Saturday, December 15, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Ace-High Western Stories, September 1941

I don't think the art is great on this issue of ACE-HIGH WESTERN STORIES, but the scene has a really dynamic feel to it that I like. And since this is a Popular Publications pulp, you know there'll be some good authors inside and some memorable story titles (most of them come up with by the editor, no doubt). The authors in this issue include Ed Earl Repp, Barry Cord (Peter Germano), Gunnison Steele (Bennie Gardner), Jim Kjelgaard (of juvenile dog novel fame; one of my favorite writers when I was a kid), Rolland Lynch, Dabney Otis Collins, Ralph Berard (Victor White), and Jack Bloodhart. As for titles, you've got "Steel Tracks Through Hell", "The Gun-Cub's Turn to Howl", and "That Die-Hard Texan!", among others. I'd read those.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Forgotten Books: Lead With Your Left - Ed Lacy (Leonard Zinberg)

Ed Lacy, whose real name was Leonard Zinberg, was one of the top hardboiled writers of the Fifties and Sixties. His novel LEAD WITH YOUR LEFT was published first in hardback in 1957 by Harper and reprinted in paperback by Pocket Books. It’s being reprinted, along with another Lacy novel called THE BEST THAT EVER DID IT, in a new double volume from the always excellent Stark House.

The protagonist/narrator of LEAD WITH YOUR LEFT is Dave Wintino, former boxer and army vet and, as the book opens, the youngest detective in the NYPD. He looks even younger than he really is, which leads people to underestimate him, but despite his relative lack of experience, Dave is a dogged investigator. He has problems at home, though, with an ambitious wife who doesn’t like him being a cop and wants him to take a job with her uncle, who runs a freight business.

Dave is part of the team investigating the murder of a retired cop who worked as a messenger for a brokerage house. The case goes nowhere, and Dave gets somewhat distracted working on a complaint from an attractive young female writer who’s being harassed. Then the former partner of the retired cop who was killed winds up being murdered, too, and Dave is sure that the case is even bigger than it appears to be. So sure that he starts working on it despite being ordered to drop it, risking his career, his marriage, and ultimately his life.

Lacy really keeps things zipping along in this one, which, with its Italian protagonist (Italian/Jewish, actually) and abundance of police procedure, reminded me at times of Steve Carella and the 87th Precinct. Dave Wintino has more domestic drama to deal with, though, than usually crops up in the 87th Precinct novels. Lacy does a good job of tying all the strands of the plot together and the solution to the murders is a satisfying one.

LEAD WITH YOUR LEFT is a very good hardboiled novel from an era that specialized in them. I enjoyed it a great deal and if you’re a fan of the genre, this new Stark House edition is well worth picking up.

Monday, December 10, 2018

Monday Memories: Radio

I was too young for the Golden Age of radio drama (although I’ve heard plenty of great Old Time Radio as an adult), but I was right on time for the Golden Age of Top 40 radio. I don’t know exactly when FM radio became popular, mostly in the late Sixties and early Seventies, I think, but in the late Fifties and early Sixties, we were all about AM radio, baby. That was the only band on our car radios and the little transistor radios we carried around in our hip pockets. The sound quality may not have been great, but we listened to them all the time anyway.

My favorite station was KXOL, 1360 on your radio dial in Fort Worth. There were two popular Top 40 stations in Fort Worth, the other one being KFJZ, 1270 AM. You had your KXOL guys, and you had your KFJZ guys. I was a KXOL guy, through and through. There was also a Top 40 station in Dallas, KLIF, but to be honest, I didn’t know anybody who listened to it. Maybe their signal didn’t get over into our part of the country very well.

KXOL had some history to it. George Carlin and Jack Burns worked there as DJs. Bob Schieffer was part of the news department. A couple of national number one hit songs, “Hey Baby” by Bruce Channel and “Hey, Paula” by Paul & Paula, were recorded at a nearby sound studio and had their debuts on KXOL. Paul & Paul were actually named Ray Hildebrand and Jill Jackson and became Christian music artists later on. I saw them perform live at the church I attended, and I’m pretty sure they still sang “Hey, Paula”.

