Saturday, December 31, 2011

Glenn Lord, 1931 - 2011

The way I'll always remember him, with a friendly smile on his face and an eagerness to talk about Robert E. Howard, pulp magazines, or anything else under the sun. He was one of the most truly decent men I've ever known. Rest in peace, Glenn.

(This photo is from Damon Sasser's REH: Two-Gun Raconteur blog.)

The Wrap-Up

This is my usual end-of-the-year post where I talk about the books I've read and the writing I've done. No movie section this year, because, while I'm still watching quite a few movies, I've pretty much stopped blogging about them except for the Tuesday's Overlooked Movies series. But to touch on a few generalities . . . I watched and liked all the superhero movies. I watched and liked most of the crude comedies. I watched and liked most of the popular animated movies. (Was RANGO this year? I love RANGO, maybe as much as anything I saw all year.) As you've no doubt noted, I'm easy to please when it comes to movies. Ooh, pretty colors! People running and jumping! Boobs! Explosions! Swordfights! Needless to say, a connoisseur of the cinema, I ain't. So let's move on to something else.


I always wait until almost the last minute to come up with my list of favorite books I read during the year. Who knows, the last book you read in a year might be one of the very best. So here are my ten favorites from 2011 in the order in which I read them:

RUN, Blake Crouch
THE BASTARD HAND, Heath Lowrance
THE HOLLYWOOD OP, Terence Faherty
SPIDER-MAN: BLUE, Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale
HANK AND MUDDY, Stephen Mertz
GOSHEN HOLE, Wayne D. Dundee

Oh, hell, I read too many good books. Here's my second ten, and on any given day, some of them would be in the other list:

A HOST OF SHADOWS, Harry Shannon
GANG GIRL, Robert Silverberg
CAST IN DARK WATERS, Ed Gorman and Tom Piccirilli
THE HERETIC, Joseph Nasisse
IN THE BEGINNING, Robert Silverberg

I could list a lot more books that I thought were excellent. I had a lot to choose from, too, because I read 168 books in 2011, my best total in a number of years. But pick up any of the ones mentioned above and I guarantee that you'll have a good time. (Not a money-back guarantee, mind you. I'm not dumb, regardless of what you may have heard.)

I think it's worth noting that most of these books are either small press volumes or self-published e-books. That's an indication of just how much this business has changed in the past 12 to 18 months. I think it's a change for the better, too. There are some brilliant books out there that would have had a difficult time, at best, finding a home with a traditional publisher, and they're not only finding readers when they might not have otherwise, in some cases they're even making a living for their authors. This is an exciting time for both readers and writers.


Moving on to my own writing, it seems like every time I do one of these wrap-up posts, I find myself saying, "Well, I wrote more this year than I ever did before. I'll probably never write that much again." Then, the next year, I say, "Well, uh . . . I wrote more this year than I ever did before." And this year is no different in that respect. I blew past my previous best from last year about 300 pages ago and topped a million words for the seventh straight year. My output, which I think translates to somewhere between 1.3 and 1.4 million words (I don't keep exact word counts; old guys like me tend to think in terms of pages) encompasses 17 novels and seven short stories and novelettes. Yeah, that's crazy. You're not telling me anything I don't already know. But at least I've learned my lesson about trying to predict how much I'll write next year. I have no idea.  At this point I know of ten novels I'm supposed to write in 2012. Beyond that we'll have to just wait and see.

What I do know is that sometime during the morning of New Year's Day, I'll climb the stairs to my office, open the blinds, turn the computer on, read the first cartoon on my GET FUZZY daily calendar for 2012, and then get to work. What else am I gonna do?

Have a great New Year, folks.

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Ace-High, June 3, 1928

To finish off the year, here's another Western pulp I've read, from the original incarnation of ACE-HIGH when it was published by Clayton. Later, after a gap in being publishing, the title was sold to Popular Publications, where the title was changed to ACE-HIGH WESTERN and it continued under that name for a number of years.

The lead novel is "The Free Grass Frontier" by J. Edward Leithead. It's a typical yarn about big cattle barons in Montana trying to force out the smaller ranchers. Leithead produced smooth, consistently readable prose without an overabundance of Western dialect, and that's what makes this story a pleasure to read.

"The Badman's Brand", by H. Bedford-Jones, is a novelette about an old-timer in New Mexico helping a girl from the East look for her missing brother while at the same time dealing with a gang of Mexican killers who are after a noble, mysterious bandit. (And yes, the plot twist really is that obvious.) Just as with the Leithead story, Bedford-Jones' style and pacing saves this story, which has a very effective ending and one final twist that I didn't see coming.

The other stories:

"The Abalone Ring" by Hapsburg Liebe, a short actioner about a trick-shooter in a Wild West show who goes home to solve a murder.

"McGrew Comes Through" by J.R. Johnston, the adventures of a canny old lawman and his not so bright but fast on the draw deputy.

"The Wolf Bites" by Glenn A. Connor, in which a young outlaw on the run for a crime he didn't commit throws in with the law to round up a gang of killers.

"Ladies' Day Dugan" by James W. Egan, a baseball story in the middle of all those Westerns (the magazine's masthead does say "Western Adventure and Sport Stories"). Pretty enjoyable, though the comedy ending falls a little flat. I like baseball stories, though, every once in a while.

"Held up in Halfmoon" by A. Clifford Farrell. I assume this is the same author who later goes by Cliff Farrell. If so, I've read and enjoyed some of his novels. This story is about a deputy tracking down a masked outlaw whose identity is supposed to be a surprise.

"Jammin' the Jamboree" by Clee Woods. The only story I started and didn't finish. I usually don't like comedy Westerns, and this one was no exception. It's about a bulldogging competition.

