Saturday, June 30, 2012

Killer Instincts - Jack Badelaire

I'm a regular reader of Jack Badelaire's excellent blog Post-Modern Pulps, so I knew he and I share some of the same tastes in reading material. Because of that I figured there was a good chance I'd enjoy his first novel KILLER INSTINCTS.  What I didn't really expect was that it would turn out to be one of the best books I've read so far this year.

College student William Lynch is vacationing in Paris with his girlfriend when his parents and sister are killed in a mob hit orchestrated by the powerful crime family of a rapist and murderer William's father was prosecuting. Seeking vengeance, William turns to his uncle, who moves in the shadowy circles of mercenaries and professional soldiers of fortune. Unwilling to take up the cause of revenge himself, William's uncle puts him in touch with another "operator" who will train him and help him set up his bloody vendetta.

That's pretty much the entire plot of the book, and since it's narrated by William in a flashback after an opening scene set ten years later, we know he survives. What makes KILLER INSTINCTS work so well is some fine writing that goes deeper into the characterization than is sometimes found in action/adventure fiction. More than half of the book is taken up with William's training in isolated West Texas locations by the enigmatic figure Richard, his uncle's old friend. There are plenty of details about survival and fighting techniques, but Badelaire never lets things turn into a lecture. Even when William and Richard are discussing the philosophy of violence, the dialogue is crisp, fast-moving, and often funny despite the grim circumstances.

The action scenes are also top-notch, well written and easy to follow. More than anything, the character of William carries this book. He's no superhero, and he's complex enough that the reader can't help but root for him.

Even though the plot falls into the urban vigilante category, more than anything else KILLER INSTINCTS reminds me of the early Matt Helm novels by Donald Hamilton. William is a private operator, not a government agent, but I can see some Matt Helm in him. If you're looking for a well-written, involving thriller, you should definitely check this one out.

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Nickel Western, February 1933

Here's something you don't see very often on a Western pulp cover: a cowboy in a shootout with a guy in an airplane. But it's certainly a striking image. As for the contents, the line-up of authors doesn't include many familiar names. John Colohan turned up a lot in the Popular Publications Western pulps, and George C. Henderson was pretty prolific, too. The lead novel is by Westmoreland Gray. I don't know if the stories are any good, but that cover might have induced me to pick up a copy if I'd been browsing the newsstand in 1933 and had an extra nickel in my pocket.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Now Available: The Rajah From Hell - H. Bedford-Jones

Regular readers of this blog know that I'm a big fan of author H. Bedford-Jones. Tom Roberts of Black Dog Books has just published a collection of three short stories and a novelette by Bedford-Jones that appeared in BLUE BOOK in 1946 and 1947, and taken together these stories form a short novel of murder and revenge set in Los Angeles and San Francisco shortly after World War II. I was privileged to write the introduction for this volume, and if you're looking for a suspenseful, well-written thriller, it gets a high recommendation from me. You can check it out here.

Forgotten Books: White Heather Weather - John Frederick (Frederick Faust)

Frederick Faust is most famous for the Westerns he wrote under the name Max Brand and numerous other pseudonyms, of course. But like any good pulpster, he wrote a lot of other things, too, including historical novels. WHITE HEATHER WEATHER, which was serialized in the pulp magazine ARGOSY – ALL STORY in 1921 under the name John Frederick, is set in England in the 17th Century, during the reign of Charles II. Its protagonist is a young man named Samson Integrity Northam, and it's no coincidence that his initials spell out the word SIN.

Samson's father, you see, is a former Puritan soldier who served under Oliver Cromwell, but following Cromwell's death and the restoration of the monarchy, John Northam has retired and is running an inn with the help of his son Samson. Then, one moonlit night, destiny rolls into the inn's courtyard in the form of a coach carrying a mysterious, beautiful blonde. The coachman – who has secrets of his own – has a sprained wrist, so he asks Samson to help him drive the coach on to London. Samson, who has caught a glimpse of the blonde, has fallen in love at first sight, and since he's the fanciful sort who has always longed for something more the drab life of his father, he agrees to the proposal.

Well, it won't come as any surprise that the girl is in danger from pursuers, and the first half of the novel is a fast-paced adventure full of swashbuckling action as Samson risks his life numerous times in order to get her safely to London.

Once they're there, however, the story takes a different turn and settles down to become more of a dramatic comedy about romantic and political intrigue. Samson stays in London instead of returning to the inn and is soon mingling with all sorts of historical figures at the royal court. He meets another girl, a serving wench named Sally, who like nearly everybody else in this novel has secrets and unexpected depths of her own.

This is the first of Faust's swashbucklers I've read, and he has a great touch with the swordfights. In fact, I could have done with a few more of them and a little less angst in the second half. Still, Faust writes so well and does such a fine job of depicting English society during this era that I never lost interest in the story. As I got close to the end of the book I wondered how he was going to pull everything together into a satisfying finish, but sure enough, he does.

