Monday, September 30, 2013

Writing Update

September was a slight improvement on August: one less day in the month but 20 more pages. And for the most part I thought the work was pretty good. Some of it I thought was crap, but Livia read it and said it was fine. I traded some e-mails with my principal editor today and have everything pretty well lined up until sometime next spring. It's always good to have the schedule settled. Now all I have to do is write a bunch.

Now Available: West of the Big River: The Forty-Niners - Charlie Steel

The fifth West of the Big River novel is now available from Western Fictioneers. You can read all about THE FORTY-NINERS by Charlie Steel here.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Mystery Book Magazine, Fall 1947

You want a femme fatale? I got your femme fatale right here. Cigarette? Check. Gun? Check. Provocative pose? Check. Hapless male victim? Check. And on top of that, this issue features a story by William Irish, who as we all know was really Cornell Woolrich. Other authors in this issue include Robert J. Hogan of G-8 fame, Richard Brister, who was best known for his Westerns, O.B. Myers, a prolific contributor to the air-war pulps, and Roger Fuller, who was really popular novelist Don Tracy. MYSTERY BOOK isn't a very well-known pulp these days, but this looks like a good issue.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: 10 Story Western, March 1945

"You knuckleheads!" This is one of the rare Western pulp covers that has some goofy humor to it. There's a good line-up of authors inside, too: William B. Cox, Tom W. Blackburn, Frank Bonham,  and Ray Gaulden, among others. There's a story by Gordon Steele, the only credit listed for him in the Fictionmags Index, and I have to wonder if he was really Bennie Gardner, much better known as Gunnison Steele. I've read quite a few issues of 10 STORY WESTERN (not this one) and it was a consistently entertaining Western pulp.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Forgotten Books: The Case of the Sleepwalker's Niece - Erle Stanley Gardner

I don't have anything about Patricia Highsmith today. I've tried to read her work in the past, but unfortunately she's one of those authors whose work just doesn't resonate with me. Instead I'm going with this rerun of a post about another classic mystery author. This post originally appeared in slightly different form on March 1, 2007.

Erle Stanley Gardner piles up the complications early on in this Perry Mason novel from 1936, when Mason was still a grinning, wise-cracking tough guy, at least part of the time. In this one we have a millionaire with the bad habit of sleepwalking with a bloody carving knife in his hand; his beautiful, astrology buff niece; a hypochondriac, black-sheep-of-the-family half-brother; a golddigging ex-wife; a crackpot inventor who may be a crook; and assorted other hangers-on and shady characters. Everybody winds up spending the night in the millionaire’s Hollywood mansion, including Perry Mason, and in Gardner’s version of an Agatha Christie/old English house sort of mystery, somebody winds up dead. Mason’s sleepwalking client is charged with the murder, so Mason, Della Street, and Paul Drake plunge right in with the usual mix of snappy banter and questionable legal shenanigans to prove the client innocent and uncover the real murderer.

Gardner is in pretty good form in this one. The story zips along really fast, the wisecracks are funny, and there are some nice long courtroom scenes in the final third of the book. I had the murderer pegged pretty early on, which is unusual for me when it comes to Gardner’s books. I sometimes have trouble figuring out what happened even after Mason has explained everything. But I’ve discovered over the years that for books that are so plot-heavy and supposedly light on characterization, it’s not the plots I remember from them. The fun is in the pace and dialogue and the interaction among Mason, Della, and Paul Drake. And, of course, in watching Mason confound the long-suffering Hamilton Burger and Lt. Tragg (or in this case, Sergeant Holcomb, who hadn’t been replaced by Tragg yet). THE CASE OF THE SLEEPWALKER’S NIECE is only an average entry in the series but a perfectly enjoyable way to spend some time.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

True Hollywood Noir: Filmland Mysteries and Murders - Dina Di Mambro

I've never been much of a reader of true crime books, but TRUE HOLLYWOOD NOIR: FILMLAND MYSTERIES AND MURDERS, a new release by journalist Dina Di Mambro, is just the sort of volume to attract my attention. Ever since I started helping Livia research her Lucas Hallam stories and novels, I've been interested in the early days of Hollywood, which certainly included their share of scandals.

Di Mambro starts with several of those, including the murders of William Desmond Taylor and Thelma Todd, along with the mysterious deaths of Thomas Ince and Paul Bern, Jean Harlow's husband (both of which may well have been murder, too).

