Monday, December 31, 2012

The Wrap Up

2012 was a year in which both my reading and my writing totals went down by quite a bit. Where did the time go?


I read 112 books this year, down more than 25% from last year. There were still plenty of good books, mind you. Here are my ten favorites, alphabetical by author, with the caveat that these could have been written and published anytime, but I read them in 2012:

THE BELLS OF EL DIABLO, Peter Brandvold writing as Frank Leslie – a fine Western adventure novel about hunting for lost treasure in post-Civil War Mexico from one of the best Western writers in the business, Mean Pete his own self.

THE SAINT IN MIAMI, Leslie Charteris – I reread this great novel (the first Saint novel I ever read) so I could write an introduction for an upcoming e-book reprint of it.

DEAD MAN'S BRAND, Norbert Davis – a great collection of pulp Western stories from a writer best known for his mysteries, published by Tom Roberts of Black Dog Books, who also painted the excellent cover.

ONE IS A LONELY NUMBER, Bruce Elliott – reprint from Stark House Press of an excellent noir novel I'd never even heard of.

McGRAVE, Lee Goldberg – the fastest-paced book I read this year and maybe the most purely entertaining. It's a fish-out-of-water cop thriller that's great fun from start to finish.

GUNSHOTS IN ANOTHER ROOM: THE FORGOTTEN LIFE OF DAN J. MARLOWE, Charles Kelly – a brilliant biography of the great noir and hardboiled paperbacker Dan J. Marlowe, written with novelistic flair by Charles Kelly.

RICK O'SHAY, HIPSHOT, AND ME, Stan Lynde – a fine memoir from comic strip creator and now Western novelist Stan Lynde, along with an extensive collection of storylines reprinted from his iconic strip RICK O'SHAY.

WORDSLINGERS, Will Murray – this history of the Western pulp magazines and their authors and editors isn't out yet, but I was fortunate enough to read an advance copy of it and loved it. If you have any interest in Westerns, pulps, or professional writing in general, this one gets my highest recommendation.

ROGUE ANGEL #1: DESTINY, Mel Odom writing as Alex Archer – a compelling archeological mystery that also serves as a top-notch origin story for the character Annja Creed and the long-running adventure series Rogue Angel.

BLOOD ON THE MINK, Robert Silverberg – Hard Case Crime reprint of a long-lost pseudonymous hardboiled crime gem from legendary science fiction author Robert Silverberg, plus two of Silverberg's crime digest stories from the same era. This is great stuff from a master storyteller.

What the heck, let's give Honorable Mentions to a few others, this time in the order in which I read them: TRIGGER TRIO, a collection of Western pulp yarns that overcame my resistance to author Ernest Haycox; SEEKERS OF THE GLITTERING FETISH and SWAMP FETISH, collecting all of Dan Cushman's Armless O'Neil pulp adventure yarns (I wrote the intro to the second volume); STACKED DECK, a collection of Johnny Liddell private eye yarns by Frank Kane; FLINT, an offbeat Western novel by Arnold Hano; KILLER INSTINCTS, a fine debut thriller from Jack Badelaire; BULLET FOR A VIRGIN! by Peter Brandvold, proving that the Spicy Western lives; CITY OF HERETICS, a great second novel from Heath Lowrance; BRUCE MINNEY: THE MAN WHO PAINTED EVERYTHING, a bio and retrospective of a great career in illustration, by the artist's son-in-law Thomas Ziegler; and TOMATO CAN COMEBACK by Henry Brown writing as Jack Tunney, my favorite of the Fight Card books that came out this year. How's that for a second ten? It just goes to prove that while I might not have read as many books this year, I still read a lot of really, really good ones.


Unless I have a miraculous day today, I'm going to wind up with about 500 fewer pages than last year, but I managed to top a million words again and should finish with around 1.15 million for the year. That breaks down into twelve and a half novels (I'm in the mddle of one) and six short stories and novellas. I've tried to maintain an accurate word count but I can't do it. I'm a page guy, even in this digital age. Some habits are too hard to break. Part of my decrease in pages is technological: I upgraded to a newer version of Word, and for some reason it puts more words on a page even with all the margin settings the same. Also, I finally stopped putting two spaces after a period. I didn't think I could do that after all those years, but it was surprisingly easy. That actually affects the output more than you'd think and probably accounts for 50 or so pages over the course of a year. But there's still no doubt that I wrote less in 2012 than I did in the past couple of years. I already have more work lined up for 2013 than I did this year, so I'm going to have to bump up my speed a little. It's a good problem to have.

Meanwhile, in the immortal words of that great philosopher Frankie Avalon, I plan to keep a-movin' and a-groovin' – don't stop now!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Planet Stories, Spring 1948

As I mentioned a while back, I had this issue of PLANET STORIES out to read the Ray Bradbury story in it, "Jonah of the Jove Run", so I thought it would be a good idea to read the rest of the stories. I have only a few issues of PLANET STORIES, but I've read quite a few stories that have been reprinted from it. In fact, back in the Seventies I read a paperback called THE BEST OF PLANET STORIES, VOLUME I, the first in a planned series from Pocket Books. It must not have sold very well, because there was never a Volume II.