"Rustling Hay" by Bertrand L. Shurtleff, which has a nice plot about rustlers who steal hay instead of cattle. The protagonists are a pair of wandering cowpokes named Big and Little (that almost made me quit reading).The interesting plot kept me going and the characters turned out to be okay.

There's also part of a serial, "Gun Country" by William Colt MacDonald, that I didn't read. I think I have the complete novel under some other title. The main character's name, Blaze Routledge, sounds familiar.

Plus "The Sluice Box", a mining column, and "The Country Store", a department that includes a swap shop, a missing persons section, and letters from readers. Overall this is a pretty good issue, not as strong as the issues of WESTERN STORY and ADVENTURE from the Twenties I've read, but certainly well worth reading.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Now Available from Black Dog Books: Wings of War!

Our latest title, Wings of War, collecting the first two novel-length adventures of John Masters, The Lone Eagle, is now available for purchase.

Visit our Wings of War listings page to learn more or order your copy today.

Pilot extraordinaire John Masters was an ace operative of the U.S. Secret Service when war broke out. So it was only natural that when the first squadron of Yank flyers went to France to strafe the Boche, Masters went too, only operating undercover.

Masters became the Lone Eagle of the Skies, displaying an indomitable courage and dynamic driving power to push any secret mission to a successful conclusion; a fighting ace whose dark and inscrutable movements became the scourge of all enemy powers.

Suspected by many, some men feared him, some men hated him. The alluring but deadly female German spy R-47 may have loved him. Masters became that mysterious Nemesis of the Western Front known only as—The Lone Eagle!

"John Masters blasts his way across the skies in the kind of aerial action that will thrill modern readers as much as it did the pulp readers of the '30s. The Lone Eagle is a hero for the ages!"—Bill Crider, contributing author to the Nick Carter and Stone: M.I.A. Hunter series

"In the 1930s, the Lone Eagle set the bar for realistic action adventure with a tough guy loner able to survive against all comers. John Masters blazed a bullet-strewn path that series heroes of the 1970s and 1980s were hard pressed to follow."—Mel Odom, contributing author to the SuperBolan, Stonyman and Executioner series

"Combat ace John Masters was one of the most realistic air heroes of the pulp era. It's about damn time these bullet-torn tales were reprinted!"—Will Murray, contributing author to the Destroyer series

"Great fun!"—Stephen Mertz, contributing author to the Executioner, Tunnel Rats and Cody's Army series

(I've read both of these novels and really enjoyed them. These aren't the wild, science-fictional adventures of G-8 and his Battle Aces. The Lone Eagle novels are grim and gritty, with an emphasis on espionage and excellent aerial combat sequences. If you've never tried this series, I highly recommend it.)

Forgotten Books: Winter Girl - Harry Whittington

Harry Whittington's backwoods novels are some of my favorites of his work. WINTER GIRL sort of falls into that category. It's set in Mississippi (probably) and takes place in a mixture of rural and small town settings. It's a coming-of-age novel, too, as the narrator, Calder Fenton, is eighteen when the novel begins. And it's a dog story, as well, since some of it revolves around Calder's Irish Setter Fanny, a hunting dog coveted by a rich Northerner who spends his winters in the area. That Northerner, who's a pretty despicable villain, has a beautiful teenage daughter named Lu Ann, and Calder covets her as much as Lu Ann's father wants Calder's dog.

Well, as you can guess, those elements are ripe for a considerable amount of domestic drama, which Whittington exploits for all they're worth like the top-notch professional he was. As David Laurence Wilson points out in his fine introduction to the upcoming Stark House triple volume that reprints WINTER GIRL (along with Whittington's novels RAPTURE ALLEY and STRICTLY FOR THE BOYS), this isn't one of the crime novels for which Whittington is so well known, but that doesn't mean it's lacking in suspense and violence.

If you haven't heard of WINTER GIRL, that's probably because it was never published under that title during Whittington's lifetime. Instead, it's one of the formerly missing soft-core novels that Whittington wrote for William Hamling's various imprints during the early to mid-Sixties. It was published in 1966 under the title THE TASTE OF DESIRE, as by Curt Colman. Wilson and Stark House have restored the original title, and Wilson also edited the book back as close as he could to Whittington's original manuscript, a trunk novel he dusted off, rewrote, and sold to Hamling. In this form, it reads very much like it could have been published by Gold Medal, Avon, or Ace, and I'm not sure why it didn't sell when Whittington first wrote it.

Possibly because after an absolutely fine first two-thirds that ranks right up there with the best of Whittington's work, the final third seems a little rushed to me, especially the ending. However, that doesn't distract from the book's overall impact. WINTER GIRL is an excellent novel that serves as a prime example of Whittington's skill and versatility as a writer. The Stark House volume comes out in February, but you can pre-order it now. I think that's a good idea . . . and I haven't even read RAPTURE ALLEY or STRICTLY FOR THE BOYS yet! (Soon, though.)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Hell on Church Street - Jake Hinkson

I'd read some short stories by Jake Hinkson and enjoyed them, so I expected to like his first novel, too. But HELL ON CHURCH STREET turned out to be even better than I thought it would be. It's a very strong debut.

Except for a framing sequence that concerns an armed robbery gone wrong, this novel is narrated in flashback by one Geoffrey Webb, a young man from a bad family background who becomes the youth minister at a small Baptist church in Arkansas. Maybe Geoffrey isn't exactly a sociopath, but it's pretty obvious that, as folks from the country might say, that boy ain't right. For one thing, he gets involved with the underage daughter of the church's pastor, and then when a corrupt local lawman horns his way in on Geoffrey's plans, things get really bad. Then, as they always do in noir novels . . . they get worse.

