Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Two More E-Books

Two more books from our backlist have been released as e-books for both the Kindle and the Nook.  My novel THE WILDERNESS ROAD, originally published by Harper Paperbacks, is a frontier historical set in Kentucky in 1790.  Despite this, the cover of the Harper edition features a cowboy who's a dead ringer for Charles Bronson in ONCE UPON A TIME IN THE WEST carrying a Winchester.  Of course, who am I to argue, since it sold the best of the eight books I wrote for Harper.  It's nice to have it available again, since I always thought it was one of my best books.

Livia's GHOST RIVER is one of several Westerns that originally came out in hardback from M. Evans under the name L.J. Washburn.  That's the only edition until now, and it's also very nice to have it available again.  It's a stand-alone traditional Western, and none other than Len Meares, the author of the iconic Larry and Stretch series under the name Marshall Grover, read it and declared it one of the best Westerns he'd ever read.

Needless to say (but I'll say it anyway) I highly recommend you check 'em both out.

Guest Post by Brian Drake: Behind the Scenes of Bullet for One, or: It Took You Long Enough!

When did you discover crime fiction? Did it have the same amazing effect on you as it did me?

I remember the night well. I had just graduated college and was at the local (now closed) Borders looking for something to read. I had grown up on a steady diet of action/adventure and spy novels, but had lately grown tired of the formula and wanted to find something new. I had no idea what “new” would be, and it came in the form of a book called Cold Caller by Jason Starr. The book is about a telemarketer who murders his boss. I had worked through college as a telemarketer, and I had wanted to murder my boss countless times! He was a skinny four-eyed weasel exiled to our office from the corporate headquarters in Texas (ie, the Lone Star State couldn’t stand him!) and he wasn’t so much a hard task master as he was annoying. While we were on the phones, he’d always shout out mini “pep talks” that were distracting, generic, and irritating—especially when we were trying to sell stuff. If I had murdered him and had to explain my actions to a judge, I would have said, “Your Honor, he always yelled out ‘You’re a Super Star!’ or ‘It’s Time to Smile and Dial!’ at the top of his voice, in that twangy accent, and it finally made me snap.” The judge would have determined that no crime had been committed.

So I bought Starr’s book and took it home. I finished it in three days. For the first time, I had read a thriller featuring people I knew. Maybe I didn’t know them literally, but I knew people that were like the people in the book. I didn’t know people like the protagonist, and I suppose it should scare me that I identified with him so well, but don’t we all love Lou Ford? Of course we do!

It was a revelation. Up until then, I thought all fiction was made up of superheroes that in no way resembled the average person. Jason Starr proved otherwise.

Shortly after I went back to the (now closed) Borders and bought a whole stack of books which my buddy at the store called “a whirlwind tour through modern hard-boiled.” I hit the used bookstores, too, and my bookshelves overflowed. Spillane. Collins. Stark. Hammett. Leonard. McBain. Thompson. Goodis. Rabe. Brewer. Short story anthologies (RIP, Mr. Greenberg). A book called Bag Men by John Flood which brought tears to my eyes. I read everything by Lawrence Block that I could find. I found out Starr wasn’t the only one writing about people I recognized, and soon decided that I needed to quit writing about Bonds and Blondes and Bombs and write crime fiction.

My first foray into the world of hard-boiled crime was the just-published Bullet for One, which I wrote between 1999 and 2001. A very much Spillane-inspired private eye tale, it was a pulp potboiler that in no way resembled what I had envisioned. I was writing about my streets and my town but the characters were the usual superheroes that in no way resembled real people. A couple of rewrites put it into shape, but the market was so swamped with private eye novels that I didn’t think mine would make a dent. I threw it in a drawer and wrote other crime novels.

Ten years later…

I’m doing this Kindle thing, you see, and went through my archives to find out if there was anything that could be uploaded to Amazon. “Hmmm,” I thought, “Bullet for One is the most promising but it needs a good edit (if by ‘good edit’ you mean ‘I chopped 50 pages of worthless material’)”. I handed it to my editor and said, “Be ruthless. I wrote this when I was 25.” He came back a month later and said he liked it so much that he wanted to see a sequel.

My “good edit” and the effort made back in 2001 turned this pulp potboiler into a noir thriller about the futility of revenge. All of the usual characters are present, but portrayed, I am told, in a more realistic light than the usual pulp story. And while it may have been “easy” for Spillane and Hammer, I assure you that it is not easy for John Coburn. What happens in this book will follow him into the next. I guess that means I will write a sequel.

After ten years and a lot of sweat I am proud to make this novel available.

I hope you check it out and enjoy it.

And, by the way, if you have not had the pleasure, go read Cold Caller and John Flood’s Bag Men. They didn’t get the recognition I think they deserve, and you will be blown away. They are amazing books.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Undersea Kingdom

(This post originally appeared in slightly different form on April 19, 2005, also a Tuesday, by the way. Bill Crider wrote an Overlooked Movies post about this one a while back.)

I’ve finished watching the serial UNDERSEA KINGDOM, got through this one pretty quickly.It’s fast-moving, with lots of things happening in every episode, even though some of them don't make much (or any) sense. Some quick impressions:

Most of the cliffhangers are real cheats, so blatant that they bothered even me, and I’m normally pretty forgiving about things like that. The plausibility of the cliffhangers was one reason I was so impressed with ZORRO’S FIGHTING LEGION.