Anyway, the cover of the Spring 1948 issue is by Allan Anderson, who painted many fine covers for Fiction House's science fiction, Western, and adventure pulps. Most of the interior illustrations are by Al McWilliams, a fine, prolific artist who worked in pulps and comics.

The issue leads off with the novella "The Outcasts of Solar III" by Emmett McDowell, who also wrote mystery and Western pulp stories and some mystery novels published as Ace Doubles in addition to his science fiction. This yarn starts off as a tale of corporate intrigue involving the testing of the first interstellar drive but eventually features a trip across the galaxy and some of the Big Ideas SF is famous for. The scientist hero's name is Jon Saxon, which might have been a tip of the hat to long-time Western pulpster John A. Saxon but more likely just sounded like a hero's name to McDowell. I didn't think the writing was very good in this one and the ending was a bit of a letdown.

The short story "Mind-Worms" by Moses Schere is next. I don't know anything about the author except that he published less than a dozen science fiction stories in various magazines from the 1930s through the '50s. This is a decent first contact story about Earth trying to establish diplomatic relations with the inhabitants of Venus.

Following "Jonah of the Jove Run" is "Planet in Reverse" by Henry Guth, even less prolific than Moses Schere with only four stories listed on ISFDB. It's an odd story about a guy running a mostly automated space freighter who lands on a planet where time runs backward. I didn't care much for it.

The novelette "Space-Trap on Banya Tor" by W.J. Matthews has an interesting plot about an effort to use the media to manipulate public opinion and turn it against a gang of space pirates who have captured the public's fancy. But then through a series of double-crosses, it becomes more of a straightforward adventure story, which is not necessarily a bad thing. W.J. Matthews is really obscure, with no stories listed on either the Fictionmags Index or ISFDB, although there's one letter from a Wm. J. Matthews in the SF magazine NEBULA in 1958. A check of this invaluable site, though, shows that several of his stories appeared in PLANET STORIES during the late Forties. I didn't think the writing was very good in this one, but the plot had enough twists to keep me reading.

The by-line on the short story "Confusion Cargo" is another new one to me: Kenneth Putnam. But some quick research reveals that Kenneth Putnam is a pseudonym for Philip Klass, much better known under his other pseudonym: William Tenn. Not surprisingly, given the number of excellent stories published under the Tenn name, "Confusion Cargo" is very well-written, certainly the best writing in this issue other than the Bradbury story. It's a good yarn about a mutiny on a space freighter and its aftermath. There's even a decent twist ending, although it's not a great shocker or anything.

The issue wraps up with the novella "Design for Doomsday" by Bryce Walton, an author I'd heard good things about but never read. He was a prolific pulpster in the Forties and Fifties, turning out adventure, Western, and detective yarns in addition to his science-fiction. His novella in this issue of PLANET STORIES is a good SF adventure yarn, with Nazis – I mean Martians – and their leader Hitler – I mean Zharkon – taking over the Solar System. The plot finds a couple of members of the Terran underground heading for Venus to infiltrate a sinister scientific citadel there to get their hands on something that will break the Martians' iron grip on the system. The story moves right along with plenty of action and the writing is decent.

There's also a lengthy letters section, The Vizigraph, with contributions from Gardner Fox, Robert A. Bradley (who a year or so later would marry a fellow fan named Marion Zimmer), Lin Carter, and Chad Oliver, among others.

The Bradbury story is definitely the best one in this issue, but a couple of the others are pretty good and they're all readable. Overall I enjoyed it enough that I'd read another issue of PLANET STORIES, but probably not for a while.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: All Western, May 1936

I enjoyed that issue of ALL WESTERN I read a while back enough that I decided to dig out another issue, this one from May 1936. The table of contents page in the magazine credits the cover to Gerald Delano, but that appears to be a mistake, since the painting is signed by Arthur Mitchell, another pulp cover artist from that era. Either way, it's a pretty good cover, if a little static. (Says the hotshot art critic who can't draw a recognizable dog.)

The issue starts off with a "novel" (more like a novelette) by Walt Coburn, "Whoop and Holler", and it's a superb pulp yarn full of the undeniable authenticity that Coburn brought to his best stories. The plot is pretty simple – a couple of outlaws on the run turn up at an isolated line camp manned by a lone cowboy – but Coburn packs it full of action, drama, a little humor, and some poignant back-story. Coburn was obsessed with the past's inexorable effect on the present, and that comes into play in this yarn. At his best, Coburn was one of the best Western writers ever, and this story is a good example of that.

Hapsburg Liebe has never been one of my favorite authors, but some of his stories are pretty good. "Lone Kid" starts out well as a yarn about a young owlhoot who wants to settle a score before the law runs him to ground. But it suffers from a rushed ending that's really lacking in impact, leaving me with a mixed opinion of it.

Charles M. Martin, who also wrote as Chuck Martin, is another former cowboy turned author like Walt Coburn. His stories are more pulpish and less realistic than Coburn's best work, but they're usually pretty entertaining and his laconic style is effective. ".45 Caliber Law" is set in Abilene during the trail driving days, and the local marshal, a thinly-disguised version of Bat Masterson known here as Bat Gunnison, plays a supporting role in this story about a Texas cowboy avenging the murder of his boss. The plot's pretty standard stuff, but Martin's fast pace and distinctive voice make it fun to read.

