After hitting the million-word mark yesterday, I had a pretty good morning today (family get-together this afternoon) and finished the month with 416 pages, certainly a respectable total. There were a couple of really good weeks during November to go with a couple of weeks that weren't as productive. But I'm on schedule to get done what I need to get done, and maybe a little extra now and then. I remembered the other day that I have about 10,000 words of a thriller written. If I could carve out an extra few weeks sometime next year I could finish it. Plus I finally have the plot worked out for a Judge Earl Stark novella that's been percolating in my head for a while. I need those 30-hour days!
Legendary western writer and noted anthologist Robert J. Randisi offers up a winning hand with fourteen never-before-published tales of the Old West, each revolving around the central theme of gambling. Among the stories you can expect to be dealt here are:
Jacks or Better by Johnny Boggs A Cold Deck by Phil Dunlap The Reckoning by Randy Lee Eickhoff It Takes a Gambler by Jerry Guin Odds on a Lawman by Christine Matthews Pay the Ferryman by Matthew P. Mayo White Face, Red Blood by Rod Miller Hazard by Nik Morton Acey Deucy by John Nesbitt The Mark of an Imposter: An Evelyn Page/Calvin Carter Adventure by Scott Parker Horseshoe and Pistols by Robert J. Randisi Too Many Aces by Charlie Steel Missouri Boat Race by Chuck Tyrell The Legend of ‘Blind Ned’ Baldwin by Lori Van Pelt
(That's a fine line-up of authors. I'm looking forward to reading this one.)
This week's cover comes to us courtesy of Keith Chapman, and he sent me a scan of the table of contents page, too, since this issue isn't in the Fictionmags Index. It's almost an all-star issue with stories by William Heuman, Tom W. Blackburn (part of his Chris Defever series), L.P. Holmes, Wayne D. Overholser, Thomas Thompson, Tom Roan, and Gunnison Steele. The other authors, Kenneth Fowler, Joseph W. Quinn and Charles Irwin, also published a number of stories in the Western pulps during the Forties. 10 STORY WESTERN was a consistently good pulp, and this looks like an excellent issue.
It's the day after Thanksgiving, but tonight I'm thankful that today I went over one million words for the year, for the ninth straight year. As I've mentioned before, I'd really like to reach that level again next year, because I think writing a million words a year for ten years in a row would be pretty cool. If I can do that, I'm seriously considering slowing down some in 2015. I've been really lucky to have the opportunities I've had and I've tried to take advantage of them, but I'm starting to get a little tired. I think the quality of the work is staying fairly high, though. At least I'm still learning new things all the time. That keeps it interesting.
Joe Kubert is one of the first comic book artists I remember
becoming aware of because of his distinctive style. Even before I became a
comics collector (Christmas Day, 1963, almost fifty years ago), I read assorted
comics, including some issues of OUR ARMY AT WAR, so I must have seen his work
early on. Within a few years I was a regular reader of his Sgt. Rock and Enemy
Ace stories, although it would be a while before I discovered his earlier
superhero work. Kubert kept writing and drawing for many, many years and became
one of the first creators to produce original graphic novels.
I'd never heard of this 2005 graphic novel until I came across a copy
of it recently. JEW GANGSTER, written and drawn by Kubert, is exactly what it
says: the story of a young man, Reuben "Ruby" Kaplan, growing up in
Brooklyn during the Depression, who falls in with some of the local mobsters
and is torn between ambition and greed on one hand and his family and his own
moral code on the other.
It's an excellent, fast-paced, noirish story that ultimately doesn't render any
judgments. Kubert's black-and-white art is as stylish and effective as ever,
with plenty of powerful images including a series of drawings depicting life in
Depression-era Brooklyn that serve as chapter breaks.
If you're interested in crime fiction or in some fine work by a comics legend
(and I fall into both of those categories), you should definitely check out JEW
GANGSTER. It's well worth reading.