She carries this theme up almost to the present day with chapters on the death of Johnny Stompanato that involved Lana Turner (a story I first encountered in a highly fictionalized version in one of Harold Robbins' novels, back in the days when I was reading a lot of Harold Robbins); the suspicious deaths of George Reeves and Gig Young; the lurid murder of Bob Crane; the drowning death of Natalie Wood; and the murder case involving Robert Blake and his con artist wife who wound up dead. Di Mambro does a fine job of presenting the facts in these cases and exploring the various theories about them in a fast-moving, entertaining style. I remember all the more recent ones, of course. As a big fan of the Superman TV show, I vividly recall hearing that George Reeves had died. Everybody I knew back then accepted the suicide theory. We were kids, what did we know? I'm convinced now that he was murdered, and that Thomas Ince was, too, to go back to one of the first chapters in the book.

The longest chapter and one of the most interesting is about the life and times of mobster Mickey Cohen, one of the most powerful and notorious figures in the West Coast underworld during the Forties and Fifties. I never knew much about Mickey Cohen other than his appearances, usually as a supporting character, in various movies and novels set in that era. Not long ago I saw the movie GANGSTER SQUAD, which apparently was almost all fiction. Di Mambro bases much of her chapter about Cohen on interviews she conducted with Jim Smith, one of Cohen's long-time associates. As you might expect under those circumstances, it's a fairly sympathetic portrayal but never becomes a complete whitewash of Cohen's criminal activities.

I'm in no position to know what's true and what's not about these cases, but as a reader I found TRUE HOLLYWOOD NOIR very entertaining. It does a good job of capturing both the glamour and the sordidness of Hollywood, and I found it hard to put down.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Sons and Gunslicks - Chap O'Keefe (Keith Chapman)

It was a wandering daughter job.

That's a classic set-up for hardboiled private eye fiction, and Chap O'Keefe's series character Joshua Dillard is nothing if not a hardboiled private eye in the Old West. In this novel, originally published in hardcover by Robert Hale in 2007 and recently released in an e-book version, freelance troubleshooter and range detective Dillard is hired by elderly former lawman and town tamer Jack Greatheart to find Greatheart's daughter Emily, who disappeared during a trip to Arizona. Emily was engaged to the son of a widow who owns a large ranch, and after her fiancée was killed in a gunfight before they could even get married, Emily journeyed to Arizona to meet and offer her condolences to the woman who would have been her mother-in-law. She never came back, and a bloodstained coat is the only clue to her disappearance. It's up to Joshua Dillard to find Emily if she's still alive or find out what happened to her if she's not.

Naturally, once Dillard arrives on the scene, things turn out to be even more complicated and mysterious than they appear on the surface. There's a range war brewing, and Dillard has to survive gunfights, fistfights, and bushwhackings before he's able to untangle the various strands of the plot and uncover the truth of Emily Greatheart's disappearance.

As usual, Chap O'Keefe (who's really veteran author and editor Keith Chapman, as most of you already know) spins this tale in terse, no-nonsense prose and skillfully throws in enough plot twists to keep things racing along to a powerful climax. Joshua Dillard is a fine character, a dogged investigator who's plenty tough when he needs to be, and his own tragic background adds a touch of poignancy to his adventures. I've probably said this before, but fifty years ago these books would have made good Gold Medal paperbacks or Double D hardbacks.

As an added bonus in this one, O'Keefe includes an informative essay about the links between Western and detective fiction. If you're a fan of those genres, SONS AND GUNSLICKS is well worth reading.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: My Boyfriend's Back

This movie from 1993 is a very oddball romantic comedy filmed in Austin about a guy in high school who comes back as a zombie to try to win the girl he loves and take her to prom. I have no memory of it from when it came out, so I guess we certainly overlooked it. It's mildly amusing, although it sometimes crosses the line from goofy to just plain stupid. But I laughed quite a bit.

What makes it a more interesting movie in hindsight, though, is the cast. The two leads, Andrew Lowery and Traci Lind, are pretty obscure. Neither of them have been in anything in more than a decade. But further down in the credits you've got solid character actors like Cloris Leachman, Edward Herrman, Austin Pendleton, Bob Dishy, and Paul Dooley. Even further down you've got Matthew Fox, who starred in PARTY OF FIVE and LOST, playing an obnoxious jock, and future Academy Award winner Philip Seymour Hoffman playing a high school bully. Then, in a tiny role (as Guy #2), Matthew McConaughey. His one line of dialogue: "Hey, isn't that Buck's girlfriend?" The minister at the funeral is Jerry Haynes, longtime Dallas sportscaster but best known as the host of the kid's TV show, MR. PEPPERMINT. Tiniest part of all by a future star: Renee Zellweger sitting at a table in a school cafeteria, on screen for a couple of seconds with no dialogue. Watching MY BOYFRIEND'S BACK is a little like a scavenger hunt as you watch for those fleeting appearances. I'm glad we finally saw it. The whole movie is on YouTube if you want to check it out.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Batman: The Dark Knight: Golden Dawn - David Finch

Batman has been my favorite DC Comics character since the great stories about him by Dennis O'Neil and Neal Adams some forty years ago. (Has it been that long? Really? Good Lord . . .)