Next up is the novelette (again billed as a novel) "Phantom Gold" by another cowhand-turned-writer J.E. Grinstead. The first thing to notice about this one is a double-page illustration by Frederick Blakeslee, much better known for his cover illustrations on a number of different air war pulps. The story itself features a couple of cowboys called High and Short who set out into Mexico on the trail of a treasure in gold that High is supposed to have inherited from a long-lost uncle. It's an okay yarn, falling somewhere between W.C. Tuttle's various series and the dreadful Swap and Whopper stories by Syl McDowell. I wouldn't rush out looking for more entries in the series, though.

John Dorman's "Bull Salvaging" is a clever little story about rescuing a valuable bull from a mud wallow. I'm not familiar with Dorman's work, but this is a pretty good yarn.

Galen C. Colin is another author whose name I don't recognize, but his novelette "The Golden Stallion" is a good one. It's the story of a young cowboy framed for a crime he didn't commit and on the run from hired killers when he encounters (you guessed it) a golden stallion. There's also a beautiful blonde involved. This yarn's plot is pretty standard stuff, but Colin spins it well and kept me entertained from start to finish.

Ralph Thurman is another writer who's new to me. The punny title of "Bullet-Holey Wedlock" ought to be enough to tell you that the story is a humorous one. The plot involves the conflict between an itinerant frontier preacher with a secret in his past and the owner of a traveling burlesque show. I'm not sure it really works that well, but it's mildly entertaining.

Also in this issue are a couple of humorous features and a guns-and-ammo column by Phil Sharpe, who provided a similar column for WESTERN STORY for many years. I confess that I didn't read these. My main interest is in the fiction.

Overall, this is a good issue of ALL WESTERN featuring an excellent story (the Coburn) and a couple of pretty good ones (the Martin and Colin yarns). Maybe not quite as good as the other issue of ALL WESTERN I read, but certainly a solidly entertaining magazine. I have at least five more issues of this title and figure I'll be reading all of them in the not-so-distant future. (By the way, the scan that accompanies this post is of the actual copy I read.)

Friday, December 28, 2012

Forgotten Books: Private Club - Orrie Hitt

I'm wrapping up Forgotten Books for the year with an old friend, Orrie Hitt. PRIVATE CLUB (Beacon Books, 1959, and as far as I know, never reprinted) is set at an exclusive hunting and fishing resort in upstate New York, just the sort of place where Hitt worked as a young man. He drew on that part of his life as the inspiration for a number of books, and this is a good one.

The story focuses on three couples: Fred Jennings, who owns a successful valve company, and his semi-frigid wife Sandra; drunken copper salesman Virgil Blanding and his slutty wife Lucy; and Eddie Race, the manager of the club and a typical Hitt heel, who's involved with beautiful young waitress Beth Collins. Well, you can probably plug these characters into the various plot equations as well as I can, although Hitt throws in a little lesbianism to spice things up. And as usual, the cover promises more raunch than the book delivers. The club is hardly the hotbed of orgies you might think. In fact, although the characters think and talk a lot about sex (when they're not boozing it up), they never actually get around to doing much.

Nothing in this book really surprised me. So why did I sit there avidly turning the pages to find out what was going to happen? Because Hitt was a master at getting inside his characters' heads and making the reader care about them. I can't put my finger on how he did it, but he had one of the most readable, compelling styles I've encountered.

Actually, I think I do know, not on a technical level regarding the prose but on a more emotional level. The reader cares about the characters because Hitt cares about them. Although he was capable of writing excellent crime novels, most of his books are about the sort of people he saw around him all the time: blue-collar workers, hustling salesmen, owners of small companies. What he saw must have filled him with the bleak despair that permeates his books.

Yet at the same time there's a lot of compassion at work. Most of Hitt's heels have some decent qualities, too. A part of them wants to do the right thing, if they can just figure out what it is and find the courage to do it. Eddie Race in this book is a prime example of that. Most of the characters in Hitt's novels, no matter how bad they are, have at least a shot at redemption. It's been theorized that the rushed, sometimes awkward happy endings in Hitt's novels were forced on him by the publishers, but after reading more of his work I'm not so sure anymore. I think maybe Hitt, by all accounts a very decent, happily married family man himself, possessed a deep-seated optimism that carried over to his characters. He wanted to believe that no matter how much emotional torment he put them through, by the end of the book they still had a hope of happiness. I think those endings, hurried though they might be because sometimes he was running out of the required wordage, may just be the true essence of Hitt's fiction.

Or maybe I'm just full of it, who can say? For our purposes, here's what you need to know: PRIVATE CLUB is damned entertaining and one of my favorite Orrie Hitt novels so far. Like I said above, it hasn't been reprinted as far as I know, and the copies available on the Internet are a little pricey. But if you ever run across a copy for a reasonable cost, I'd advise grabbing it. It's well worth reading.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Traditional December 27th Post

If you're new to the blog, you don't know that December 27th is the anniversary of my first fiction sale, which I made 36 years ago in 1976. Feels longer ago than that, to tell you the truth. I've written a number of posts about those days, including this one, the first on the subject. And for those of you who commented on that post back in 2004, thanks for sticking around.