Ray Corrigan must have been one heck of a good sport to run around for half the serial in what looks like gold-spangled swimming trunks and a goofy helmet with a huge metal fin on it.

If Atlantis is located in a giant dome on the ocean floor, where does all the bright sunlight come from? (I know, I know, I shouldn’t ask questions like that.)

The plucky kid sidekick, played by Lee Van Atta, is actually one of the most competent characters in the story. He saves the day several times.

The plucky girl reporter, played by Lois Wilde, has nothing to do and has zero chemistry with Corrigan, so she’s not even a decent romantic interest.

I’d swear that Monte Blue, who plays the villainous Unga Khan, was hung over for at least half the filming. But John Merton, who usually played a villain, actually plays a good guy in this one (albeit a reformed villain) and does a fine job of it.

Smiley Burnette was an okay Western sidekick – never Gabby Hayes level, of course, but not bad – but he’s totally wasted here and only appears in about three or four episodes. And unless I missed something, it was never explained how he and the other comedy relief, Frankie Marvin, escaped from the villains after they were captured early on.

Lots of good miniature work and special effects by the Lydecker brothers. I’m still shocked by how much the Atlantean flying warship looks like the original Enterprise. I have to wonder if whoever designed the Enterprise back in the Sixties had seen this serial.

There are some really nice battle scenes, too, some on horseback and some when the minions of Unga Khan lay siege to the Sacred City and finally scale the walls on ladders, much like the Mexican army attacking the Alamo. Even though the rival armies seemed to number no more than twenty men on either side, they made it look like a bigger battle. Yeah, the robots were clunky, the tank-like Juggernaut was laughable, and the high-tech weaponry didn’t look believable, but there was so much enthusiasm I was able to suspend my disbelief without too much trouble.

All in all, silly but very enjoyable.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Die, Lover, Die - Top Suspense Group

With a title like an old Gold Medal novel and a cover that shows some vintage paperback influence, I expected to like DIE, LOVER, DIE, the latest round-robin e-book by the members of the Top Suspense Group. And sure enough, I did. Here’s what the promo materials have to say about the story:

“Lauren Blaine is on the run...fleeing across the country, pursued by a pack of ruthless, skilled, and psychopathic killers.

That's because she's dumped her husband and he hasn't taken it well.

Of course, he might have taken it better if he wasn't a major drug dealer with a gale-force temper... and if she hadn't run off with all of his cash.

Now she's marked-for-death, a moving target for every mercenary, hitman, and sadist in the midwest.

What they don't know is that Lauren is nobody's victim... she's a resourceful, brave, and cunning woman who won't go down without a fight.

This is 10,000 words of non-stop action, violence and sex...a wild ride like nothing else you've read before...from twelve masters of suspense, who teamed up to write this rollicking story 250 rapid-fire words at a time, tag-team style, without an outline, without knowing what was coming next. The result is a pure, literary adrenaline rush.”

When they say “10,000 words of non-stop action, violence, and sex”, they ain’t kiddin’, folks. It’s incredibly entertaining, too, and is best read in one sitting if you want to get the full effect. And here’s the best part: I don’t think the story is over yet. The ending is all set up for a sequel, and I, for one, can’t wait. Highly recommended.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Livia's Novel Mending Fences Now Available as an E-Book

A number of years ago Livia wrote a novel for a series of heartwarming Americana romances published by Berkley.  It was called MENDING FENCES, and it centers around the Fence-Cutting War in Brown County, Texas during the 1880s.  My family is from Brown and Comanche counties, so I've heard about the Fence-Cutting War all my life.  My dad told me that some of the fences that got cut are still there, so we drove down to take a look at them and research the area.  The result was a novel that may be a heartwarming romance, but it's also a Western and has some nice gunslinging action in it.  And it's one of the few novels set in the tiny real-life town of Zephyr, Texas, for those of you who knew where that is.  (I know there's at least one of you familiar with the Brownwood area.) Anyway, I thought this was a fine book and it's available now for both the Kindle and the Nook, so check it out.

Book Alert: Nam - Robert McGowan

NAM: Things That Weren't True and Other Stories
some funny ~ some sad
The thirty-seven stories in this sometimes harrowing, sometimes hilarious collection look back at the Vietnam War from a distance of over forty years. It is derived of the author's Vietnam War experience, and adds the perspectives of not only the soldiers themselves, but also their children, spouses, siblings, parents, friends.

This is hardly just another batch of macho war stories. These short fictions, most of them memoir-based, neither glorify nor excuse war. They are, instead, an eloquent testament to the tragic lunacy of war.

Nothing comparable to this collection exists within the literature growing out of the Vietnam War.

Excerpts of reviews for NAM:
"Rob McGowan’s stories have the energy and grip of a pit bull... But the risks any reader takes in entering such tightly leashed tales will be copiously rewarded."
— Brian Bedard, author of the story collection, Grieving on the Run.

"Reading these stories from NAM brings back the heart of the war for all to see and hear. I am a fan of McGowan's work because, even when it’s impossible to know from your own experience whether a story is factually accurate, you know very well that the story is true, really true."
— Carol Brightman, editor of the influential underground Viet-Report during the late 1960s.

"The tales in NAM: Things That Weren’t True and Other Stories approach their troubling subject from all sides, chipping away at the mysterious monolith that was the American war. In this collection, Robert McGowan displays remarkable range and depth."
— Stewart O’Nan, eminent American novelist and editor of the anthology, The Vietnam Reader.