No matter how much DC manages to alienate long-time fans like me with big "event" storylines and constant rebooting, somehow Batman manages to remain consistent. He's still recognizably the same character I read about all those years ago. One of the newer creators handling his adventures in recent years is David Finch, a writer/artist I hadn't heard of until I came across a collection called BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT: GOLDEN DAWN. This book reprints the first five issues of a new BATMAN: THE DARK KNIGHT series from 2010, plus a couple of stand-alone stories, and I have to say, it's a very pleasant surprise.

The main story in this one introduces Dawn Golden, a beautiful socialite who was friends with Bruce Wayne when they were both kids. Now she's grown up, she's been kidnapped, and Batman sets out to find her before something terrible happens. Several different classic Batman adversaries wind up playing a part in this one, along with one of Jack Kirby's later creations for DC, Etrigan the Demon. There's also a shadowy villain manipulating some of the action behind the scenes. The identity of this mastermind isn't revealed, which is a little frustrating but I can live with it. This story arc moves along very well, and I enjoyed it.

The two stand-alone stories include one written by Grant Morrison that sets up Morrison's "Batman, Incorporated" storyline. I'm not a big fan of Morrison's writing overall, although he's done some stories that I like a lot. The other story is a vignette set in the future about the ultimate fate of the Batman/Superman team.

Finch's art is pretty good throughout. He draws an ominous-looking Batman, which is appropriate, and his version of Etrigan is a good one, too. His writing is very straightforward, not fancy at all, which is not a bad thing. Between this collection and the one authored by Scott Snyder that I read a couple of weeks ago, I'm actually starting to think about reading some of the Batman comics on a monthly basis again, something that I haven't done in many years.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: All-Fiction, March 1931

From what little I've read of them, the Dell pulps were pretty darned good. ALL-FICTION appears to have been Dell's answer to ADVENTURE, ARGOSY, SHORT STORIES, etc., a general fiction pulp with all sorts of action and adventure yarns in its pages. This issue's cover is by H.W. Reusswig, and while it's a little politically incorrect, I suppose, it's also bursting with the potential for action. I'm not familiar with the author of the lead story, Carl Ogilvie, but I love the title "Senor McHell". Other well-known authors in this issue include Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, L.G. Blochman, Eugene Cunningham, and Arthur J. Burks. Not a bad line-up at all.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Story, February 13, 1943

This is another pulp that I own and read not long ago. Normally with pulps that I own, I try to use a cover scan from the actual issue that I read, but I'm having problems with my scanner so I had to get the image accompanying this post from the Fictionmags Index. The cover is by H.W. Scott, who did so many covers for WESTERN STORY during this era.

The lead novella is by Walt Coburn, who did some of his best work for WESTERN STORY during this era. The protagonist of "Kavanaugh's Cattle Box" is young cowboy Smoky Rutledge, who spends a year in Yuma Prison for a murder he didn't commit. After being pardoned he returns to his home range to avenge his father Keno, who is missing and thought to have been murdered by his former partner Shane Kavanaugh, who now owns a ranch in a big box canyon on the Arizona/Mexico border. The man Smoky supposedly killed was Pat Kavanaugh, Shane's son, but it's possible he's still alive and hiding out below the border. Then there's Shane's outlaw brother Bob and his son Jiggs, and Smoky's old friend, bronc buster Rusty Britten, who now has a secret of his own, and the Spurlock cousins, Grant and Tom. Not to mention beautiful redheaded cowgirl Chacha Kavanaugh, who either loves Smoky Rutledge or hates him.

In many ways this is a prime example of a Walt Coburn story. There's so much back-story and so many characters and plot twists coming at the reader so fast that it's easy to get lost. But the whole mad whirl is spiced with cow country authenticity and great over-the-top action scenes, and then by some miracle Coburn ties everything together and it somehow makes sense. You can't really analyze a Walt Coburn story. With the good ones, you just sit back and let it carry you away and enjoy it. "Kavanaugh's Cattle Box" is a pretty good one.