So, 36 years and approximately 20 million words of published fiction later, I'm still having fun. And I still like opening envelopes that have checks in them. Many thanks to those of you who help make it possible. You know who you are.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Silver Alibi Now Available for the Nook

If you got a Nook for Christmas yesterday, THE SILVER ALIBI, my new Judge Earl Stark yarn, is now available for the Nook. You can find it here. And of course if you're a brand-new Kindle owner that version is available, too, along with the large print trade paperback.

New This Week: Special Christmas Edition

These are the books I received as Christmas presents yesterday:

MEANWHILE . . .: A BIOGRAPHY OF MILTON CANIFF, Robert C. Harvey -- A massive (nearly 1000 pages) bio of one of the greatest comic strip creators ever and one of my all-time favorites.

MARVEL COMICS: THE UNTOLD STORY, Sean Howe -- Comics have been a big part of my reading life for more than half a century. I've heard many of the stories about the early days of Marvel, but I'm looking forward to finding out plenty of stuff I didn't know.

THE COMPLETE ADVENTURES OF SENORITA SCORPION, VOL. 2, Les Savage Jr. and Emmett McDowell -- I have the first volume of this series reprinting the pulp stories by Les Savage Jr., along with the one entry by Emmett McDowell.

THE BEST OF SPICY MYSTERY, VOL. 1 -- A collection of Weird Menace stories, with Robert Leslie Bellem represented at least three times, twice under his own name and once as Jerome Severs Perry. Some of those other by-lines may be Bellem, too.

I'm looking forward to reading all of these. I also got some Amazon and Half Price Books gift cards, so I'll be picking up some more things in the near future.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012


It's officially a white Christmas in North Texas, as the snow is coming down fast outside. We don't get them very often, but they seem to be becoming more common. Most of the time I'm pretty much of a Scrooge or Grinch or what have you, but the Christmas spirit always sneaks up and gets me at the last minute. It was a good morning, and I'm thankful to Livia, Shayna, and Joanna for making it that way.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Christmas Eve

The video quality isn't very good, but this is one of my favorite Christmas songs and Karen Carpenter is my favorite female singer. Hope some of you enjoy it.

Our Christmas plans are up in the air because we don't know what the weather is going to do tomorrow. Could be snow, could be nothing. Except cold. It's going to be cold. We'll exchange presents in the morning, then there's a good chance I'll work a little. (A better chance of that than there is of snow, probably.)

Anyway, I hope it's a fine Christmas for all of you.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Now Available: The Silver Alibi (A Judge Earl Stark Western)

Big Earl rides again!

Earl Stark was once a fast-shooting stagecoach guard in Texas before taking up the study of law, becoming an attorney, and eventually being appointed a federal district court judge. Now he combines a keen legal mind with a frontiersman's gun-handy toughness to bring justice to the Old West.

One of New York Times bestselling author James Reasoner's most popular characters, Judge Earl Stark is back in a brand-new 27,000 word short novel full of action and mystery. THE SILVER ALIBI finds him dealing with feuding mine owners, bushwhackers, cold-blooded murder, and a wild ruckus that lands Judge Stark himself behind bars before he can nab a ruthless killer.

If you haven't met Big Earl yet, now's your chance!

I've written here before about how this character came to be created. I'm really fond of him. Sure, he's a Mary Sue, at least to a certain extent, but only as far as physical resemblance goes. I assure you, Judge Earl Stark is a lot smarter and tougher than I am!

Anyway, just in time for Christmas, he's back in THE SILVER ALIBI, a brand-new 27,000 word short novel that went live on Amazon this evening. There'll also be a Nook edition and a large print trade paperback edition. If you know a Western reader with a Kindle, this would make a fine gift. If you're a Western reader with a Kindle, it would be perfect to read on Christmas afternoon after all the presents have been opened, the kids have worn themselves out playing with their new toys, and everybody's stuffed from a big dinner.

The books and stories in the Judge Earl Stark series have always been intended as Western mysteries, part Louis L'Amour, part Perry Mason. Check out THE SILVER ALIBI, and I hope you enjoy it!

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Argosy, December 25, 1937

Here's another Christmas cover, this one from the great pulp ARGOSY. I used to have this issue and read it a number of years ago. A great bunch of writers in this issue, including Lester Dent, T.T. Flynn, Eustace L. Adams, Frank Richardson Pierce, and Karl Detzer. This would have been a nice present under my Christmas tree if I'd been around in 1937.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Story, December 26, 1936

WESTERN STORY could always be counted on to have a Christmas cover on one of the late December issues. I like this one quite a bit. There are several Christmas-themed stories in this issue, too, including a lead novel by Seth Ranger, who was really Frank Richardson Pierce, a pretty darned good writer.

