Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Now Free for Kindle: Witch Got Your Tongue - Livia J. Washburn

Livia's urban fantasy novel WITCH GOT YOUR TONGUE is now free for the Kindle for a limited time, in celebration of Halloween. Also the sequel A PECK OF PICKLED WARLOCKS has been reduced in price to $2.99. I'm not exactly an unbiased reader, of course, but I think these books are fast, funny, and very entertaining. If you've been meaning to check them out but haven't gotten around to it yet, now's the perfect time.

The Canyon - Frank Leslie (Peter Brandvold)

Since today is Halloween, what better to talk about than a ghost story? THE CANYON is a new novella from Peter Brandvold writing under his Frank Leslie pseudonym, featuring Yakima Henry, the hero of half a dozen Leslie novels. In this one, Yakima is on the run from a trio of bounty hunters who want to bring him in for a crime for which he's wrongly accused. While heading for Mexico, his route takes him to Skull Canyon, where he meets a beautiful woman who warns him not to continue on that path. But does Yakima heed that advice? You know he doesn't . . .

This story doesn't have quite as much action as a Brandvold yarn usually does, but it's got plenty of sinister atmosphere and Pete does a great job on that, too. He's one of the best writers in the Western field today and never disappoints. He has a sure touch with the Weird Western as well, as this story and his novel DUST OF THE DAMNED prove. If you want to read an excellent spooky story tonight while you're waiting for the trick-or-treaters, I highly recommend that you check out THE CANYON.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked TV: Nightmare (Gorgon's Trophy Room)

I've posted this clip before, but I really like it and it certainly seems appropriate, what with tomorrow being Halloween. NIGHTMARE was the title of the weekly monster movie showcase on one of the local TV stations when I was growing up, and I think you can see from this clip that for ultra-low-budget local TV, it was pretty darned good. It scared the bejabbers out of me when I was a kid and still gives me the creeps. The actor playing the host, Gorgon, is the great Bill Camfield, who also hosted the early morning kids' show SLAM BANG THEATRE as Icky Twerp. (There are lots of Twerp clips on YouTube, if you're interested in seeing them.)

Monday, October 29, 2012

The Bells of El Diablo - Frank Leslie (Peter Brandvold)

I've said many times before that you can't go wrong with a Western by Peter Brandvold, whether he's writing under his own name or his pseudonym Frank Leslie. THE BELLS OF EL DIABLO, his most recent novel under the Leslie name, is further proof of that.

In the closing days of the Civil War, Confederate guerrilla James Dunn, haunted by a battlefield tragedy, deserts the cause and heads west with Crosseye Reeves, a former mountain man who was a sharecropper on the plantation owned by James's father. James is on a mission that he hopes will redeem him, a quest to find the former fiancĂ© of his late brother. He catches up to her in Denver City, but that's just the start of an adventure that carries the three of them deep into the dangerous heart of Mexico in search of three bells cast of solid gold . . . the Bells of El Diablo, so called because they're supposed to be cursed and will bring death – or worse – to anyone who seeks them.

This is the stuff of which epic novels are made, and Brandvold does a great job with it. James and Crosseye are fine characters, as is the beautiful Vienna McAllister, the catalyst for their perilous journey into Mexico. As usual, there's plenty of well-written action as the protagonists encounter outlaws, corrupt Rurales, and savage Yaqui and Apache Indians. Also as usual, Brandvold paints the settings with an uncanny vividness that puts the reader right in the middle of that action. The plot barrels along to a nasty but very effective twist at the end that left me eager to read more about these characters.

You won't find a gritty, hardboiled action Western that's better than THE BELLS OF EL DIABLO. I thoroughly enjoyed it and give it a high recommendation.

New This Week

Print books first this week, an odd assortment, as usual:

WAR STORIES, VOLUME 1 – A trade paperback reprinting four long comic book stories set during World War II, written by Garth Ennis and illustrated by several different artists. Ennis has written a lot of good stuff, including the series PREACHER, which I read in the seven or eight paperbacks collecting the whole run. His work probably isn't to everybody's taste – it runs toward the grotesque and profane – but I nearly always find it interesting. And of course I'm a long-time fan of war comics.

THE BIG WESTERNER, Robert Easton – This is the fine biography of Frederick Faust by his son-in-law Robert Easton. I read it years ago and hadn't replaced the copy I lost in the fire, but Half Price Books had a copy in the clearance section for $2. It's well worth that just for the extensive Faust bibliography included in it.