Moving on to the short stories, "The Battle at Bull Creek" is by Tom W. Blackburn, one of the most dependable contributor to the Western pulps. This "homesteaders and small rancher against evil cattle baron" yarn really shows the influence of having been written during the early days of World War II. There's a lot of talk about sticking together and standing up for your neighbor. The thing is, I'm not sure if this angle was deliberate on Blackburn's part or just a product of the times. It's a minor but decent story, well-written as all of Blackburn's stories are.

Wayne D. Overholser is another long-time pulp author who went on to a sterling career as a Western novelist. "Pasear to Death" is set in Oregon, as many of Overholser's stories are, and finds the protagonist returning to the town where he grew up to seek revenge on the man who killed his father and brothers. The thing that sets this story a little apart from what you might expect is that the hero is opposed to gunfighting and sets out to settle the score in a different way. Overholser, like Blackburn, is a steady, dependable author who usually entertains, and that's true here.

Archie Joscelyn wrote scores of stories for the pulps from the Twenties through the Fifties but was probably better known for the many novels he wrote under his own name, his primary pseudonym Al Cody, and a few other names. He doesn't have much of a reputation anymore, but I've always enjoyed his work and have read half a dozen of his novels that were excellent. His story is this issue of WESTERN STORY is "Death on Parade", which finds Lieutenant Jim Saunders assigned to find out what happened to a missing cavalry patrol. Saunders' search, of course, leads him into danger and the middle of an outlaw scheme. I'm not sure the plot completely makes sense, but the story has some nice touches, including a sympathetic portrayal of some Indians who are involved.

This issue also has an installment of a serial by Bennett Foster, "Man Tracks", an animal story by Jim Kjelgaard, "Cougar Trail", and the usual columns on guns, travel, and mining, plus the pen-pal column "The Hollow Tree". It occurs to me that in this day and age some of you may not be familiar with the concept of pen-pals. Think of it as Facebook that loads really, really slowly.

Overall, this is a solid but unexceptional issue with enough good stories that I'm glad I read it, if for no other reason than for Walt Coburn's distinctive brand of Western storytelling.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Forgotten Books: The Black Bulls - John Benteen (Ben Haas)

One of the things that sets the Fargo series apart from other Western series is that author Ben Haas makes Neal Fargo a globe-trotting character. Fargo's adventures take him all over the world, from Panama to the Philippines, from Alaska to Argentina. That's where he is in THE BLACK BULLS, riding across the pampas, hanging out with gauchos, and learning how to use a bolas as he tries to recover a herd of valuable bulls used in breeding stock for bullfights.

Another thing that appeals to me about the Fargo series is that he's an expert in just about anything. In the last of these books I read, WOLF'S HEAD, he works as a lumberjack and can top trees like an old hand at the job. In THE BLACK BULLS, Haas explains that when Fargo was a young man he worked for a short time as a bullfighter's apprentice, so he's highly skilled in a bull ring, too. Having Fargo turn out to be an expert in whatever he needs to do in order to survive is a very pulpish touch and reminds me of Doc Savage. It's a testimony to Haas's skill as a writer that he makes all this utterly believable. If he says Fargo can be a toreador and survive in the ring against a killer bull, that's fine with me.

This series also reminds me a little of Ian Fleming's James Bond books. There's always a larger-than-life villain who torments Fargo before they wind up facing each other in a final showdown, even though they lack the colorful names that Fleming always tagged on his bad guys. Of course, with a larger-than-life hero, you've got to have a matching adversary for him. In this case it's German agent Wilhelm von Stahl, who is taking over ranches in Argentina to provide beef for the German army. (This book is set in 1917, right after the United States enters World War I.) Von Stahl is a Prussian dueling master, so you know he and Fargo are going to face off in a swordfight sooner or later. It's a good one, too. As is this entire book, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Fargo is one of the finest high adventure series ever written. I've said it before, but if you haven't read any of them, you really should.

UPDATE: Here's the cover for the forthcoming Picadilly Publishing reprint of this book.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

On Sale for a Limited Time: The Hiding Place - David Bell

David Bell's novel THE HIDING PLACE is the Kindle Deal of the Day, on sale for only $2.99.

Sometimes it’s easier to believe a lie.

Twenty-five-years ago, the disappearance of four-year-old Justin Manning rocked the small town of Dove Point, Ohio. After his body was found in a shallow grave in the woods two months later, the repercussions were felt for years.…

Janet Manning has been haunted by the murder since the day she lost sight of her brother in the park. Now, with the twenty-fifth anniversary of Justin’s death looming, a detective and a newspaper reporter have started to ask questions, opening old wounds and raising new suspicions. Could the man convicted of the murder—who spent more than two decades in prison—really be innocent? Janet’s childhood friend and high school crush, who was in the park with her that day, has returned to Dove Point, where he is wrestling with his own conflicted memories of the events. And a strange man appears at Janet’s door in the middle of the night, claiming to know the truth.