Friday, December 21, 2012


It occurs to me that in this day and age, some of you may have never seen a bookmobile. The one in this photo looks very much like the one that came to our little town, except it was from the Fort Worth Public Library. The check-in desk was up front, next to the driver. You checked out books at the back door. The mysteries, Westerns, and science-fiction were back in that corner as well, two or three shelves of each as I recall. From 1960 to 1965 I was there nearly every Saturday, checking out books by Brett Halliday, A.A. Fair, Leslie Charteris, Zane Grey, Max Brand, Peter Field, Robert A. Heinlein, Poul Anderson, Isaac Asimov, and many, many others, too many to remember. The bookmobile sure made a difference in my life.

Forgotten Books: This is It, Michael Shayne - Brett Halliday (Davis Dresser)

Numerous times I've mentioned the bookmobile that came out to our little town every Saturday from the public library in the county seat. One Saturday in 1963 or '64 (after the people who worked in the bookmobile stopped trying to steer me to the kids' books and let me check out whatever I wanted) I picked up a rather drab-looking gray hardback in the mystery section: THIS IS IT, MICHAEL SHAYNE. I'd never heard of the author Brett Halliday or the private eye character Michael Shayne, but I checked it out anyway, took it home, and read it.

Things, as they say, were never the same again.

The book must have made a big impression on me because I started seeking out more Mike Shayne novels and quickly became a big fan. Shayne was tough and smart, he had a beautiful secretary (who he was obviously sleeping with), and this was probably the coolest thing of all to me at ten or eleven years old: he had a phone in his car.

Well, many of you know how this story ends up. Fifteen years later I'm Brett Halliday and I write more than half a million words about Mike Shayne myself. I remain a big fan of the original novels and still read or reread one from time to time.

But until now I'd never reread the one that started it for me, so I decided it was time. In the nearly fifty years since then, I had forgotten nearly all of the plot, so it was almost like reading a book I'd never read before.

This one starts out with Shayne receiving a call for help from a crusading, crime-busting journalist who's visiting Miami. Before he can reach her, though, somebody murders her. Shayne figures he has a responsibility to track down her killer, and Shayne being who he is, he thinks maybe he can find a way to pick up a nice chunk of change for doing so.

All the action in THIS IS IT, MICHAEL SHAYNE takes place over a span of six or seven hours, and since the plot involves a gambling den, blackmail, an old murder charge, clashes with gangsters, a multitude of alibis, a secretary (not Lucy Hamilton) who turns out to be beautiful when she takes her glasses off, and another murder, you can guess it's pretty much of a whirlwind. As usual, Shayne stays two steps ahead of the cops (represented by Miami chief of police Will Gentry) and his reporter pal Tim Rourke, and he's at least three steps ahead of this reader, anyway. The plots concocted by Davis Dresser, the original Brett Halliday, rival those of Erle Stanley Gardner for complexity.

While THIS IS IT, MICHAEL SHAYNE was good enough to turn me into a life-long fan of the series, now that I've read a lot more Shayne novels I wouldn't put it in the top rank. The killer is maybe a little too easy to spot. However, it's a good solid entry and I really enjoyed reading it again. If you're a Shayne fan and haven't read it, it's well worth seeking out.

Now here's a couple of oddities. I said I didn't remember much about the book from reading it back in the Sixties, but a couple of scenes stuck with me. The problem is, they're not in the book, and I would have sworn they were. They must be in some other Shayne novel I read back then, and I'm just confused about where they appear. But I sure thought they were in this one.

The other thing has to do with the original hardcover from Dodd, Mead and the paperback reprint from Dell. I own copies of both and decided to read the paperback since it's got a cool McGinnis cover, as most of the Shayne paperbacks from that era do. But in comparing the two editions I immediately noticed that the paperback has chapter titles and the hardback doesn't. I wonder if Dresser added those for the paperback edition or if some editor at Dell was responsible for them. It doesn't really matter, of course, but things like that intrigue me.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

The No-Account Girl - Peter Brandvold

Peter Brandvold has turned into a prolific short story writer, and we're all the better for it. "The No-Account Girl" is his latest tale. It features young gunslinger Colter Farrow, who has appeared in three novels so far under Brandvold's pseudonym Frank Leslie. In this one, Colter is on his way to Mexico, dodging bounty hunters along the way, when he runs into the beautiful girl of the title. She has her brother's body wrapped up in the back of a wagon, and she's trying to take him back to her hometown so he can be buried next to their parents. An assortment of gunmen have reasons for stopping her, though, and of course Colter gets drawn into the trouble.

As usual, Mean Pete provides plenty of gritty action, some vivid writing, and a twist ending. He's one of my favorite Western authors, and you can't go wrong with anything he writes. If you haven't sampled his work yet, this would be a fine place to start.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Hell and Gone - Henry Brown

This rag-tag gang of has-beens has never worked together before, but Dwight "Rocco" Cavarra has less than a week to train them and lead them on the hairiest operation of their lives. It's not bad enough that they have to plow through an African civil war, infiltrate a fortified terrorist encampment and steal a black market tactical nuke from a mob of fanatic sociopaths - there are Israeli wild cards in play: two death-dealing Mossad agents who don't necessarily share Cavarra's agenda. When the mission is compromised before it has even started, Rocco and his Retreads are caught between bloodthirsty local warlords and the genocidal government in a fight to the death. And this battle might be just the first in the next world war.