MAD STRIKES BACK! – This one is really odd, because it has an extra "Phony MAD Paperback" cover taped onto it, which you can see in the scan. It extends onto the spine as well, although the back cover is the regular one. This is a collection of parodies from the first couple of years of MAD Magazine, with an introduction by Bob and Ray. Some great stuff in here, such as "Prince Violent" with art by Wally Wood; "Ping Pong" with art by Bill Elder; "Poopeye", also by Elder; "Teddy and the Pirates" with Wood doing a great pastiche of Caniff; and "Manduck the Magician" with Elder taking on Lee Falk's creation. I've read some of these stories before, but I'm looking forward to reading them again. The copy I bought is a 14th printing from October 1963. Those of you who are fans of vintage paperbacks will know exactly what I mean when I tell you that it smells great.

MR. TOMORROW, Con Sellers – This is perhaps the oddest of all, what appears to be a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel by Con Sellers. For those of you not familiar with his work, Sellers wrote a bunch of Sixties soft-core erotica for such houses as Novel Books and Merit Books. In the Eighties he wrote a good family saga/historical novel centered around a whorehouse called KEEPERS OF THE HOUSE, as well as a series of historical novels about World War II that ran for several volumes. What little I've read by him has been pretty good. MR. TOMORROW was published by Papillon Books, an outfit I've never heard of, and copyright 1974 by Aware Press, Inc., another one that's a complete mystery to me. This novel will definitely get a Forgotten Books post, if I can get around to reading it. I'd venture to say that "forgotten" is an understatement.

Now, on to the new e-books:

THE CANYON, Frank Leslie (Peter Brandvold) – a brand-new Weird Western novella starring Brandvold's series character Yakima Henry. A review of this one will be coming soon.

HARD BITE, Anonymous-9 – The novel-length expansion of a great story that first appeared on BEAT TO A PULP (I think; I make no guarantees about my memory).

BIG MARIA, Johnny Shaw – a new novel by the fine writer behind BLOOD & TACOS.

Looks like a good line-up all around this week.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Horror Stories, February 1935

With Halloween coming up this week, got to have a horror cover, so why not an issue of HORROR STORIES itself, with a striking cover and a fine line-up of authors: Hugh B. Cave, Arthur Leo Zagat, Ray Cummings, Paul Ernst, and Arthur J. Burks among others. If you want a Weird Menace pulp, this issue had to be one of the best.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Six-Gun Western, September 1948

As some of you can probably tell just by looking at that cover, SIX-GUN WESTERN is another entry from Trojan Magazines, publisher of the Spicy line of pulps. This is a pretty typical cover for that line, but the authors in this issue make it interesting. There are a number of prolific Western pulpsters represented, including H.A. DeRosso, Frank C. Robertson, C. William Harrison, and Lee Floren, plus well-known science fiction author and critic James Blish. I've never read any of Blish's Western stories, but I read quite a bit of SF by him when I was younger. Just one more example of the fact that cross-genre authors are nothing new.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Forgotten Books: Raider of the Seas - Warren Hastings Miller

Despite all the pulps I've read over the past 45 years or so, there are still a lot of pulp authors whose work I've never sampled. Until recently, Warren Hastings Miller fell into that category. I'm not sure I'd ever even heard of him until Tom Roberts of Black Dog Books published a volume of Miller's South Seas adventure yarns called RAIDER OF THE SEAS, which is now available in an e-book edition as well as its original print edition. Roberts provides an excellent introduction about Miller's life and work.

The stories in RAIDER OF THE SEAS feature Jim Colvin, the big, two-fisted captain of a tramp steamer, and his small but smart and scrappy chief engineer Johnny Pedlow. They encounter a dangerous array of pirates, wreckers, feuding sultans, and murderous natives but survive by a combination of courage, cunning, and fighting prowess.

A pair of unusual women also play important roles in these tales. Miss Jessie, who by her description sounds a lot like Aunt Bee from THE ANDY GRIFFITH SHOW, is an American expatriate who can clean out a table full of tough sailors at poker or use a rifle to gun down a marauding pirate with equal coolness and skill. Lai Choi San is based on an actual female Malay pirate who also served as the model for Milton Caniff's classic character The Dragon Lady a few years after these stories of Miller's were published originally in the pulps FRONTIER STORIES and ALL-FICTION. (One side note: FRONTIER STORIES, which later became a Western pulp, started out as a magazine featuring stories in exotic settings all over the world, not just the Old West.)