Codi Jackson and her father have been forced to move again. Codi’s getting used to being the “new girl” in her fifth grade class—but that doesn’t mean she has to like it. Can’t life just be normal? With her mother out of the picture and her father working odd shifts as a police officer, friends are important—as long as they’re not the wrong kind. When Codi and a classmate, Keith Wright, are assigned to work on a history project, Codi has to make some hard decisions about her popularity in her new school.
But everything changes when Codi picks up an old Texas Rangers badge that belonged to one of her ancestors and he appears right before her eyes! Her great-great-great-grandfather says he’s come to help her, but how? And how is she going to explain the ghost of her long-ago Gramps to her history project partner and her father?
(This is one of the few unpublished, completed novels we had left after the fire in '08, and now it's the launch book for Painted Pony Books, the new juvenile imprint put together by Livia and Cheryl Pierson. It's a middle-grade book, 27,000 words long, with some mystery, some paranormal stuff, and some Western influence. Even though it's aimed at kids, I think some of you might enjoy it as well. It's available in both e-book and trade paperback editions.)
I first encountered orcs in The
Lord of the Rings novels, but as author Stan Nicholls points out in his
introduction to this book, J.R.R. Tolkein didn't invent them. Instead, orcs,
like goblins, trolls, etc., go 'way back in folklore. Nicholls has written a
series of fantasy novels using a company of orc mercenaries as the
protagonists, covering their adventures as grunt-level infantry in an ongoing
war involving two different factions of humans and a number of races of
FORGED FOR WAR is the first
graphic novel set in this universe and serves as a prequel for Nicholls' prose
novels. It's pretty good, too. This is grim and gritty fantasy, not the more
sedate style of high fantasy I've never been able to get into. Stryke, the
commander of the orc company known as the Wolverines, is a Sgt. Rock type, the
world-weary soldier who just tries to get the job done and keep as many of his
men alive as possible.
In this story, the Wolverines,
who work for a cruel half-human, half-dyadd empress named Jennesta, are serving
as bodyguard to a group of goblin scientists who are supposed to be testing a
new sorcerous weapon of mass destruction. But there are all sorts of plot
twists and double-crosses going on, so it's not surprising that eventually the
orcs are just trying to survive when things start to go wrong.
As you'd expect, there's plenty
of hacking and slashing going on, some touches of humor, and a nice, fast pace
to the story. I'm not crazy about the art by Joe Flood, but it gets the job
done. One problem is that so many of the orcs look so much alike, it's almost
impossible to tell them apart. The only one who really stands out is Coilla,
the lone female orc, who's smaller than the other Wolverines.
I enjoyed ORCS: FORGED FOR WAR
quite a bit, enough that I'm going to look for the regular novels. If you enjoy
graphic novels and dark fantasy, this one is worth reading.
FLYPAPER is another of those movies I'd never even heard of, and it's always nice when one of those turns out to be pretty good. It's an action comedy in which two different crews of bank robbers try to hit the same bank at the same time, forming an unlikely alliance and taking everybody in the bank hostage. An eccentric customer (Patrick Dempsey) and a beautiful teller (Ashley Judd) try to keep their fellow hostages safe and foil the bank robbers at the same time. But, as you'll quickly come to suspect, this is one of those movies where not everything is as it seems, and there are a lot of plot twists packed into the hour-and-a-half running time. While FLYPAPER isn't laugh-out-loud funny, it's pretty amusing, and it's fun trying to keep up with the plot. I saw most of the twists coming, but the cast is good enough and the pace is brisk enough that I didn't really care. This is a nice little film and certainly worth watching.
Here's a pulp I'd never heard of. The stories in it are movie novelizations, proving that genre has been around for a long time. The movies in it include THE LAST DAYS OF POMPEII, THE CRIME OF DR. CRESPI, POWDER-SMOKE RANGE, CHINA SEAS (which I featured on Tuesday's Overlooked Movies a while back), GUARD THAT GIRL!, and TUMBLING TUMBLEWEEDS. All of the stories were written by Laurence Donovan except for CHINA SEAS, which is by Edwin V. Burkholder. I'm not sure how much detail they could have included in 10 to 15 page short stories. Looks like an interesting oddity, though.