This is a pretty old-fashioned yarn, as you'd expect from a novel first published more than ninety years ago, but I enjoyed it a great deal. Our friends at Beb Books have rescued it from obscurity and will have an affordable reprint edition available soon. If you like historical novels and all you know of Frederick Faust is his Westerns, you ought to give WHITE HEATHER WEATHER a try.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Midway

Moving to the Pacific theater of war, MIDWAY centers around a battle I actually know something about. The engagement at Midway plays a significant part in TRIAL BY FIRE, the second novel in my World War II trilogy, so I did quite a bit of research about it. Other than adding a fictional protagonist, a pilot and intelligence officer played by Charlton Heston, the history in this one is pretty accurate. There's also a fictional sub-plot about the son of Heston's character falling in love with a Japanese-American young woman, which naturally causes trouble in Hawaii six months after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

But to get back to the war . . . I would have liked to see a little more about the Battle of the Coral Sea, which is also pretty interesting. Some of the characters discuss it, mentioning the fact that the aircraft carrier Lexington was sunk there, but other than that it's sort of brushed aside. Of course, the movie is fairly long as it is, and that would have just made it longer. As in THE LONGEST DAY, there's a considerable lead-up to the action, with scenes of both sides jockeying for information and position. Henry Fonda is Admiral Nimitz (the pride of Fredericksburg, Texas, which gets mentioned but not by name), Robert Mitchum is Admiral Halsey, Glenn Ford is Admiral Spruance, Toshiro Mifune is Admiral Yamamoto, Hal Holbrook is code-breaker Jim Rochefort . . . You get the idea, familiar names of actors and historical figures alike.

Once the battle itself gets underway, there's plenty of action as new footage is interspersed with combat footage from the real thing. Another thing I really liked about MIDWAY is that all the aircraft carrier scenes were filmed on the U.S.S. Lexington (the second Lexington, which was commissioned in 1943 to replace the one sunk at the Battle of the Coral Sea), which is now permanently docked at Corpus Christi where it's been turned into a museum. I've been there several times and have walked every foot of the flight deck, as well as visiting the pilot ready rooms and the bridge that figure so prominently in the film. Even the scenes set on the Japanese carriers were filmed on the Lexington, with the negatives flopped because the Japanese carriers had the island on the opposite side of the flight deck from the American carriers. It was also good to see so many scenes of the Dauntless dive bombers in action, since two of my characters in the novel flew in a Dauntless and I learned a lot about those planes, too.

I'm probably letting my inner WWII buff influence me too much here, and I'll admit the fictional romance stuff is pretty hokey. But so much of the film rings true that I don't mind. I thoroughly enjoyed MIDWAY and I'm glad I finally watched it.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Dime Detective, February 1936

DIME DETECTIVE was the chief rival to BLACK MASK when it came to hardboiled crime fiction. In this issue, Carroll John Daly contributes a story featuring his most famous character, Race Williams (whose adventures started in BLACK MASK). T.T. Flynn, best known today as a Western writer, also wrote a number of crime and adventure stories for the pulps. Many years after this issue came out, William E. Barrett wrote the novel LILIES OF THE FIELD, which became the award-winning Sidney Poitier movie. And Robert Sidney Bowen, famous for his aviation stories, is on hand, too. DIME DETECTIVE was in the top tier of pulp magazines, and it deserved that ranking.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Thrilling Western, September 1942 (British Edition)

Steve Myall, owner of the great Western Fiction Review blog, sent me this cover scan from the British edition of the September 1942 THRILLING WESTERN. It's a surprisingly gory, violent cover (check out the knife impaling the guy's hands). Inside, there's a Walt Slade novel by Leslie Scott, writing as Bradford Scott, novelettes by Johnston McCulley, Syl MacDowell, and Orlando Rigoni, and a short story by Mark Hammer. (I used to see Orlando Rigoni paperbacks around and think that was an odd name for a Western writer. As far as I recall, I've never read anything by him.) As usual, the British edition drops some of the stories from the American version, in this case short stories by James P. Olsen, Stephen Payne, and Bayson Bickhorn (another odd name). Either edition looks like a decent Western pulp, worth reading. Thanks for the scan, Steve!

Friday, June 22, 2012

Now Available: The Man From Nightshade Valley - Ed Gorman and James Reasoner

I'm particularly proud of this Western novel I wrote with Ed Gorman more than twenty years ago. Originally published under the title HELL-FOR-LEATHER RIDER and the pseudonym Jake Foster, I've thought for a long time it ought to be reprinted under its intended title with both of our names on it . . . and now it has. The Kindle edition is already available, and the Nook edition is in the works and should be for sale in a few days. I hope some of you will check it out and enjoy it.

Forgotten Books: The Eight of Swords - John Dickson Carr

(This post originally appeared on May 4, 2007.)

I haven’t read anything by John Dickson Carr in many years, but I remember reading his famous “impossible crime” novel THE THREE COFFINS when I was in high school. I was sick at the time, and this book did a great job of distracting me. I read several more of Carr’s novels after that but then drifted away from his work, as I did with most of the Golden Age of Detection authors.

But I’ve become more interested in that sort of mystery novel again recently, so I picked up several of Carr’s books. THE EIGHT OF SWORDS is the first one I’ve read in this go-round. It’s an early novel of his, originally published in 1934, and features his best-known series character, Dr. Gideon Fell, who was the detective in THE THREE COFFINS and the other Carr novels I read long ago.

This one features Fell investigating a murder at the guest house of an English country estate. I don’t recall Carr as being a particularly humorous writer, but this one is full of comedy, so much so that it seems in places more like a satire of a Golden Age detective novel. It’s full of eccentric characters like a booze-guzzling mystery novelist and his wife, who banter like a British Nick and Nora Charles; a bishop who fancies himself a criminologist; a sleazy lawyer; and an American gangster. The title refers to a Tarot card found with the body, one of what turns out to be a veritable slew of clues. I like the fact that the book is pretty fast-paced. All the action takes place in a single day – and I use the term “action” loosely, because for most of the book that consists of people sitting around talking. Carr’s skill with words makes the pages flip pretty quickly, though, and toward the end of the book there’s some genuine action and suspense. I don’t mind admitting that I didn’t have the killer spotted at all. The plot is very complicated, but Carr plays fair and all the clues are there. Dr. Fell is a fine detective and a colorful character.

I gather that Carr aficionados aren’t very fond of this book and consider it a minor work. I thoroughly enjoyed it, though, and plan to read more of his novels soon, so I guess I’ll see for myself how it fits in. (I never got around to it. Maybe one of these days.)