Miller's style isn't fancy, nor are his plots complicated. But the stories race ahead with the sort of driving urgency that the pulps did so well, and they have an undeniable air of authenticity. Miller was personally familiar with these settings and was an expert on boats and sailing, including so much detail that sometimes a non-sailor like me doesn't really know what he's talking about. It's all clear enough from context, though, and anyway, the action doesn't slow down long enough to worry about things like that.
I don't know if any more collections of Miller's stories are in the works, but I'll certainly read them if they are. I really enjoyed RAIDER OF THE SEAS and give it a high recommendation.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Now Available -- Six-Guns and Slay Bells: A Creepy Cowboy Christmas

The new Western Fictioneers anthology, SIX-GUNS AND SLAY BELLS: A CREEPY COWBOY CHRISTMAS, is now available in both print and e-book editions from Amazon, as well as an e-book edition for the Nook. It's a Christmas anthology, but with its supernatural theme it's perfect for Halloween as well. As usual with WF publishing projects, it's a little out of the ordinary. I'm not sure anybody has ever done a supernatural Western Christmas anthology before. But it worked out really well, and I'm not just saying that. PUBLISHERS WEEKLY and LIBRARY JOURNAL agree and have published very positive reviews of the book. My story features Cobb, my Texas Ranger character who always seems to get involved in offbeat yarns, and Livia's story brings back Buffalo Newcomb, who starred in a couple of her novels and several short stories. If you're a fan of Weird Westerns or know someone who is, be sure to check out SIX-GUNS AND SLAY BELLS.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: Pirate Radio

I have a minor connection with radio broadcasting going back to the mid-Sixties when my father was the co-owner of a small-market station (KHRB in Lockhart, Texas, for those of you with really long memories who lived in that area 45 years ago). I wasn't exactly raised around radio, but I spent quite a bit of time around people who worked in that industry and did some production work myself when I was in college. As a result, WKRP IN CINCINNATI is one of my all-time favorite TV shows, and as I like to tell people, it's not really a sitcom, it's almost a documentary.

Which is my long-winded way of getting around to the fact that we just watched PIRATE RADIO, a film that came out a few years ago and didn't make much of an impact, but one that I had high hopes for since it concerns radio broadcasting in England in that same era, the mid-Sixties. British radio never played rock and roll in those days, so it was up to pirate radio stations located on ships anchored off the coast to provide popular music. PIRATE RADIO is about the crew of disc jockeys who worked on one such ship, along with the 18-year-old godson of the station manager, which allows writer/director Richard Curtis to work a coming-of-age angle into the plot.

Obviously, any combination of radio and wacky DJs is going to show some WKRP influence, and there's plenty of that to be found here, most blatantly in a scene where the lone American DJ known as The Count (excellently played by Philip Seymour Hoffman) tries to say a word that's not supposed to be said on the radio. ("Oh, and by the way, Cincinnati . . . Booooger!") Hoffman's performance is very Johnny Fever-esque all the way around, but that's not a bad thing. The rest of the cast, led by Bill Nighy, Rhys Ifans, and the great Nick Frost, is very good, too.

PIRATE RADIO captures the era pretty well, especially in the reaction of assorted listeners to the music. I remember listening to a transistor radio with the sound turned down really low after I went to bed and was supposed to be asleep, tuning slowly through the AM band and picking up distant stations on the skip. As you might expect, the music in this movie is great, heavy on the British invasion (obviously) but with quite a bit of American rock as well. The comedy is more whimsical than laugh out loud funny, but it had a smile on my face most of the time. This one is well worth watching, especially if you're of a certain age like me. ("*Cough* Geezer! *Cough*") I really enjoyed it.

Monday, October 22, 2012

New This Week

No new print books this week, but I did pick up three more e-books from Black Dog Books: THE SILVER MENACE/A THOUSAND DEGREES BELOW ZERO, a pair of early science fiction novellas by Murray Leinster; THIRTY PIECES OF SILVER, a collection of Middle Eastern adventure yarns by G.G. Pendarves; and DEAD MEN TELL TALES, a collection of Craig Kennedy scientific mysteries by Arthur B. Reeve. I've read a lot of Leinster's work over the years and enjoyed all of it. I've heard of Reeve's Craig Kennedy stories but never read any of them. Pendarves is a new author for me. I expect to enjoy all three books. (These are all available as print editions directly from Black Dog Books, too, of course.)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Top-Notch, June 1936

TOP-NOTCH was a good adventure magazine. Several of Robert E. Howard's El Borak and other Middle Eastern adventure yarns first appeared there. This issue doesn't have REH, but it does have an excellent machine gun cover and a line-up of solid pulp authors such as Norman A. Daniels, S. Gordon Gurwit, Hapsburg Liebe, William Merriam Rouse, and Leslie McFarlane, who wrote the early Hardy Boys novels as "Franklin W. Dixon".