Ray Coyle hadn't been a real
gunfighter for ten years, and that was the way he liked it. He would have been
content to live out his life as a performer in a Wild West show. But then he got
the news that his son was dead, killed in suspicious circumstances, and so Coyle
set out to discover the truth.
Coopersville was a town full of secrets,
most of them ugly. Brutal ex-convict Harry Winston knows those secrets, many of
them involving the wealthy Trevor family. And Harry wants not only money but
also revenge on the Trevors. His plans are complicated by the arrival of Ray
Coyle, who has a score of his own to settle with one of the Trevors . . . and
for anybody to get what they want, blood will have to be spilled.
storyteller Ed Gorman spins a dark, compelling tale of greed, lust, and murder
in TROUBLE MAN, one of the best Western noir novels ever written, now available
again from Rough Edges Press. Powerful, tragic, and deeply compassionate,
Gorman's critically acclaimed stories and novels have made him one of today's
leading authors of Western, crime, suspense, and horror fiction.
This is one of Ed's best novels, and those of you who haven't read it should check it out. Also, the eagle-eyed among you may notice that it's published by Rough Edges Press. "Who?" you ask. Well, me. I'm Rough Edges Press. Although in the spirit of full disclosure, I'm just the editorial end. Livia's still handling all the heavy lifting when it comes to the technical stuff. But I've been thinking about starting a small press even since before the so-called e-book revolution, and now I have.
What's coming up from Rough Edges Press? More reprints of Ed Gorman Western novels, for one thing. A collection of Western pulp stories from a well-known author, for another. I'm also talking to various authors about some crime, suspense, horror, and science fiction novels, both originals and reprints. The submission requirements for Rough Edges Press are really simple: Stuff I Like. Any genre, any length (although I'd prefer not to publish anything less than novella-length, I won't rule it out entirely). Fast-moving stuff with some action. If you have a book like that you control the rights to, or a new manuscript that would fit, send me an email. The address is in my profile, if you don't already have it.
Fairly crude but eye-catching cover on this issue of FAMOUS WESTERN, and the line-up of authors inside isn't bad: Chuck Martin, Charles N. Heckelman, William Heuman, Roe Richmond, Lee Floren, and Brett Austin (who was also Lee Floren), along with a few lesser-known names. Seems to me like it would be an issue worth reading.
I've read quite a bit about the Tokey Wedge series over the
years, but I've never sampled any adventures of the diminutive private eye
until now. THE THIRD SEDUCTION was published in 1964 by Novel Books (the same
company that published Ennis Willie's Sand series and a number of Orrie Hitt's
best novels). It's possible it's a retitled reprint of an earlier book in the
series, since Novel Books was notorious for doing that.
Tokey Wedge is five-six, a hundred and forty-five pounds, and looks a little
like a smaller version of Shell Scott (not a coincidence, clearly). Despite
being smaller than most paperback heroes, he's plenty tough and doesn't
hesitate to take on hoodlums and killers a lot bigger than he is. Like most
fictional private eyes of the era, he has a long-suffering friend on the police
force, and his on-again, off-again girlfriend is a beautiful blond reporter.
As THE THIRD SEDUCTION opens, Tokey is trying to date a beautiful stripper.
Wouldn't you know it, no sooner does she agree to go out with him than they're
kidnapped by a .45-toting goon who tries to murder them. Tokey manages to get
himself and the stripper out of this fix, of course, and then the question
becomes which one of them the killer was really after.