I didn’t always get to listen to what I wanted, though. My dad was a TV repairman, and sometimes I’d go with him when he made his service calls. He listened to a country music station, KBOX (I don’t recall the frequency), and of course the announcers pronounced it just as you’d expect, kaybox, except when doing official station IDs. I didn’t really mind, though. I’ve always been able to listen to just about any kind of music.

During the summers, I spent a lot of time at my aunt’s house in Blanket, Texas, and while I was there I listened to KBWD out of Brownwood. It still exists, but it’s a country station now instead of Top 40 like it was in those days. I remember sitting on the porch of her house with a transistor playing “Light My Fire” or “If You’re Going to San Francisco” while I was reading paperbacks or going through my aunt’s old copies of THE SATURDAY EVENING POST and reading all the fiction.

Another summer, I pretty much lived at my sister’s house, and that was the year I started listening to “Music ‘Til Dawn”, the all-night Easy Listening/Adult Contemporary program I did a blog post about several years ago. Like I said, I enjoyed many different kinds of music and loved what I heard on that program on KRLD out of Dallas.

One thing I liked to do during that era was to turn down the sound late at night, press the radio to my ear, and slowly go through the dial, trying to see how many stations I could hear, and from how far away. When I caught the signal skip just right at night, I was able to hear St. Louis and Chicago pretty regularly, and of course XERF came blasting in from across the border in Mexico. It was all English-language programming, mostly religious, but it didn’t have to abide by FCC regulations.

Along about the same time, I became a fan of WFAA, a Dallas station that was Adult Contemporary during the day and talk radio at night. It was a sister station of WBAP, a country station in Fort Worth, and they had an odd frequency-sharing arrangement. Part of the day, WFAA was at 570 and WBAP was at 820. Then, after a certain number of hours, they would switch frequencies. I never knew why they did this. I’m sure there was some sort of business or regulatory reason. But it made keeping up with them a little difficult. Eventually, WFAA settled into the 570 frequency, and WBAP took over the 820 frequency permanently, where it still is, I believe. WFAA radio is long gone. But I was a regular listener, especially during college, when I seldom missed the late night talk show hosted by Ed Busch.

Radio lost a lot of its charm once I got older and the FM band dominated the industry, although I was a fan of KOAI (“the Oasis”), a smooth jazz station that was in Dallas for a while. And when our daughters were young and I was driving them to school and various activities during the Nineties, I listened to a lot of Top 40 again, only it was their Top 40, not mine. I liked quite a few of the songs, though. These days, we have satellite radio in the car, and I listen to smooth jazz, New Age, classic rock, metal, whatever I’m in the mood for at the moment. Music doesn’t play nearly as big a part in my life as it once did, but still, when the right song comes on the radio, I turn it up. And now and then . . . if I’m by myself . . . and if I hear the opening chords of Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World” . . . yeah, that’s me bellowing out “Jeremiah was a bullfrog!” at the top of his lungs like an idiot. A happy idiot.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Exciting Mystery, Spring 1943

EXCITING MYSTERY lasted only three issues (this is the third and final issue), but it looks pretty darned good. I like this cover, and with stories inside by Norman A. Daniels, Sam Merwin Jr., and some Thrilling Group house-names, I'll bet it was pretty entertaining.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Spicy Western Stories, November 1942

I've seen some goofy covers on SPICY WESTERN STORIES, but this is one of the goofiest. It's eye-catching and I like it, though. Inside are stories by Laurence Donovan, Edwin Truett Long (as Edwin Truett and as Dale Boyd), Allan K. Echols (as T.V. Faulkner, a reprint of "Brother's Keeper", a story from ROMANTIC WESTERN, January 1938, published under Echols' real name), Victor Rousseau (as Paul Hanna, a reprint from ROMANTIC WESTERN, November 1938, of "Woman in Yellow" as by Lew Merrill), William Decatur, and Max Neilson (both house-names). The reprint info comes from the Fictionmags Index, as does the scan, and was provided originally by the legendary Glenn Lord, who knew more about the Spicies than just about anybody else, in addition to all his great work with Robert E. Howard's stories.

Friday, December 07, 2018

Forgotten Books: A Date Which Will Live in Infamy - Brian M. Thomsen and Martin H. Greenberg, eds.

