Friday, May 31, 2013

Music I Like: In the Summertime - Mungo Jerry

Summer can now start. I've listened to Mungo Jerry's "In the Summertime". Let the good times commence.

Forgotten Books: The Lure of "Adventure" - Robert Kenneth Jones

Robert Kenneth Jones, who wrote THE SHUDDER PULPS, a study of the Weird Menace pulps, also produced this slim volume about one of the leading general fiction pulps and in the opinion of some the best pulp magazine ever, ADVENTURE. I don't quite agree with that assessment, but ADVENTURE certainly belongs in the top five or six pulps.

Jones concentrates on the magazine's first fifteen years, from 1910 to 1925, an era generally acknowledged as ADVENTURE's golden age. He takes a look at the work of some of its best-known writers, such as Talbot Mundy, W.C. Tuttle, Arthur O. Friel, Arthur D. Howden Smith, Walt Coburn, Harold Lamb, Georges Surdez, Hugh Pendexter, H. Bedford-Jones, and many others. He also discusses the magazine's letters column, "The Campfire", the site of many spirited discussions between the magazine's writers and readers, and its other features such as "Ask Adventure", a source of advice and information on just about any subject under the sun.

One of the most entertaining parts of this book is the section on legendary editor Arthur Sullivant Hoffman. Hoffman had a number of idiosyncracies, such as the persistent misspelling of some words (one has to wonder if Robert E. Howard, known to be an ADVENTURE reader, picked up his spelling of "surprize" from Hoffman) and his editorials railing against the government.

There are a few minor mistakes here and there, but when this book was first published in 1989 research wasn't nearly as easy as it is now, and Jones, along with the other pulp scholars of that era and earlier, deserve a great deal of credit for paving the way with books like this. THE LURE OF "ADVENTURE" also includes a lot of black-and-white cover reproductions. Sure, you can find good color scans of many of those covers on-line now, but you couldn't back then and as far as I'm concerned they contribute quite a bit to the book's charm.

I believe a reprint of this volume is still available from Wildside Press. It has a plain cover, but the interior is a facsimile reprint of the original 1989 edition from Borgo Press. THE LURE OF "ADVENTURE" is an entertaining, informative book, and if you're a pulp fan it's definitely worth reading.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Music I Like: Island in the Sun - Weezer

I first heard this song on the episode of THE SIMPSONS where Homer and Bart go to the leper colony and immediately liked it. Livia is a big Weezer fan and has all their CDs. I like just about all their songs, too.

Robert J. Randisi Westerns on Sale at Amazon

All these Western e-books by Bob Randisi are on sale at Amazon right now for either $1.99 or $2.99, depending on the book. Lots of great reading here for a very affordable price, and they'd make great Father's Day gifts, too!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Music I Like: Sam's Town - The Killers

Love the opening of this song, and the rest of it is pretty good, too. I know a lot of people preferred The Killers' first album, HOT FUSS, but I like SAM'S TOWN better, myself. It has a bit of a noir feel to it.

Now Available: West of the Big River: The Avenging Angel - Michael Newton

< Orrin Porter Rockwell is more than just a deputy United States marshal and a deadly gunfighter. He's a member of the Mormon Danites, the group of enforcers known as the Avenging Angels, and he's the personal troubleshooter for Governor Brigham Young. And when Young sends Rockwell to the rough-and-tumble mining town of Tartarus, there'll be plenty of trouble for him to shoot. A group of Mormon miners has vanished, and before Rockwell uncovers the secret of their disappearance he'll face deadly danger from all sides. What his adversaries don't know is just how dangerous the Avenging Angel is . . .

Award-winning author Michael Newton spins an action-packed, historically accurate yarn in THE AVENGING ANGEL, another exciting adventure west of the big river.

Also available for the Nook and in a large print edition.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Music I Like: Houston - Dean Martin

Ol' Dino is about the last guy you'd expect to be singing a hobo song, but danged if he doesn't pull it off.

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Catlow


Yep, another movie based on a Louis L'Amour novel. I didn't plan it this way, it just sort of happened. I needed something to watch and had a DVD of this movie handy, so I sat down and took a look at it for the first time since the fall of 1971, when I was a freshman at what was then Southwest Texas State University in San Marcos. I remember watching it at a theater on the courthouse square with my friend Dennis, who was a big L'Amour fan.

Yul Brynner plays the title role in this one, a charming outlaw named Jedediah Catlow. An old friend of his from the Civil War, Ben Cowan, is now a U.S. marshal and has a warrant for Catlow's arrest. A vicious hired gun named Miller is also after Catlow. They all wind up south of the border chasing after two million dollars in Confederate gold that was stolen and taken to Mexico.

There's a certain repetitiousness to this movie: Cowan captures Catlow, Catlow escapes. Catlow captures Cowan, Cowan escapes. Shootout, fight, Indian attack, dalliance with one of the two beautiful women in the film, a fiery revolutionary (Daliah Lavi) and a Mexican general's daughter (JoAnn Pflug). Then back to the cat-and-mouse game between the two adversaries/old friends.