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Mammoth Western, May 1949

I haven't featured an issue of MAMMOTH WESTERN in a while, so I figured it was time. This is an interesting cover. I really like the way they've worked the month and year into the text on the tombstone, along with the title of one of the stories. The guy, however, reminds me of actor Tom Poston, not somebody I really associate with Westerns. Still a good cover, though.

The authors inside include pulp Western stalwarts such as Ed Earl Repp, Ray Gaulden, Frank Castle, H.A. De Rosso, and Kenneth L. Sinclair, along with known house-names like S.M. Tenneshaw. Looks like a decent issue.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Forgotten Books: The Cage - Talmage Powell

I don't usually think of Talmage Powell as a Western writer. I know him better as the author of a hardboiled mystery series featuring Florida private eye Ed Rivers, as well as other mystery stories and novels. But he contributed a number of stories to the Western pulps in the Forties and Fifties and also wrote this 1969 novel, which turns out to be an excellent Western.

THE CAGE starts out as a standard revenge Western. Former Confederate officer Webb Cameron and his wife Temple start a small ranch in West Texas after the Civil War. While Cameron is away from home his wife is attacked by someone. Though beaten and raped, she isn't killed (Powell's first deviation from the standard formula). The ordeal does cause her to lose her mind, however, and retreat from reality. When Cameron finds her, he vows to track down her attackers and make them pay.

This is when Powell throws another twist at the reader. Instead of leaving his wife with friends, relatives, or just about anybody else to care for, Cameron builds a cage for her in the back of a wagon (so she can't wander off and hurt herself) and takes her with him on his vengeance quest. From there things get weirder as Cameron picks up some unlikely allies (all of whom have interesting back stories, which Powell explores with as much depth as possible in a 127-page paperback), runs into a band of renegade Seminole Indians who have escaped from a reservation (the idea of putting swamp Indians in the desert instead of the usual Comanches or Apaches is a very nice touch), and finally tracks down the men he's after in a small Mexican village run by a typical Mexican bandido who turns out not to be so typical after all.

This is a bit of a kitchen sink book, with a lot of Western cliches thrown in, but Powell turns nearly all of them on their head and does so in a crisp, fast-moving style. I highly recommend this one to anybody who likes an offbeat Western.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: For Greater Glory

This is another movie that falls into the "Overlooked Because I Never Heard of It" category. Not only that, but the historical background for the story it tells was unknown to me, too, which is sort of annoying for a history buff like me. So I learned something from it, as well as being entertained by a good, old-fashioned historical epic.

FOR GREATER GLORY is set in the late 1920s, when the Mexican government, acting on the Bolshevik leanings of its president, set out to eradicate the presence of the Catholic Church in Mexico. Bishops were deported, church services were prohibited, and the priests who weren't executed were turned into fugitives and outlaws. Not surprisingly, this led to a resistance movement and finally an outright rebellion by the Mexican people who wanted freedom to worship. That's the set-up, which as far as I can tell from doing a little research after we watched the movie, is pretty accurate historically.

For the most part, though, and despite its setting in the Twentieth Century, FOR GREATER GLORY plays like a Western, and a good one, at that, with plenty of gunfights, ambushes, cavalry battles, and train robberies. In one especially good scene, a vaquero named Victoriano who's a member of the resistance battles an entire army patrol by himself and manages to kill all fourteen of the soldiers, leading to him being known as El Catorce (The Fourteen). An actor named Oscar Isaac plays Victoriano and does a great job.

Andy Garcia is probably the biggest name in the cast and plays a retired general who winds up commanding the rebel army. He's excellent, as always. The acting is good all around, including an ancient Peter O'Toole as a priest, although the great Bruce McGill, my favorite contemporary character actor, is miscast as President Calvin Coolidge.

Mostly, though, we get lots of action, spectacular scenery, and stirring music. I couldn't help but think about what Sergio Leone would have done with this story, but Leone's gone so this version is what we have. It's a very good movie that doesn't quite achieve greatness because it seems to drag a little in places, but it's certainly well worth watching.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Free on Amazon: The Affair of the Wooden Boy - Ian Doyle (Mel Odom)

This is a fine fantasy novella, and it's free right now for the Kindle. If you haven't read it already, you should grab it immediately.