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Battleground

If you're going to watch only one movie about the Battle of the Bulge, BATTLEGROUND is probably the one to see, even though it deals with a small but decisive part of the story, the 101st Airborne's efforts to hold the vital crossroads town of Bastogne despite being surrounded by German armored divisions.

This 1948 film has a good pedigree. It was written by Robert Pirosh, who wrote HELL IS FOR HEROES and many of the best episodes of COMBAT!, and directed by William Wellman, a fine hardboiled action director. Pirosh's script, in fact, won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay. It also has an excellent cast going for it. Van Johnson and John Hodiak are the leads, but it's really an ensemble picture with James Whitmore, Ricardo Montalban, George Murphy, Douglas Fowley, and others turning in fine performances as GIs. A very young James Arness is even in a couple of scenes.
The story follows a fictional platoon in the 101st, but other than that it strikes me as very accurate historically, including German soldiers masquerading as Americans, General McAuliffe's famous reply to the German demand for a surrender, and at least a mention of the Malmedy Massacre. Not only that, but the film looks right, with most of it set in a snow-covered forest rather than the dusty plains of last week's BATTLE OF THE BULGE. And even though I knew the outcome, of course, I still got caught up in what was going on, and the ending is very effective.

The mini-series BAND OF BROTHERS also covered this story and did a fine job of it, and it's probably slightly better. But not by much, and that doesn't mean if you've seen that version, you shouldn't watch BATTLEGROUND. I think it's a splendid movie and without a doubt one of the best war films I've seen.

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Return of Ed Noon (and Michael Avallone)

I've probably mentioned before how it was Mike Avallone who first made me understand the concept of an author's voice. It was 1965, and the book was THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E., the first tie-in novel from my new favorite TV show. Before that I'd been a voracious reader, but I never really thought that much about who wrote what. I knew which books I liked, but chances are I couldn't have told you who wrote them. Mike Avallone and THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. changed all that. For the first time I knew I wanted to read more books written by this guy.

And so I did. Dozens of them in the next few years, and many more in the decades after that. I even got to know Mike through correspondence and traded letters with him for years.

Now comes the news from his son David that many of Mike's novels are going to be available again as e-books, starting with the first four books from the Ed Noon series. I've read all of these, and they're great fun, some of the most purely entertaining private eye novels I've read. You can read more about these reprints here, and links for the first four books are below. Mike's work probably isn't for everybody, but there's nothing else like it and I'll always be a fan.

New This Week

Not a thing. See, I don't spend all my time buying books. (Don't expect it to stay that way, though.)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Father's Day

Had a fine Father's Day supper this evening. Shayna made tamales, Joanna was able to come over, and it was a very pleasant time. Got some Amazon money and the first season of HELL ON WHEELS on DVD. I'm a lucky guy.

Writing Update

The daily writing update got shunted aside by real life last week, but I was able to keep working despite the distractions and managed to write 14,729 words since last Sunday. That's not bad, but it translates to about 60,000 words per month, and I ought to be hitting 80,000. 90K would be even better.

Yes, I know trying to write that much is crazy.

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Startling Stories, September 1951

This is a pulp that I once owned, and it has a nice cover by Earle Bergey. I read it about eight years ago, and here are a couple of excerpts from blog posts I wrote about it at the time. First, from September 7, 2004:

"Meanwhile, I've been reading that issue of STARTLING STORIES I mentioned last night and thoroughly enjoying it. There's quite a line-up of authors in it: Jack Vance, John D. McDonald, William Campbell Gault, and a full-length novel by Sam Merwin Jr., "House of Many Worlds" (I also have the Galaxy Novel version of this book and a later Curtis Books PB reprint; there's an Ace omnibus edition of it and the sequel, THREE WORLDS OF TIME, but I don't have it). Merwin was my first editor, back when I started selling short stories to MSMM in the Seventies, so I have a real soft spot for him and his work. The Vance story and the JDM story could have been published now with only minor changes. The Gault story hasn't aged as well, but it was still fun. I think the Forties and Fifties are my favorite decades for science fiction."

And from a couple of days later:

"I finished Merwin's "House of Many Worlds", which also finished off that issue of STARTLING STORIES. This is a pretty good parallel universe/alternate history novel, written long before such things were as popular as they seem to be now. (Although alternate history seems to have faded a bit in the past year or so.) It's a little slow at times, especially for a pulp novel, but the characters are good and the set-up interesting. There are also a couple of things that are pretty daring for 1951, such as an offhand mention that the heroine is bisexual and an interracial romance. Nothing is done with the former and the latter doesn't go anywhere, but still, just the fact that they're there at all took me a little by surprise. After all these years, Sam Merwin is still one of my favorite editors. He bounced a lot of my early stories when I sent them to MSMM, but he never sent me a printed rejection slip. Instead, he would scrawl a personal note on any scrap of paper he could find or tear off of something else and tell me why he was rejecting the story. I learned a lot from Sam about keeping my stories believable and not letting the plots get away from me. And after he'd bought a few stories from me, he asked me to try my hand at a Mike Shayne novella. That led to my first regular writing job. I wouldn't go so far as to say that if not for Sam Merwin Jr. I wouldn't be a writer today, but he sure helped me get started."

I still feel the same way about Sam, too.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Exciting Western, January 1951

This is another Western pulp that I own and read recently.  Behind a good Sam Cherry cover, the contents are also pretty good.

I sometimes say that I don't care for comedy Westerns, but then I read one of those W.C. Tuttle yarns about the inept but incredibly lucky range detectives Tombstone Jones and Speedy Smith, and it never fails to crack me up and entertain me. In "Double Trouble at the Circle C", the intrepid duo is assigned to a simple rustling case but wind up getting involved with diamond smugglers and the Border Patrol instead. As usual, Tuttle packs quite a bit of plot into his story and keeps things racing right along. I had a great time with it.