I really enjoyed Henry Brown's Fight Card novel TOMATO CAN COMEBACK, so I wanted to give his debut novel a try. HELL AND GONE is an action/adventure thriller that's reminiscent of THE EXPENDABLES (but much more realistic and not as over-the-top) and THE DIRTY DOZEN (but not as grim and more fun). It's also fast-paced and very well-written. Rocco Cavarra is a fine protagonist and a sequel is on the way. I'm looking forward to it. In the meantime, HELL AND GONE is available in both e-book and trade paperback editions.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Free for Kindle Today and Tomorrow: Hangrope Law and Hallam

My Rancho Diablo novel HANGROPE LAW and Livia's collection HALLAM are both free for the Kindle today and tomorrow. If you haven't tried the Rancho Diablo series or made the acquaintance of Lucas Hallam yet, this is a perfect opportunity to sample both series for free. And you can visit this page for more free books from friends of ours.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: War Stories, January 1953

Here's a fairly late pulp with a cover by Norman Saunders and some fine writers: Evan Hunter, Arthur J. Burks, Arch Whitehouse, and J.L. Bouma, plus a number of others. War stories were featured in most of the general fiction pulps, but the subject supported some specialized pulps like this one, too.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Wild West Weekly, April 8, 1939

Here's a pulp with a simple but very effective cover. I'm really fond of WILD WEST WEEKLY and have enjoyed every issue of it that I've read. I don't have this one, but it has a fine line-up of stories and authors: a Kid Wolf yarn by Ward M. Stevens (Paul S. Powers), along with other stories by Walker A. Tompkins, C. William Harrison, Ralph Yergen, and Ralph Thurman.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Forgotten Books: The Complete Color Terry and the Pirates, Volume 1 - Milton Caniff

(This post first appeared on May 20, 2007, in slightly different form.) 

This volume collects the first nine months or so of the TERRY AND THE PIRATES comic strip, both the color Sunday pages and the black-and-white dailies, which follow two separate continuities at this point in the strip’s history. The dailies explain, sort of, why Terry Lee and Pat Ryan are in China to start with. Pat’s an adventure writer (although he’s too busy adventuring to ever write about it), and Terry is there to look for a lost mine left to him by his vagabond grandfather. Although Caniff doesn’t specify this, I get a sense that Terry may be an orphan, which is why Pat, a family friend, has taken the youngster under his wing. The search for the mine involves them with the first of the beautiful women who inhabit the strip throughout its run, riverboat captain Dale Scott. Later on our intrepid heroes run into a more well-known Caniff female, heiress Normandie Drake.

Meanwhile, over in the color Sundays, Caniff is in the process of introducing his most famous character of all, the female pirate Lai Choi San, better known as the Dragon Lady. Terry and Pat are captured by the Dragon Lady and taken to her stronghold, where they get mixed up in a mutiny led by the Dragon Lady’s second-in-command, who is also in love with her and jealous of the attention she pays to Pat. If you’re familiar with the Dragon Lady, though, you know she’s not going to let her heart overrule her mercenary nature. She’s always got some sinister scheme going on.

The hardboiled action and sexual tension of these yarns is what really sets them apart from other comic strips of their time and makes them the groundbreaking classics that they are. The art starts off rather crude but rapidly improves, although by the end of this volume it still had not reached the heights of excellence that it would over the next few years. You can already see the cinematic framing, the detail, the use of silent panels and darkness and light that really set Caniff’s work apart, though. This is wonderful stuff if you’re a comic strip fan, and I highly recommend it.

One word of warning: Connie, the Chinese sidekick of Terry and Pat, is about as politically incorrect a character as you’ll ever find, especially in his heavily-accented dialogue. At the same time, he’s right there to save the day on numerous occasions and despite being the comedy relief usually functions more as a third hero than a sidekick, so I’d advise modern readers to look past the surface stereotyping.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Stark House Holiday Sale

Stark House is one of my absolute favorite publishers, so I'm happy to pass along this announcement. They have a lot of great books available, so check it out!

Happy Holidays from Stark House Press!

Earlier in the season we offered our first ever Black Friday/Cyber Monday sale to our newsletter subscribers. In an effort to reach out to all our readers, however, we're now making a similar buy 2 get 1 free sale on all in-stock titles from now until midnight on Christmas Day, 2012. And did we mention the FREE SHIPPING?

Details and a complete book listing are available here. Happy Holidays, everyone!

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: F.B.I. Detective Stories, April 1949

Only five issues of this pulp are listed in the Fictionmags Index. This one has a nice, action-packed cover, and a solid line-up of authors: John D. MacDonald, Bruce Cassidy, Roe Richmond, Don James, and several others. I suppose the heroes were all F.B.I. agents, or that the stories at least had some sort of F.B.I. connection. Maybe a little too specialized, which is possibly why the magazine didn't last very long, but I'll bet the stories were pretty good anyway.