Since today is Pearl Harbor Day, it seems appropriate to write about this anthology of alternate history stories that came out in 2001. Its full title is A DATE WHICH WILL LIVE IN INFAMY: AN ANTHOLOGY OF PEARL HARBOR STORIES THAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN. I was a regular in Marty Greenberg's anthologies then, since I was writing a couple of novel series for his Tekno-Books, including the World War II series THE LAST GOOD WAR. So I was a natural to be included in this book. For my story, "The East Wind Caper", I brought back Nicholas Lake, a private detective character I'd used one time in a story for MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE many years earlier. In this one, I had him doing business in Honolulu and gave him an assistant/sidekick, a Hawaiian nightclub comic, and played the whole thing pretty much fast and lightweight. I haven't read the story in years, but I recall that one of Lake's cases somehow allowed him to prevent the attack on Pearl Harbor. I hope it holds up, but like I said, it's been a long time since I read it . . .

As for the other stories, it's been even longer since I read them, but I remember I thought it was a really good bunch of yarns. You'd expect that with authors such as Ed Gorman, Brendan DuBois, William C. Dietz, Barrett Tillman, and William H. Keith Jr. There are also several essays about Pearl Harbor by Brian M. Thomsen (who edited the book along with Greenberg), William R. Forstchen, Paul M. Thomsen, and Allen Kupfer. If you're interested in alternate history and/or World War II, it's a book well worth hunting up.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Super-Detective, November 1942

I've never read any of the Jim Anthony stories, not the early ones by Victor Rousseau writing under the house-name John Grange, or these later ones by Robert Leslie Bellem and W.T. Ballard where he's more of a standard hardboiled detective. But knowing Bellem and Ballard's work, I'll bet the stories are at least entertaining. The cover of this issue of SUPER-DETECTIVE is certainly eye-catching. There are three short stories in this issue as well, all of them under Trojan Publishing Corporation house-names, so there's no telling who actually wrote them.

Saturday, December 01, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: 5 Western Novels Magazine, January 1950

See, that's why I don't like to shave. It gives them dern bushwhackers a chance to sneak up on yuh! But I do like this cover painted by Joseph Dreany. 5 WESTERN NOVELS MAGAZINE was mostly a reprint pulp. All five of the lead novelettes in this issue were publishing originally in THRILLING WESTERN and THRILLING RANCH STORIES during the Thirties. But with a line-up of authors like Ray Nafziger, Lee Bond, T.W. Ford, Larry Harris, and whoever wrote the story as Jackson Cole, I wouldn't mind the reprints. There are also three short stories, evidently new, by Noel Loomis, Dupree Poe, and John C. Ropke.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Forgotten Books: No Business of Mine - James Hadley Chase

The main weakness in the American-set thrillers by British author James Hadley Chase is that occasionally the settings and especially the dialogue don’t quite ring true. The very popular Chase, whose real name was Rene Raymond, comes up with a smart way to avoid this minor pitfall in NO BUSINESS OF MINE, a novel originally published in 1947 under the pseudonym Raymond Marshall. Even though the novel features an American narrator/protagonist, two-fisted reporter Steve Harmas, it’s set in post-war England and so Chase can write more about people and places he knows. And for that matter, Steve Harmas is a pretty believable American, too.

Harmas spent most of the war in London as a war correspondent, and he’s back now, a couple of years later, to write a series of articles for a New York newspaper about conditions in post-war England. While he’s there, he intends to look up an old girlfriend of his named Netta Scott. When he does, though, he discovers to his shock that she committed suicide just the day before by gassing herself in her flat. Harmas doesn’t believe she would do such a thing, so he starts poking into her life since he saw her last. Naturally, things do not go well.

The first few pages of this novel are kind of slow as Chase sets things up, but once Harmas discovers Netta’s death and starts his investigation, boy, things really rocket along after that! Almost right away, Netta’s sister winds up dead, too. Hearses are hijacked and bodies disappear! The morgue goes up in flames! Gangsters beat the crap out of Harmas! The cops warn him to stay out of their investigations or go to jail! A fortune in jewels is missing! Throats are cut, skulls are bashed in with fireplace pokers, and everywhere Harmas turns, somebody’s either lying to him or trying to kill him! Thank goodness there are a few beautiful blondes and redheads to comfort him along the way.