The second novelette in this issue, Clifton Adams' "Justice Comes to Red Creek", finds a deputy U.S. marshal trying to solve a murder in Indian Territory – after he's already arrested a suspect who was tried, found guilty, and sentenced to hang. The plot is really predictable, but Adams writes well and has a nice hardboiled touch with the action scenes.

The other two novelettes in this issue are reprints. "Killers Take All" by Ed Earl Repp originally appeared in the January 1938 issue of POPULAR WESTERN. Repp, of course, is known to have had at least two ghosts (Frank Bonham and Tom W. Blackburn) and probably more, so there's no way to be sure who actually wrote this story. Maybe it was Repp himself. It's a pretty good novelette about the lone survivor of a wagon train massacre searching for the outlaws who carried out the slaughter. Nothing wrong with a good revenge story, and this one ends nicely. By the way, I've probably said this before, but I disagree with the claim that Repp never wrote any of the work published under his name. I've read most of his novels, and they all strike me as the work of the same person, most likely Repp himself. His pulp work, on the other hand, varies quite a bit stylistically, and I suspect there is where most of the ghosted stories are to be found. (I've read the same claim about Harry F. Olmsted, and I find that even more unbelievable. Olmsted may have had ghosts, but there's a consistency to his work that makes me believe he wrote most of it.)

The other novelette is "Bandits of Silver Bend" originally published in the August 1938 issue of THRILLING WESTERN. This one is by-lined Jackson Cole, and there's no doubt that's a house-name, one used by many, many different writers. If I had to venture a guess, though, I'd say that this story is by Walker Tompkins. It reads like his work, and there's even a mention of a Tompkins Livery Stable. That doesn't have to mean anything, of course. That reference could simply be a nod to Tompkins from a friend and fellow author. It doesn't really matter. This story is a good one, too, about a gun-handy hombre hired as a bodyguard only to be framed for the murder of the man he was supposed to protect. To clear his name he has to dig out the truth of a fifteen-year-old crime, and this strong mystery element also makes me suspect that Walker Tompkins is the author of this story.

Moving on to the short stories, Sam Brant is supposedly a house-name, so there's no telling who wrote "Here's Your Rustler", a competent but unmemorable story about feuding partners in a ranch who are losing stock to rustlers. I'm not familiar with Ben R. Daly, but he does a good job with "Give Me That Nester Water!", a story that features a frontier surveyor as the protagonist. I enjoy the occasional Western yarn where the hero isn't a cowboy, lawman, gunfighter, soldier, etc. "The Roadside Inn" by Francis H. Ames, another author I'm not familiar with, takes the familiar plot of people stranded by a snowstorm and does decent things with it. Richard Brister wrote a lot of pulp stories, as well as paperbacks and a biography of Wild Bill Hickok, and his "A Nice Little Goldstrike" is a nice enough little story about an old prospector and a bank failure, again, not a standard Western plot.

Overall, this is a consistently entertaining issue of EXCITING WESTERN, no great stories in the bunch but not a bad one, either. It's not uncommon for me to find at least one story in every pulp that I don't care for and often don't finish. That's not the case here, though.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Forgotten Books: Rick O'Shay, Hipshot, and Me - Stan Lynde

I've mentioned before that RICK O'SHAY was one of my favorite comic strips when I was a kid. I was referring just to the Sunday episodes, though, which always appeared in full color on the front page of the comics section in our local newspaper. You see, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram had two editions, a morning and an evening, and different comics ran in each edition. The Sunday paper ran a mixture of comics from both editions. So I never saw any of the O'Shay dailies until much later in its run, except for those occasional times when I came across an out-of-town newspaper. But I loved the Sunday strips, which were stand-alones instead of being part of the daily continuity. I always read them before I went off to Sunday School, and before I could read, my dad read them to me.

So Stan Lynde's RICK O'SHAY, HIPSHOT, AND ME held quite a bit of nostalgia value for me, in addition to being very entertaining in its own right. After a fairly brief autobiographical essay, the book reprints the first two weeks of the daily strip, to show it all began, and then ten complete storylines ranging from 1959 to 1977, including the last work on RICK O'SHAY that Lynde did.
One thing that came as a complete surprise to me because I'd never read the daily strip was that in its early years RICK O'SHAY was set in modern times. The settlement of Conniption was a former ghost town that looked like Western, the citizens rode horses and dressed like the Old West, but there were also TV sets, movies, automobiles, machine guns, etc., sort of like the setting of so many of those Roy Rogers movies I also loved. It wasn't until more than halfway through the strip's nearly 20-year run that Lynde changed the actual setting to the Old West. Also, it was much more of a humor strip early on, before developing into a fairly straightforward Western adventure strip in its later years (although with practically every character name being a pun, there was humor all the way through).

For me, the highlight of this volume is "Trackdown", an epic storyline that ran for six months in 1974 and '75. It's probably the grimmest and grittiest that RICK O'SHAY ever got, with Rick turning in his badge so he can pursue the men who ambushed his friend Hipshot across the border into Mexico. Lynde's ink bill must have gone up during those months, because the strip is darker than ever before, in the literal sense, and in places the use of light and shadow reminds me very much of the great work of Milton Caniff.

Lynde was an early self-publisher. This oversized paperback from 1990 was published by his own company, Cottonwood Graphics, and it's still in print.  I really enjoyed revisiting Conniption and reading some new (to me) adventures of Rick and his sidekick, the gunfighter Hipshot Percussion, who is one of my all-time favorite comic strip characters.