CATLOW is a pretty lightweight film with quite a bit of humor that I don't remember from L'Amour's novel (although it's been even longer since I read it than it has since I'd seen the movie). Even though this was a feature film, the production values are more TV level. But the scenery is nice, Yul Brynner was always oddly effective in Westerns, and Ben Cowan, who's actually the hero of the movie, is played by Richard Crenna, an actor I always liked. Jeff Corey is Catlow's Gabby Hayes-like sidekick. The villainous Orville Miller is played by Leonard Nimoy, and during one fight scene that interrupts his bath, you get possibly your only chance to see Spock his own self buck naked, if that sort of thing interests you. It's some pretty graphic nudity for 1971.

CATLOW is available on DVD in a multi-disc set called The Louis L'Amour Western Collection, along with a couple of better films, CONAGHER and THE SACKETTS. It's very much of its time, but it's an entertaining little movie.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Music I Like: Glory to the Brave -- Hammerfall

I really like the song. It has a nice epic quality, which makes it good writing music.

Revenger #1: A Bullet for Sartain - Clifton Drago (Peter Brandvold)

A BULLET FOR SARTAIN is the first book in a new Adult Western series from Clifton Drago, who in this case is really none other than Mean Pete Brandvold his own self. Mike Sartain, a tough, fast on the draw Cajun from Louisiana, is a freelance gunfighter who only hires out to people seeking justified revenge on those who have done them wrong. This desire to settle the scores for people who are unable to do so themselves springs from tragic events in Sartain's own past.

In this first novel, however, the plot involves Sartain seeking personal revenge on whoever murdered a friend of his instead of hiring out to someone else. The trail eventually leads him south of the border to a hacienda filled with gunmen whose only goal in life is to see Mike Sartain dead.

As we've come to expect from Brandvold's work, A BULLET FOR SARTAIN features compelling characters, vividly realized settings, and action, action, and more action. Brandvold has written for a couple of the leading Adult Western series, and this one is definitely in that genre with several beautiful women getting tangled up in Sartain's life. The pace never slows down for long, and this novel is great fun from start to finish. Highly recommended, and I'm looking forward to the next book in the series.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Music I Like: Slow Ride Home - Acoustic Alchemy

This is one of the lesser-known songs by Acoustic Alchemy, but it's my favorite of their music, probably because I have some excellent memories that go with it. And it's really pretty, too.

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Thrilling Adventures, December 1936

Another spectacular pulp issue here, with a great El Borak story by Robert E. Howard and stories by T.T. Flynn, J. Allan Dunn, and Major George Fielding Eliot. Just another day at the newsstand.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Music I Like: Centerfield - John Fogarty

Just a great-sounding, fun song. I loved playing baseball as a kid, and I enjoy watching it now. I still wouldn't mind going out and catching a few flies, but I'm not sure my knees would take it anymore.

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Lariat Story, November 1928

Now there's an action-packed cover for you. I don't know who the artist was, but wouldn't that have made a great stunt in a movie? I don't know anything about Jack Smalley, who wrote the lead novel, but this issue also includes stories by Walt Coburn, Eugene Cunningham, and T.W. Ford. Definitely worth reading, I think.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Music I Like: Faces of the Heart - Dave Koz

This song is actually an updated version of the theme song from the soap opera GENERAL HOSPITAL. They started using this version as the music over the closing credits about twenty years ago but still used the original opening for a while. That was the combination I liked the best, because retro guy that I am, I enjoyed seeing the original opening. I haven't watched GH in a long time, so I have no idea what they do now. But I still like this song anyway.

Forgotten Books: The Case of the Sunbather's Diary - Erle Stanley Gardner

This post originally appeared in slightly different form on July 20, 2007.

This Perry Mason novel was originally published in 1955, an era during which Gardner’s work was still consistently good, although as far as I’m concerned his best books were published during the Thirties and Forties. The edition pictured is the first paperback, from February 1958. I have no idea why there was a three-year gap between the William Morrow hardback and the Cardinal paperback.

As for the story itself, it starts off in a typically intriguing Gardner fashion: Perry Mason receives a phone call at his office from a young woman who wants to hire him. It seems that she lives in a trailer, the small kind that can be pulled behind a car, and while she was out sunbathing -- nude, of course -- somebody stole the car and trailer, literally driving off with her home. She wants to hire Mason to bring her some clothes and find out who stole the trailer.

Well, you know there has to be a lot more to it than that in an Erle Stanley Gardner book, and of course, there is. It turns out the young woman is the daughter of a man who is serving time in prison for masterminding an armored car robbery, and wouldn’t you know it, the nearly four hundred thousand dollars in loot that was stolen in that robbery has never been found. The daughter is convinced that her father is really innocent and wants Mason to prove it. Meanwhile, various factions are equally convinced that the daughter really knows where the money is hidden. Sure enough, once Perry Mason gets involved in the case, it’s only a matter of hours before there’s a murder, and Mason’s client is arrested and charged with the crime.