Now Available: A Hero for Christmas - Cheryl Pierson

~ A four-story Western collection from award winning author Cheryl Pierson ~

A Night for Miracles ~ Widow Angela Bentley takes in injured Nick Dalton and three orphans on Christmas Eve. Angela determines to keep her distance – until the children drag in a scraggly Christmas tree.

Homecoming ~ A holiday skirmish sends Union officer, Jack Durham, on an unlikely mission for a dying Confederate enemy. Will a miracle be able to heal his heart and reunite him with his beloved?

Meant to Be ~ Robin Mallory is shocked when she is tackled by a man in a Confederate uniform. A flat tire and a coming snowstorm have stranded her in the middle of a re-enactment – or is it?

Scarlet Ribbons ~ Persuaded by a vendor, Miguel Rivera ~ El Diablo ~ makes a foolish purchase—scarlet ribbons. Will they, and a mysterious meeting, set him on a new path?

The Spider Tribe - Heath Lowrance

Hawthorne, the mysterious gunfighter with the cross-shaped scar on his forehead, returns in Heath Lowrance's "The Spider Tribe", and he runs right into the sort of creepy menace that makes the Weird Western genre so much fun.

This time Hawthorne finds a Lakota Sioux village where a massacre has taken place, but the killers aren't the U.S. cavalry as he first assumes. An ancient evil is responsible for wiping out the village, as he discovers when he joins forces with two young survivors to go after the culprits.

As usual in these stories, there's plenty of well-written action, an unrelenting pace, and a palpable sense of lurking evil. Hawthorne is a fine character. Lowrance hasn't told us much about him yet, but I'm sure he will in the future.

"That Damned Coyote Hill" and "The Long Black Train" are the first two yarns in this series, and if you haven't read them yet, you should, even though the stories stand alone. "The Spider Tribe" continues what is fast becoming a tradition of excellence. Highly recommended.

New This Week

No new print books this week, but I have three new e-books on my Kindle. I have a review of one of them, "The Spider Tribe" by Heath Lowrance, coming up later today. It's another fine entry in his Hawthorne series. These stories are some of the best Weird Westerns out there. A HEALTHY FEAR OF MAN by Aaron Philip Clark is a hardboiled crime novel, the sequel to Clark's THE SCIENCE OF PAUL, which I read and enjoyed last year. And finally THE SPUR: LOKI'S ROCK is the first book in a new science fiction adventure series by Mark Ellis, creator and principal author of the long-running Outlanders series. Links are below, so check 'em out.                                                                                 

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Last Deep Breath - Tom Piccirilli

Grey, Pax, and Ellie are three people who were once in an abusive foster home together, and because of that experience they consider themselves siblings even though they're not related by blood. Pax makes a career out of the Army. Grey joins the Army, too, but it doesn't work out for him. Ellie, well, she winds up on the worst career path of all, and eventually it lands her at the door of Grey's New York City apartment with a knife in her side after ten years of him not seeing her. He takes care of her, but before he can find out what happened to her, she disappears again, setting him off on a cross-country quest to find her and discover who's responsible for hurting her.

Since I recently picked up several e-books by Tom Piccirilli, I decided it made sense to go ahead and read some of them. THE LAST DEEP BREATH is a noir novella from a couple of years ago, and as usual, it's really, really good. Grey is a compelling protagonist (I'm not sure you could call him a hero, although he does some heroic things), the pace is unrelenting, and the writing is the sort of taut, evocative prose that's perfect for a bleak yarn like this one. I really like the title, too, which just seems to sum up the story's noir sensibilities. Piccirilli adds a little black humor to the mix here and there, too, especially in his portrayal of the movie business when Grey winds up in Hollywood.

As most of you no doubt already know, Tom had cancer surgery not long ago and faces a mountain of medical bills. You can help with that by buying his books and/or donating directly to the fundraiser that's been established for him, which runs through the end of this month. It's an excellent cause, and I can't recommend it highly enough.

