Monday, February 28, 2011

Alura's Wish Now Available on Kindle

Livia's paranormal/historical romance novel ALURA'S WISH is now available on Amazon for the Kindle. This one's set in medieval times, complete with beautiful ladies, noble knights, swordfights, outlaws, swordfights, a couple of bickering djinn, swordfights . . . well, you get the idea.  It's remotely possible that at some point in the writing, I may have said, "Why don't you put some more swordfights in it?"  (Ah, you should have seen the looks when she was working on the Hallam novels and my contribution was to keep saying, "Why don't you have Hallam get hit on the head?")

Anyway, she did several of these paranormal romances for Berkley a number of years ago and they're all great fun.  I'm sure all of them will be available for the Kindle in the reasonably near future.  It's good to see this one back out there, under her name this time.

New Interview

There's a new interview with me posted over on Larry Sweazy's excellent blog, focusing on my new novel REDEMPTION, KANSAS but touching on numerous other matters as well.  Thanks, Larry!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Like a Phoenix From the Ashes . . .

A little more than three years ago, when we were cleaning up after the fire, we found some of our manuscript files that were charred to various extents but still appeared to be reasonably complete because they were in file folders packed pretty tightly into a metal filing cabinet. All of them went into a plastic tub, and there they sat in storage, unexplored.

Until now.

The other day Livia and I dug out that tub and went through the manuscripts. We had no idea what they were or whether anything would be usable, but with the possibility now of publishing things as e-books, it seemed like a worthwhile endeavor. Like a little treasure hunt, almost.

Boy, talk about the memories. About half of the manuscripts in the tub were copies of stories that were published, going all the way back to my MSMM days. Nice to have them for historical and nostalgic purposes, maybe, but not anything we could use now.

Then there was a big stack of unsold proposals, outlines, and in some cases up to 25,000 words or so of unfinished novels. Some of it may be crap, but I’ll bet a lot of it isn’t. Those of you who are writers know that some of the books you don’t sell are just as good or better than some of the books you do. There are a couple of science fiction adventure novels and several big historical yarns that I’d love to have the time to finish and upload to Amazon for the Kindle. I’ll have to add those to the list of things I’m going to get around to one of these days, if I can ever figure out how to get by without all that pesky eating and sleeping I’ve been known to do.

Now the best part. We found a complete novel mystery novel by Livia that sold but was never paid for or published. Also a Western short story of mine that was published in Finnish in one of Juri Nummelin’s magazines but never in English, and a couple of hardboiled sleaze yarns aimed at the DUDE/GENT/NUGGET market. I’ll have to read those two to see if they’re worth doing anything with. Maybe I’ll stick ‘em up on Amazon under a pseudonym for 99 cents.

I have no idea when any of this stuff will see the light of day, if it ever does, but it’s good to have these stories back. That’s probably the end, though, as far as recovering older manuscripts goes. I can’t think of anywhere there could be anything else.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Lariat Story, September 1942

Yowza!  This one looks like it should have been on an issue of SPICY WESTERN instead of the normally more sedate LARIAT STORY.  Even though they're not featured on the cover, there's a good line-up of authors in this issue, too, including Walt Coburn, Eugene Cunningham, and William F. Bragg.

Friday, February 25, 2011

First Review of Redemption, Kansas

The first review of my new novel REDEMPTION, KANSAS has appeared over on the Western Fictioneers blog, by award-winning author Troy D. Smith.  I appreciate the kind words, Troy!

Forgotten Books: Phalanxes of Atlans - F. Van Wyck Mason

Okay, you’ve got these two intrepid adventurers and explorers, Victor Nelson and Richard Alden, who were pilots in The Great War. While attempting to fly across an unexplored and unmapped part of the Arctic, a storm forces down their plane. While they’re searching for help, Alden disappears, and when Nelson goes to look for him, he finds blood on the snow and strange footprints. The trail leads to a mysterious black hole in the ice with warm steam coming out of it. What could possibly be down there? Pellucidar? Maple White Land? Skartaris? The Savage Land?

Well, no. If the title of this book didn’t already give it away, I’m gonna spoil it right now. It’s the last remnant of ancient Atlantis, of course. And are these ancient Atlanteans living in peace and harmony? Nah, they’re at war with another group of people living in the same underground world, and naturally Nelson and Alden, with their outer world technology, wind up right in the middle of the ruckus. And for good measure, there’s a beautiful princess who’s captured and about to be sacrificed by the bad guys.

All right, all snark aside, this plot wasn’t nearly as hoary with age when PHALANXES OF ATLANS was published as a serial in 1931 in the pulp ASTOUNDING STORIES. (I believe this was when ASTOUNDING was still being published by Clayton Magazines, rather than Street & Smith, but don’t quote me on that.) Lost Race novels certainly weren’t anything new back then, but they probably weren’t as much of a cliché as they’ve become since then. So we have to approach this from the point of view of a reader in 1931. World-building is a key in stories like this, and author F. Van Wyck Mason does a pretty good job of it. The logistics of the Empire of Atlans existing underground actually make some sense, as do the weapons that the Empire’s soldiers use. Not only that, but Mason also throws in a couple of twists in the Lost Race plot, one of which works pretty well. (The other twist works in the context of the story but is rather politically incorrect even by 1931 standards, as is some of the writing. Consider yourself warned.) There are big battle scenes, spectacle, dinosaurs (you were expecting there wouldn’t be dinosaurs?), and even some humor.