I thought I was doing a pretty good job of keeping up with the plot in this one, something I often have a hard time doing in a Gardner novel. I spotted some clues, recognized some misdirection, and was convinced that I had the solution figured out. Then, with only a few pages left in the book, Gardner throws in a perfectly logical twist that I never saw coming at all. I wound up being about half-right in what I figured, and for a Perry Mason novel, that’s not bad, I suppose.

This book is also interesting because of the trailer angle. Gardner was known for going off to the desert and staying for weeks at a time in a trailer, so he puts his knowledge of such things to good use here, throwing in a few nuggets of information about how such trailers are set up and what they’re worth.
The Mitchell Hooks cover on the paperback edition is okay, but if ever a book was crying out for a McGinnis cover, you’d think that one with a title like THE CASE OF THE SUN BATHER’S DIARY would be it.

UPDATE: And sure enough, there was a later edition with a McGinnis cover, which you can see below.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Music I Like: Western Skies - Chris LeDoux

The late Chris LeDoux was the genuine article, a champion rodeo cowboy and a fine country singer. He enjoyed considerable success with his music late in his life, after years of struggling. I really like all of his songs, including this one.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Music I Like: Superstar - The Carpenters

The purest singing voice I've ever heard. I liked every song Karen Carpenter ever sang.

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Shaughnessy, the Iron Marshal

This TV movie is based on a fairly late novel by Louis L'Amour, and it adapts well to the screen. Tom Shaughnessy is an Irish boxer in New York who runs afoul of a local crime boss by not losing a bout where he was supposed to take a dive, and he winds up injured and fleeing New York in a railroad boxcar. He passes out and doesn't come to until the train is stopped at a siding in Kansas, where Shaughnessy promptly collapses again.

You know how these things work from there. Shaughnessy winds up becoming the marshal of a wild cowtown, makes assorted friends and enemies, and winds up facing down the bad guys, although he handles things more with his fists than with a gun.

Predictable or not, it makes for an entertaining yarn. Matthew Settle, who went on to a long-running role on GOSSIP GIRL, is a long way from New York's upper east side in this one but does a good job as Shaughnessy. There are plenty of good characters in the cast, such as Bo Hopkins, Stuart Whitman, John Hawkes, and John Carroll Lynch. The scenery's good and the action scenes are well done. The screenplay is by William Blinn, who was involved with a couple of Seventies icons: he wrote the screenplay for the original BRIAN'S SONG, and he created the series STARSKY AND HUTCH. I was a big fan of both, so it's always good to see Blinn's work. (He's also the author of a Western novel, A COLD DAY IN HELL, which is on my shelves but which I haven't read yet.)

The problem with SHAUGHNESSY, THE IRON MARSHAL is that it seems to have been the pilot for a TV series that didn't sell, and as such, some of the major plotlines are left unresolved. It's a shame they weren't able to at least make a couple more movies to wrap things up. But as it stands, this is a pretty enjoyable low-budget Western and certainly worth watching if you come across it.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Music I Like: Stardust - Nat King Cole

It's hard to beat a classic song and the great voice of Nat King Cole, one of the best voices of all time. When I was in college, after listening to a number of different versions of "Stardust", I was inspired to write a private eye novella set in the 1930s called "The Stardust Man". Probably about 30,000 words. And that's really all I remember about it. I'm sure it was terrible. Long gone, of course. But I've always liked the title. Maybe I'll use it again one of these days.

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: 5 Detective Novels, Fall 1950

5 DETECTIVE NOVELS was a mostly reprint magazine from the Thrilling Group that ran for 17 issues during the late Forties and early Fifties. This issue has a nice cover and a good line-up of authors. The five novellas, all reprints from POPULAR DETECTIVE and THRILLING MYSTERY, are by T.T. Flynn (one of my favorite authors), Paul Ernst, Joseph J. Millard (Ernst and Millard were top-notch pulpsters), John Hawkins (don't know anything about him), and Frank Johnson, a Standard Publications house-name who was often Norman Daniels but there's really no telling who wrote this one. Backing up the novellas are two apparently original short stories by Arthur J. Burks and Amelia Reynolds Long, best known as one of the first female science fiction writers before she turned to mystery fiction. I probably would have read this one if I'd come across it.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Music I Like: Stairway to Heaven - Led Zeppelin

I was in college in the early Seventies. How can I not like "Stairway to Heaven"? (And this series of posts is possibly the only one where you get Tex Ritter one night and Led Zeppelin the next.)

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Dime Western, July 1934

What a great issue this looks like, from the Walter Baumhofer cover to the stories on the inside by Walt Coburn, Harry F. Olmsted, Gunnison Steele, Ray Nafziger, Bart Cassidy, Robert E. Mahaffey, and John C. Colohan. It was issues like this, month after month, that made DIME WESTERN one of the best Western pulps of all time.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Music I Like: Gunsmoke Theme - Tex Ritter

Here's something I'll bet a lot of you haven't heard: the vocal version of the theme from GUNSMOKE, sung by the great Tex Ritter. I've been listening to it for years (and I know a few of you buckaroos have, too) because it was on a CD that a good friend sent to me. It was never played on the TV show, as far as I know.