I don't know anything about Hinkson's background, but I grew up in a Baptist church much like the one in this book, and he really nails the setting and the characters. The prose is very readable, and the pace races along just the way I like. Geoffrey Webb isn't really an unreliable narrator; he's pretty honest about himself and what he's doing. Nor is he the least bit sympathetic. But he is very compelling. I don't think most readers will root for him – I certainly didn't – but I did want to find out what was going to happen to him.

This is the second extremely good debut novel from New Pulp Press that I've read this year, the other one being Heath Lowrance's THE BASTARD HAND. And in both of them, oddly enough, organized religion plays an important part in the plot. Is this the beginning of a new sub-genre?  Church noir?  Eh, probably not, although that would make a good theme for an anthology, wouldn't it?  Let's just say that HELL ON CHURCH STREET is a fine novel, and it's available now in both print and e-book editions. You should check it out.

(By the way, I have my own church noir novel I'm going to write one of these days . . . when I get around to all the novels I'm going to write one of these days.)

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Traditional December 27th Post

If you go back and look at previous entries on this blog each December 27th, you'll find some nostalgic ramblings about what happened on that day in 1976. The condensed version is that on December 27th, 1976, I made my first fiction sale, a confession yarn (some of you may not know what that is) to a long-since-defunct magazine called INTIMATE STORY. The check that arrived 35 years ago today was my first indication that the story had sold. There was no letter of acceptance beforehand or anything like that, or even a contract, just a check from Ideal Publishing for $167.50.

So, after 35 years in this business, what have I learned? Not a hell of a lot, I think most of the time. Recently I've noticed that I'm doing a lot more rewriting during the editing stage on my manuscripts, seeing ways to improve them that I never noticed before. That's got me wondering if maybe I'm lucky enough to keep writing for another 35 years, I might finally begin to figure out what I'm doing. I wouldn't count on it, though.

Mostly I've learned that writing is more fun than anything else I could do for a living and that by and large writers are one of the best groups of people you could ever find. The Internet, which I couldn't have even dreamed of back in '76, has just increased that sense of community. When I sold my first story I didn't know anyone who had ever sold any fiction. The only person I'd ever met who had even had fiction published was my cousin Richard Finley, who had the only story he ever wrote accepted by his college literary magazine. And several more years went by before I even started corresponding with other writers (other than my editor at MSMM, Sam Merwin Jr.), let alone met any of them in person. Of course, I was living with a writer at the time, I just didn't know it yet.

To sum up, I'm old and I've been doing this for a long time. But I hope I can stay at it for a while longer.

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Blackthorn

This is a movie that was barely released to theaters, and it recently came out on DVD with little or no fanfare, so it might easily be overlooked. Which would be a shame since it's well worth watching.

First of all, you have to accept the premise that Butch Cassidy wasn't killed in Bolivia in 1908 but rather survived the battle with the Bolivian army (although the Sundance Kid ultimately didn't) and became a horse rancher in an isolated part of the country instead. Now it's twenty years later, and Butch, now calling himself James Blackthorn, has decided the time has come to go home. Before he can do that, however, he gets involved with a Spanish mining engineer who has stolen $50,000 from a rich mine owner. That starts Butch/Blackthorn off on one last great, dangerous adventure.

There's definitely a "last ride", elegiac feeling to this whole film, helped along considerably by Sam Shepard's powerful performance as the aging Butch Cassidy. He's certainly believable in the part. The flashbacks to earlier years with Butch, Sundance, and Etta Place are quite effective, too. BLACKTHORN is a well written, well acted, and very well photographed film set in some spectacularly beautiful locations. It's maybe a little too low-key in a few places for my taste, but overall I enjoyed it a lot. If you're a Western fan, you should check it out.

Monday, December 26, 2011

After Christmas Sale

TRACTOR GIRL, my Texas-set 1950s crime novel, is now on sale for .99 for a limited time, for both the Kindle and the Nook.  36,000 words of action and suspense, if I say so myself.

Also, a number of other books by Livia and me are still on sale for .99 if you need to fill up that new e-reader you got for Christmas.

Music: The Comancheros - Elmer Bernstein

Wake up! Get moving! Christmas is over. Things to do! We're burnin' daylight, pilgrim.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Story, December 26, 1942

I said last week I might change my mind about posting a cover this morning, and sure enough . . . It's another issue of WESTERN STORY, another Christmas cover, but with some action this time. It's not everybody who can deliver Christmas presents and take part in a shootout with a bad hombre at the same time. Let's see Santa do that.

As for the inside of the issue, there's a short story by George Cory Franklin called "Christmas on the Lake Fork" and a poem, "Cow-Range Christmas", by the ubiquitous S. Omar Barker, but that seems to be it for Christmas-related content. There are other stories, though, by old pros L.L. Foreman, Bob Obets, Peter Dawson, Tom W. Blackburn, and Leslie Ernenwein, so it's probably a pretty entertaining selection.

I'll leave you now with the wish that you all enjoy your holiday weekend.

Friday, December 23, 2011

International Goodness

My short story "The Old College Try", which originally appeared in MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE back in the Seventies, is being reprinted in the final issue of Juri Nummelin's magazine ISKU. I don't read or speak Finnish, but that great cover speaks my language! Congratulations to Juri on ISKU's long and successful run.

Another Great Deal on The Dead Man

Today only, the first five Dead Man books are Kindle's Daily Deal. You can get each of them for only .99 apiece. It's a great way to start out on the series or catch up if you've already read some of them.