"This collection is unique... a narrative imbued in turn with brutal frankness, pathos, irony, and the blackest of humor. The author’s sense of place is palpable; his eye for detail crazy-clear; his ear for dialogue both true and great fun."
— Susan O’Neill, an Army nurse in Vietnam (1969) and author of the Vietnam War story collection, Don’t Mean Nothing.

(NAM is published by Meridian Star Press, an imprint of the great Murder Slim Press and is an impressive debut for this new line.)

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Thrilling Western, June 1935

This pulp has a typical Thrilling Group Western cover, but the issue is interesting to me because it contains the original appearance of A. Leslie Scott's novel THE ARIZONA RANGER, which later was reprinted in paperback as one of the early Pyramid Books, an edition I happen to have read and owned at one time.  The fact that the hero is one Rance Hatfield always makes me think there's a connection between this novel and Jim Hatfield, the hero of the pulp TEXAS RANGERS, whose adventures Scott began chronicling a year or so later.  Since the stories in TEXAS RANGERS take place in the 1870s and '80s, and the Arizona Rangers were active in the early 20th Century, I've always wondered if maybe Rance Hatfield was Jim Hatfield's son, or at least his younger brother or nephew.  I suspect that Scott didn't have anything of the sort in mind; he just liked the name Hatfield and used it again.  But I like to speculate about such things anyway.  Among the other authors in this issue are Jay J. Kalez, who wrote one of the early Masked Rider novels, the ubiquitous Larry A. Harris, and "Sam Brant", a Thrilling Group house name that has been rumored to have some fairly famous authors behind it.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Forgotten Books: The Sign of the Skull - J. Allan Dunn

Sometimes, like when I read CAST IN DARK WATERS by Ed Gorman and Tom Piccirilli a few weeks ago, you’re just in the mood for a good pirate yarn. Although very different from the Gorman and Piccirilli book, J. Allan Dunn’s THE SIGN OF THE SKULL fits into the good pirate yarn category, too.

Originally published as a complete novel in the April 18, 1918 issue of the legendary pulp magazine ADVENTURE, the biggest influence on THE SIGN OF THE SKULL is Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic TREASURE ISLAND. (I still have fond memories of Mrs. Wray, my fifth grade teacher, reading a chapter of TREASURE ISLAND aloud to the class when we got back from lunch every day.) The narrator and protagonist of THE SIGN OF THE SKULL is also a young man, although considerably older than Jim Hawkins. Justin Penrith is in desperate financial straits, so bad off that he’s been reduced to becoming (shudder) a writer, authoring penny broadsides about famous pirates, one of whom is about to be hanged in London as the story opens. Justin is in attendance at the public hanging, and he sees the buccaneer throw a ring to someone in the crowd just before dropping through the trap.

That ring becomes important later on, because (MINOR SPOILER, as if you haven’t already guessed) it’s the key to finding a fortune in pirate booty buried on an island off the east coast of Africa. (And yes, this is the sort of story in which the word “booty” is used often. If you read it, try not to snicker.) Justin becomes involved in a quest to find this treasure when he befriends a crippled youngster who has a rich uncle. Before you know it, they’re getting ready to sail off to Africa in search of the loot, but other people know about it, too, and try to stop them, leading to some adventures in England before the ship ever sets sail.

And once it does, you can be sure there’s more excitement, with hurricanes, mutiny, sea battles, bloody cutlasses, booming flintlock pistols, and pirates galore. Treachery abounds, and of course the plot has a few more twists to play out, including a very good one late in the book that I didn’t see coming at all.

Dunn wasn’t as good a writer as Stevenson and the prose is a little stodgy in places, but THE SIGN OF THE SKULL is solidly in the same tradition as TREASURE ISLAND and I found it very entertaining. Of course, it helps if you’re a middle-aged guy who can still channel his inner twelve-year-old. (I think I’ve just described a sizable percentage of this blog’s regular readers.) After ninety years or so, THE SIGN OF THE SKULL will soon be in print again, in an inexpensive reprint edition from our friends at Beb Books. If you enjoy tales of piracy and derring-do, you definitely should keep a lookout for it.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

The Hunted Now Available for Kindle and Nook

My Western novel THE HUNTED, which was originally published by Harper in 1997, is now available as an e-book for the Kindle and the Nook.  Here's the description from the book's page on Amazon:

After the war, a lone Confederate soldier and onetime gunslinger emerges from a Yankee prison camp and faces a harsh frontier winter, outlaws, state police, and Indians in a quest to find his six children.

I like this one a lot and think it's one of my best pure traditional Western novels.  Check it out.

The Mechanic

I think the original version of this film is one of the few Charles Bronson movies I've never seen, so I don't have anything to compare it to, just judged it on its own merits, which are considerable.  I always like Jason Statham, and he's fine in this one as a somewhat honorable hitman, who winds up taking a younger, more loose cannon version of himself under his arm as an apprentice killer.  Stuff blows up, lots of fistfights and gunfights and running around, a few plot twists, some totally gratuitous nudity and sex . . . what's not to like?  THE MECHANIC is a fairly smart, well-made action film, and I enjoyed it.  Recommended.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Captain America: Man Out of Time - Mark Waid

Since I’ve started reading comics again, there’s no doubt my favorite character has been Captain America. This volume reprints a recent mini-series that’s a retelling and expansion of events first chronicled in AVENGERS #4 – 8.