Forgotten Books: The Bad Man of the West - George D. Hendricks

I didn't even know there was a paperback edition of this book until I came across a copy not along ago and snatched it up. I used to have the hardback edition. It's a great Old West reference book and excellent reading in its own right, even if you're not doing research. Instead of just recounting the lives of various outlaws and gunfighters, the author delves into the causes that made them the bad men they were and does a fine job of it, while still providing a lot of biographical information along the way.

I'm also fond of this book because the author, George D. Hendricks, was one of my professors at North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas). For years his signature class was "Life and Literature of the Southwest", and I was fortunate enough to be in one of those classes. We got along well and I learned quite a bit. The big research paper I did for him was called "The Texas Rangers in Fact and Fiction". I'm not sure what he thought of it, since I did a considerable amount of babbling about the Lone Ranger, Jim Hatfield, and the TV show "Laredo", but looking back on it now the subject matter seems pretty appropriate. I enjoyed the class and was glad I got to take it, and I'm glad I found this copy of Dr. Hendricks' book, too.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Music I Like: Crystal Blue Persuasion - Tommy James & The Shondells

I remember when this song came out, I didn't like it for some reason. Don't really understand why. Over the years I've become fairly fond of it. Nice sound.

The Bone Tree - Christopher Fulbright

I've known Christopher Fulbright for several years because he's a Robert E. Howard fan and fellow author. We've spent a considerable amount of time talking at Howard Days in Cross Plains and I've always enjoyed our conversations. His novella THE BONE TREE is the first thing I've read by him, but it certainly won't be the last.

THE BONE TREE falls into the rural horror category, if there is such a thing. It also features a couple of adolescents as its protagonists and it's set in the past, the late 1970s in this case, and in those respects, along with its rural setting, it reminds me of some of the work of Stephen King. Fulbright has his own voice, though, and it's an assured, engaging one.

The narrator Kevin and his best friend Bobby both live in the country between Waxahachie (been there) and Maypearl (haven't been there, but I know right where it is). Having grown up in north central Texas myself, I can say that Fulbright paints an absolutely accurate picture of life there for a couple of adolescent boys. I'm about twenty years older than Fulbright, but things hadn't changed that much from the late Fifties to the late Seventies.

Kevin is white and Bobby is black, a fact that plays into the plot to a certain extent but isn't really that important to them. They're much more concerned about the evil spectre that's stalking a younger friend of theirs. When that situation takes a tragic turn, they know they have to do something about it, even if it means venturing into danger themselves, because they don't want the same fate to befall their own families. But in true kid fashion, fighting cosmic evil has to wait its turn in a life of playing video games, reading comic books, and eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Fulbright spins an excellent yarn that really rings true. It's fast-paced, genuinely creepy when it needs to be, and punctuated by moments of humor. THE BONE TREE is a fine blend of horror and mainstream fiction, and it gets a high recommendation from me.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Music I Like: The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance - Gene Pitney

Great song, great movie (and I know, the song isn't actually in the movie). I still remember listening to the song on KXOL and watching the movie at the Eagle Drive-in Theater with my dad.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Music I Like: Conan the Barbarian - Basil Pouledoris

<No matter what you think of the movie itself (and I have a real fondness for it despite the fact that it gets almost everything wrong), this is great music to write by.

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Stranger Than Fiction

(This post originally appeared in slightly different form on June 27, 2007.)

When comedians make serious movies, sometimes it works (most of Bill Murray’s efforts along those lines) and sometimes it doesn’t (most of Jim Carrey’s). In STRANGER THAN FICTION, Will Ferrell tries on a more serious role and succeeds pretty well. He plays IRS agent Harold Krick, whose life is suddenly disrupted by a voice-over narration that only he can hear, coming from some woman with a British accent. Eventually Harold discovers that he’s a character in a novel being written by an author (played by Emma Thompson) who’s struggling with writer’s block. But is he only a character on a page, or does he really exist? That’s the question on which most of the movie turns.

While most of the humor in this film is of the whimsical variety, there are a couple of laugh out loud moments, too, and they’re achieved without Ferrell having to run around naked as he does in most of his other movies. One of the questions plaguing Ferrell’s character is whether the novel about him will turn out to be a tragedy or a comedy, and the same question hangs over this movie until the end. The script is well-written and includes some interesting observations about the nature of fiction; the cast, which includes Dustin Hoffman as an English professor, is good all around; the minimalist sets fit right in with the characters and story; and the music, which is in the same vein most of the time, works well. I enjoyed this one quite a bit, more than I expected to, really. Well worth a look.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Music I Like: Mornin' - Al Jarreau

Yeah, the video is a little weird, but I like Al Jarreau's voice, and any song that borrows some of its lyrics from the poem "High Flight" is a-okay with me.

I Travel by Night - Robert McCammon

Back in the Eighties, Robert McCammon was one of my favorite horror authors. I didn't read every one of his novels, but I read quite a few of them. My favorite is still THE WOLF'S HOUR, a hugely entertaining werewolf/World War II espionage yarn. He also published a fine collection of short fiction called BLUE WORLD, which contains the novella "Night Calls the Green Falcon", one of my favorite stories in any genre.