It seems that Chase went into this book with the goal of springing a major surprise on the reader every thirty or forty pages. He succeeds in doing that, too. I certainly wasn’t expecting some of the twists. That makes for an incredibly complicated plot, but as far as I can tell, it all holds together pretty well, although Harmas has to take the last fifteen pages of the book to explain everything. He’s a hard-nosed but likable protagonist, quick with his fists and with witty banter, too, and the book has a lot of other vividly depicted characters (mostly villainous) as well.

NO BUSINESS OF MINE is one of the most entertaining James Hadley Chase books I’ve read so far. It’s just been reprinted by Stark House in a double volume with another early Chase novel, MISS SHUMWAY WAVES A WAND, and if you’re looking for a tough, fast-paced, hardboiled action novel, I give it a high recommendation. I really enjoyed it.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Monday Memories: The Ski Jump

You can get a pretty good idea how long somebody has been around Azle by how they react if you mention the Ski Jump. If they have no idea what you’re talking about, they probably haven’t been in town long, since everybody hears about the Ski Jump sooner or later. But only those of us who have been around here since the early Sixties know why it’s called that.

First of all, despite the fact that the town is just west of Eagle Mountain Lake, there are no actual mountains anywhere around Azle, and certainly not any where anybody would be skiing. People do water ski on the lake, and for all I know there might be some ramps somewhere that they use for jumping. But that has nothing to do with the Ski Jump.

As far back as I remember, the street where I lived turned off the service road of State Highway 199, which was a four-lane, divided highway with a grass median between the eastbound and westbound lanes and also a two-lane, two-way service road on each side, also separated from the highway by grass medians. It was a nice highway for the time, but I recall, early on in my life, it ran for less than half a mile past the street where I lived and then abruptly ended at a crossover, except for the service road on our side of the highway, which curved to the left and continued on through downtown Azle. The state had built the divided highway that far and then stopped, I guess because they had to wait for more funds to become available.

Sometime around 1959 or ’60, construction began to extend the divided highway around downtown. Main Street, which had been Highway 199, would be designated Loop 344 (which it is to this day). However, some engineer came up with an interesting idea for the exit ramp to that loop. Instead of an exit to the right from the westbound lanes, after which traffic for the downtown loop would continue along that service road to an overpass or underpass, the two westbound lanes of the highway climbed an embankment, at the top of which they split. The right-hand lane continued on, while the left-hand lane made a very sharp turn to the left, onto a bridge that crossed over the eastbound lanes and then descended to merge with Main Street. Got that?

I have a hunch you can figure out what happened after this oddly designed left-hand exit opened around 1961. It was new, so people weren’t really familiar with it, and some of them were driving too fast, and there may have been alcohol involved at times (Highway 199, also known as the Jacksboro Highway, was infamous for the beer joints that lined it on both sides from downtown Fort Worth all the way to Azle) . . .

Yep, you’re right. Several times over the next couple of years, for whatever reasons, drivers suddenly found themselves at the top of that rise and couldn’t make the sharp turn to the left. Instead they crashed through the guard rail and their cars sailed through the air—like skiers coming off a ski jump—and landed either in the median or in the eastbound lanes of the highway, resulting in fatalities, many injuries, and much destruction. It was a mess.

So, realizing their mistake, the highway department closed down that exit, leveled off the embankment leading up to it, and laid down two regular lanes of highway on that side. They built a standard right-hand exit to the westbound service road a couple of hundred yards back. And since the bridge over the eastbound lanes was still there, they just extended it over the westbound lanes as well, over to the service road, where people who wanted to go to downtown Azle could turn onto it, follow it over the highway, and then swoop down to Main Street on the remaining part of what had already become known far and wide as the Ski Jump.

And even though the deadly design responsible for that name has been gone for almost sixty years, people around here still call that bridge the Ski Jump, although I suspect fewer and fewer of them do so, and many of the ones who do don’t really know why it’s called that. I’m sure there’ll come a time when nobody knows, and after that a time when nobody even calls it that anymore. But a lot of us will remember as long as we’re around, and now you know the rest of the story, too, as Paul Harvey used to say.