Now, I bought all those issues brand-new off the spinner racks at Trammell’s Grocery and Tompkins’ Pharmacy, so I was familiar with the story. But Mark Waid, one of the more dependable comics writers these days, does a good job and doesn’t monkey too much with what happened in those nearly-50-year-old stories. And it always does this old man’s heart good to see the original Avengers again, looking and acting like they did back then. The art by Jorge Molina and Karl Kesel is pretty good, too, with some decent storytelling.

To me, the appeal of this volume is primarily nostalgic, but even if you didn’t read those AVENGERS issues ’way back when, this is a good solid superhero yarn. Recommended for the comics fans among you.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Hatchet Force Journal #1

Last night I downloaded and immediately read cover-to-cover this first issue of this new e-magazine devoted to the action/adventure genre.  The brainchild of author (and occasional commentor on this blog) Jack Badelaire, this is a fine piece of work.  Highlights are a lengthy essay by Badelaire about societal influences on the explosion of men's adventure paperbacks in the late Sixties and all through the Seventies, an extensive interview with author Mack Maloney (whose work I'm aware of but have never read, something I have to remedy), and an in-depth review of Sam Peckinpah's film BRING ME THE HEAD OF ALFREDO GARCIA (a movie I've never seen, something else I have to tend to).  There are also articles on "The Evolution of Pulp" by Tom Johnson, an authority on that subject and an old friend of mine, and "Movie Adaptations That Beat the Book" by Henry Brown, plus book and TV reviews by various hands, all good.  I had a great time reading HATCHET FORCE JOURNAL, and I hope it's just the first of many issues.  If you're an action/adventure fan, it comes highly recommended by me.

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: The Vampire's Ghost

Somebody on the PulpMags group mentioned this movie favorably a few weeks ago. I’d never heard of it before, so I decided to give it a try. When I think about Republic Pictures, I don’t think about horror films. Republic means Westerns and serials, of course. And THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST definitely has some Western and serial connections.

One of the villains is played by the great Roy Barcroft, the bad guy or chief henchman in many a Roy Rogers movie, and Western fixture Grant Withers plays a priest. There’s even a saloon brawl, albeit a brief one. The movie was directed by Leslie Selander, who directed a lot of B-Westerns, and written by John K. Butler and Leigh Brackett. Butler went from a career writing wacky, hardboiled detective stories for the pulps to writing wacky, hardboiled Western yarns for the movies. Brackett, of course, is a legend, and this movie was some of her first film work.

So with a pedigree like that, you’d think that THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST would at least be worth watching, and here’s the good news . . . it is. It’s a really nice little low-budget thriller, set in the African river port town of B’kunda. An Englishman named Webb Fallon owns a bar and casino there, and there’s a rubber plantation nearby managed by the stalwart Roy Kendrick.

When some mysterious murders in the area spook the natives and threaten production on the plantation, Kendrick decides to get to the bottom of the killings. He enlists Fallon to help him, which is maybe not the best idea in the world since Fallon is actually the 400-year-old vampire who’s responsible for the deaths. This is revealed almost immediately, so it’s not much of a spoiler. It doesn’t take long for Kendrick to find out what’s going on, either, but he can’t tell anybody, because Fallon, who has befriended him and doesn’t want to kill him, mesmerizes him into not revealing his secret.

This is an extremely pulpish yarn, right down to a final showdown in an ancient jungle temple, and it probably would have been very much at home in a 1940s issue of WEIRD TALES. The screenplay by Butler and Brackett races right along, ably abetted by Selander’s efficient direction. Having made a career out of B-movies, Selander had to be very accustomed to shooting quickly. The performances are good, especially that of John Abbott as Webb Fallon, who manages to be both sympathetic and suavely evil at the same time. As a tormented, angsty vampire, he’s something of a forerunner of all the romantic hero bloodsuckers we have running around in books, movies, and TV today. Also, one of the highlights comes early in the movie in the form of a wild, erotic dance done by the beautiful Adele Mara, who is dark and exotic in this movie, rather than blond and wholesome like she is in many of her films. This dance, which takes place in Fallon’s casino, is hot stuff and ends with Mara looking defiantly right into the camera. It’s a quick shot, but very effective.

All in all, I found THE VAMPIRE’S GHOST to be very entertaining. It’s available on Netflix to watch on-line, and at a brisk 55 minutes, it’s well worth your time.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Hallowed Ground - Steven Savile and David Niall Wilson

Note to Steven Savile and David Niall Wilson: Guys, you had me at the sight of the mysterious-looking female gunslinger on the cover.

Luckily for those of you who are, ahem, less shallow than me, behind that cover is a fine novel in the burgeoning Weird Western genre. A sinister character known only as The Deacon shows up in the frontier town of Rookwood along with a caravan of grotesqueries and freaks. Is The Deacon a traveling preacher? Is his troupe a circus or carnival of some sort? A rival/old enemy called Balthazar shows up as well, and these arrivals start to have an effect on various citizens, leading up to some dramatic supernatural confrontations.