But then McCammon retired for a number of years, despite being fairly young, and when he started writing again about half a dozen years ago, he made his comeback with a pair of huge historical mysteries set in colonial America. An odd choice, to be sure, but I can certainly respect an author writing what he wants to write, if he has the luxury of doing so. I haven't read those big mysteries yet – their sheer size is pretty daunting to me – but I will one of these days.

McCammon has started writing horror again, though, and his latest, I TRAVEL BY NIGHT, is right up my alley. It's a short novel, which I like, and it has a great concept: what if Paladin was a vampire?

Well, not Paladin, exactly, but the year is 1886 and Trevor Lawson is a "gentleman adventurer" who lives in a fancy hotel in New Orleans and carries business cards that read ALL MATTERS HANDLED – I TRAVEL BY NIGHT. Close enough for me. In this opening yarn, Lawson is hired by a wealthy politician to recover the man's kidnapped teenage daughter. In what comes as no surprise, the job ties in with Lawson's personal quest to find the beautiful female vampire who turned him during the Civil War, in the aftermath of the battle of Shiloh. (I wrote a whole novel about Shiloh and never realized there were vampires hanging around the battlefield. But it makes sense.)

The trail leads Lawson to an abandoned, rotting town in the Louisiana swamp. Along the way there are some good action scenes leading up to a harrowing showdown. Throw in a beautiful young woman who's a deadly sharpshooter, and this is exactly my kind of stuff. McCammon writes in a somewhat more lush style than what I usually read (a polite way of saying he's a little long-winded at times), but he does it so well that it's not a distraction.

I TRAVEL BY NIGHT, which is available as both a hardback and an e-book, is great fun from start to finish. Clearly it's intended to be the first in a series, and that's welcome news as far as I'm concerned. I'll read as many of them as McCammon wants to write and am already looking forward to the next one.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Music I Like: Lonely (Amy's Theme) - The Lovin' Spoonful

A beautiful instrumental by a great band, from a pretty good Sixties coming-of-age film (as I recall, anyway), YOU'RE A BIG BOY NOW. It was also on a Lovin' Spoonful 8-track tape that I listened to many, many times. This is a great middle-of-the-night song, appropriate since it's past 1 a.m. as I write and schedule this.

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Wings, March 1935

I don't know about you, but I think that's a really striking cover. I don't recall ever reading anything by Franklin H. Martin, the author of the story it ilustrates, but I have read a number of stories by Joel Townsley Rogers, the other author featured on the cover, and enjoyed them. Rogers is also the author of THE RED RIGHT HAND, a classic mystery novel that I have a copy of and ought to read soon. This issue also contains an article by F.E. Rechnitzer, a prolific contributor to the aviation pulps and the creator of the Lone Eagle.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Music I Like: Reminiscing - Little River Band

Just another nice, laid back 70s song. I've always liked the Glenn Miller mention, too.

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: 2 Western Books, Summer 1949,

A simple concept, and hard to beat when you've got the right authors. The two in this issue certainly fall into that category. I've read the novel version of Walker Tompkins' "Flaming Canyon", and the Norman A. Fox story is bound to be good, too. 2 WESTERN BOOKS was a Fiction House magazine, and it wouldn't surprise me if the two illustrations on this cover are taken from other Fiction House Western pulp covers.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Music I Like: Warriors of the World - Manowar

I'm not a big metal fan, but some of it, like this song and just about everything else by Manowar, makes good background music for writing action stuff.

Forgotten Books: Hawke - Ted Bell

This post originally appeared in slightly different form on August 18, 2007.

Recently I got the urge to read a long book, which is rare for me, and at nearly 600 pages in the Pocket Books Premium edition, Ted Bell’s debut thriller HAWKE certainly fits the bill. When I was younger and had more time to read, I plowed through many a doorstopper novel without really thinking about it. The summer between eighth and ninth grades I read all three books in the Lord of the Rings trilogy back-to-back-to-back, something I’d never attempt today. DOCTOR ZHIVAGO? GONE WITH THE WIND? No problem.

But to get back to HAWKE, I thought, well, I’ll try it, and if I don’t like it, or if it’s taking too long to read, I’ll just stop. I liked it right away, though, and had no trouble sticking with it to the end. It’s just the sort of over-the-top, swashbuckling, action-adventure/espionage novel that I enjoy. Lord Alexander Hawke is a handsome, debonair playboy/billionaire businessman/freelance secret agent who takes on dangerous assignments for the American and British governments. A lot of the reviews compare him to James Bond, but to me he seems like more of a tribute to Derek Flint and Amos Burke (for those of you with long memories), with just a touch of Austin Powers but not nearly as silly. This book involves a military coup in Cuba that replaces Fidel Castro, a giant Russian stealth submarine, and biological warfare.