I first became aware of Van Wyck Mason as the author of numerous espionage novels published from the Thirties through the Sixties, starring an intelligence officer named Major Hugh North, who actually got older and became a colonel in the course of the series. I liked these a lot. Then I noticed some big historical novels by F. Van Wyck Mason and figured they had to be by the same guy. (They are.) Then when I began collecting pulps I noticed a number of historical adventure serials by F.V.W. Mason. Yep, same guy. Mason’s stories published in ARGOSY during the Thirties are consistently good.

PHALANXES OF ATLANS is the earliest story by Mason I’ve read, and the only science fiction by him. While it has its weaknesses, it’s also an entertaining yarn if you’re in the right frame of mind. There’s an inexpensive reprint of the novel available from Wildside Press, so it’s not completely forgotten. Nor is Mason. I published a post about him on this blog five, maybe six years ago, and I still get a comment on that post every now and then. So he definitely has his fans. I really ought to read one of the Hugh North novels again and see how they hold up.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Steve Rogers: Super Soldier - Ed Brubaker

Let’s recap. Steve Rogers was the original Captain America, but he died a while back, assassinated during the superhero civil war. (I missed all that, but I caught up.) Captain America’s former sidekick Bucky Barnes, who was thought to be dead since all the way back at the end of World War II, really wasn’t, so he took over as Captain America. Turns out Steve wasn’t really dead, either, but when he came back he didn’t want to take the Captain America identity away from Bucky. So, since his secret identity went out the window a long time ago, Steve Rogers becomes sort of a super national security advisor and also is placed in overall command of the various teams of Avengers.

If you’re still reading and haven’t gone, “Oh, no, more of that crazy comic book stuff!”, that brings us to STEVE ROGERS: SUPER SOLDIER (because it was the Super Soldier Formula that gave scrawny, sickly young Steve his powers back in 1941, you know), a new hardback reprinting the mini-series that introduced the character to the Marvel Universe in his current role. It’s written by Ed Brubaker, who also writes the regular Captain America comic and SECRET AVENGERS, the best of the numerous Avengers titles.

The plot of this story goes all the way back to Captain America’s origin, as Steve gets involved with the grandson of the scientist who invented the Super Soldier Formula. The secret of the serum was thought to be lost ever since its creator was murdered by a Nazi agent right after giving the initial dose to Steve. Now the grandson appears to have recreated the formula, but instead of using it for good, he’s going to sell it the highest bidder.

Or is he? That question is just the first of several nice twists that Brubaker throws into the plot over the course of the story, saving the last one for the very end. This isn’t ground-breaking stuff, but it’s very well-done superhero action, the sort of yarn I was reading and enjoying in comic books more than forty years ago and obviously still am. Brubaker’s script is nice and hardboiled, not too silly, and flows right along. The art by Dale Eaglesham is good, too, with a strong storytelling sense.

For good measure, the book also reprints the actual Captain America origin story from the first issue of CAPTAIN AMERICA COMICS in 1941, which was written by Joe Simon and drawn by Jack Kirby. This story has been reprinted several times and I’d seen it before, but the juxtaposition of it with Brubaker and Eaglesham’s yarn is a nice touch. Overall, I enjoyed STEVE ROGERS: SUPER SOLDIER a great deal and recommend it highly for comics fans.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Branded Outlaw/Cattle King for a Day - L. Ron Hubbard

I’m well aware that L. Ron Hubbard is still a controversial figure, years after his death, but long before there was any controversy about him, he was a prolific, well-known pulp author. Having put my hands on a number of the recent reprints of his pulp stories, I thought I’d take a look at a few of them and consider that part of his career.

“Branded Outlaw” is a Western novella originally published in the October 1938 issue of FIVE-NOVELS MONTHLY. The hero is Lee Weston, a young man from New Mexico who has gone off to Wyoming and acquired something of a reputation as a gunfighter. He returns home to his father’s ranch in New Mexico in response to a plea for help, only to find the ranch house burned down and his father dead. Lee knows that one of his father’s old enemies from trail-driving days has recently purchased a ranch in the area, so he’s convinced that the rival cattleman is responsible for what happened to his father. But when Lee gets shot up and it’s the old enemy’s beautiful daughter who rescues him and nurses him back to health, he figures there’s maybe more going on in the valley than he realized at first. If you’ve ever read many stories from the Western pulps or watched any Western B-movies, you won’t find any surprises in the plot of this one. I was impressed, though, with the quality of the writing. Vivid but not long-winded descriptions of the setting, a very fast pace, good action scenes, and believable dialogue combine to make this a pretty entertaining yarn.