HALLOWED GROUND is very well-written and makes excellent use of its dusty frontier setting, with influences that seem to range from Ray Bradbury to Sergio Leone. And not to harp on it, but hey, having a beautiful female gunfighter in a book never hurts. I enjoyed this one a lot. Highly recommended.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Adventures of Cash Laramie and Gideon Miles - Edward A. Grainger (David Cranmer)

For a while now, David Cranmer has been writing stories under the name Edward A. Grainger about Deputy U.S. Marshal Cash Laramie (sometimes known as The Outlaw Marshal because of his tendency to break the rules to accomplish justice) and his fellow deputy and sometimes partner Gideon Miles. Cash was raised by Indians and Gideon is black, so both of them are to a certain extent outsiders in frontier society, but that doesn’t prevent them from doing their jobs.

ADVENTURES OF CASH LARAMIE AND GIDEON MILES is a new e-book collecting seven of the stories about these characters, five of them reprints from various venues and two appearing here for the first time. They’re all tightly-plotted, well-written yarns, traditional Westerns for the most part but with some extra grit and edgy plots. One of them, “The Bone Orchard Mystery” (a story new to this volume), is just what it sounds like, a fine mystery story centered around a graveyard, and it’s probably my favorite entry in the book.

But all the stories are well worth reading. If you’re a Western fan and haven’t yet made the acquaintance of Cash and Gideon, you definitely should, and this volume is a perfect introduction.

By the way, there’ll be a new Gideon Miles story in the Western Fictioneers anthology to be published later this summer. One more good reason to keep an eye out for that one!

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Another E-Book Now Available

Livia's novel SPIRIT CATCHER is now available for both the Kindle and the Nook.  This is a contemporary paranormal romantic suspense novel that also has some strong Western elements (including cameo appearances by some characters who may be familiar to a few of you).  I think it's a fine yarn, of course, and you can find more background information about it on Livia's blog today.  Check it out.

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Blue-Ribbon Western, April 1949

A guy jumping from his horse onto a train . . . How many times have I seen that in Western B-movies, and here's the same scene on a Western pulp. The Columbia Publications pulps don't have a very high reputation, but some decent authors had stories in them. In this particular issue, most of the wordage is taken up by Allen K. Echols' lead novel. I've seen books by Echols around for years, but I don't recall ever reading any of them. Also in this issue is a story by Chuck Martin, whose work I have read and enjoyed, and the third and final story is by none other than Lester del Rey, whose name certainly doesn't spring to mind when you're thinking about Western pulpsters. But I'll bet it's an interesting yarn.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Forgotten Books: The Plot Against Earth - Calvin M. Knox (Robert Silverberg)

(This post originally ran in slightly different form on November 6, 2005.)

This is the other half of that Ace SF Double I wrote about last week, and like Milton Lesser's RECRUIT FOR ANDROMEDA, this early novel by Robert Silverberg, writing as Calvin M. Knox, is pretty good. It's also a good example of taking a standard plot from one genre and transplanting it to another. In hardboiled mysteries, you've sometimes got the lone government agent out to smash the dope racket in a corrupt town. In THE PLOT AGAINST EARTH, you've got the lone Terran agent out to smash the hypnojewel racket in a corrupt galaxy. Silverberg makes it work just fine and his prose is always a pleasure to read.

I don't know if this story was first published in one of the SF digest magazines, but it certainly seems possible, especially given the fact that the book is dedicated to Robert A.W. Lowndes, one of the magazine editors who bought a lot of Silverberg's early fiction. I like the cover on the Ace edition, which is by Valigursky, because not only is it striking but it also depicts an actual scene from the book.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Watch Me Die - Lee Goldberg

(I read this book back when it first came out, under its original title THE MAN WITH THE IRON-ON BADGE.  Lee has just reissued it as an e-book with a new title and new cover, so if you haven't read it yet, you definitely need to.  Here's what I had to say about it back in August 2005.)

Lee Goldberg is best known, of course, as a television writer and producer, as well as the author of the very active blog A Writer’s Life. But he’s also a novelist, and his latest, THE MAN WITH THE IRON-ON BADGE, is well worth your attention.

It’s the story of Harvey Mapes, a security guard at an exclusive, gated Southern California housing development. Harvey is also a fan of mystery fiction and spends most of his hours in the guard shack reading old paperbacks and wishing he could be more like Travis McGee. Harvey’s life changes when he is hired by one of the residents of the development to do some amateur private detective work and finds himself involved in something that at first glance would be right at home in one of the old Gold Medal novels he’s read.

This book starts out as a fine example of the humorous “lovable schmoe” school of detective fiction, and Goldberg does a good job with that part of it, but then it takes a sudden turn into darker and more dangerous territory and becomes even better. The plot becomes more complex and so do the characters, and while Goldberg plays scrupulously fair with his clues, nothing and nobody turns out be exactly that they seemed at first. Add to that some very smooth prose and a sense of compassion for the people he’s writing about, and you’ve got one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked TV: The Cisco Kid

Warning: Nostalgia is about to be wallowed in.

I have a soft spot in my heart for the Cisco Kid TV series, for one specific reason. An episode of it was the first thing I ever watched on a color TV that belonged to my family when I was a kid. When I was growing up, we probably had more TV sets than most households in the early Sixties, because my father was a TV repairman and we always had several portables around in addition to the big console in the living room. But they were all black-and-white sets. There weren't enough shows being broadcast in color to make buying a color set worthwhile, according to my dad. But some relatives of ours had one, and I always wanted to go visit them so that I could sit in front of the set and stare in rapt fascination at BONANZA or THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF DISNEY in color. It was the most amazing thing I had ever seen.