Soon, years of deceit will be swept away, and the truth about what happened to Janet’s brother will be revealed. And the answers that Janet has sought may be found much closer to home than she ever could have imagined.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Punisher Max: Untold Tales - Jason Starr, Megan Abbott, et al.

I remember buying the issue of THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN in which The Punisher made his first appearance. Even then I knew, hey, this guy's an Executioner rip-off. And all these years later, it's still sort of true, but I don't care. Frank Castle has become an interesting character in his own right, and I enjoy reading about him.

Until now, though, I hadn't read any Punisher stories from Marvel's Max line. These are their more adult comics, which means, of course, that the violence is more graphic and there's more cussin'. I picked up PUNISHER MAX: UNTOLD TALES not only out of curiosity but also because two of the five stand-alone stories in this trade paperback collection were written by people I know, Jason Starr and Megan Abbott.

Starr's story, "Jimmy's Collision", leads off the volume. That's the name of the business run by the story's protagonist, who has a gambling problem and an even bigger problem when his bookie offers him a way out that involves murder. As in his novels, Starr skillfully ratchets up the tension as Jimmy makes bad decision after bad decision that eventually wind up involving The Punisher in his life, which is hardly ever a good thing.

Megan Abbott, with her history of writing domestic noir, may seem like an odd choice at first to write a Punisher yarn, but her story, "The Ribbon" is excellent, a morality play about a doomed summer romance and a fateful encounter at a bus stop. Like "Jimmy's Collision", it's a story about how decisions come back to haunt us, sometimes with tragic results. And as you'd expect from Abbott, the writing is both terse and graceful.

The other stories include "Where the Devil Don't Stay" by Jason Latour, in which The Punisher encounters a family of murderous Tennessee hillbillies; "Manhunt" by Nathan Edmondson, a more traditional tale about The Punisher taking on a ring of gangsters that deals in sex slaves (there's a fairly nice twist in this one); and "A Little About Revenge" by Skottie Young, an offbeat story in which not a shot is fired, making it a real rarity for a Punisher tale.

I haven't said anything about the art. Each story has a different artist, none of whom I'd ever heard of. Some of the art I liked fairly well, some I didn't care for. That's pretty much par for the course in modern comics.

Of the five stories, the best two are by Jason Starr and Megan Abbott. No surprise there. But the other stories are good, too, and the entire volume is well worth reading. I don't really need anything else on my plate, but I may have to find some more of these Punisher Max collections.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: The Reunion

Okay, I'll admit that I'm a sucker for these action movies starring rasslers. This one is about three estranged brothers: a maverick cop (John Cena), a bail bondsman (Ethan Embry), and an ex-con (Boyd Holbrook), who have to team up and work together to claim a large inheritance. Their efforts to capture a fugitive wind up getting them involved in a scheme in which a billionaire businessman is kidnapped and held in Mexico. You got strippers, fistfights, stuff blowing up real good . . . In other words, there's not much in the plot of this movie that you won't see coming.

But despite that predictability, THE REUNION is enlivened by some oddball comedy and a villain who's a little out of the ordinary. The script isn't as good as in Cena's previous two actioners, THE MARINE and 12 ROUNDS (still one of the more clever movies I've seen in recent years), but it's not completely by the numbers, either. The action scenes are pretty well done and the cast seems to be having fun. This isn't a great film, just an amiable, entertaining way to spend an hour and a half.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Hell Up in Houston - Garnett Elliott

Jack Laramie, grandson of Cash Laramie and wandering private eye in a vividly realized early 1950s Texas, returns in the novella HELL UP IN HOUSTON, and it more than lives up to the promise of THE DRIFTER DETECTIVE, the excellent story by Garnett Elliott that introduced the character.

This time, through a series of unfortunate circumstances Jack winds up temporarily working as a house detective in a slightly seedy Houston hotel. During an eventful few days, he has to deal with an old enemy, a beautiful young woman trying to kick a drug habit (shades of THE DAIN CURSE), and a blackmail scheme. He's beaten up, stabbed, shot at . . . a typical few days for a hardboiled private eye, I guess.