But that’s not all, to quote the late-night TV pitchmen. In addition to the secret agent stuff, you also get a storyline involving murder, revenge, and hidden pirate treasure. If that’s not enough, there’s also plenty of Clancy-ish technobabble about weapons, good and evil mercenaries, some big battles, and a climactic swordfight (well, a machete fight, but that’s close) that’s a dandy. You can tell that Bell had a lot of fun writing this book, and I had a lot of fun reading it. I was interested in Bell’s work because I read his story in the THRILLER anthology and thought it was one of the best ones in that book. He didn’t disappoint me with HAWKE.

Is the book too long? Yeah, probably. But the padding isn’t too blatant and for the most part the pace clips right along. A while back I read a thriller by another big-name writer that had a pretty good plot, but all the way through it I kept thinking “Nick Carter could’ve handled this problem in a third as many pages -- or less!” That didn’t happen with HAWKE. There are three more books, so far, starring Alex Hawke, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be reading all of them.

One reason I’m sort of interested in books like this right now is that I recently finished writing a big international thriller (a ghost job) with lots of short chapters, a big cast, and several interconnected storylines. It’s an appealing format, although I wouldn’t want a steady diet of it as either a writer or a reader. If I can ever find the time I might try to write one of my own, one of these days.

UPDATE: I read the second book in this series and liked it, too, but I never got around to the others, and even though I have all of them, I think, I don't know when or if I'll get around to reading them since my attention span is so lousy these days I often have trouble reading short novels, let alone behemoths like the ones Bell writes. As for the connection with my writing, I'm still ghosting the occasional big thriller (working on one now, as a matter of fact, and have a couple more lined up) but still haven't done anything like that under my name. Like reading the rest of Ted Bell's books, I don't know when or if I'll get around to it.

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Music I Like: The Letter - The Boxtops

I have a vivid memory of sitting in my bedroom in my parents' house on a rainy summer afternoon in 1967, reading comic books and listening to the radio. And I remember that this song was one that played that afternoon. (The radio station would have been KXOL, at 1360 on your AM dial, famous even then for being one of the first places where George Carlin worked.)

Robin: Year One - Chuck Dixon and Scott Beatty

Chuck Dixon is one of my favorite comics writers. His run on AIRBOY back in the Nineties was great, and he's done plenty of other things I've enjoyed, including a lot of Batman stories. In this mini-series from about ten years ago, he's collaborated with co-writer Scott Beatty and artists Javier Pulido and Marcos Martin to produce a very entertaining tale about the early days of the Batman and Robin partnership.

As a rule, I'm a little leery of "Year One" stories, because they're often just an excuse for the dreaded retconning. Not so much here. The plot works well and doesn't violate established continuity. (Although, does "established continuity" mean anything in the DCU anymore? I think not, he said snarkily.) Two-Face is the main villain here, although the plot twists enough to include run-ins with the Mad Hatter, Mr. Freeze, and the League of Assassins. The going proves to be unexpectedly rough for Robin, but he winds up being able to hold his own against some major league bad guys.

The script by Dixon and Beatty is excellent, with its hardboiled narration interspersed with journal entries by devoted butler Alfred Pennyworth. I'm less fond of the art by Pulido and Martin, which has that modern look that manages to seem hyper-stylized and unfinished at the same time. Their storytelling is decent most of the time, though, and the art doesn't detract any from the script. (Boy, you can really tell that I'm a word guy instead of an art guy, can't you?)

Overall I enjoyed ROBIN: YEAR ONE quite a bit. It feels like it fits in with the classic era of Batman, and that makes it good stuff as far as I'm concerned.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Music I Like: You Can Call Me Al - Paul Simon

Simon and Garfunkel last night, my favorite Paul Simon solo song tonight.

Rogue Lawman: Heed the Thunder - Peter Brandvold

We all know by now that Peter Brandvold writes some of the best action scenes in the business. He's also a master at setting the stage and writing vivid descriptive passages. Plus his characters are always interesting and compelling. All of those qualities are on display in his newest Rogue Lawman novel, HEED THE THUNDER.

Gideon Hawk is still chasing outlaws across the Southwest and handing out his own brand of bloody justice to them. In this one he's on the trail of Pima Miller, a trail that leads Hawk into the rugged and dangerous Superstition Mountains of Arizona Territory. Brandvold adds to the mix a couple of beautiful women who can't be trusted, a horde of bloodthirsty Apaches, an old desert rat or two, and a fabulously valuable lost gold mine. It's great fast-paced fun spiced with dark humor and gritty action. Gideon Hawk is a great tragic hero, and I hope his adventures continue for a long time to come.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Music I Like: So Long, Frank Lloyd Wright - Simon and Garfunkel

My favorite of Simon and Garfunkel's songs, which is saying quite a bit because I like all of their work.

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: She Gets What She Wants

I'd never heard of this movie until it popped up in a Netflix recommendation. But it's a Texas-set (and as it turns out, Texas-filmed) teen comedy, so I thought I'd give it a chance. It's the story of a vain, self-centered beauty queen/head cheerleader who has her life ruined by a French exchange student who gradually sabotages her and takes over her life.