Forgotten Books: A Corpse for Christmas - Henry Kane

I wanted to write about a Christmas book today, and this one was handy and turned out to be a good candidate. Lawyer-turned-author Henry Kane introduced his New York private eye character in A HALO FOR NOBODY (1947) and continued the series in novels and short stories throughout the Fifties and Sixties and on into the Seventies.  Unfortunately for the reputations of Kane and his character, those later novels changed from traditional first-person hardboiled private eye novels into third person, sex-heavy potboilers in which Chambers played a smaller part. Or so I've heard. I've never actually read any of them, although I used to own some of them.

Starting out, though, the Peter Chambers series was a very well-regarded entry in the genre, and this novel from 1951 is a good example of why. I read quite a few Kane novels thirty or forty years ago and may well have read this one, but I didn't remember it so chances are I didn't.

It starts out on Christmas Eve with Chambers, a self-described private richard, doing a favor for another PI, the beautiful model-turned-detective Gene Tiny. Of course, the seemingly innocent little errand turns out to include a dead body, the discovery of which immediately catapults Chambers into a complicated case involving an eccentric scientist who's supposed to be dead but isn't, a fortune in stolen jewels, more murders, gangsters, a crematorium, and a number of beautiful women, all of whom are, of course, attracted to our boy Pete.  All of it culminates in a gathering of the suspects on Christmas Day like something out of a more traditional mystery.

In his wise-cracking and colorful use of language, Chambers comes across as sort of a toned-down, East Coast cousin of Dan Turner. And like Robert Leslie Bellem, Kane was a pretty good plotter with the ability to throw in a lot of bizarre, seemingly unrelated elements and have them make sense in the end. There's not a lot of Christmas atmosphere in A CORPSE FOR CHRISTMAS, which was later reprinted by Signet as HOMICIDE AT YULETIDE, but Kane makes use of the fact that it's snowing to include some White Christmas references.

While I don't think the Peter Chambers novels belong in the top rank of private eye fiction, the early books in the series are well written and highly entertaining. As far as I know they're all out of print but fairly easy to obtain in used copies, especially the paperback reprints from Signet, Dell, and Avon. If you're a private eye fan and haven't tried a Peter Chambers novel, you should check them out. I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Check Out: The Dead Walked #1: Outbreak - Vincent Stark (Gary Dobbs)

Writing as Vincent Stark, popular Western author and master of the Tainted Archive Gary Dobbs joins the Zombie Apocalypse:

Some said it was viral.
Others claimed it was an act of God.
Either way the result was the same and the dead walked.

September was her favourite time of the year, and late September, when the autumn was just preparing to hand over to winter, when there was still a residue of the late summer warmth in the air, as well as the crisp promise of the iciness to come, had always been, as far as Missy was concerned, the finest chunk of that particular month.
Not for her was the spectacle of high summer, nor the morose beauty of mid winter. Of course they both had their fineries but these paled next to the season when the leaves glittered with reflected sunlight. It was the autumn, with September being the highlight of that season, which she loved – a time when nature put on its finest display as the lush summer growth was magically transformed.
The sky itself seemed to glow at this time of year.
September was a time of promise.
A time of rebirth.
Not this September, though.
This September, Missy would remember as, the time the dead walked.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies, Christmas Edition - Trail of Robin Hood

Despite the title, TRAIL OF ROBIN HOOD is definitely a Christmas movie. The whole plot centers around Christmas trees, after all! It seems that retired actor Jack Holt (father of Tim Holt, by the way) has a Christmas tree farm where he plans to sell his trees at such low prices that every family can afford to have one. This plan doesn't sit well with the bad guys who own the neighboring Christmas tree farm, so they set out to sabotage Holt's operation and run him out of business. This attracts the attention of forest ranger Roy Rogers, who comes to Holt's aid along with his sidekick Splinters McGonigle (Gordon Jones) and Splinters' tomboy little sister, who decides they need more help so she summons a whole passel of cowboy movie stars including William Farnum, Tom Tyler, Rex Allen, Rocky Lane (later the voice of Mr. Ed, the talking horse), Monte Hale, Ray "Crash" Corrigan, Kermit Maynard, and Tom Keene. Even George Chesebro, who always played dog heavies, shows up and has a nice line about how he gets to be one of the good guys for a change.

Yes, the plot's pretty silly, but look at that cast! In addition to all those cowboy stars, Penny Edwards plays the girl (Dale Evans was semi-retired by then), and Foy Willing and the Riders of the Purple Sage provide the music, including several Christmas songs like "Every Day is Christmas in the West".

Best of all, though, TRAIL OF ROBIN HOOD was directed by William Witney, and one thing you could always count on in his movies was that you'd get plenty of great action, no matter how far-fetched the plot, and that's certainly true here. The climax is especially spectacular, with wagons full of Christmas trees racing over a burning bridge while Roy fights a battle royal against the baddies.

I absolutely love this stuff. Modern viewers might watch this and other Roy Rogers movies and be utterly baffled as to their appeal, but I grew up on 'em, and looking back on them now, I definitely think they had an influence on my writing. Those wild, action-packed, over-the-top climaxes that Witney always provided show up again and again in my Westerns, and some of that has to come from watching Roy Rogers movies on TV nearly every Saturday when I was a kid. TRAIL OF ROBIN HOOD is a good one. It was released on December 15, 1950, and if you want to see a Christmas movie that's not one of the old standards, give it a try.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Goshen Hole - Wayne Dundee

Private eye fans have reason to be very happy. Joe Hannibal is back in Wayne Dundee's new novel GOSHEN HOLE.  Nameless, Matt Scudder, and Spenser may be the deans of the currently active PIs, but Joe Hannibal has been cracking cases (and heads) for almost as long.