“Cattle King for a Day”, a novella from the March 1937 issue of ALL WESTERN, is even better. It starts with a similar premise – Chinook Shannon (great name) arrives in Montana to investigate the death of his grandfather and claim his legacy, the Slash S ranch. Gunmen try to stop him from getting there, but they’re unsuccessful. Chinook finds that his ownership of the ranch is threatened. His stock is all dead, killed by cyanide poisoning from the run-off from a nearby mine, and the bank is about to foreclose on the land the very next day unless Chinook can come up with $26,000 to pay off the debt. Hubbard throws some nice plot twists into this one, and I didn’t figure out exactly what was going on until the very end of the story. This is another entertaining story with some fine action scenes. The reprint volume also includes a Hubbard short story, “Come and Get It”, which uses the old plot about an Easterner coming west to claim a ranch he’s inherited, but it has some funny scenes despite the predictability of the plot.

All three of these are entertaining stories, and that's why I read pulp fiction.  I plan to read more of Hubbard's stories from that era soon.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Spoilers of the Plains

When I was a kid (and yes, I realize how many of my posts start out that way), Roy Rogers movies were on TV all the time, and I was a faithful viewer. As an adult I've seen nearly all of Roy's movies again, and I still like them. Yes, they're often silly and over-the-top, but I can't help it. They put a big grin on my face.

SPOILERS OF THE PLAINS is an odd one, even for a Roy Rogers movie, none of which were ever grounded much in reality to start with. This one's more realistic than some, as Roy plays a troubleshooter for an oil company. It starts out with him and the Riders of the Purple Sage (no Sons of the Pioneers this time around) fighting a fire on horseback. Bet you didn't know they made asbestos suits for horses, did you? Well, I did, because I've seen this movie. From there the plot becomes a hardboiled espionage yarn with Roy battling foreign spies. (And since the movie was released in 1951, it's a given those spies are Commies.) The script by Sloan Nibley (who was married to gorgeous serial star Linda Stirling) is pretty tough stuff, and the direction by action expert William Witney is even tougher. No fancy shirts and not much singing in this one, and since Dale isn't in the movie, either, none of that mushy stuff. Plenty of chase scenes and brutal fistfights, though, including a classic to end the movie.

For the most part, Roy Rogers movies fall into two separate and distinct eras. The early films directed by Joseph Kane are big and splashy, with fancy outfits, lots of production numbers, and fairly thin plots. In the late Forties and Fifties, when William Witney was directing the films, they become steadily leaner, more realistic, and more hardboiled. All of them from this era hold up well and are certainly worth watching. SPOILERS OF THE PLAINS is maybe the best of them. I remembered watching it as a kid, and when I saw it again years later I still liked it a lot. If you've never seen a Roy Rogers movie, it might not be the best place to start, but if you think they're all singing, dancing, and yodeling, you really should give it or one of the other Witney-directed pictures a try.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Dead Man Comes to Life

FACE OF EVIL, the first adventure of THE DEAD MAN is now available for the Kindle on Amazon and for the Nook on Barnes & Noble.  This is the debut of the new adventure/horror series created by Lee Goldberg and William Rabkin, and it's one of the most entertaining, fastest-paced yarns I've read in a long time . . . and I'm not just saying that because I'm going to be writing one of the stories coming up later on in the series.  Lee and Bill have come up with a fine premise -- a man who should have died but didn't (or did he?) trying to make sense out of his return to life and his ongoing battle with a mysterious enemy.  I think this is going to be a lot of fun for the readers and writers alike, and I'm honored to be part of it, as well as looking forward to seeing what adventures the other authors come up with for Matt Cahill.  You definitely want to get in on this one right from the start.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Black Horse Extra Update

The March-may edition of Black Horse Extra is now online.

The topic of the moment for everyone seems to be ebooks: do we or don't we go digital? The Extra takes its own slant on this, putting the spotlight on the Hale-published western line from the UK in a considered editorial which should interest readers and writers of genre fiction generally. Later, two newsbrief items record recent reissues as ebooks of novels that were previously published as Black Horse Westerns. They include titles by US-based writers Ed Gorman and Terrell L. Bowers.

Elsewhere, the ever-busy author-actor Gary Dobbs (aka Jack Martin) discusses the possible significance for the western genre of the rapturous welcome for the Coen Brothers' version of True Grit, and David Whitehead (aka Ben Bridges) and top German western writer Alfred Wallon give the background to their second Doug Thorne collaboration, Cannon For Hire.

Also weighing in is Keith Chapman (aka Chap O'Keefe) with news of the reissue next month of Misfit Lil Cheats the Hangrope. This was previously available only as a POD paperback, but republication by the Ulverscroft large-print organization will give it entry to the library market. Keith takes the opportunity for a behind-the-scenes look at what has gone into creating and maintaining his lively series heroine.

Fool Me Twice - Paul Levine

I don’t know Paul Levine, but we have a lot of mutual friends. I’d also never read any of his books until now. But several of the books in his series about Jake Lassiter, a defense lawyer and former pro football player in Miami, are now available for the Kindle, so I decided to give one of them a try. FOOL ME TWICE is from the middle of the series but works quite well as a stand-alone.