After leaving RICK O'SHAY, Lynde created another Western adventure comic strip, LATIGO, which our newspaper did carry. I read that faithfully all through its relatively short run and enjoyed it. Dean Owen wrote four LATIGO tie-in novels that were published in paperback. I used to have all of them but never got around to reading them. Lynde did some single-panel Western gag strips that were pretty good, self-published a few Western comic books, and eventually turned to writing Western novels, many of which are available on Amazon as e-books. I have a few of them and plan to read them soon. There's a pretty good chance I'll enjoy them . . . even if they're not quite like reading the Sunday "funny paper" with my dad.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Blog Radio Interview Tonight

Bill Crider, Mel Odom, and I are going to be interviewed by Elaine Raco Chase on Triangle Variety Radio tonight about the Rancho Diablo series, as well as about our other work. The show starts at 7:00 o'clock Central Time, and you can listen to it here. And of course, feel free to call in with any comments or questions. The number is on the website.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Battle of the Bulge

Continuing with my war movie mini-marathon, I watched BATTLE OF THE BULGE, another star-studded extravaganza from 1965 that must have been inspired by the success of THE LONGEST DAY two years earlier. BATTLE OF THE BULGE is a much different sort of film in most ways, though.

One person who commented on my post about THE LONGEST DAY mentioned that BATTLE OF THE BULGE has a lot more fiction in it. That's certainly true. Other than following the barest outlines of history, almost everything about BATTLE OF THE BULGE is fictional, including all the characters. Most of the action follows the parallel stories of two men, an American intelligence officer played by Henry Fonda (who seems to be having a great time) and a German tank commander played by Robert Shaw, who also turns in a top-notch performance. Charles Bronson is on hand as an American major and is fun to watch, as always. James MacArthur, the original "Danno" from HAWAII FIVE-O, is a GI who escapes the Malmedy Massacre, which is one of the few historical events in the film that seems to be portrayed pretty accurately. Telly Savalas is an American tank commander who's also a scrounger, con-man, and black marketeer.

To get the rest of my complaints out of the way, the worst thing about this movie is that it looks completely wrong. It was filmed in Spain, which would have worked fine if it were standing in for North Africa, say, but looks nothing like the Ardennes, the real setting of the battle. That was really distracting. Also, the plotting stretches believability on a number of occasions, as the same half-dozen guys on both sides keep showing up every time something important happens. The special effects look okay at times but are surprisingly crude at others.

All that said, the acting is pretty good all around, and even though the story deviated wildly from history, I sort of got caught up in it anyway. The big climax, where a handful of GIs are trying to protect a vital fuel dump from the advancing German tanks, is actually pretty suspenseful. The filmmakers have already made up so much stuff, you can't really be sure what they're going to do next.

If there had just been some scantily-clad resistance babes involved, BATTLE OF THE BULGE would have reminded me of those over-the-top, "true" World War II yarns that were common in the men's adventure magazines during the Fifties and Sixties. As it is, I enjoyed it for what it was. If you're a war movie fan and haven't seen it, I think it's probably worth watching, just don't go into it expecting anything remotely accurate.

Monday, June 11, 2012

New This Week

Just a couple of things this week, and an oddball pair they are.

SALT & PEPPER – Alex Austin. Novelization of the 1968 comedy thriller movie starring Sammy Davis Jr. and Peter Lawford. If I ever saw the movie, I've totally forgotten it. I saw the book and wanted it. Don't ask me why.

INTERSTELLAR PATROL – Christopher Anvil. One of those big Baen Books collections including 14 related science fiction stories originally published in ASTOUNDING and ANALOG from the late Fifties to the late Sixties. First of all, I like the title, and I think I've read some stories by Anvil here and there (probably in ANALOG) that I enjoyed. If I like these, Baen has reprinted the rest of the Interstellar Patrol series and I can look for those volumes as well.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Writing Update

Today's wordage was 2413. Not terrible. It probably would have been more, but I spent part of the day working on writing stuff that didn't produce any actual words. This was my 19th straight day to work, which is probably not good. I've never been the write-every-day type. I like my days off, at least one each week and two is better. Some writers work Monday through Friday and take the weekends off. I've never really done that, either. I'd rather have my days off during the week, and usually not two days in a row. I like a schedule that has me taking Monday and Friday off and working on the weekend and the Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday stretch. That never happens week in and week out, though, because real life tends not to cooperate and as a result things are more haphazard. We'll see if I get a full day off this week. I'm not counting on it.

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Argosy, Sept. 4, 1937

It occurred to me that there are a lot of pulp covers I like that weren't on Western pulps, so I decided to start posting them here on Sunday mornings. Maybe not every Sunday. We'll see. Any genre is fair game, there just has to be something about the cover that appeals to me and I hope to you as well. What better way to start than with a monkey with a rifle? I've never read this issue (although it may be in a box somewhere around here), but it looks like a good one. Theodore Roscoe was a great pulp writer, authoring a wide variety of stories, all of them good that I've read so far. Plus there's a novelette by Donald Barr Chidsey, one of my favorites, short stories by Luke Short and Richard Sale, and serial installments by Arthur Leo Zagat, Bennett Foster, and Martin McCall (possibly E. Hoffmann Price). ARGOSY can be a problem because of all the serials it ran, but there were nearly always some good novelettes and short stories in each issue, too. And excellent covers for the most part. I would have grabbed this one right up if I'd seen it on the newsstand in 1937.

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Writing Update

Since I didn't feel up to going to Cross Plains today, I figured I'd better get some good writing done instead. So I wound up doing 4464 words on the current book. Lots of blood and thunder in today's pages. The easiest things for me to write are big battle scenes, gunfights, sword fights, fistfights . . . and sex scenes, which I don't write anymore since I'm retired from the Adult Westerns. I don't know what that says about me, and I'm not sure I even want to think about it too much . . .