Saturday, December 08, 2012

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Complete Western Book Magazine, April 1934

There actually is a full-length novel in this issue: "Desert Guns" by William MacLeod Raine, plus a short story by B.M. Bower (Western writer Jory Sherman's great-aunt) and another story by an author I'm not familiar with, Joseph T. Kescel. I haven't read a lot by Raine or Bower, but I've enjoyed what I've read. And a decent cover, to boot.

Friday, December 07, 2012

A Horror Story for Some of Us

The comments in the previous post about the smell of old books made me think of something that happened several years ago. I was down on the Gulf Coast in the little town where Livia and I sometimes go, and of course I made the rounds of the little used bookstores there, as I always do. As soon as I stepped into one of them, I knew something was different about it. For one thing, there was a perky young woman working behind the counter instead of the grouchy old guy who usually ran the place. She was talking to another customer who asked about the previous owner, and she said, "Oh, yes, when I bought the place the first thing I did was to go through the stock and throw out all those old books!"

That's right. All the Westerns, mystery, men's adventure, and SF books from the Fifties, Sixties, Seventies, and Eighties were gone, replaced by dozens and dozens of copies of the bestsellers from the past twenty years. And of course they took that wonderful smell with them.

I turned around and walked out.

The new owner had every right to do what she did, of course. And maybe she had the right idea. The store is still in business, or at least it was a few months ago when we were there last. I guess most people who go away on vacation (it's a big tourist area) would rather read the latest James Patterson or Nora Roberts novel than some smelly old paperback published forty or fifty years ago. I'll even admit that I've gone back in there (after vowing that I wouldn't) and have bought a handful of books. It's hard to resist the temptation, and besides, you never know what treasure might sneak past the owner and make it to the shelves.

But that phrase "throw out all those old books" still makes me shudder. I'll bet it affects some of you the same way.

(Apologies if I've told this story before. It's getting harder to remember what I've talked about and what I haven't.)

Forgotten Ray Bradbury: "Jonah of the Jove Run", PLANET STORIES, Spring 1948

I'm cheating a little since "Jonah of the Jove Run" is a short story, not a book, but I wanted to write about something fairly obscure for Ray Bradbury Week, and as far as I can tell, this is one of the few Bradbury short stories that has never been reprinted since its appearance in the Spring 1948 issue of PLANET STORIES.

I'm not sure why it hasn't been reprinted. "Jonah of the Jove Run" is a pretty good story, certainly not up to the level of some of Bradbury's other work but well-written and very entertaining. It's about an old man named Nibley who has a unique, almost supernatural ability to calculate the orbits of objects in motion. That's a valuable ability to have for navigating in space, of course, but science has passed Nibley by and all rockets now have radar computators to handle such navigation. But then an accident happens and the fate of the entire Earth colony on Jupiter relies on getting a supply ship through the Asteroid Belt without its instruments, with only a dying old man to guide the way . . .

Bradbury really packs a lot into this story. There's the poignancy of science versus natural ability, the gritty, blue-collar setting of the supply ship, and some espionage involving the barely touched upon background of a Cold War-like rivalry between Earth and Mars. These days this plot would be enough for a novella, at the very least. The writing is good solid pulp for the most part, with occasional poetic flourishes that foreshadow the sort of thing Bradbury would be doing a few years later. Of course, none of the science is believable, but I've never been one to care about that. I like my rocket ships with fins and always have.

And since I had this issue of PLANET STORIES out anyway, I figured I might as well go ahead and read the rest of it for the Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp series, although it may take me a few weeks to get to it.

UPDATE: A friend of mine pointed out that "Jonah of the Jove Run" has indeed been reprinted, in an e-book collection available on Amazon called NINE RARETIES. I'm off to check it out now to see what else is in it.

Thursday, December 06, 2012

William F. Nolan's Memories of Charles E. Fritch

I know Bill Nolan slightly and have read and enjoyed his work for many years. He was good friends with Chuck Fritch, and he's written a fine memorial essay which you can find here. Good stuff, including a photo of Chuck I've never seen before.

Now Available: Wolf Creek #3: Murder in Dogleg City

The third Wolf Creek novel from Western Fictioneers, MURDER IN DOGLEG CITY, is now available for the Kindle and in a trade paperback edition, with a Nook edition to follow soon. It's an excellent Western mystery (and I can say that because I had nothing to do with it). Writing as Ford Fargo this time around are Chuck Tyrell, Phil Dunlap, Matthew P. Mayo, L.J. Washburn, Troy D. Smith, and Jerry Guin. Check it out! (And of course the first two books in the series are still available, too. A set of them would make a nice Christmas present for any Western reader.)

Fight Card: The Knockout - Jack Tunney (Robert J. Randisi)

Brooklyn, 1954

Frankie ‘The Piston’ Corleone was an up-and-coming light heavyweight fighter until a broken hand took him out of contention. Now, Frankie works as a private eye, occasionally taking sparring work to stay in shape make ends meet.

Cappy O’Brien has trained a lot of fighters, including Frankie. But Cappy has never had a real contender until now ... Candy Marquez is the real deal, and after being battered by Marquez during several rounds of sparring, Frankie has to agree. But the fight game is as crooked as a dog’s hind leg, and other trainers and the mob all want a piece of Cappy’s best prospect.