Eventually I made a big enough pest of myself that my dad agreed to get a color TV. The day he was supposed to pick it up, I raced up the street from where the school bus dropped us off, but he wasn't there, and neither was the new TV. I had to wait another couple of hours before he finally got home with it, lugged it in (those old TVs were big and heavy), and set it up. But then it was ready, and when we turned it on, there were Cisco and Pancho, riding the range and chasing bad guys. It was a truly thrilling moment. Later in the evening we watched an episode of DANIEL BOONE, which was new at the time (the Cisco Kid was an old rerun even then), but Cisco was first.

All of which is my long-winded way of saying that I picked up a cheap DVD that has six episodes of THE CISCO KID on it, and recently I watched one of them, the first time I've seen an episode of this series in years, if not decades. Judging by this one, it was money well-spent. The plot was fairly complex, Duncan Renaldo and Leo Carrillo Jr. were very good as Cisco and Pancho, and the color photography, much of it shot on the familiar locations where so many TV and movie westerns were filmed, was quite good for the time period. The accents and some of the jokes were a little heavy-handed and might almost be considered racist today, but I didn't find them mean-spirited at all. Leo Carrillo Jr. was just plain funny as Pancho, but he was also a competent sidekick for Cisco, not buffoonish in his actions. I've always liked sidekicks who can handle themselves in a fistfight or shootout, and you get the sense that Pancho is really a pretty tough guy.

I'm looking forward to watching the other episodes on this DVD, to see if they hold up as well as the first one.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Motion to Kill - Joel Goldman

A while back I read Joel Goldman’s novel NO WAY OUT and really enjoyed it for its twisty plot, fine pace, and interesting characters. Now some of Goldman’s earlier novels are being reissued as e-books, and I’ve had the chance to read one of them, MOTION TO KILL, the first novel featuring attorney Lou Mason as the protagonist.

Despite having the same last name, Lou is no Perry Mason, as one of the other characters actually points out in the novel. He’s a corporate attorney handling mostly financial matters, although he did some personal injury work in the past, before he came to work for the firm where he is currently a partner.

One of the firm’s clients, a wealthy banker, is the target of an investigation by the U.S. Attorney in Kansas City, where the book is set. The partner who is handling the case turns up dead under suspicious circumstances during a corporate retreat at a lake in the Ozarks. The local sheriff handling the case is a beautiful blonde and a former FBI agent who gets romantically involved with Lou.

Corporate attorney or not, Lou is forced to turn detective when somebody tries to kill him and then several more murders take place. As in the other book of his I read, Goldman does a terrific job of weaving together secrets from the past and double-dealing in the present to create a masterful plot. Even better, though, is the character of Lou Mason, who makes a really likable hero. Lou has a tendency to being a smart-ass, and he’s quick-witted and tough enough to untangle the deadly mess in which he finds himself. On top of that throw in a nice job of portraying the Midwest setting, and MOTION TO KILL is a fine book. I’m glad e-book editions of the other Lou Mason novels are in the works, because I plan to read them, too. Highly recommended.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Two Books Not to Miss

I read Wayne Dundee's DISMAL RIVER a while back and thought it was one of the best Westerns I'd read in years. I still do. It's available now in paperback with an e-book edition coming soon. And while I haven't yet read all of David Cranmer's Cash Laramie stories (written under the name Edward A. Grainger), I've read enough of them to know that this collection is a must-have, as well. In fact, it's already sitting on my Kindle, waiting for me to have a few spare moments.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: All-Novel Western, May 1940

I don't recall ever hearing anything about this particular pulp magazine, and this isn't really an outstanding cover, or even a very good one.  I'm highlighting it today because I don't recognize even a single one of the authors who have stories in this issue: Clint Douglas, William A. Langford, Ronald Flagg, Jack Arrison, and Austin Renner.  In checking the Fictionmags Index, I see that Douglas and Flagg are known to be house names, and the stories in this issue are the only ones listed for Arrison and Renner, so I'd be a little suspicious of them, too.  Langford is the author of a few Western and detective stories in a variety of pulps from 1938 to 1940, so maybe he was a real person.  For sheer obscurity, though, you might have to go a ways to beat this issue of this pulp.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Forgotten Books: Recruit for Andromeda - Milton Lesser

(This post originally ran in slightly different form on November 2, 2005.)

This short novel was originally published in the July 1953 issue of the science-fiction digest IMAGINATION, under the title “Voyage to Eternity”. It was reprinted six years later as half of Ace Double D-358 as RECRUIT FOR ANDROMEDA. By the way, I think the magazine title is much better than the book title.

The plot won’t contain many surprises for anybody who has read much science-fiction. Approximately every two years, a certain number of healthy young males between the ages of 21 and 26 are selected in a national lottery and drafted to serve in some top-secret project. Supposedly a system is in place to rotate these men back out of the service, but in reality they all disappear and none of them ever come back. This has led the public to dub the project the Nowhere Journey (which also would have made an okay title). Unknown to anyone in America, the Communist empire in Russia has a similar project going on. Lesser cuts back and forth between an American draftee and a Russian one, and you know they’ll wind up butting heads sooner or later. Bit by bit, the reader is let in on the secrets of the Nowhere Journey, and everything finally comes together in a slam-bang space battle.