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Smashing Novels, December 1936

This isn't actually a Western pulp. SMASHING NOVELS published a variety of adventure fiction. But since this weekend is the annual Robert E. Howard Days get-together in Cross Plains, it seemed fitting to me to spotlight my favorite Western yarn by Howard. "Vultures of Whapeton" is a truly visionary story, foreshadowing the trend toward darker, more hardboiled Westerns that really bloomed in the Forties and Fifties. I've read it several times and always enjoy it. It's also an unusual story in that Howard wrote two alternate endings for it, and SMASHING NOVELS ran both of them. I prefer the more downbeat version and think of it as the "real" ending.

The rest of this issue looks pretty good, too. The lead novel is by Will Jenkins, better known as the science fiction writer Murray Leinster even though Jenkins was his real name. Old-timer Peter B. Kyne is on hand, too, as is an author I'm not familiar with, Foster Drake.

As I write and schedule this post, I don't know if I'm going to Cross Plains this year or not. It looks more than likely that I won't be there. But I'll be thinking about REH. Maybe I'll pull out a copy of "Vultures of Whapeton" in one of its various paperback reprintings and read it again.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Writing Update

I got off to a fairly slow start this morning but then had a good afternoon and wound up with 3546 words for the day. I'd like to be hitting 4000 consistently, but I'll sure take a day like today. Big fight scene coming up tomorrow, so I hope it'll go well.

Forgotten Books: Wanton Bait - John Dexter

(This post originally appeared on somewhat different form on May 6, 2007.)

A lot of the soft-core porn novels published in the Sixties strike me as sexed-up, Gold Medal-type books. WANTON BAIT by “John Dexter” certainly starts out looking like it might fall into that category. Consider these plot elements: an old man who’s the richest and most powerful person in a small town; his young, horny, greedy wife; and an even hornier, greedier lawyer who’s bored with his wife and desperate for a big payoff. Sounds like a book by Charles Williams or Harry Whittington, doesn’t it? In fact, when I started this book I wondered if it might be one of those mysterious, unidentified house-name novels that Whittington is supposed to have written in the mid-Sixties. (Of course, now we know the titles of all those books, thanks to David Laurence Wilson and Lynn Munroe.)

But I’m confident now that it’s not (and I was right), as the style seems to be nothing like Whittington’s, and it never really develops into the crime novel that it appears it might turn out to be, either. Instead it remains throughout more of a domestic drama. That doesn’t make it a bad book, though. The story has a certain noirish edge to it, as the sleazy lawyer/narrator’s big plans take turn after turn for the worse. And whoever the actual author was behind the John Dexter house-name (and there are plenty of suspects), he was a pretty good wordsmith, as the prose is smooth and slick and reads really fast. By 1965, when this book was published, the sex scenes are a little more graphic than they were even a few years earlier, and there are more of them, making them seem somewhat shoehorned in, but they don’t overwhelm the main plot. I wouldn’t run right out and look for WANTON BAIT, but if you run across a copy or already own it, it’s pretty entertaining and probably worth reading.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Writing Update

Like yesterday, I only got to spend a couple of hours writing today. Did 1371 words. This pace won't get it done, but until all the real-world stuff going on settles down, I don't know what else I can do.

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Writing Update

Most of today was spent on non-writing chores, but I managed to write 1166 words and finish the chapter I was in. Looks like tomorrow will be busy with other things, too, but I'll do what I can. Usually starting a new book gives me a real boost in my production for a few days, but that hasn't been the case this time.

Scalp Mountain - Julia Robb

The Western has long been criticized unfairly as being morally black and white, a simplistic, heavy-handed genre full of clearly defined good guys and bad guys trying to kill each other. And to be honest, there have been plenty of Western stories and novels just like that, and the ones that are done well can be pretty doggoned entertaining, at least to me.

But you can go all the way back to the days of Zane Grey and Max Brand and find plenty of other Westerns that don't fit that description at all. Frederick Faust, who wrote as Brand and a dozen other pseudonyms, loved to put his characters through all sorts of emotional torment as they tried to decide what was right and what was wrong. Many of the protagonists found in the work of Luke Short (Frederick Glidden) and T.T. Flynn were just as morally complex, and then you have stories like Robert E. Howard's "The Vultures of Wahpeton", which is about as different as you can get from the simplistic "gun-dummy" stories that editors such as Rogers Terrill tried to get away from in the pulps during the Thirties. You can't really call it a trend since it was always there in the Western (the Virginian's dilemma of how to deal with his friends Steve and Trampas, anyone?), but that realism and complexity became the dominant force in the Western field with authors such as H.A. DeRosso, Lewis B. Patten, and Dudley Dean McGaughey, and continues in many of today's Westerns.

Which is my long-winded way of saying that Julia Robb's excellent new novel SCALP MOUNTAIN fits perfectly into this area of Western realism. It's the story of former army scout Colum McNeal, who is haunted by the accidental death of his younger brother at his hands. It's not just emotional torment, either. Colum's own father has sent a hired killer after him, a former friend who has an agenda of his own, and this stubborn refusal of the sins of the past to go away complicates Colum's efforts to establish a horse ranch in New Mexico Territory.

Throw in an Apache war chief with a grudge of his own against Colum, a Texas Ranger dogged by the past as well, a beautiful young woman who adopts an Indian baby and faces all the prejudices that come with that, and you can see that the tagline of this book is very fitting: "Everybody was right. Everybody was wrong. Everybody got hurt."