When Cappy winds up dead, it’s time for Frankie to take off the gloves and take The Piston’s punching power to the street to knockout a killer ...

Yes, it's Fight Card stories back to back on the blog. And all you really need to know about this one is that's by Bob Randisi, and you know what that means. It's fast-paced, colorful, and very entertaining. Frankie the Piston is a great character, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him again. The mystery in this one is solid and Bob does a fine job with the setting. THE KNOCKOUT is one of the best Fight Card yarns so far, and that's saying something.

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Dave Brubeck, RIP

One of my all-time favorite songs, and many of his others are almost as good. I don't know if I was the only first-grader in our little Texas town listening to "Take Five" when it came out, but there couldn't have been many of us. Rest in peace, Mr. Brubeck. Your music meant an awful lot to so many of us.

Fight Card: Irish Dukes - Jack Tunney (Mike Faricy)

Dublin, Ireland 1951

After winning his latest bout in Berlin, US Army boxing champ Sergeant Kevin Crowley is on military leave in Ireland. Raised in St. Vincent's Asylum For Boys in Chicago, he has finally returned to the place of his birth, where he is sure he will find the family he never knew and lay claim to his dream of a royal fortune.

What Crowley actually finds is the fight of his life... A near destitute grandmother, crippling debt left by a father he never knew, a feisty redhead with hatred in her heart, a villainous landlord and his gang who'll stop at nothing to settle a score going back a generation...

Kevin Crowley has never backed down in the ring or out... The treasures and truth awaiting him in Dublin are not what he first imagined. But with his past, his family, and his future at stake, Crowley will put up his dukes and fight like never before...

Like GOLDEN GATE GLOVES, this Fight Card entry is a nice change of pace due to a different setting. Author Mike Faricy does a great job with his vivid portrait of Dublin and creates a fine, likable protagonist in Kevin Crowley. The other characters are all well-written, too. As usual with the Fight Card series, IRISH DUKES is a fast-moving, entertaining yarn.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

99 Cent Sale from Snubnose Press

Snubnose Press is having a month-long sale on their e-books, all of which you can get for 99 cents each during December. I've read several of these books already and enjoyed them all. At that price, I figure I'll probably pick up all the others. Check out all the details here.

Monday, December 03, 2012

New This Week Going on Hiatus

My writing schedule is jam-packed for the next few months, so I won't be doing New This Week posts for a while. I'm also taking a break from the Tuesday's Overlooked Movies and/or TV series for a while, although I plan to resume that after the first of the year. I'll still be taking part in Friday's Forgotten Books, posting pulp covers on the weekends, and reviewing some new books (I hope). Too much work is a good thing to have, of course, especially in this day and age, but it does crowd out some enjoyable things sometimes.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Foreign Legion Adventures, August 1940

I've mentioned before that Foreign Legion stories were popular in various pulp magazines, but I didn't realize there was an entire magazine devoted to them until I came across this title while browsing through the Fictionmags Index. It's a reprint magazine, with stories coming from assorted issues of ARGOSY, but reprint or not that's a fine group of writers: F. Van Wyck Mason, Theodore Roscoe, J.D. Newsom (all well-known for their Legion stories) and all-around top pulpster Richard Wormser. Well worth reading, I'll bet.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Charles E. Fritch, RIP

I heard the sad news today that writer and editor Charles E. Fritch passed away back in October. His obituary is here. Chuck was the assistant editor at MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE when Sam Merwin Jr. was the editor and I assume during Larry Shaw's one or two issue tenure as editor as well, then took over the magazine and ran it for the remaining four or five years of its existence. He was the editor who asked me to write all the Mike Shayne stories, which I did for about two and a half years. That was my first regular writing job, and coming up with that 20,000 words month in and month out was great training for me. Chuck was a movie lover and had an oddball sense of humor, and both of those things showed up in his editing of MSMM. He was also a fine writer himself in the mystery and science fiction fields, although he was never very prolific. After the magazine folded we were out of touch for quite a while, but in recent years we traded the occasional emails. He was a good man and a top-notch pro, and I'm sorry he's gone. Rest in peace, Chuck.

New Interview

There's a lengthy new interview with me at the on-line magazine The Lowestoft Chronicle that I think is one of the best I've done. Lots of information about the early days of my writing career (most of which makes me feel about a thousand years old). Take a look at it if you're of a mind to, and while you're there check out the fine fiction and poetry on the site.

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: 3-Book Western, May 1957

Another short-lived Western pulp, this one didn't die for lack of quality contents. The May 1957 issue of 3-BOOK WESTERN has only three novellas in it, but they're by H.A. DeRosso, L.L. Foreman, and Gardner Fox. Those are three pretty good authors. I'd have read this one, that's for sure.

UPDATE: According to Randy Vanderbeek, who owns both issues of 3-BOOK WESTERN, they're both digest magazines, not pulps. So we'll call this one of my occasional stretches, justified by the fact that DeRosso, Foreman, and Fox all wrote extensively for the pulps.