What you've got here is a reasonably well-written movie that's worth watching because of the Texas bits it gets right, the mildly raunchy humor, the presence of some veteran character actors like Julie White and Michael McKean, and a good performance from Jane McGregor as the cheerleader, who's really the lead despite Piper Perabo being top-billed as the exchange student. SHE GETS WHAT SHE WANTS isn't a great movie, but I enjoyed it.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Music I Like: You Are a Pirate! - Alestorm

Sometimes you just want to listen to a good pirate song.

Writing Update, 5/6

As expected, the planned day off today got turned into Day 1 on the new book, but it was a pretty successful one with 23 pages done. I like this series and always enjoy writing the lead character in it. In fact, I got that much done quickly enough that I took a little time off this afternoon and watched some TV. Felt positively decadent.

But there was still that insane little voice in the back of my head whispering, "Could've gotten another chapter done. Could've gotten another chapter done."

Richard Stark's Parker: The Score - Darwyn Cooke

Darwyn Cooke continues adapting Donald E. Westlake's Parker series into graphic novel form with THE SCORE, the third volume in the series. And like the first two, it's wonderful, with a terse script and evocative artwork that captures the mid-Sixties era perfectly. This is the one where Parker and a crew that includes Alan Grofield try to loot an entire copper mining town in North Dakota, only to run into some unexpected problems. Seeing how Parker deals with those problems is one of the ongoing pleasures of this series.

I haven't read any of Westlake's novels that feature Grofield as the protagonist. He's an interesting character. I need to check them out. And as long as these graphic novel adaptations by Darwyn Cooke keep coming out, I'll be reading them, too. Highly recommended.

Sunday, May 05, 2013

Music I Like: Closing Time - Semisonic

One of my favorite songs from the past fifteen or twenty years. Even though it came out long after I graduated, it really reminds me of being in college.

Writing Update, 5/5

The past few days have been a struggle, and today was no different as Real Life reared its head in particularly ugly ways. However, I've been steadily closing in on the end of this book, and I knew that if I could get to the last chapter the usual end-of-book burst would probably kick in, so in between running here and there to deal with things I kept pounding out the pages and sure enough . . . 

Ah, the big showdown at the end. When the air is filled with flying bullets and the sharp tang of powdersmoke and the words fairly leaping from my fingers to the keyboard to the screen! I live for those scenes. Finally, 34 pages from where I started this morning, all the bad guys were vanquished and our stalwart hero rode away in search of further adventures . . . adventures that he'll probably never have because I think there's a good chance this will be the last book in the series. But hey, things like that are outta my hands, Jack. I just spin the yarns.

So, the drop-dead date on this book is tomorrow, and while I still have to edit what I wrote today and Livia has to edit what I wrote today, I feel confident that the finished file will drop in my editor's in-box sometime during the day Monday. When I took on the extra books I felt like I could get the work done in time, but it wound up being closer than I'd hoped, and closer than I like. I started posting these updates as a prod for me to work harder, so I don't know if I'll continue them or not. The next drop-dead date is almost six weeks away, and that seems like a real luxury now. But I've enjoyed doing the updates and some of you have told me that you like reading them, so I'll probably keep them going for a while, anyway. And knowing me I'll probably get in a jam again and need the extra incentive.

Meanwhile, I was going to take tomorrow off, but it looks like that hobgoblin Real Life may prevent that, so there's a good chance I'll get up in the morning and start the next book. As I've said before, what else am I gonna do?

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror, January 1932

Often known simply as STRANGE TALES because those two words dominated the logo, this was one of the best-known rivals of WEIRD TALES. STRANGE TALES published some classic stories by many of the same authors who appeared in WT. For example, this issue (the third) features stories by Jack Williamson, Edmond Hamilton, Clark Ashton Smith, Hugh B. Cave, August Derleth, and Henry S. Whitehead, all of whom published major stories in WEIRD TALES as well. And it has a fine cover by H.W. Wesso illustrating Williamson's great novella "Wolves of Darkness". What a gem of an issue.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Music I Like: Goldfinger - Shirley Bassey

Still the best James Bond theme song. Still the best James Bond movie, too, but we're talking about music here.

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Trails, January 1939

That's a colorful, action-packed cover on this issue of WESTERN TRAILS, the long-running Ace pulp. I don't know who the artist is. Nor do I know anything about the author of the lead novel, Andor de Soos, except that's not the sort of name I normally associate with a Western writer. But this issue also has stories by J. Edward Leithead, Joe Archibald, and Claude Rister. Supposedly the Ace Western pulps, WESTERN TRAILS and WESTERN ACES, were considered salvage markets by a lot of writers, but I've enjoyed all the issues I've read.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Music I Like: Don't Sleep in the Subway - Petula Clark

I liked just about all of Petula Clark's songs, which got a lot of airplay in the early Sixties. This is probably my favorite of them.

Writing Update, 5/3

I knew when I sat down at the computer this morning that it was going to be a struggle today, and I was right. Luckily, I'm stubborn sometimes and pounded away at it until I had 23 pages written. I'm still hoping to finish this book Sunday.