Relocated from the Chicago area to western Nebraska, Hannibal spends most of his time on the private security service he runs for businesses and residences around a recreational lake. But when he's asked by a friend to look into the disappearance of the man's ex-wife, Hannibal's private eye instincts kick in and he takes the case, which leads him to Cheyenne, Wyoming and a self-made millionaire who owns a chain of truck stops and has some shady business associates. From there, things just get worse, including a couple of murders, a considerable amount of punishment both dealt out and taken by Hannibal, and a thunderous climax.

Dundee does a great job with both the small-town stuff and the gritty mean streets of the city, in this case Cheyenne. He also introduces some great characters, some good, some evil, some it's hard to say, and not everybody turns out to be what they seem at first, either, which is always a good thing. The best thing about this book, though, is Joe Hannibal himself, who may be getting a little older but is still tough, smart, and determined enough to get the job done. His friendship with William Thunderbringer, an ex-mercenary bounty hunter who pitches in to give Hannibal a hand, is reminiscent of Spenser and Hawk, but it would be unfair to characterize them like that. For one thing, they're much more realistic and believable, as well as more likable. (Not a shot at Parker. I like Spenser and Hawk. I'd just rather hang around with Hannibal and Thunderbringer.)

GOSHEN HOLE is a fine addition to a long, consistently excellent series. If you haven't read Dundee before, you can jump on here without much trouble. If you're a long-time Joe Hannibal fan like me, there's no question you're going to want to read GOSHEN HOLE. It's one of the best books I've read this year.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Fight Card #3: Split Decision - Jack Tunney (Eric Beetner)

Eric Beetner enters the ring for the third volume in the Fight Card series, and his novella SPLIT DECISION lives up to the high standards set by series creators Paul Bishop and Mel Odom. This one takes place in Kansas City and follows Jimmy Wyler, another graduate of the Chicago orphanage known as "Our Lady of the Glass Jaw".

Jimmy's not any sort of contender. He's just a low-level club fighter content to do his best and save his money so he can marry his beautiful girlfriend Lola. Then one of the local mobsters asks him to take part in a fixed fight, and in a nice twist on what usually happens in boxing fiction, Jimmy's not the one who's supposed to take the dive. He's going to win the fight. Against his better judgment, and motivated by his desire to have enough money to get Lola's engagement ring out of layaway, Jimmy agrees. And of course, that's where things start taking turn after turn for the worst.

Beetner's tale is darker than either of the preceding entries, but it's just as compelling and does a fine job of capturing the era. He has the knack of putting his protagonist in an impossible situation and then making the reader race along to find out how it's going to get even worse. SPLIT DECISION is a prime example of the sort of variety and adventurous storytelling we can expect from the Fight Card series, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Highly recommended.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Story, December 1947

I’m fudging a little by calling this a pulp, because by 1947 WESTERN STORY, like all the Street & Smith pulps, had turned into a digest. But WESTERN STORY was a true pulp for several decades, so I think I can get by with using it as this week’s entry in this series.

Not only that, but I own this one and read it recently, so I can even comment on the stories.

First, though, a word about the cover, which is one of those non-action scenes that were a nice break from all the blazing guns on the Western pulps. This is a Christmas cover, appropriate for a December issue, and it’s cute in its way. I tend to prefer either shoot-outs or scenery, but H.W. Scott’s version of a Norman Rockwell painting isn't bad.

The issue leads off with Walt Coburn’s “book-length novel” (actually a novella), “Miracle at San Mateo”. By this time in his career Coburn reportedly had quite a problem with booze, and as a result his work was pretty inconsistent. This is a decent yarn about rustling along the Arizona/Mexico border and an election for sheriff. As usual with Coburn’s stories, there are a lot of characters and so much back-story that almost all of “Miracle at San Mateo” is devoted to explaining who everybody is and what the relationships between them are. When it comes time for a powder-burning showdown at the end, though, Coburn delivers just fine.

Next up is “Shooting Star” by L.L. Foreman, an author I hadn’t read before. It’s a good short story about a small-town blacksmith and the secret in his past, completely predictable but still satisfying.

"The Third Dog Musher" is an oddly-titled Northern by Frank Richardson Pierce, a prolific author in that subgenre. I've read some of Pierce's work in ARGOSY and other pulps and enjoyed it, so I wasn't surprised that I liked "The Third Dog Musher", which is about two men involved in a feud over a woman and the danger that forces them to work together. (I believe Pierce also wrote some traditional Westerns under the pseudonym "Seth Ranger".)

The always-dependable Peter Dawson follows that with the novelette “Tinhorn Tyranny”. This one has riverboats and frontier prizefighting, two things I like in a story, so I enjoyed it.

Ray Gaulden wrote a number of Western novels, including (I think) the one on which the movie FIVE CARD STUD is based. I don't recall ever reading any of them, or any of his short stories, either, for that matter. "Lawman's Gamble", his entry in this issue, is a short yarn about old friends who wind up on opposite sides of the law. Like the L.L. Foreman story, it's predictable but well-written.

Van Cort is yet another author I haven't read until now. His novelette "Forked Trails" is about an old outlaw hunting down three former partners who double-crossed him, only to find that they've changed considerably over the years. This story is also a variation of the Gunfightin' Preacher plot. Cort does a good job of mixing these familiar elements together to craft an enjoyable story.