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Argosy, April 10, 1937

1937 was a great year for ARGOSY, and this is a fine issue. I read it several years ago. That cover by V.E. Pyles just screams "1930s adventure fiction". Inside you've got a Foreign Legion yarn by Theodore Roscue featuring Thibaut Corday, part of a serialized mystery novel by Richard Wormser, "Carnival Queen", installments in other serials by George Challis (Frederick Faust) and Eustace L. Adams, and short stories by Foster-Harris, Robert Ormond Case, and others. Great fiction and a great cover. I love ARGOSY, other than the frustration of trying to get all the installments of a serial.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Leading Western, February 1947

LEADING WESTERN was published by Trojan Publications, the same company that brought out SPICY WESTERN, SPEED WESTERN, FIGHTING WESTERN, etc. For much of its run it had the same sort of covers as those other magazines, with some sort of violent action going on featuring a cowboy (usually with a gun in his hand going off) and a girl (usually missing some of her clothes). For a few issues, though, LEADING WESTERN featured stark, very effective covers like this one.

All the authors in this issue are unknown to me. Some of them are known to be house names. The other by-lines appeared only once or twice, all in pulps from Trojan Publications, which makes me think they were pseudonyms as well. So your guess is as good as mine about who really wrote the contents of this issue. (Laurence Donovan and James P. Olsen are good guesses, but that's all they are.) Still, I like that cover.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Forgotten Books: The Secret Adversary - Agatha Christie

When I was in junior high and high school, I read a lot of Agatha Christie's novels, mostly the Poirots and the Miss Marples. In fact, the first Christie novel I ever read was a Miss Marple, THE BODY IN THE LIBRARY, which I checked out of our junior high library when I was in the sixth grade. (This was also the year I started reading Mickey Spillane, but his books weren't in the school library.)

For Agatha Christie Week on Forgotten Books, I wanted to sample a series of hers that I'd never tried, so I read THE SECRET ADVERSARY, the first novel to feature Tommy and Tuppence Beresford, although they're not yet married in this book and Tuppence is still Prudence Cowley.

They are friends, however, when this book opens. Tommy is a young veteran who was wounded in World War I. Tuppence was a volunteer in a military hospital during the war, and that's where she met Tommy. By 1920, when this book takes place, they're both at loose ends, so they decide to join forces and become adventurers. This is sort of a hare-brained idea, of course, but by coincidence (and the manipulations of the author), they quickly become involved in an international conspiracy aimed at toppling the British government. Christie sets this up neatly with a nice prologue set on the sinking Lusitania after it's been torpedoed by the Germans in 1915.

The plot gallops along with Tommy and Tuppence being plunged into the shadowy world of international espionage and battling a Moriarty-like criminal mastermind who hides his identity behind the alias Mr. Brown. This novel is more of a thriller than a mystery, although there are certainly some mystery elements, including a murder and the true identity of Mr. Brown. Mostly, though, we've got skulking, chasing, getting hit on the head and taken prisoner, escaping, double-crosses, stunning revelations, and a lot of clever banter between Tommy and Tuppence.

Tuppence has a few moments of ditziness reminiscent of, say, Pam North from the books by Richard and Frances Lockridge, but for the most part she proves to a smart, capable investigator, as does the more stolid Tommy. Christie's writing isn't as slick and smooth here as it would be in her later books, but THE SECRET ADVERSARY is still very entertaining and well worth reading. I'm glad Agatha Christie Week prompted me to give it a try.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Helmet Head - Mike Baron

I don't read many horror novels, but I enjoy a good one now and then, and Mike Baron's HELMET HEAD certainly falls into that category. I've read many a good comic book written by Baron, but this is the first novel of his that I've read.

If you want action, you'll definitely find it in this yarn about a cop and a motorcycle gang joining forces to battle a demon biker with a big-ass sword who's been murdering people on the rural roads of southern Illinois for years. Helmet Head is considered to be a legend among bikers, but the characters in this book discover that he's all too real.

As in all good books, though, not everything is as it first seems. There's more to Helmet Head, the character, than you might think, and the story goes in directions I didn't expect at all. Not only that, while most of the action takes place over the course of a few hours, Baron also delves into the back-stories of his characters and makes them real. This is one of those books where you don't know who's going to live and who's going to die, and if you try to guess you'll stand a good chance of being wrong. That creates a lot of suspense and makes for an effective ending.

HELMET HEAD is, as they say, not for the squeamish, but it's fast, well-written, and very entertaining. If you like horror fiction with a lot of action, you should definitely check it out.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked TV: The Mighty Hercules

I was probably already a little too old for this cartoon when I was watching it in the mid-Sixties. I knew it was pretty goofy and cheaply-made, even then. But what can I tell you? It came on every afternoon at four o'clock, which meant I had just enough time to walk up the road from where the school bus dropped us off, turn the TV on, and sit down to watch it. And most afternoons for a year or so, that's what I did. I saw it enough that the theme song has been stuck in my head for nearly fifty years. Some of you may suffer from the same affliction.