I’ve been aware for a long time that Stephen Marlowe, the author of the Gold Medal series about hardboiled private eye Chester Drum, was really Milton Lesser and that he started off writing science-fiction. Only in recent years, though, have I actually started to read some of Lesser’s SF and found out just how much of it he really wrote. He consistently turned out smooth, entertaining prose no matter what the genre, and that’s the case in this novel. Interestingly, there’s a little story-within-the-story in this book that echoes some of Lesser’s Gold Medal work as Marlowe. Although dated and fairly predictable, RECRUIT FOR ANDROMEDA is worth reading.

The cover of the Ace edition is by Emsh.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

More Books for the Nook

Several more of our books are now available on Barnes & Noble for the Nook, including all three of Livia's Lucas Hallam novels, WILD NIGHT, DEAD STICK, and DOG HEAVIES, my Western/World War I novel UNDER OUTLAW FLAGS, and DUST DEVILS.  If you have a Nook, check 'em out.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Gun the Man Down

Last week when James Arness passed away, I decided to watch something of his I’d never seen before. I wound up watching GUN THE MAN DOWN, from 1956, which must have been made about the same time Arness was starting work on GUNSMOKE. It’s a pretty good hardboiled Western.

The script by Burt Kennedy starts off with a fairly standard premise. Arness plays Rem Anderson, a young man who falls in with bad company, in this case a couple of bank robbers played by veteran movie heavies Robert J. Wilke and Don Megowan. When the job they pull goes wrong and Rem is wounded, his so-called partners abandon him to the law, taking with them not only the loot from the bank but also Rem’s girl, a soiled dove named Jan who is trying to leave that life behind (played by a very young Angie Dickinson).

Well, Rem gets sent to prison for a year, and when he gets out, you guessed it, he tracks down the men who double-crossed him so that he can get his revenge on them. This leads to a war of nerves in the town where the two bank robbers have settled and used the loot to become the owners of a successful saloon.

Actually, GUN THE MAN DOWN is maybe a little too leisurely as it tries to build suspense by having the characters sitting around and waiting for all hell to break loose . . . which it inevitably does, of course. But if the script is a tad weak, the movie has plenty of other virtues to make up for it, first and foremost among them a very solid cast. Arness, as always, is a powerful physical presence. During one brawl, he picks up a buggy (!) and hits a guy with it. Granted, there wasn’t a horse hitched to the buggy at the time, but still, that’s pretty impressive. Wilke does a great job portraying sleazy, sweaty desperation, and the town’s two lawmen are Emile Meyer, who was so good as the old cattle baron Riker in SHANE, and Harry Carey, Jr., a welcome presence in any Western movie.

The black-and-white photography is very good, too, and the movie’s low budget gives it a stark, stripped-down look that adds to the noirish atmosphere.

GUN THE MAN DOWN is also interesting because it was the first film directed by Andrew W. McLaglen, the son of legendary character actor Victor McLaglen, who went on to direct several of John Wayne’s later films. The Wayne connection is no accident. Wayne and Arness were good friends (we’ve all heard the story about how Wayne recommended Arness to the producers of GUNSMOKE after turning down the role of Matt Dillon himself, and you’ve probably seen the intro Wayne filmed for the first episode of that series), and GUN THE MAN DOWN was produced by Wayne’s company, Batjac Productions. The presence of Angie Dickinson playing a somewhat shady lady and Pedro Gonzalez Gonzalez as a hotelkeeper, along with the general air of tension in the movie, makes GUN THE MAN DOWN seem a little like a dry run for RIO BRAVO, which came along several years later. Other than that the two movies aren’t alike, but I can’t help but think those roles might have helped Dickinson and Gonzalez get similar parts in the later film.

I don’t think GUN THE MAN DOWN ever quite lives up to its early promise, but it’s still a brisk (76 minutes), well-made, and very entertaining Western. James Arness gives a fine performance and is great fun to watch in it, as always. If you’re a Western fan and haven’t seen this one, you really should.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Booksigning Post on the Western Fictioneers Blog

If you're an author, L.J. Martin's post today on the Western Fictioneers blog about booksignings ought to be required reading. Larry is one of the absolute best at this part of the business. And if you're not an author, you ought to read it anyway, because it's not only informative, it's very entertaining as well. Check it out.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

A Couple of Gunsmoke Items

This is actually my favorite GUNSMOKE opening, rather than the more famous showdown(s).  By this time in the series, the characters are not only old friends with each other, they're old friends of ours as well.  This opening just seems very heartwarming to me.

Also, Jim Meals has contributed an excellent piece about the GUNSMOKE radio series over on the Western Fictioneers blog.  I highly recommend that you check it out.

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: West, May 5, 1926

Here's a rather simple cover from the simply titled WEST, which had a long run from 1926 to 1953. For most of its existence, it was part of the Thrilling Group, published by Better Publications, but it started out as a Doubleday pulp, and during that part of its run the setting sun along the upper edge of the cover (or is it a rising sun?) was a standard feature, like the more famous "red sun" on the covers of SHORT STORIES, another Doubleday pulp. This issue had a good line-up of authors and stories, including a "Complete Novel of Banditry by Murray Leinster", who was much better known as a science-fiction author despite having written a little bit of everything in the pulps. Other authors in this issue are one of my favorites, W.C. Tuttle, the always dependable Frank Richardson Pierce, and prolific Western pulp author Stephen Payne. Plus a feature on the inside front cover called "Worked Over Brands" by none other than Charles M. Russell. Definitely a dime and a nickel well spent for readers in 1926.