Next up are two range war stories. The first one, about a conflict between cattlemen and sheepherders, is "When a Ranger Rides" by Wayne D. Overholser. When I first read that title I figured it referred to a Texas Ranger, but no, in this story the protagonist is a Forest Ranger, which is a nice change from the standard set-up. I'm not a big Overholser fan, but this is a pretty good story. So is "Ringer Roundup" by Harold R. Stoakes. The range war looming in this one is between a greedy cattle baron and some smaller ranchers, but Stoakes (who I'm not familiar with at all) provides a welcome twist by having his characters settle things with a game of horseshoes. There's some gunplay before the end, but it's still a nice, offbeat yarn.

Dean Owen finishes off the issue with "Choctaw Challenge". I'm a Dean Owen fan, but this is a pretty minor story about an attempted payroll robbery. There are some halfway decent twists but hardly any action, and hardboiled action is what I expect from Dean Owen.

Overall, this is a very enjoyable issue. It would have been nice if it had had a Christmas story in it, but I guess editor John Burr didn't have any on hand.

There probably won't be a new Saturday Morning Western Pulp next week, since Saturday is Christmas Eve, but I reserve the right to change my mind.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Update From Robert J. Randisi

Hard on the heels of the newly reissued Gunsmith #'s 1 & 2 comes TRACKER #1: THE WINNING HAND and ANGEL EYES #1: THE MIRACLE OF REVENGE.  These series appeared in the 80's under the pseudonyms "Tom Cutter" and "W.B. Longely" but are now being published by Speaking Volumes LLC under the Randisi name, with kick-ass covers! Available in POD paper and Ebook, and soon to be on Audio.  Order from the Speaking Volumes LLC website, or and

Another Sale From Black Dog Books

3 Days Only! Adventure Library Sale

For another of our 2011 Holidays season sales we are offering our Adventure Library Series for sale at a substantial savings!
Take advantage of our huge holiday savings by securing your reading material for those fast-approaching long winter days.sale_icon_125x125
Individually, these three books, The Black Death by Marion Polk Angellotti, In the Grip of the Minotaur by Farnham Bishop and Arthur Gilchrist Broader and King Corrigan's Treasure by H.D. Couzens retail for $65.00.
For THREE DAYS ONLY, December 16–18 we are offering the set for $45.00—A Savings of More than 30%.
Click this link to be taken to our Adventure Library Sale page.
Praised by customes and reviewers alike, The Adventure Library from Black Dog Books offers collections of rare but deserving stories from the pages of Adventure. With historical costume intrigue, stories of the South Seas and a tale of blood and thunder Viking conquest there are stories to appeal to every taste for adventure.
(To learn more about any of the titles offered in this sale, click the blue title links below to review their listings page.)

Praise for The Black Death
"The Black Death" is an exciting read of adventure that is sure to entice and keep people reading."—Midwest Book Review (Five Stars)
"They don't write them like this anymore. I smiled all the way through."—Historical Novels Review
"With the Englehart stories, Couzens came up with the closest to a Conan as he would in his too-short career as a fiction writer: a sturdy man’s man protagonist who survives a variety of hair-raising scrapes, including a shipboard encounter with an orangutan."—Blogcritics

Forgotten Books: Invasion of the Crimson Death Cult - Curtis Steele (Frederick C. Davis)

(This post originally appeared in somewhat different form on February 1, 2006)

This pulp novel from the September 1935 issue of OPERATOR 5 is the usual mix from a Popular Publications hero pulp: a mysterious villain with a terrible new weapon lays waste to the country, kills thousands of people, and drives our stalwart hero (in this case, Jimmy Christopher, also known as Operator 5 of the American Intelligence Service) to the brink of madness before the villain's evil plan is finally thwarted. The same thing happened month after month, not only in the Operator 5 series but also in Popular's top-of-the-line hero pulp, THE SPIDER. And you either love it or you don't. I think you can guess which category I fall into.

The Operator 5 series is interesting for several reasons, though. For one thing, there was some fairly important story-to-story continuity, something that didn't occur very often in the hero pulps. While there might be the occasional reference in a Doc Savage or Shadow story to something that had happened in the past, for the most part their adventures could be read in any order. The same was true of most of the hero pulps. The novels in OPERATOR 5 often featured sub-plots that ran from issue to issue, though, culminating in the famous "Purple Invasion" series, which ran for thirteen issues and is basically one long novel of what we now call alternate history. "Invasion of the Crimson Death Cult" is from the story arc that features the Hidden Hundred, a group of former Intelligence officers who have been kicked out of the service in a very early example of political correctness run amok. Following their dismissal, they band together to work in secret for the good of the country, and Jimmy Christopher (who is still an active agent) is their leader.

There's also the fact that for a blood-and-thunder pulp series, the Operator 5 stories sometimes seem oddly contemporary. This one opens on the border between Texas and Mexico, as Jimmy Christopher joins forces with the Border Patrol in an attempt to stop what we would now call terrorists from being smuggled into the country. The writing is also pretty good most of the time. The original author behind the Curtis Steele house-name was Frederick C. Davis, a prolific pulpster who also had a fairly well-respected career as a hardback mystery novelist. His Operator 5 novels (and I've read most of them) are uniformly good. The other main writer on the series was the famously enigmatic Emile C. Tepperman, who penned the Purple Invasion story arc and did some of his best work on it.