Monday, October 08, 2012

Now Available: Savage Blood -- New Reasoner Western Novella

I haven't said much about this one because I didn't know when it would be finished and on sale, but now . . .

The Civil War took nearly everything from Brodie. A beautiful redhead named Eva took what was left. When she turned to him for help, he had every reason in the world to tell her to go to hell.

Instead he strapped on his gun and walked right into a blazing hell himself.

SAVAGE BLOOD is a brand-new hardboiled Western novella from James Reasoner, bestselling author of the Wind River series, the Judge Earl Stark series, and co-author of the Rancho Diablo series. It's 16,000 words of action and excitement from a master storyteller.

This story sort of came out of nowhere, probably inspired by reading some fine novellas in various Western pulps. I had a great time writing it. I hope those of you who check it out will enjoy it.

And I might add, it's less than a buck for the Kindle and the Nook!

New E-Books from Black Dog Books

Tom Roberts of Black Dog Books has announced that three more e-books are now available: KILLER'S CARESS by Cary Moran, PETER THE BRAZEN by George F. Worts, and RAIDER OF THE SEAS by Warren Hastings Miller. Check 'em out!     

New This Week

This week I bought all of Tom Piccirilli's e-books that I didn't already have, since the publisher is donating all the proceeds to help with Tom's medical expenses following his cancer surgery. Links are below, and I highly recommend all of them, along with Tom's other books. He's a fine writer, and you won't go wrong with anything he's written. I also got the e-book of horror novel HELMET HEAD by Mike Baron, who wrote many of the comic books I read during the Eighties. Look for a review of this one coming soon.

Also picked up a couple of used books. RAWHIDERS & RENEGADES is the paperback edition of a WWA anthology originally published in hardback under the title THE FALL ROUNDUP. This is from 1955, so it's not surprising that the line-up of authors is a really good one: John Prescott, Wayne D. Overholser, Bennett Foster, Walt Coburn, Luke Short, Frank Bonham, Will Cook, Norman A. Fox, Thomas Thompson, Bill Gulick, Charles N. Heckelmann, Harry Sinclair Drago, Steve Frazee, S. Omar Barker, Nelson Nye, Noel M. Loomis, and Gene Markey. The stories by Luke Short, Will Cook, and Steve Frazee are originals, the others reprints from an assortment of pulps and slicks. The other paperback is a double edition of the first two novels in the Buckskin series, RIFLE RIVER and GUNSTOCK by "Roy LeBeau", who I've been told was Mitchell Smith. Whoever wrote them, I know RIFLE RIVER is really good because I read it a number of years ago and remember liking it a lot. Never got around to reading GUNSTOCK. I figured it was worth a buck in Half Price Books' clearance section.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Thrilling Sports, Summer 1947

And now, as they say, for something completely different. I thought with the baseball playoffs getting underway, it would be a good time for a baseball cover. I've never read a sports pulp. I owned one or two, once, but never got around to reading them. But I'll bet some of the stories were pretty darned good, because the professional pulpsters could turn their hand to almost any genre and come up with an entertaining yarn. This authors in this issue include my old editor and mentor Sam Merwin Jr., prolific Western pulp contributor T.W. Ford, air war author Robert Sidney Bowen, and detective and G-Man writer William O'Sullivan. Sounds like a promising line-up to me.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Texas Rangers, November 1946

Behind a pretty good cover by Sam Cherry is one of my favorite Jim Hatfield novels, "Land of Hidden Loot". It's by Bennie Gardner, writing under the Jackson Cole house-name. Gardner, much better known under his usual pseudonym Gunnison Steele, was one of the most dependably entertaining Western pulp authors and was especially proficient at short lengths, say 1000 to 1500 words. But his novel-length stories are excellent, too, and often featured some sort of weird, apparently supernatural angle (which had a logical explanation in the end, of course). This story is set in the swampy piney woods of East Texas, rather than the open plains of West Texas that you usually find in a Hatfield yarn. It's probably been close to twenty years since I read it, but I still remember that it has some genuinely creepy moments. And unless my memory is playing tricks on me, it has quicksand, too! Can't beat that. This novel was reprinted in paperback under the title TWO GUNS FOR TEXAS. If you ever run across a copy, it's definitely worth reading. I'm afraid I don't remember anything about the short stories in this issue, one of which is by the prolific Donald Bayne Hobart. (My favorite bit of trivia about Hobart is that he wrote some stories under the transparent pseudonym Hobart Donbayne, one of the goofier pen-names I've encountered.)