From there the plot quickly turns into a complicated mix of revolution on an
island nation in the Caribbean (in the words of Woody Allen, a fictional but
real-sounding country), a looted treasury, feuding beautiful sisters, torture,
attempt after attempt on Tokey's life, and finally imprisonment in the mansion
of the evil mastermind, complete with a death trap like something out of a
James Bond movie. In the midst of all that hectic action, Tokey manages to find
time to take several beautiful women to bed, of course.
So, does it all make sense? Well, sort of, although there's a definite feeling
that the author was just making it up as he went along. I don't think anybody
read these novels for their well-constructed plots, though. They were read for
the sex (which like most so-called sexy books from the Fifties and early
Sixties is really pretty mild, consisting of leering innuendo more than
anything else), the action, and the wise-cracking comedy. Tokey Wedge seems to
have been influenced more by Richard S. Prather's Shell Scott novels than
anything else, although there's some Dan Turner and Mike Hammer in there, too.
Based on an admittedly limited sample, this one book, I'd say Tokey was aimed
at readers who found Prather, Bellem, and Spillane just too sober and
For a long time, the identity of the author, Jack Lynn, wasn't known, but Steve
Mertz has done some sleuthing and turned up strong evidence that Lynn was
really Max van derVeer, an author who published several stories in MIKE SHAYNE
MYSTERY MAGAZINE and ALFRED HITCHCOCK'S MYSTERY MAGAZINE during the Sixties. I
seem to remember reading that he may have ghosted some of the Shayne stories in
MSMM, too, but I could be wrong about that. I know he was living in Corpus
Christi, Texas when he passed away in 1979. There's no telling what other books
he may have written under pseudonyms.
I had a good time reading THE THIRD SEDUCTION, but it's definitely politically
incorrect and anybody considering reading it or any of the other Tokey Wedge
books needs to bear that in mind. It doesn't rise anywhere near the level of
the books that inspired it, but it's still entertaining and a nice time warp
back to a goofier, more innocent era in paperback fiction.
This movie didn't make much of a splash and as I recall the
reviews weren't very good. I'd say that somebody must have described it in a
pitch meeting as "a female DEATH WISH", except for the fact that by
2007 most of the kid executives in Hollywood probably had never heard of DEATH
WISH or Charles Bronson. There are a lot of similarities between the two films,
Jodie Foster plays a New York City radio personality who's mugged while walking
home one night with her boyfriend, who is killed by the attackers. When she
recovers from the vicious beating, she buys an unlicensed gun for protection
and eventually, like Bronson's character in the earlier film, starts putting
herself in situations where violent criminals will come to her so she can blow
Terrence Howard plays a cop trying to catch the vigilante who captures New
York's attention, while at the same time attempting to close in on a mobster.
In the course of his investigations he meets Foster's character but has no idea
she's really the killer he's looking for. An awkward
friendship/not-quite-romance develops between them.
There are a couple of plot holes in this movie, one minor, one not so much, but
the acting is good all around and it plays out well, generating some nice
suspense along the way. And there's a late twist that took both Livia and me by
surprise, which is always a good thing.
I enjoyed THE BRAVE ONE and think it's worth watching. It's a low-key movie for
the most part, but it perked right along and kept us entertained for a couple
You don't see horse racing covers very often on pulps, or at least I haven't noticed that many. The story this cover illustrates is by Jack Byrne, better known as an editor for Fiction House and later for Munsey, but from what I've read of his work he was a pretty good writer, too. And the other authors in this issue are top-notch: W.C. Tuttle, Frederick C. Davis, and Albert Richard Wetjen. That's a nice line-up.
I'm not sure why somebody at Munsey's decided to use the term "dime novel" in the title of this pulp when it's clearly not a dime novel and it had been more than twenty years since any of them were published. But hey, who knows why publishers do the things they do? The cover's not bad, and the line-up of authors is a good one. I've never read any of James P. Olsen's Silver Buck stories, but I've enjoyed his other work that I've read. E. Hoffmann Price and Chuck Martin also have stories in this issue.