In less skilled hands, this story could have become a soap opera (not that there's anything wrong with that), but Robb writes very well, really capturing the landscape and the people in a style that reminds me a little of James Lee Burke. As confident and well-executed as SCALP MOUNTAIN is, it's quite impressive to think that this is a debut novel. I don't know if there's going to be a sequel, but if there is, I'll gladly read it.

Tuesday, June 05, 2012

Writing Update

My plan was to take yesterday off and then work today, even though today is my birthday. However, as it turned out I wrote an outline yesterday, so that was a little under 1000 words (don't remember the exact total, and I didn't go back to look). Today I was shooting for 3000 words but only got 2613. But if you throw in the words from yesterday I exceeded what I really wanted for the two-day stretch.

None of which is really good enough if I'm going to get everything done that I want to do. But what the heck, it's been a pretty good birthday so far and I'm happy about that.

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: The Longest Day

Last week I posted about the war movie HELL IS FOR HEROES on the day after Memorial Day was observed. Since tomorrow is the anniversary of D-Day, it seemed appropriate to write something about THE LONGEST DAY this week.

This movie is overlooked only in the same sense that HELL IS FOR HEROES was, that is, I've never seen it until now. Don't ask me how that's possible, but it's true. I've seen other movies about D-Day, but not this one. As I'm sure most of you know, it's the sort of big, sprawling, epic production that Hollywood used to turn out, with what they call a "star-studded" cast, meaning that there's not really a single lead but rather a bunch of big-name actors wandering around doing bit parts.

There are little fictional scenes here and there, but for the most part THE LONGEST DAY is a straightforward historical retelling of the events of June 5 and 6, 1944, from the perspective of both the Allies and the Germans. From what I know of the history, it's pretty accurate, too.

John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Robert Mitchum, Robert Ryan, and Edmond O'Brien all play American generals. Peter Lawford's a British commando, Richard Burton's a pilot. Sean Connery has a couple of scenes as a Scottish sergeant, and although they're never on screen together, Gert Frobe, who a year later would be opposing Connery's James Bond as Auric Goldfinger, shows up as a somewhat inept German sergeant. In what's probably the movie's best scene, Red Buttons is an American paratrooper whose parachute gets hung up on a church roof, leaving him dangling helplessly over a courtyard full of German soldiers. And that's just a few of the people in this film, which was put together by three different directors and half a dozen writers.

I enjoyed THE LONGEST DAY, but the first half of it sure is slow. The invasion itself doesn't really get cranked up until the final third of the movie, but that saves the film from collapsing under its own weight. There's some spectacular stunt and special effects work, the photography is excellent, and the acting is solid all around. If you're a fan of war films and haven't seen it, you really ought to. I think I prefer a little more fiction mixed in with my history, but that's just me.

Monday, June 04, 2012

New Story at Beat to a Pulp

Tom Roberts is not only a fine artist and the publisher of one of the best pulp reprint lines out there, Black Dog Books, he's also an excellent writer. Check out his story "Hard Time" on BEAT TO A PULP this week.

New This Week

Larry Block was having a sale on signed copies of AFTER HOURS from 1995, which consists of several long interviews with him conducted by Ernie Bulow, a reprint of Block's first published short story, and several short autobiographical essays. Having read Block's AFTERTHOUGHTS, it's going to be interesting to compare what he says in it to the opinions he expressed in this book 17 years ago.

And that's the only thing that came in this week, which is fine because I have plenty to read.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Writing Update

4913 words today. Now that's more like it. Although I probably wouldn't want to do that much every day. Finished the story I was working on, though, so that's a nice feeling of accomplishment.

Dead Man's Brand - Norbert Davis

I first encountered the work of Norbert Davis in Ron Goulart's anthology THE HARDBOILED DICKS (one of the most important and influential anthologies of the past fifty years, if you ask me), which included a story featuring Davis's private eye character Max Latin, "Don't Give Your Right Name". Great stuff, and since then I've read many other pulp mystery stories by Davis. He's probably best known for his trio of novels featuring a PI named Doan and a Great Dane known as Carstairs. I have these but haven't gotten around to reading them yet.

I knew Davis had written other things besides mysteries, but I wasn't really aware he had done Westerns until Tom Roberts of Black Dog Books published DEAD MAN'S BRAND, a collection of eight of Davis's stories from various Western pulps. (And that's Tom's artwork on the cover, by the way.) As you might expect if you're familiar with Davis's work, they're all top-notch yarns.

"A Gunsmoke Case for Major Cain" (DIME WESTERN, October 1940) is a frontier legal thriller with an exciting courtroom scene and a neat twist. It was also Davis's lone film sale, serving as the basis for the Wild Bill Elliott vehicle HANDS ACROSS THE ROCKIES, as detailed by Bill Pronzini in his introduction and Ed Hulse in his afterword. "Their Guardian From Hell" (STAR WESTERN, March 1937) is a hardboiled tale featuring a self-loathing gunman who protects a family of settlers from the villains out to steal their land. In "Leetown's One-Man Army" (STAR WESTERN, October 1941), a drifter named California Tracy with a score of his own to settle finds himself in the middle of a war between a cattle baron and some sodbusters, a traditional plot that Davis enlivens with some fine writing and a nice twist. The title story, "Dead Man's Brand", is from the November 1942 issue of STAR WESTERN. In it, drifting cowboy Dave Tully tries to claim an inheritance and finds himself framed for a murder: his own. "The Gunsmoke Banker Rides In" (STAR WESTERN, July 1942) is another well-plotted Western mystery about a banker who's surprisingly fast with a pair of .41 caliber derringers.