As you can tell, Elliott packs a lot of plot into this one, and he spins his yarn in fine, tough prose. Jack remains a thoroughly likable, mostly admirable character. These stories really remind me of a lot of the fiction I grew up reading, and I hope the series continues for a long time. Highly recommended.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Two Complete Science-Adventure Books, Winter 1953

If you're going to have just two authors in your science-fiction pulp, you could certainly do worse than this duo: Poul Anderson and John D. MacDonald. As far as I can tell, this is the only appearance of the Anderson novella "Silent Victory". BALLROOM OF THE SKIES is a full-length novel, of course, originally published in hardback the previous year, 1952, and later reprinted in paperback a number of times. I read it as a Gold Medal paperback in the Sixties. Ought to read it again one of these days.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Short Stories, September 1937

This issue leads off with a story by "Rodney Blake", who as I discovered recently was really my old favorite, H. Bedford-Jones. I've never read any of his stories as by Blake and I don't have this issue so I can't read this one, but it caught my interest when looking for covers. And this issue has a decent one by J.W. Scott. No other big names in the line-up of authors unless you count Carmony Gove, Ken Jason, and Rex Evans, who were fairly prolific in the Western pulps, although pretty much forgotten these days, even among pulp fans.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Forgotten Books: Rustler's Moon - L.P. Holmes

Since reading some pulp stories by L.P. Holmes that I enjoyed, I've been meaning to read some of his novels. I've finally gotten started with RUSTLER'S MOON, a book from fairly late in his career, being a paperback original from 1971. It's proof that Holmes hadn't lost a step from his pulp days, though, as it's an excellent traditional Western novel.

When cattle baron Buck Abbott dies, there's an immediate power struggle to fill the vacuum left in the ranching country around the town of Piegan Junction. The players are Hugh Yeager, Abbott's foreman who inherits half the ranch; Fletch Irby, Abbott's black sheep nephew who figures on taking over the whole spread; and beautiful Lorie Anselm, Abbott's ward who is engaged to marry neighboring rancher Ben Hardisty. Much violent jockeying for power ensues.

As you can no doubt tell from that brief description, there's really nothing new in the plot of this novel. It really is as standard and stereotypical as it sounds. So why did I enjoy the book so much?

Well, for one thing, a good "save the ranch" Western is a comfort read for me. At its heart it's a powerful, effective plot, which is probably why it was used so much, and still is at times. For another, I really like Holmes' writing. There's nothing fancy about it. It's the same sort of straightforward, no-nonsense prose you'll find in the work of Luke Short, Peter Dawson, and T.T. Flynn, to name three favorites of mine. Holmes also provides some very nice characterization, not so much in the two leads, Hugh Yeager and Fletch Irby, but in the supporting characters, including several of the villains. You don't expect evil gunfighters to stop and wax poetic, but one of them in this book does, and Holmes makes it work, by golly.

RUSTLER'S MOON might seem hopelessly old-fashioned to a lot of readers, but sometimes that's exactly what I want, and this novel delivers the goods. Now I'll definitely read more of Holmes' work, and I think there's a good chance I'll be adding him to my list of favorites.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

New Publishing Company Open for Submissions

Welcome to PRAIRIE ROSE PUBLICATIONS, a new publishing company for WOMEN AUTHORS ONLY!

We are now accepting HISTORICAL WESTERN and HISTORICAL WESTERN ROMANCE submissions of all lengths. Do you have a manuscript to submit? We'd love to take a look!

For more information, please contact Livia J. Washburn or Cheryl Pierson at our          PRAIRIE ROSE PUBLICATIONS website!

On November 1, 2013, our debut anthology, WISHING FOR A COWBOY, will be released in both digital and print formats. We have a great lineup of heartwarming Christmas stories by some wonderful authors for you in this collection.

What do these stories have in common besides romance, the old west, and Christmas? A wonderful Christmas dish of some kind, complete with recipes in the back  of the book! Each story features a particular food that you'll be able to make for your own Christmas dinner with the delicious recipes our heroines use to cook up pies, cookies, springerle and other holiday treats for their sweethearts. Mark your calendar for November 1!

Tuesday's Overlooked TV: Guns of Paradise

This Western series lasted for three seasons in the late Eighties and early Nineties, and of course we watched it. It was a Western, after all. The opening credits sum things up pretty nicely: Gunfighter Ethan Allen Cord (Lee Horsley) gives up the gun to settle down in the town of Paradise and raise his dead sister's kids. But his violent past continually threatens to catch up to him.

Actually, those opening credits make the series seem a lot more action-packed than I remember it. Mostly it was heart-warming. But there was enough ridin' and fightin' and shootin' to make it interesting enough to watch. At least it wasn't a politically correct snooze-fest like DR. QUINN, MEDICINE WOMAN, the worst Western TV series of all time.