This one starts with Jake defending Blinky Baroso, an old acquaintance who’s a con man and swindler. Blinky is also the brother of the beautiful prosecutor Jo Jo Baroso, an old flame of Jake’s. Things get more complicated when Blinky’s partner in his current scheme turns up dead, and first Blinky and then Jake himself are suspects in the murder. Then Blinky disappears, Jake gets beaten up by a crazed treasure hunter from Colorado named Kit Carson Cimarron, and the action shifts from Florida to the Rocky Mountains, where Jake winds up on trial for murder. That brief description doesn’t really do justice to an appropriately twisty plot that races along at a very satisfying pace. Along the way we meet a lot of colorful characters, including Jake’s eleven-year-old nephew who’s a movie buff and aspiring filmmaker.

FOOL ME TWICE is an appealing blend of wacky, Florida-based crime novel (think Carl Hiassen), hardboiled detective yarn (Jake seems to get hit on the head as often as Mike Shayne), and legal thriller (there’s a lengthy courtroom scene late in the book that’s reminiscent of Perry Mason – I kept expecting Hamilton Burger to show up and shout, “Your Honor, Mr. Lassiter is making a circus out of this courtroom!”). More than anything else, though, it’s just really, really entertaining. Jake’s a fine, likable narrator/protagonist with a good supporting cast, and Levine’s prose is funny when it needs to be and tough when it needs to be, including an action-packed climax.

Levine is also the author of the acclaimed Solomon vs. Lord series of legal thrillers. Quite a few of his books are already available for the Kindle, and I think the rest are in the works. I plan to read more of them soon. In the meantime, FOOL ME TWICE gets a high recommendation from me.

(Paul Levine is a member of the Top Suspense Group.)

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Star Western, December 1934

I really like the covers on STAR WESTERN and find them very distinctive.  You can't get much more action-packed than this one.  The stories were consistently top-notch as well.  I think it's one of the best of the Western pulps.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Forgotten Books: The Pirate of Panama - William MacLeod Raine

William MacLeod Raine is best remembered (by those few of us who remember him at all) for his many Westerns published over a productive career that lasted several decades. But he wrote other sorts of books, too, such as this adventure novel that was first published in 1914.

I think this quote from early in the book will give you a pretty good idea both of Raine’s style and the sort of novel this is:

“Those who find interest only in the conventional had better read no farther. For this true tale runs red with the primal emotions of the old buccaneers. It is a story of love and hate, of heroism and cowardice, of treasure-trove and piracy on the high seas, of gaping wounds and foul murder. If this is not to your taste, fall out. My story is not for you.”

If you can read that and not want to go on, well, then, you’re not an old geezer who never really grew up, like me. However, there are a couple of things about that passage that are misleading. THE PIRATE OF PANAMA isn’t a true story at all, of course, but fictional through and through. And it’s not a historical pirate yarn set in the days of the Spanish Main, either. It’s a contemporary story (contemporary to 1914, anyway) in which a young San Francisco lawyer who yearns for adventure finds himself in the middle of a plot involving a beautiful young woman, her villainous cousin, and a fortune in pirate loot buried in a Panamanian cove a hundred years earlier. Of course there’s a treasure map for everybody to fight over, a race at sea to reach the loot first, stowaways, battles, blazing guns and bloody cutlasses. Good Western writer that he is, Raine even finds a plausible way to get an Arizona cowboy and former Rough Rider with Teddy Roosevelt into the middle of the action.

Like a lot of fiction from this era, the plot is driven largely by coincidence and contrivance, and Raine’s writing style is pretty creaky at times. To be honest, most modern readers would probably find this book unbearably hokey and silly.

But if you can put yourself in the right frame of mind (and obviously, I can), THE PIRATE OF PANAMA is a very entertaining novel, an old-fashioned blood-and-thunder rip-snorter. I would have loved it if I’d read it when I was ten years old, and I enjoyed it now. The edition I read is a Grosset & Dunlap hardcover reprint, probably from the 1920s, that I came across at Half Price Books. I think there’s a more recent POD reprint available, and I know it's available as an e-book for the Kindle if you’re interested in checking it out.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Science of Paul - Aaron Philip Clark

THE SCIENCE OF PAUL is a fine debut novel by Aaron Philip Clark, published by New Pulp Press. The Paul of the title, and the narrator, is Paul Little, an ex-con and small-time criminal in Philadelphia who has to go back to his childhood home in North Carolina to bury his beloved grandfather who raised him. Once he returns to the city, Paul feels the urge to get out of the rackets, leave Philadelphia for good, and live a peaceful existence on his grandfather’s farm.

That’s an admirable goal, of course, but we all know it’s not going to be that easy in a noir novel, and sure enough, Paul finds himself drawn into a dangerous and complicated situation before he can make his escape from his old life. In classic fashion, Paul tries to do the right thing, but things keep taking turns for the worse anyway.

Clark writes very well, in prose that manages to be elegant yet lean and hardboiled at the same time. The novel is written in present tense, a technique I’m not all that fond of in fiction, but a skilled author can make it work and Clark does that here. He also comes up with a good ending and a great final line.

THE SCIENCE OF PAUL is more than a promising debut, it’s a very good novel in its own right and another winner for New Pulp Press. Recommended.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Nooked Again!

I'm happy to report that DIAMONDBACK is now available on Barnes & Noble for the Nook, if that's your e-reader of choice.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: The Walking Hills

As with John Wayne, I was a big Randolph Scott fan when I was a kid and watched just about every movie of his that ran on TV. But the same thing happened with Scott's THE WALKING HILLS that did with Wayne's THE LONG VOYAGE HOME. I'd never even heard of it until I was grown. Once I saw it, though, it became probably my second favorite Randolph Scott movie, after RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY.