This volume also includes three stories from earlier in Davis's career. "Death Creeps" (ACTION STORIES, December 1935) finds troubleshooter Dave Silver being hired to find the Creeper, a mysterious murderer who kills from the darkness. In "Sign of the Sidewinder" (WESTERN ACES, June 1935), Tom Band, an American cowboy framed for a murder he didn't commit, is broken out of a Mexican prison to carry out a mission of vengeance for his benefactor. This is my favorite story in the collection, a great noir adventure yarn. Tom Band returns in the almost as good "Boot-Hill Bait" (WESTERN ACES, November 1935), which finds him on the trail of a fortune in outlaw loot. If there are any more Tom Band stories, I'd love to read them.

In all of these stories, Davis's smooth prose is a joy to read, and he handles humor, emotional torment, and lightning-paced action all with equal ease and effectiveness. These are simply some of the best-written Western tales you'll ever read, and DEAD MAN'S BRAND is a great collection. It gets my highest recommendation.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

Writing Update

This was a pretty productive day: 2485 words, some of it rewrites on one story, some of it new pages on a different story. I need to do better than that, but yesterday and today have been a good start to the month.

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Real Western Romances, December 1949

Here's another Columbia Western pulp edited by Robert W. Lowndes, with a cover by Milton Luros. The cowboy hero on this one is really determined to escape! Check out that noose around his neck. The biggest names among the authors in this issue are probably A.A. Baker, who published some Avalon Westerns, and Ben Frank, prolific pulpster and author of the long-running Doc Swap series that appeared as a backup in TEXAS RANGERS. The cover is pretty dynamic, though, so that's why I'm featuring it today.

Friday, June 01, 2012

Writing Update

My wordage total for the day was 1602. However, that's sort of deceptive. 1185 words of that went to finish off the short story I've been working on the past couple of days. That went pretty quickly this morning. The rest of the day was spent rewriting part of a story for another project. The other 417 words were how much that story grew during the day. But I was rewriting so heavily, throwing out big chunks and writing new chunks to replace them, that I probably wrote a couple thousand more words that didn't get counted. And I don't know of any accurate way to count them, so I didn't.

Peacemaker Awards

Western Fictioneers (WF) is pleased to announce the WINNERs for the second annual (2011) Peacemaker Awards.


Jory Sherman



Troy D. Smith -- “The Sin of Eli”        Publisher: WF anthology Traditional West


“Planting Season” by Johnny D Boggs (Cactus Country Anthology, Volume I – High Hill Press)
“The Way of the West” by Larry J. Martin (The Traditional West anthology, WF)
"Blackwell's Run" by Troy D. Smith (Western Trail Blazer)
“Panhandle Freight” by LJ Washburn (The Traditional West anthology, WF)    
“The Death of Delgado” by Rod Miller (The Traditional West anthology, WF)
“Stay of Execution” by Lucia St. Clair Robson (Cactus Country Anthology, Volume I – High Hill Press)



James Reasoner -- Redemption, Kansas  Publisher: Berkley

The Sonora Noose by Jackson Lowry (Berkley)
Blood Trails by Lyle Brandt (Berkley)
The Assassination of Governor Boggs by Rod Miller (Bonneville Books)
Between Hell and Texas by Dusty Richards (Kensington Pinnacle imprint)



Wayne Dundee --  Dismal River        Publisher: Oak Tree Press

Unbridled by Tammy Hinton (Roots and Branches Publishing)
The Black Hills by Rod Thompson (Berkley)
Bullets And Bad Bad Men by B.A. Kelly (Oak Tree Press)
The Guerrilla Man by Steven Clark (Solstice Publishing)

Western Fictioneers (WF) was formed in 2010 by Robert J. Randisi, James Reasoner, Frank Roderus, and other professional Western writers, to preserve, honor, and promote traditional Western writing in the 21st century.  Entries were accepted in both print and electronic forms.  The Peacemaker Awards will be given out annually.  Submissions for the 2012 awards will be open in July, 2012. Submission guidelines will be posted on the WF web site.  For more information about Western Fictioneers (WF) please visit:

(I couldn't be more pleased and honored to have REDEMPTION, KANSAS win the Peacemaker for Best Western Novel. I want to thank the membership of WF, my editor Faith Black, my agent Kim Lionetti, my daughters Shayna and Joanna for all their help, and most of all Livia, who really does make it all possible.)

Forgotten Books: The Listening Walls - Margaret Millar

A couple of American women from San Francisco are vacationing in Mexico City. Amy Kellogg is married, but her accountant husband Rupert is back home in San Francisco. Amy's lifelong friend Wilma Wyatt is twice divorced and somewhat bitter, and Amy has reason to suspect that Wilma is having an affair with Rupert. After an evening of drinking with an American grifter who is also in Mexico City, Wilma commits suicide by leaping from the balcony of her fourth-floor hotel room.

Or does she?

Summoned by the American embassy, Rupert goes to Mexico City to pick up a distraught Amy and take her back to San Francisco. But they've been home less than a week when Amy disappears, leaving behind a letter saying that no one should try to find her.

Or does she?

I think you can see where this plot is going. THE LISTENING WALLS is one of those "nothing is what it seems" novels, and it takes Amy's worried brother and the private detective he hires to sort everything out.

This is the first book by Margaret Millar that I recall reading, and while this sort of psychological suspense novel isn't my usual sort of thing, I enjoyed it. Millar writes very well, with nice touches of characterization and droll humor, although the old-fashioned technique of hopping around among different points-of-view within the same scene might bother some modern readers. It bothered me a little until I got used to it. Millar's plot twists are also very skillful. Just when you think you've got everything figured out, some new angle comes along, and I really wasn't sure what was going to happen until the very end of the book.

I don't know if I'll read anything else by Millar, at least not any time soon. I have a hard time keeping my attention on books that are slow to develop, no matter how well-written they are. That impatience is my fault, not the author's. But I think THE LISTENING WALLS is a good book, and I'm glad I read it.