The high point of GUNS OF PARADISE is the first season episode "A Gathering of Guns", which features Gene Barry and Hugh O'Brian reprising their iconic roles as Bat Masterson and Wyatt Earp, respectively, and also has the great Jack Elam playing a character named Skragg. Chuck Conners and Johnny Crawford also show up playing a father and son in several episodes, but not Lucas and Mark McCain (for those of you who remember THE RIFLEMAN).

Monday, September 09, 2013

Now Available from the Western Fictioneers Library

It's another strong month for the Western Fictioneers Library with the release of the novel FAST HAND by Karl Lassiter (who's really the prolific and consistently excellent Robert E. Vardeman) and ENEMIES AND OTHER WESTERN STORIES, the third collection from the talented and acclaimed Ed Gorman. Both of these are fine books, and you can read more about them here, along with some news about another Gorman project coming soon from WF. Or you can just go and buy 'em. You won't be sorry.


Sunday, September 08, 2013

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Stirring Adventures, July 1941

This is the first issue of a pulp that didn't last long. The exact number of issues isn't known, but there weren't many. There are certainly some good authors in this issue, though: William P. McGivern, Robert Leslie Bellem, Arthur J. Burks, George Armin Shaftel, and Robert Moore Williams. I hope they got paid, even though the magazine wasn't around for very long.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Wagon Train, July 1960

The Fictionmags Index lists this as a pulp, and it may well have been what passed for one in 1960, slightly smaller than the classic pulp size and with trimmed edges. Or maybe it was a full-fledged pulp. I don't know because I've never seen a copy. Anyone? Walker Martin?

Anyway, if it really was a pulp, it must have been the only one ever based on a TV show. (There was a Lone Ranger pulp, of course, but it predated the TV version and was based on the radio show.) That's Major Adams, Ward Bond his own self on the cover, and there's a Wagon Train tie-in story by Robert Turner. The issue also features well-known Western authors Wayne D. Overholser, J.L. Bouma, and Cliff Farrell, plus prolific pulpster Bryce Walton and an author probably best known for his digest and paperback work, Bruce Cassidy.

Friday, September 06, 2013

Forgotten Books: Off the Mangrove Coast - Louis L'Amour

(This post originally appeared in different form on December 13, 2004.)

A while back on the WesternPulps Yahoo group, we were talking about Louis L'Amour's short story collections, and I just read one of the more recent ones, OFF THE MANGROVE COAST. This is an excellent book with a good cross-section of L'Amour's work. There's only one Western story, but it's a very good one: "Secret of Silver Springs", from the November 1949 issue of RANGE RIDERS. There are two boxing stories, a couple of South Seas adventures, a hardboiled private eye yarn, and a story of revenge in Paris following World War II. Some are pulp stories that were never reprinted until this collection, and others were evidently published here for the first time. As usual in L'Amour collections, there's no bibliographic information, leaving the reader to dig out such things if they're of interest. There's not a bad story in the bunch, though, and some of them are very good. I've felt for quite a while that L'Amour was a better writer at shorter lengths than he was as a novelist, and this book confirms that, at least in my opinion.

Thursday, September 05, 2013

New Kickstarter for Pariah, Missouri

My friend Andres Salazar has a new Kickstarter project up for the hardcover edition of his Weird Western graphic novel PARIAH, MISSOURI. You can check it out here. This looks like it's going to be a very entertaining series.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

The Honky Tonk Big Hoss Boogie - Robert J. Randisi

A new mystery novel by Bob Randisi is always good news, and it's even better when it's the first book in what promises to be a fine series. THE HONKY TONK BIG HOSS BOOGIE is just out from Perfect Crime Books, one of the best small press publishers in the mystery field. Its protagonist and narrator is Auggie Velez, a session musician and part-time private eye in Nashville. Auggie is hired by a couple of record company executives to deliver a mysterious briefcase to an equally mysterious stranger in a nighttime meeting at the end of a bridge over the Cumberland River.

Well, you don't have to have read many private eye novels to suspect that not everything is going to go as planned, and sure enough, the mysterious stranger winds up dead, the briefcase goes missing, and Auggie finds himself up to his guitar in trouble with the cops and with whoever is masterminding this twisty scheme. At the same time he has to deal with the life-threatening illness of an older private detective who is his best friend and mentor, which gives the novel a poignant added dimension.

As usual with a Randisi novel, this one features a lightning-fast pace and a dialogue-driven plot. The Macguffin turns out to be a particularly good one, too. Randisi also provides a vivid portrait of Nashville, not only the town but also the music scene there.