Also like THE LONG VOYAGE HOME, THE WALKING HILLS is an ensemble piece. It's a contemporary (1949) Western about a small group of people who discover a clue to a wagon train full of gold lost in Death Valley a hundred years earlier. Among the group are a private eye (John Ireland) on the trail of a fugitive, a beautiful woman (Ella Raines), a colorful old-timer called Old Willy (who else but Edgar Buchanan?), and a horse breeder (Scott) who's a more morally ambiguous character than Scott usually played. To protect their secret, they set out into the desert together, but in addition to battling the elements (there's a great sandstorm at the end), naturally they wind up battling each other, too.

This movie is very much a noir Western, and the stunning black-and-white photography is a big part of that. It's some of the best I've seen. All the actors turn in good performances, the direction by John Sturges, early in his career, keeps things moving along very briskly, and the script by Alan LeMay has plenty of good lines and plot twists.

Not long after I saw this movie for the first time, I read the Erle Stanley Gardner collections WHISPERING SANDS and PAYDIRT, which reprint some of Gardner's stories from the pulp ARGOSY that feature desert detective Bob Zane. These are some of my favorite Gardner stories, and as I was reading them I couldn't help but see Randolph Scott as Zane. If you've read those stories and liked them, you really should watch THE WALKING HILLS. It's the same sort of hardboiled contemporary Western. If you haven't read the Gardner collections, you should watch THE WALKING HILLS anyway, because it's an excellent film and deserves to be remembered. (Then go hunt up those Gardner collections and read them. I think it's about time for me to give them a go again.)

Monday, February 14, 2011

Guest Blog: How to Write a Thriller - Brian Drake

I suppose my “How To” title may throw off some folks who think James Reasoner is going to share the secret to how he writes so much, but I’m afraid he’ll have to divulge those secrets at a later date. My name is Brian Drake, and James has graciously allowed me to use this space to talk about my latest indie spy novel, SHOW NO MERCY.

When I first started on the indie route last year I did not like the “indie author” title. I thought that was a PC feel-good term used to make such people feel like they were actually accomplishing something. My original intent with an ebook was to build an audience that I could take to a traditional publisher to show them I had the chops. Well, one year later, I am embracing the “indie” title. Why? I’m having more fun promoting and selling my work on my own than I ever dreamed I would. I’m going to keep doing it. The checks that come in the mail are very nice, indeed.

For SHOW NO MERCY, I wanted to do a story about a conflict in a family, and thought that taking that subject matter into the established spy thriller genre would be a nice twist. In the story we have a son and daughter who are faced with the possibility that their father, who taught them their values and helped shaped their beliefs, has betrayed those beliefs. All three are CIA officers. The kids—if I can use that term when referring to 30-somethings—have to determine if Dad has truly done what he’s accused of, or if he is being manipulated.

I wanted this spy story to have a stronger emphasis on the characters and their connection to one another than spy novels of the past. I also wanted an adventure that didn’t reference any current political or social event. You can read SHOW NO MERCY and not be hit in the face with the same issues that boiled your brain during the day. This book is pure escapism in the truest sense. I think that’s how any writer should approach a story of this type, and what we need right now. Too much “entertainment” lately revels in current events. Sorry, but I have had enough of the news. I want to read a story that takes me away from all that. Don’t you?

I hope you give SHOW NO MERCY a try. If you like stories with a lot of action and good characters and one that has a twist at every turn, this is for you.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Quarry - Max Allan Collins

I’ve read a lot of books by Max Allan Collins over the years, but for some reason I’d never read any of his novels featuring the hitman Quarry, not even the recent additions to the series published by Hard Case Crime. Maybe that’s because I’m not, as a rule, all that fond of hitman books. Oh, I’ll read one now and then, but I don’t really seek them out.

However, the great small press publisher Perfect Crime Books has just reprinted the first five books in the series (first in publication order, anyway), so this seemed like a good time to give one of them a try. I’m glad I did.

QUARRY, originally published by Berkley as THE BROKER in 1976, is set primarily in a small town in Iowa, and there’s a good reason for that, as Collins explains in an entertaining afterword to the new edition. The narrator, a hitman who uses the name Quarry (that’s not his real name, as he points out), is there to carry out a job, and he does so with his usual efficiency. But something unexpected goes wrong, somebody winds up dead who’s not supposed to, and the criminal Quarry is forced to become a detective in order to figure out what’s going on, otherwise he might wind up dead, too.

Quarry is a fascinating character, and Collins succeeds in making the reader root for a character who really is a bad, bad guy. He does this by making Quarry pretty normal most of the time, with only occasional hints of what he’s capable of, so when his true nature comes out it’s even more effective. Plus the writing is nice and tight and now and then even funny, and it’s very much of its early Seventies times. As usual, crime fiction is one of the very best snapshots of an era you can find.

If you’ve read the later Quarry novels or, like me, haven’t sampled the series at all, you owe it to yourself to go back and read these early entries as well. They’re fine work by one of the field’s most dependable writers. Highly recommended.