Forgotten Books: The Best of Spicy Mystery, Volume 1 -- Alfred Jan, ed.

THE BEST OF SPICY MYSTERY is a great collection of stories from certainly the most risqué of the Weird Menace/Shudder Pulps.

I've written before about the Weird Menace genre, and while it could be extremely formulaic, the stories in this volume show that it didn't always have to be. For one thing, there's considerable variety in the settings, instead of just the creepy old house like you'd expect. "Fiend's Fiest" by Robert Leslie Bellem takes place entirely in a ritzy high-rise apartment. "Lorelei of Lynnwold Light" by Harley L. Court (also Robert Leslie Bellem) is a locked-room mystery set in an isolated lighthouse set six miles off the coast. One fairly large hole in the plot keeps it from really working as a locked-room mystery, but it's still an entertaining, very atmospheric story. John Bard's "The Second Mummy" takes place partially in the Mexican jungles.

Not that there aren't creepy old houses to be found in these stories, too. They figure prominently in "Murder From Nowhere" by Jerome Severs Perry (Bellem again) and "Mistress of Vengeance" by Justin Case (really Hugh Cave, who contributes a very well-written story as you'd expect).

A Weird Menace collection requires at least one mad doctor and some bizarre science, too, and we get that in "Bat Man" by Lew Merrill (really longtime pulpster Victor Rousseau), which has a twist ending that's predictable but also pretty creepy and effective. There's also a doctor in Robert Leslie Bellem's "Mirror Magic", but he's not crazy so much as desperate to find a cure for the mysterious malady that's killing him, no matter what the cost.

Of course, most of the authors who wrote Weird Menace stories wrote other things, too. Hugh Cave wrote every type of pulp story under the sun, and Robert Leslie Bellem was almost as versatile. Rex Norman, whose story "Dance of Damballa" closes out this volume, was really John A. Saxon, a prolific contributor to the Western pulps whose career goes back to the early Twenties. His voodoo yarn is a good one, too, proving that a top pulpster could write just about anything.

THE BEST OF SPICY MYSTERY, VOLUME 1 is a fairly recent book, having come out last year from Altus Press, but the Weird Menace genre itself is almost forgotten. I'm glad some of the stories are being reprinted, because I really enjoy them. In fact, I'm ready for Volume 2 in this series whenever it comes out.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Music I Like: Sukiyaki - Kyu Sakamoto

This was a radio hit, back in the days when some unusual songs managed to be hits on AM radio. I loved it then and still do. Listening to it takes me right back to the early Sixties.

Writing Update, 5/2

Another good day with 27 pages done, as I gallop on toward the end of this book. I'm starting to be able to see the rest of the book in my head, which is always a good thing. I also did some figuring on my schedule for the rest of the year, so if nothing comes up I have a pretty good idea what I'm going to be writing when.

Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? - Neil Gaiman

As I've mentioned before, I'm a long-time Batman fan. In fact, the first superhero comic I ever read, back in the late Fifties, would have been either a Batman or Superman book, I don't remember which. And the character is still going strong. BATMAN: WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE CAPED CRUSADER? reprints all the Batman stories written by Neil Gaiman. The two-part title story, which appeared in the final issues of BATMAN and DETECTIVE COMICS to carry the original numbering, finds Batman attending his own funeral and listening to a variety of stories about himself told by various family members, friends, and enemies. These are all alternate histories; as Batman notes in the course of the story, "It didn't happen that way." Everything winds up in the sort of ambiguous manner that I'm generally not too fond of, but Gaiman makes it work fairly well. And the art by Andy Kubert is excellent, as you'd expect.

There are also origin stories of a sort for a couple of villains, Poison Ivy and The Riddler, and a bizarre story with great black-and-white artwork by Simon Bisley that finds Batman and The Joker waiting in the green room to go on-stage in a comic book story. It works better than you might think.

While I wasn't overly fond of it, this collection is okay. I loved Gaiman's story for Marvel, 1602, but feel like he sort of missed the mark here. It's still entertaining, especially for long-time Batman fans, a category in which I definitely belong. 

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Music I Like: And When I Die - Blood, Sweat & Tears

This is from another album I owned and played a lot when I was young. Blood, Sweat & Tears is another group I had a chance to see in concert but didn't. I should have.

Writing Update, 5/1

May is off to a good start with 26 pages today. I have about a hundred pages left to do on this book.

Take the Long Way Home - Brian Keene

In this short novel, the narrator and three of his friends and co-workers are on their way home in their carpool when what seems to be the blast of a giant trumpet causes millions of people worldwide to vanish suddenly. The world rapidly descends into chaos and violence as the narrator tries to get home and be reunited with his wife. That's right, it's the Rapture, but this is no LEFT BEHIND. Instead it's a story of survival that reminded me in many ways of Lee Goldberg's great novel THE WALK.

TAKE THE LONG WAY HOME is the first thing I've read by well-regarded horror author Brian Keene. It's fast-paced, well-written, and the characters are compelling, especially the narrator, Steve. I enjoyed it and probably will read more by Keene. I'm pretty sure I have several of his paperbacks on my shelves.