I'm glad this is the first book in a series, because I enjoyed it and am looking forward to the next case for Auggie Velez. Meanwhile, if you're a fan of private eye fiction you need to check out THE HONKY TONK BIG HOSS BOOGIE. It's available in both trade paperback and e-book editions.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Tuesday's Overlooked TV: Character Actor Frank Adamo

From time to time I'm going to spotlight some of the actors whose faces you might (or might not) recognize, but whose names you probably won't. It's a stretch even to call this first guy a character actor. He's a bit part actor, but he's notable, to me anyway, because he appeared dozens of times on one of the best sit-coms ever, THE DICK VAN DYKE SHOW. His name is Frank Adamo.

If you watch the series, you'll see that name in the closing credits from time to time, but that's hardly the whole story. Adamo wasn't a professional actor, or at least he didn't start out to be. He was Dick Van Dyke's assistant and stand-in, and when they needed an extra party guest or a guy standing in the background in a nightclub or somebody waiting in line somewhere, Adamo would step in. Most of those appearances were uncredited. Every now and then he got a small speaking part. He played a lot of waiters and delivery boys and ushers. He was the rather effeminate poet in the episode where Rob and Laura attend some literary soiree. I first became aware of him years ago when I was watching the series in syndicated reruns and realized the same guy kept popping up playing different parts.

Adamo went on to appear a few times on THE NEW DICK VAN DYKE SHOW and THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, but his real claim to fame is all the times he showed up in New Rochelle and in the writers' office of "The Alan Brady Show". He was only a tiny part of a great series, but I always enjoyed his appearances.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Batman: The Black Mirror - Scott Snyder

Scott Snyder, the creator and writer of the AMERICAN VAMPIRE series, has also been writing Batman stories for DETECTIVE COMICS in recent years. I recently read THE BLACK MIRROR, a collection of a year's worth of stories from Snyder's run on the Caped Crusader.

I'd gotten out of touch with the continuity in the DC universe (and still am, to a large extent), but this volume has a quick summary of what's been going on. Bruce Wayne has given up being Batman (what, again?) and left Gotham City. Dick Grayson, the original Robin, is now Batman. Tim Drake, one of the replacement Robins along the way, is now sort of grown up and is a character called the Red Robin. Bruce Wayne's son Damian, introduced in BATMAN AND SON, is now Robin. Luckily, the stories in this volume focus almost exclusively on Dick as Batman, so my confusion about the other two characters didn't really keep me from enjoying the four connected story arcs that make up the book.

The title story, "The Black Mirror", is actually the first one and concerns Batman's attempts to break a ring of black marketeers dealing in stolen supervillain technology and artifacts. Police Commissioner Jim Gordon takes center stage in the next arc, "Skeleton Cases", as his son James Jr. (I don't know where he came from, either, I wasn't aware that Barbara Gordon had a brother) returns to Gotham City. Problem is, James Jr. may well be a serial killer. "Hungry City" features the return of another new character from the past (if that makes sense), the daughter of the crime boss responsible for the murder of Dick Grayson's parents. She seems to have gone straight and become a very successful businesswoman, but is she really? A bizarre and almost impossible crime draws Batman into an investigation of her activities and naturally winds up with him almost getting killed a couple of times. Then the ongoing mystery of James Gordon Jr. comes to an end in "Skeleton Key", which also features the return of the greatest Batman villain, The Joker.

So, having read Batman comic books for more than fifty years, what do I think of this almost current version? Well, not bad. Snyder's scripts are pretty good, featuring some actual detective work on Batman's part, goofy touches reminiscent of classic Batman (a giant killer whale inside a bank lobby, for instance), an evocation of Gotham City as a gritty, noirish place, and a few nods to continuity and history. I wish I could say that I liked the artwork by Jock (Mark Simpson) and Francesco Francavilla in these stories, but I really don't. Francavilla's work is the stronger of the two, in my opinion, but to an old curmudgeon like me, the storytelling just isn't clear enough. Now, if you'd had Neal Adams or Jim Aparo illustrating these same stories, the way they did back in my day . . . (Yeah, yeah, that's a nice story, Grandpa.)

All in all, though, I found enough to like here that I'll probably read more of Snyder's Batman work. There are at least two more collections available.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Smashing Novels, July 1936

When I think about the pulp SMASHING NOVELS, I think of Robert E. Howard's classic Western novella "The Vulture of Whapeton", which appeared in the December 1936 issue. But the magazine published some other excellent authors, too. For example, the July 1936 issue featured novellas by Alan M. Emley (who was really Alan LeMay, author of the novels THE SEARCHERS and THE UNFORGIVEN, both made into classic Western movies, of course), the highly prolific and well-regarded pulpster Arthur J. Burks, and W. Ryerson Johnson, who had a long, successful career in the pulps, paperbacks, and hardback novels. Looks like a darned good issue to me.