(Max Allan Collins is a member of the Top Suspense Group.)

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Action Stories, August 1935

ACTION STORIES wasn't exactly a Western pulp, since its contents included, well, action stories of other sorts as well, but Westerns were probably the dominant genre.  This looks like a particularly strong issue, with a "Gip Drago" novel by Eugene Cunningham (I've never read any of the Gip Drago stories, but they sound good and I wish somebody would reprint them), a novel by Walt Coburn, stories by Barry Scobee and James P. Olsen, and a little yarn called "Cupid of Bear Creek", by none other than Robert E. Howard.  Yep, a Breckenridge Elkins rip-snorter.  And an action-packed cover, to boot.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Forgotten Books: Passionate Amazons - Harry Barstead

Talk about finding little gems in unexpected places! I picked up this volume in Half Price Books’ nostalgia section because it looked like an early Sixties sleaze novel from a publisher I wasn’t familiar with, All Star Books. There’s no author’s name on the cover, and when I opened it up, I saw that it was written by somebody named Harry Barstead (“author of MALIBU NYMPHS”). Never heard of him. Now, judging by the title, PASSIONATE AMAZONS, and the cover copy, you’d think it’s a novel about bisexual women, right?

Nope. PASSIONATE AMAZONS is a collection of short stories. In fact, some of the grubbiest, most hardboiled, noirish crime stories I’ve read in quite a while. And they’re pretty well-written, too, as well as populated by some vividly drawn lowlifes.

Start out with “Tropical Heat Wave”, which is set in the world of greyhound racing in Florida and has the standard noir plot of the rich old guy, the beautiful young wife, and the horny, not-too-bright protagonist. The plot won’t surprise you, but the writing is lean and fast and evocative.

“Too Hot for Him” is about a guy whose wife abandons him and their three-month-old son. When her father dies several years later, the narrator keeps a promise he made to the dying man and goes looking for her. What he finds isn’t pretty. You’ll probably want to shower after this one.

“No Good in Bed” is the weakest item in this collection. It’s not actually a story at all, but rather a mock-sociological essay about the sexual habits of the average American female. There are a few funny lines in it, but it really doesn’t amount to much.

“65 Men and a Girl” takes place in the cell block of a county jail somewhere in the South, where the jailer stages fights between the inmates every Saturday night, with the winner getting a visit from a local prostitute as his prize. Pretty sleazy stuff, with a twist ending that’s effective, if not all that surprising.

“I Saw You!” is a short, twist ending story about a cheating wife. Again, not too surprising, but well-written.

“Without Shame” is the story of a couple of young lovers who are trying to make it on the nightclub circuit as a dance team. Not the most noirish set-up, admittedly, but it plays out that way.

“Look But Don’t Touch” ventures into Orrie Hitt territory with a Peeping Tom who sees a lot more than he bargained for.

“Prisoner of Lust” is an amnesia story in which a young woman wakes up with a husband she can’t remember and a murder charge hanging over her head.

“Sex Down South” is the longest story in the book, a novelette about a Southern family that comes apart at the seams on one fateful night. Plenty of lust, jealousy, alcoholism, and murderous madness in this one. This is Tennessee Williams territory, although on a much lower but still effective level.

Rounding out the book is “Rent Money”, a really bleak story about the lengths a young wife goes to in order to keep a roof over her and her husband’s head. Like most of the rest of these yarns, it’s pretty unpleasant, but it packs a punch.

This collection was published in 1962. I don’t know if the stories appeared originally in lower-tier men’s magazines from that era or if they were written specifically for the book. They’re good enough that I had to wonder if we might know the author better under some other name. So I did a little investigating on the Internet, and it turns out that “Harry Barstead” was really Jack Jardine, a Los Angeles-area science fiction fan in the Fifties best known as Larry Maddock, the pseudonym he used on the four Agent of T.E.R.R.A. time travel novels published by Ace in the Sixties. Was “Harry Barstead” a deliberate corruption of “hairy bastard”? We can only speculate, of course, but it seems plausible.

I liked PASSIONATE AMAZONS quite a bit. Jardine could spin a good hardboiled sleaze yarn in addition to his SF. The chances of you coming across a copy are pretty slim, but if you ever find one at a reasonable price, grab it. The Harry Barstead books go for a lot of money on ABE, but over and above that (and much more important, to my mind), it’s well worth reading.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Another Lucas Hallam Novel Available for the Kindle

DOG HEAVIES, Livia's third and final (for now, anyway) Lucas Hallam novel is now available on Amazon for the Kindle.  When she put DEAD STICK up, I said it was my favorite of the novels, but now I'm not so sure.  DOG HEAVIES is really good, and we get to find out more about Hallam's background in it.  Maybe they're tied for my favorite.  Yeah, that'll work.