I bring all this up, though, mainly to wax nostalgic and talk about how I first discovered the Operator 5 series in the mid-Sixties when I picked up a paperback from the spinner rack in Trammell's Grocery Store called LEGIONS OF THE DEATH MASTER. The cover art featured a clean-cut hero type falling into a pit full of serpents, and the copy above the title fairly shouted, "Bounding Out of the Thirties!" Well, that was like a shot of pure adrenaline to me. I was already reading Doc Savage and the Shadow and knew that I liked that sort of pulp stuff. I bought the book, read it right away (it was also part of the Hidden Hundred storyline), and went on to pick up many other Operator 5 books. Well over half the series has been reprinted in one format or another. When I was writing the Revolutionary War series PATRIOTS (published by Bantam under the pseudonym Adam Rutledge), one of my characters became involved with the espionage network set up by the colonists during the early days of the war, and so naturally, his code name became Operative Five. (I had to change it a little.) But it was definitely a tribute to Jimmy Christopher and a way of saying thank you for all the enjoyment I had gotten out of reading the series. (I also liked the idea that somewhere out there, some pulp fans might read those Patriots novels and grin knowingly when they got to the part about Operative Five . . .)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Tales from the Fathomless Abyss

THE FATHOMLESS ABYSS is a new shared-world e-book anthology leading up to a series of novellas using the same setting. The Abyss of the title is an apparently bottomless pit that opens up with no warning, in different time periods and in different places on Earth, and on other worlds as well. And when it opens . . . well, people fall in. Most of them survive, and they develop a hodgepodge of societies and towns on ledges and in caves along the walls of the Abyss. Naturally enough, more people are actually born in those settlements, and they come to be called Abyssals.

It's a great setting for a shared-world universe, since there are an almost limitless number of cultures up and down the walls of the Abyss and the authors involved can tell all sorts of different stories. The line-up of authors is a good one, too, including Philip Athans (who created the series), J.M. McDermott, my buddy Mel Odom, Mike Resnick and Brad R. Torgerson, Cat Rambo, and Jay Lake, all of whom do fine work here.

TALES FROM THE FATHOMLESS ABYSS reminded me a little of Philip Jose Farmer's Riverworld series, but with its own compelling set-up. I'm looking forward to seeing how it continues. Recommended.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Favorite Bookstores #5: Fantastic Worlds

(This post originally appeared in slightly different form on January 12, 2005.)

While running some errands in Fort Worth today, I happened to pass the original location of Fantastic Worlds Bookstore, where I spent a considerable amount of time during the early Eighties. Fantastic Worlds was primarily a comic-book store, but it also had an excellent selection of science fiction and fantasy paperbacks and magazines. It was just a little hole-in-the-wall space in a breezeway that ran through the middle of a strip shopping center, but it was crammed full of good stuff. We happened to notice the sign for it while driving by one day in 1981 and stopped in just to see what was there. I'd been a comics reader since the early Sixties, but I'd never seen a real comic book store before. Most of my comics had been bought in drugstores and grocery stores, off those old spinner racks that had a sign on top saying "Hey, Kids! Comics!" That was sort of a hit-or-miss way to amass a collection, but it was the only way to buy comics in those days. Now here was a whole store devoted to them. 

We became friends with the owner, Bob Wayne, and the manager, Michael Davis, and I went there at least once a week to pick up the new comics and spend an hour or two visiting. '81 was a year of big changes for me. I had quit my regular job and was trying to make it as a full-time writer. I had been corresponding for a couple of years with Bill Crider and Joe Lansdale, but they were the only other writers I knew. But in '81 I met Kerry Newcomb at a bookstore on the other side of Fort Worth, and through my visits to Fantastic Worlds I was soon meeting other SF and comics fans as well as SF authors and comic book professionals who did signings there. I started going to SF conventions, which allowed me to hang around with legendary authors like Jack Williamson and Philip Jose Farmer. And nearly all the pro authors I met immediately accepted me as a member of their fraternity on the basis of my short stories in MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE and my lone novel, TEXAS WIND. It was a heady time, that's for sure, and Fantastic Worlds was a big part of it. I even wrote the store, and Bob and Michael, into one of the Mike Shayne stories I did for MSMM. 

Of course, I didn't make it as a full-time writer just yet; that was still several years off and I wound up working at other jobs in the meantime. Fantastic Worlds moved and then grew into a chain of successful comic book stores. Bob Wayne wound up selling the stores and going to work as an executive for DC Comics in New York, and he's still there. The Fantastic Worlds stores are all gone now. I bought my comics at other stores over the years and finally stopped buying them several years ago when I realized I didn't have the time or space for them anymore. (I still buy and read trade paperback reprints of the old stuff, though.) I'm prone to attacks of nostalgia, and when I drove by that old shopping center where Fantastic Worlds started out, it really took me back and I knew I had to do a little reminiscing.

(Update: Of course, as regular visitors to this blog know, I started reading comics on a regular basis again a couple of years ago. Bob Wayne is still at DC and still a friend; I run into him at conventions every few years. Michael Davis is still in the area and he and his wife Kelly are good friends of ours. The shopping center where Fantastic Worlds was located originally is still there, or at least it was the last time I drove along that part of Camp Bowie Boulevard. I have no idea what's in the space where the store was.)

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Time Again

From time to time (no pun intended) I get a chance to see a film that hasn't been released yet, and that's the case with TIME AGAIN, which sort of fits this series because you shouldn't overlook it when it does come out. In the words of co-writer and director Ray Karwel:

TIME AGAIN is a cross between "Die Hard" and "Time Cop". It’s an old school, over the top tribute to 80’s action films.

I have always been fascinated with the idea of time travel and it only seemed right that my first feature would be a time travel movie. As a child growing up in the ‘60’s I enjoyed TV shows like TIME TUNNEL and THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. These shows were fun to watch and excited the imagination. I spent a lot of time in the movie theaters and in front of the television, so I understand what keeps an audience interested. I really did not want to do another talking heads movie. So my solution was to keep the film moving at a fast pace by cramming lots of action into the scenes. I combined my two favorite genres into a wild and outrageous visual frenzy of exploding fun! TIME AGAIN is a movie for people to sit down, relax, eat popcorn and forget about their everyday problems. I hope they will just get lost in the movie. It is something that people can have fun with!