Friday, October 05, 2012

Forgotten Books: Satan's Syndicate - Brant House (G.T. Fleming-Roberts)

Secret Agent X is back in "Satan's Syndicate", from the August 1937 issue of the famous pulp. This one has a particularly creepy setting, the Pennsylvania coal mining country, where an underground fire has been burning for years in a mine called Inferno, casting a hellish glow into the night sky, coating everything with soot, and causing exploding gases to vent out through cracks in the ground with a noise like the wailing of lost souls. The author keeps everything eerie and atmospheric all the way through.

The syndicate of the title consists of five wealthy men and one wealthy, beautiful woman who own all the lucrative mines in the area, including Inferno. Unfortunately, a secret in their past puts them in danger when a killer targets them one by one. Secret Agent X is on the trail of that killer, attempting to stop him before he manages to kill off all the members of the syndicate by bizarre methods.

The action in this fairly short novel is just about non-stop. One victim is burned to death by being strung up from a crane and dangled over the flames of the burning mine. Another is kidnapped to be buried alive. Disguises and death traps abound as the Secret Agent tries to triumph over a criminal mastermind. Will he succeed?

Well, yeah, but you knew that going in. The fun lies in the breathless pace, the over-the-top action, and the vividly rendered setting. This is a very entertaining yarn and well worth reading if you're a pulp fan.

A couple of background points are worth noting. While "Satan's Syndicate" mostly reads like the work of prolific Secret Agent X author G.T. Fleming-Roberts, publisher Brian Earl Brown believes (and I agree with him) that it may well have been written originally as a stand-alone story, rather than a Secret Agent X novel. Most of the usual trappings and all of the supporting characters from the series are missing, except for a couple of very fleeting references to Inspector Burks, X's nemesis from the New York police, and Harvey Bates, the Agent's right-hand man. This ties in with something else I noticed, namely that there seem to be two writers at work here. The style in some of the scenes strikes me as different from the rest of the story, which would make sense if some unknown editor took a Fleming-Roberts detective novel from the publisher's inventory and rewrote it into a Secret Agent X novel. We'll probably never know for sure, of course, but I like speculating about such things. Whoever wrote "Satan's Syndicate", it's fun to read.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: Battleship

Overlooked? Try critically vilified. Ostracized at the box office. BATTLESHIP was probably the biggest bomb of 2012 when it comes to movies.

So I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "James liked BATTLESHIP? Really?"

Yep. I liked BATTLESHIP. I liked it a lot.

Now, I'll admit that making a movie out of the board game is probably a pretty dumb idea. But the writers charged with this thankless task decided to turn it into an invaders-from-outer-space yarn, and I'm a sucker for those. A few ships taking part in some multinational war games in the Pacific are stuck inside a dome of impenetrable force thrown up by the invaders and have to duke it out with the alien fleet. CGI chaos ensues, along with a few soap operatic elements added to the mix to humanize the characters. It's pretty predictable, but it worked for me.

In fact, about halfway through when I realized what the big payoff of the movie was going to be, I started to grin, and later, in the scene that sets up that big payoff, I grinned even bigger and got a little misty-eyed, as our old buddy Maynard G. Krebs used to say. I really loved that part of the movie, maybe because that's exactly the way I would have written it.

The acting was okay. I like Taylor Kitsch, who was also in 2012's other legendary failure JOHN CARTER, which as most of you know is actually a pretty darned good movie. Real-life soldier Gregory D. Gadson turns in a great performance as a rehabbing veteran who winds up involved in the battle to save the world. In another bit of stunt casting that actually works, singer Rihanna plays a tough sailor and does a fine job. Liam Neeson sort of sleepwalks through his part as an admiral, but hey, he's Liam Neeson. (And did I miss something? Was there a law passed that says Liam Neeson has to be in every movie that's made now? It seems like it.)

BATTLESHIP goes on a little too long, and there are a few plot points I could quibble about (the evil aliens are technologically advanced enough to fly all the way across the galaxy, but they can't avoid a freakin' fender bender with a communications satellite?), but overall I had an absolutely fine time watching this movie.

Monday, October 01, 2012

New This Week

The only thing I have to report this week is an ARC of ARCHIE MEETS NERO WOLFE, which comes out in November. I read some, maybe all, of Robert Goldsborough's earlier Nero Wolfe pastiches and thought they were okay. We'll see.