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Diamondback Now Available for the Kindle

I'm happy to report that my novel DIAMONDBACK is now available on Amazon for the Kindle.  For some reason the description of the book isn't showing up on the Amazon page, but this is a novel that I wrote back in the Eighties for a men's adventure line that collapsed before any of the books ever came out.  (Livia and I wrote a romance novel that suffered the same fate, but it's lost now and will never see the light of day.)  DIAMONDBACK has never been published until now, so it's a new book and a historical document at the same time.  In going back over it to prepare this edition, I could see how much my writing has changed in some ways during the past thirty years, and how in other ways it's still very much the same.  The most important thing, though, is that I still found this to be an entertaining, enjoyable book.  The Kindle edition features a new introduction by Bill Crider and an afterword by me.  I've always liked this novel, and I'm glad it's out there in the world at last.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: The New Adventures of Tarzan

When I was a kid, one of the local TV stations showed Tarzan movies every Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon. I was a faithful viewer and watched many of them over and over again, especially the Johnny Weissmuller movies. One Tarzan film that I didn’t like at all was TARZAN AND THE GREEN GODDESS, starring somebody called Bruce Bennett as the Ape Man. To a Weissmuller fan who had never read any of Burroughs’ novels, almost everything about TARZAN AND THE GREEN GODDESS was wrong. Bennett’s Tarzan wore clothes, spoke perfect English, and hung around with a chimpanzee called Nkima. Where was Cheetah? And the story took place in Guatemala, for goodness sake, instead of Africa. What were they thinking when they made this one?

Well, now I know, of course, that TARZAN AND THE GREEN GODDESS was the edited-down, feature version of the serial THE NEW ADVENTURES OF TARZAN, starring Herman Brix, who later went by the screen name Bruce Bennett. And the things I hated as a kid about Brix’s portrayal of Tarzan now don’t bother me at all, since I know that was the way Burroughs actually wrote the character.

To get the serial’s weaknesses out of the way first: the pace is glacial, the acting is uniformly bad, the script includes chapter after chapter of mostly pointless running around the Guatemalan jungle, and the production values are cheap even by the standards of the day. The lack of a musical score except over the opening and closing credits also hurts the film.

Now for the things I liked about it. Herman Brix is no great shakes as an actor at this stage of his career (he improved some in later years) but he looks just fine in the part, as both the civilized Lord Greystoke and the Ape Man. The only thing I didn’t like about his performance is the awful yell he does. He’s supposed to be yelling “Mangani”, which is reasonable since that was Burroughs’ name for the race of great apes that raised Tarzan, but it just doesn’t sound right to me. Some of the action scenes are fairly well done, and there’s some unintentional humor when Tarzan battles a group of Guatemalan ninjas, for want of a better word, who wear outfits that bear a marked resemblance to KKK robes, only made from black cloth instead of white. The filmmakers save the best stuff almost for last, in the penultimate chapter that takes place mostly on a sailing ship caught at sea in a bad storm. There are some really nice back-lit shots of Tarzan battling the villainous ship’s captain in the pouring rain. The final chapter itself is bizarrely anti-climactic, as the scene shifts to Greystoke Manor in England, where there’s a party going on and for some reason Tarzan and everyone else are dressed in gypsy outfits. Several flashbacks recap the high points of the story (it doesn’t take long), and then it all wraps up without any further action.

This probably makes the serial sound a little worse than it really is. I enjoyed it and am glad to have seen the whole thing after watching the shorter version as a kid.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Give 'Em Hell, Malone

If you make a movie set in the present day about a private detective who wears a fedora and trenchcoat, drives a roadster, and does voice-overs, you’re walking a fine line to start with. Throw in a plot that I swear makes no sense and a lot of highly stylized violence, and you’ve got GIVE ’EM HELL, MALONE, a movie I had hopes for since I’ve liked other films directed by Russell Mulcahy. This one looks good and has an occasional funny bit of dialogue, but it just never worked for me. That fine line I mentioned is the one between brilliant and stupid. GIVE ’EM HELL, MALONE reminded me a little of SHOOT ’EM UP (and not just because of the ’EM in the title). That’s another film that walks the same line, but it falls on the brilliant side. Not this one, unfortunately. But I suspect that’s a matter of personal taste, and if there was ever a “love it or hate it” movie, this is it.

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Big-Book Western, Nov.-Dec. 1936

Talk about leaving the Christmas decorations up too long! I just realized the Christmas cover scan was still up on the WesternPulps home page. Since we've been talking about Ed Earl Repp over there, I've replaced it with the cover of the November/December 1936 issue of BIG-BOOK WESTERN, featuring Repp's novel "Hell's Saddle Legion", and thought I might as well post it here, too.  (Image courtesy of Phil Stephensen-Payne's superb Galactic Central website.)

Friday, February 04, 2011

Forgotten Books: Ki-Gor, King of the Jungle - John Peter Drummond (John Murray Reynolds)

I admit, I’m fudging a little by doing this as a Forgotten Books post. At 20,000 words or so, “Ki-Gor, King of the Jungle” can’t really be called a book (although many a pulp editor cover-billed stories of that wordage as “full, book-length” novels). But I enjoyed reading it and think it deserves having a few things said about it.

First of all, the Ki-Gor series was one of the longest-running Tarzan imitators, appearing in the pulp JUNGLE STORIES from the Winter 1938 issue to the Spring 1954 issue. The first story, “Ki-Gor, King of the Jungle” was published originally under the name of the actual author, John Murray Reynolds, and reprinted later under the house-name used for most of the stories in the series, John Peter Drummond. Other authors who contributed to the series included Dan Cushman, Robert Turner, Wilbur S. Peacock, and James McKimmey, best known now for the hardboiled crime novels he wrote for Dell during the Fifties and Sixties.