Friday, June 03, 2011

James Arness, R.I.P.

One of my all-time favorites is gone.  When I wrote about his series THE MACAHANS and HOW THE WEST WAS WON a few weeks ago, it didn't even occur to me that he might not be around much longer. James Arness just always seemed indestructible to me.  Rest in peace.

Lust of the Lawless Review

Steve M. over at the indispensible Western Fiction Review has some nice words to say today about LUST OF THE LAWLESS, the Robert Leslie Bellem collection for which I provided the introduction.  This is a very entertaining book which brings together all of Bellem's Western fiction, so if you haven't read it yet, check out the review and then give some thought to picking up a copy from Black Dog Books.

Forgotten Books: Naked Lust - Shep Shepard

NAKED LUST was originally published by Bedside Books in 1959 and reprinted ten years later by Macfadden Books, which is the edition I read. It’s the story of Jane Smith, who is, for want of a better term, a middle-class prostitute. She’s not an expensive, high-class call girl, or a lowly, drug-addicted streetwalker, either. She travels from town to town with another prostitute and their pimp, a guy who has Syndicate connections. Not a great life, but Jane copes with it pretty well.

Then she’s arrested, for the first time since she became a hooker, and as part of her sentence, she’s sent to work in a mental hospital (which seems like sort of a stretch to me, but hey, we’ll let it go). While there, she’s befriended by one of the doctors and a couple of the nurses, and she decides she’s going to change her life and start over somewhere new. That turns out to be a small town in California, where she gets a job as a waitress and even meets a decent guy who falls in love with her, not knowing her sordid past, of course. This book practically screams “noir”, though, so you know things can’t stay that good for long, and sure enough, they don’t . . .

For years there’s been some debate over whether Harry Whittington actually wrote this book, because the copyright notice in the original edition is in his name. The notice in the Macfadden reprint, though, says “Copyright 1959 by Bedside Books Inc.” Having read a lot of Whittington books over the years, I decided to give this one a try and see if I could make an educated guess.

Having read it, I can say I’m 99.9% sure that NAKED LUST is NOT Harry Whittington’s work. The plot is certainly noirish enough, but nothing in the style reminds me of Whittington’s writing at all. If someone were to come up with something in Whittington’s records saying he wrote this novel, I’d accept it, but I’d sure be surprised, too. I think the copyright notice in the original edition was just a mistake on the part of the publisher.

That said, is NAKED LUST worth reading? Well, yeah. It’s not all that well-written for the most part, although there are some really nice lines here and there, but the author does a good job of creating an atmosphere of bleak inevitability that hangs over the novel. And the ending, in which everything doesn’t work out exactly like I expected it to (always a plus) is very powerful. I have no idea who Shep Shepard really was, but a year or two later this could have easily been a Nightstand Book and held its own with the entries by Block, Silverberg, Ramirez, etc. I imagine the original edition is pretty scarce, but if you ever come across a copy of it or the Macfadden reprint for a decent price, my advice is to grab it. This one’s well worth reading.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

2010 Peacemaker Awards Announcement from the Western Fictioneers

The Western Fictioneers are proud to announce the winners and finalists in the first annual Peacemaker Awards.  You can read all about it here or here.  Big congrats to the winners and finalists, and if you're an author with a Western novel or short story published this year, submissions for the 2011 Peacemaker Awards will be open soon.  Details will be announced as soon as they're available. 

The Dead Man #4: The Dead Woman - David McAfee

The fourth book in the DEAD MAN series, THE DEAD WOMAN by David McAfee, officially goes on sale today.  Like all of Matt Cahill's other adventures so far, this entry in the series is fast-moving, funny in places, creepy in others, and full of action and intrigue.  Highly recommended.

THE DEAD WOMAN is BOOK #4 in THE DEAD MAN saga, the action/horror series that readers and book critics alike are hailing as "an epic tale" that compares to the best of Stephen King and Dean Koontz...

Matt Cahill thought he was alone with his torment, that he was the only one who could see the evil in people’s souls as rotting flesh. But in a small town in Tennessee, terrorized by a vicious serial killer, Matt meets a woman who may see what he does…and together they must confront a horrific and immortal terror that thrives on death.


* An excerpt from 33 AD, David McAfee's stunning horror novel.
* An excerpt from DEAD MAN #5: THE BLOOD MESA by James Reasoner


David McAfee was born in Lakenheath USAFB, England, and spent his youth traipsing about the globe with his military family, soaking up the cultures of faraway places like the Philippines, Turkey, Spain, and even California. When David was in his tweens, his father retired to Texas, which he still considers home. His work has been featured in horror magazines like Necrotic Tissue. His debut horror novel, 33 A.D., spent several weeks as the #1 bestselling horror title in Kindle UK. David currently lives in Tennessee with his wife, daughter, son, and a small army of loyal but dysfunctional pets.

Lee Goldberg is the bestselling author of the thriller THE WALK and the MONK series of novels. William Rabkin writes the wildly successful PSYCH books and is the author of "Writing the Pilot." And together, they are the authors of DEAD MAN #1: FACE OF EVIL and have written and/or produced such hit TV series as "Diagnosis Murder," "SeaQuest," "Nero Wolfe," "Martial Law,' "Monk" and "The Glades."