robbed of the papers that prove his identity, and then later, when the train he’s riding on is held up, he’s taken for one of the robbers and winds up in jail in the town near the ranch he means to claim. As it turns out, somebody claiming to be Tom Rawlins has already shown up to take over the ranch. Tom’s uncle was murdered, there’s a lynch mob figuring to string Tom up, and his only ally is the sheriff’s beautiful redheaded daughter . . .

That’s a pretty standard plot, but remember, this story was first published almost a hundred years ago. Coburn does an excellent job of juggling all the elements, there are several villains and they’re all suitably despicable, and as usual, the heroine is a strong character. Coburn based most of his female leads on his wife Pat, in both appearance and personality. This yarn is a little more straightforward than some of Coburn’s work, which often relies heavily on the characters’ back-stories and features some psychological angst to go along with the ridin’ and shootin’ and fightin’.

Next up is the novelette “The Sun Dance Kid”, from the July 1925 issue of ACTION STORIES, which finds the title character, a hot-headed, fast-shootin’ young cowboy, fleeing from Arizona across the border into Mexico after he robs a crooked gambler who cheated him. Once there, he’s captured by a gang of Mexican revolutionaries and by a twist of fate becomes their leader, eventually known as Colonel Sun Dance Kid. Evidently he was demoted by the time the story was reprinted under the title “Captain Gringo” in the Fall 1940 issue of FRONTIER STORIES. I have to wonder if Lou Cameron read that version of the story and remembered the name, using it as the name of the protagonist in his long-running paperback series RENEGADE, published by Warner Books under the pseudonym Ramsey Thorne.

But to get back to the story, Coburn soon introduces another character, an American showgirl stranded below the border, and despite the action that breaks out occasionally, “The Sun Dance Kid” becomes a screwball romantic comedy. It works pretty well, too, with a lot of fast-paced, slangy dialogue that’s reminiscent of Ben Hecht and Howard Hawks. The thing is, Coburn’s yarn predates the movies for which those two are famous, so this was just Coburn being Coburn. I’ve found the same sort of dialogue in his more traditional action Westerns, too. Comedy, romance, and action all come together in “The Sun Dance Kid” to make it one of the best stories I’ve read by him so far.

The title story of this volume, “Riders of Fortune”, is from the September 1928 issue of ACTION STORIES. Like the other two stories, it’s set along and on both sides of the Arizona/Mexico border and concerns a line of rugged, desolate hills called the Devil’s Bend that serves as a hideout for a horde of American and Mexican outlaws. Coburn really packs a lot into this short novel. There’s a fortune in gold and gems hidden by a Mexican revolutionary, a mysterious, badly scarred rancher, a millionaire who’s also a secret agent (shades of Amos Burke, for those of you with long memories!), a couple of Border Patrol agents, a beautiful girl who sings in a cantina, and a band of dastardly villains including a German, an Italian, and a Russian Cossack! Many of these characters aren’t who they seem to be at first. Most of them have secrets (finally, this is a Coburn yarn with one of his trademarks: tons and tons of back-story).

In fact, with all these characters and sub-plots, “Riders of Fortune” winds up being a little too busy and muddled. It all makes sense, but it takes time and a lot of explaining to untangle everything. Because of that, I found it to be the weakest of the three tales in this collection. But the fast-paced dialogue, the epic action scenes, and the vivid setting are all great, as usual, so I still found it fun to read.

In addition to the border setting, all three of these stories are also contemporary Westerns, or at least contemporary to the time Coburn wrote them, meaning that there are cars around and several of the characters in “Riders of Fortune” fought together in World War I. Having grown up on Roy Rogers and Gene Autry movies, I have a real fondness for this sort of tale.

Overall, I found RIDERS OF FORTUNE well worth reading and it maintains Coburn’s standing as one of my favorite Western writers. My copy is a discard from the Rochester Public Library in Rochester, New Hampshire. I’m glad it found its way to Texas so I could read it.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Adventure, May 1934

Here's another pith helmet cover, this one by Duncan McMillan. I like the colors on this one. This issue of ADVENTURE has some excellent writers in it, including Gordon MacCreagh with a Kingi Bwana story. Also on hand are W.C. Tuttle, Albert Richard Wetjen, Gordon Young (with a serial installment), and a couple of lesser-known writers, Andrew McCaffrey and James Stevens.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Frontier Stories, Winter 1944

I'm not crazy about this Sidney Riesenberg cover, but inside this issue of FRONTIER STORIES are yarns by Dan Cushman, Les Savage Jr., Tom W. Blackburn, Curtis Bishop, and Harold Preece. That's an excellent bunch of writers, so I'll bet this is an entertaining issue.