Ki-Gor himself is the typical big, bronzed jungle hero swinging through the trees and fighting with natives and wild animals, although he’s blond rather than having dark hair like Tarzan. In the course of this first entry in the series, it’s revealed that he’s really Robert Kilgour (see where the name Ki-Gor comes from?), the son of a missionary who was murdered by warriors of the Wunguba tribe when Robert was a little boy. Growing to manhood in the jungle, he almost forgets who he really is and his command of the English language starts to slip away from him, too, at least, that is, until he rescues society aviatrix Helene Vaughn, whose plane crashes while she’s trying to fly across Africa.

Reynolds doesn’t make any secret of the fact that this story is influenced heavily by Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Tarzan novels and even more so by the Tarzan movies with Johnny Weissmuller. There’s even a “Me Ki-Gor, you Helene” line of dialogue. The plot is fairly skimpy in this first yarn. Ki-Gor meets Helene, his back-story is revealed, and he battles some natives and then rescues Helene from Arab slavers when she’s captured by them.

So why read such a blatant imitation? Well, for one thing, it’s pretty well-written. I’d never read anything by John Murray Reynolds before, but his prose flows nicely and the story has a good pace to it. Helene turns out to be a surprisingly good character, too. She’s not there just to look pretty and get captured by the bad guys (although she does perform both of those functions). She’ll get right in there and fight alongside Ki-Gor. Also, for a story published in 1938 featuring African natives, there’s not much at all of the casual racism you sometimes encounter in such stories. The warriors of the Wunguba are villains, sure, but they’re presented as formidable enemies and Ki-Gor obviously has plenty of respect for them.

A number of pulp fans have mentioned that the Ki-Gor series is really better than they expected, and based on this first story, I think they may be right. I plan to read more, and luckily I can because the great small press publisher Altus Press has plans to reprint the entire series. The first six stories are available now in a single volume, which is where I read “Ki-Gor, King of the Jungle”. That’s another thing weighing against calling it a Forgotten Book, but since I imagine the Ki-Gor series is pretty far off the radar for most modern readers, I’m going to justify it that way. I liked this story, and since it ends without much of a real resolution, I’m looking forward to getting back to the series soon.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

The Snake Den - Chuck Tyrell (Charles T. Whipple)

My review of Charles T. Whipple's latest Chuck Tyrell novel THE SNAKE DEN is now up on the Western Fictioneers blog.  This is an excellent Western novel.  Check it out.

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Longarm and the Panamint Panic

This entry in the long-running series will be available soon in finer bookstores everywhere, if it's not already.  My thanks to fellow Owlhoot buckaroo A.P. McQuiddy for his valuable suggestions regarding this one.

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: The Long Voyage Home

I was the world’s biggest John Wayne fan when I was growing up, but I never even heard of this movie until I was in college. Released in 1940, the year after Wayne became a big star in STAGECOACH, THE LONG VOYAGE HOME didn’t make much of a splash despite all the top-level talent associated with it. That didn’t do anything to derail Wayne’s career, of course. He just barreled right on to become the biggest box-office draw in the world, year after year. That may be because THE LONG VOYAGE HOME isn’t what anybody would really think of as “a John Wayne movie”.

As a matter of fact, it’s very much an ensemble piece. Dudley Nichols, one of director John Ford’s favorite screenwriters, took four one-act plays by Eugene O’Neill about the crew of the tramp freighter Glencairn and fashioned them into the script for this movie, updating the setting to the South Pacific on the eve of World War II. Because of that, the film is pretty leisurely and episodic, and given its origins, it’s a little stagey, too, with a lot of scenes where characters are sitting around in a fairly confined area (the ship) and talking. A lot of it was filmed on a soundstage, but filmed in such beautiful black-and-white by the iconic cinematographer Gregg Toland that it’s a joy to watch. Toland went on to shoot CITIZEN KANE for Orson Welles, but for my money, his work on THE LONG VOYAGE HOME is equally as good.

This is the movie where John Wayne plays a young Swedish sailor named Ole Olsen and speaks with a thick Swedish accent. Critical opinion seems to be about equally divided as to whether he botches the accent or nails it. I’m no expert, by any means, but it sounds okay to me. And as always, Wayne is such a great physical actor, conveying as much with his movements and his stance as he does with his words. His role is actually a supporting one, although his character does wind up being pivotal to the plot. If there’s a star in the film, it’s Thomas Mitchell, also a great actor, and he’s backed up not only by Wayne but also by Ford stalwarts Barry Fitzgerald, John Qualen, Jack Pennick, and Ward Bond. It’s a fine cast with a great script, and Ford’s touch on this movie is just about perfect and lighter on the sentimentality than he often was, which is fitting given the darkness of O’Neill’s source material.

I’m not sure how I missed this movie growing up. The TV stations around here must not have shown it nearly as often as they did all those other classic John Wayne movies. But that’s okay. I wouldn’t have appreciated it when I was eight years old, anyway. I do now.