Karwel certainly succeeds in cramming action into the movie, and those well-staged action scenes are its greatest strength. The complex plot involves two twenty-something sisters who work in a diner and get mixed up in a vicious gangster's quest to obtain some ancient coins rumored to contain the secret of time travel. Things that don't seem to make sense eventually do and come together in a satisfying showdown at the end.

The cast of mostly unknowns do a good job, especially Angela Rachelle as one of the sisters and John T. Woods as a police detective on the trail of the gangster. Woods has a good screen presence and makes an effective action hero.

For a low-budget independent production, TIME AGAIN has a mostly polished look and is consistently entertaining. I don't know when you'll be able to see it, but keep an eye out for it.

Monday, December 12, 2011

"Miles to Little Ridge" - Heath Lowrance

David Cranmer shows a lot of confidence in turning over his popular characters, deputy U.S. marshals Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles, to other authors. Based on the first entry in this new series, that confidence is not misplaced.

Heath Lowrance's novelette "Miles to Little Ridge" is a solo Gideon Miles story that finds the black deputy marshal arriving in the small town of Little Ridge to arrest a fugitive. When he gets there, though, Miles discovers that in the three years the wanted robber has been living in Little Ridge, the man has become a respected member of the community. Naturally there are people who don't want Miles to arrest him.

As if that's not enough for Miles to deal with, an old enemy of his happens to be in Little Ridge, and as soon as he lays eyes on the deputy marshal, he decides that it's time for him to have his revenge.

Lowrance combines these elements into a fine traditional Western yarn. Not surprisingly, it's very well written, with good action scenes and interesting characters. With its somewhat downbeat ending, "Miles to Little Ridge" reminds me of the work of H.A. DeRosso, and you don't get much better than that.

I'm very pleased that authors such as Cranmer, Lowrance, and Wayne Dundee are getting people to read Westerns who never tried one before. As you know, I'm a strong supporter of the genre and think that it's far from dead. In fact, I think it's going to be around for a long time to come. If you're already a Western fan or just want to try one, you definitely should check out "Miles to Little Ridge".

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Music: Mutineer - Warren Zevon

I've never been much of one to play music while I'm writing, although every so often I'll get in the mood to do that. However, in my old studio I used to play a song or two when I'd finished my work for the day, sort of as a way of unwinding, I suppose. I had this song on a Warren Zevon CD and played it a lot as my end-of-the-day song. My other favorite was Herb Alpert's "Flamingo", off his SECOND WIND CD, but I couldn't find that on YouTube. So here's Warren, and if this doesn't mellow out what's left of your evening, I don't know what will.

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Fighting Western, July 1948

Over on the WesternPulps group, Jonathan Jensen mentioned cover artist Joseph Sokoli, and since I was unfamiliar with Sokoli's work, I looked it up on the Fictionmags Index. Here's one of his covers from a later Trojan pulp, FIGHTING WESTERN. Sokoli did quite a few covers for this title, but I chose this issue because it includes a story by Les Reasoner, who is bound to be a distant relative of mine although I have no idea how we're related. There are also stories by J. Edward Leithead (again), pulp old-timer Frank C. Robertson, Ben Frank, and Larry Dunn (who I believe was really Laurence Donovan). Probably a pretty entertaining issue.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Forgotten Books: Slaves of the Scorpion - Brant House (G.T. Fleming-Roberts)

Secret Agent X returns in "Slaves of the Scorpion", another hardboiled crime yarn by G.T. Fleming-Roberts writing as "Brant House", from the June 1937 issue of the Agent's pulp magazine. The three main authors behind the "House" name (that must have given some yuks to the editors) each had a slightly different appeal. Paul Chadwick, who created the character, turned out stories that have bizarre villains and feature prose that approaches that of the Weird Menace pulps. G.T. Fleming-Roberts' stories are more concerned with crime and gangsters and have a hardboiled, rat-a-tat-tat style to them. Emile Tepperman's entries in the series fall somewhere between those of Chadwick and Fleming-Roberts. I like all of them.

This one features the old "master criminal who wipes out other criminals so he can take over their gangs" plot, but Fleming-Roberts does a good job of it with some ingenious murder methods and the unusual angle of tying in the plot with the labor unrest of the time period. This new mastermind is called The Scorpion, and of course the crooks think that he's really Secret Agent X operating under a new name, since both the police and the underworld believe the Agent to be a criminal. Actually, X is trying to uncover the real identity of The Scorpion. The fact that the Scorpion's true identity should come as no surprise (I spotted him as soon as he first appeared) doesn't detract from the novel's enjoyment. Most criminal masterminds from the pulps might as well be wearing neon signs announcing their nefariousness.

The real appeal of these yarns is watching Secret Agent X get into and out of trouble, along with his sidekicks, plucky girl reporter Betty Dale and square-jawed private eye Harvey Bates. Bates is never very well-developed as a character, but in reading these stories I've come to have a real fondness for him. Betty Dale can be scatterbrained, but she's usually pretty helpful, too.

The last couple of chapters of "Slaves of the Scorpion" have sort of an apocalyptic feel to them, as a blacked-out Manhattan is under attack by an army of gangsters. Something like this, of course, is where a Spider novel by Norvell Page would begin, instead of end, but that's the difference between The Spider and Secret Agent X. Personally, I like both approaches.

This story will be available soon from Beb Books as an inexpensive reprint. I enjoyed it a lot, and if you're a pulp fan, you should check it out.