Charles Boeckman is
one of the few genuine pulp authors still with us, and it's quite possible he's
the only one still actively writing and publishing. Writing under the name
Charles Beckman Jr., he was a prolific contributor to the Western and detective
pulps during the late Forties through the Fifties and has written many novels
SADDLES, SIX-GUNS & SHOOTOUTS is a collection of his stories from the
Western pulps, and it's a fine introduction to his work for anyone who hasn't
sampled it yet. Since the book came out earlier this year, it isn't really forgotten, but since Boeckman's writing isn't nearly as well known as it should be, I think we can stretch the definition that far.
The opening story, the novelette "Brazos Woman" (STAR WESTERN,
October 1953) is an epic in miniature, with enough plot for a lengthy
historical novel. Beautiful widow Renee D'Aquin flees New Orleans in the 1820s
with her two young children and heads for Stephen F. Austin's new colony in
Texas. Along the way she encounters a rakish gambler who will move in and out
of her life over the next decade. In Texas Renee has to battle against
sickness, savage Indians, and finally the tragedy and heroism of the Texas Revolution,
culminating with the Runaway Scrape and the Texans' victorious last battle
against Santa Anna's army at San Jacinto. As you might expect, with this much
going on the pace never slows down much. Boeckman does a good job with the
setting, and Renee and the gambler Joseph Smith are both excellent characters
complete with human flaws.
"Badman From Boston" (FIFTEEN WESTERN TALES, January 1947) finds a
crippled Easterner trying to recuperate from tuberculosis in the dry climate
out west so he can have an operation that might enable him to walk again. An
avid reader of dime novels, he spins some yarns of his own that put him in the
position of having to pick up a gun and take on some outlaws. This is a fine,
"Rusty Guns", from the March 1947 issue of FIFTEEN WESTERN TALES,
asks a question you don't encounter very often in Westerns: what happens to a
gunfighter who faces off against someone faster on the draw but survives the
resulting shootout? This noirish tale provides a very effective answer.
"The Kid Comes
Back" (NEW WESTERN, January 1952) is a revenge tale about a young man who
returns home to settle the score against the cattle baron responsible for his
father's death. That's a pretty standard plot, but the method the hero chooses
to get his vengeance is pretty unusual, and so is the twist at the very end of
the story. Those things make this an excellent yarn.
Bullet", from the May 1954 issue of FIFTEEN WESTERN TALES starts where
many stories would end: with a posse gunning down the notorious outlaw and
killer Jimmy Laredo. In Boeckman's West, though, not everything is as it seems,
so that's just the beginning of a very hardboiled tale of love and vengeance.
"Stagecoach to Hell" (WESTERN ACE HIGH STORIES, April 1954) is about
a former badman who has made a new life for himself in a small town, until his
past is about to catch up to him in the form of an old enemy who wants him
dead. It's a standard plot, but this story is distinguished by some good writing
and a particularly touching ending.
"Home is the Killer", from the March 1953 issue of FIFTEEN WESTERN
TALES, is set in the days soon after the Civil War when Texas was a
particularly hard place to survive. A returning soldier helps out a widow and
her son and finds himself chasing a dream that his own violent past may not let
Bull Hubler, the protagonist of "Bitter Reunion at Rimcock" (10 STORY
WESTERN, May 1947) is the sheriff of Rimrock and a successful businessman who
operates a freight company, but he's also a moody drunk whose wife left him
several years earlier to run away with a gambler. Now she's back with a
proposition that means either redemption or death for Bull.
"The Devil's Deadline" (.44 WESTERN, January 1954) features an
offbeat protagonist: an aging newspaperman who has to decide if he wants to take
on the corrupt lawman who rules a small frontier town. This story is also
unusual in that Boeckman comes up with an unexpected way of resolving the
conflict, and this twist provides a very satisfactory ending.
This volume comes to a rousing conclusion with "Hell's Cargo", a
novelette from the September 1956 issue of ACTION PACKED WESTERN. As you might
guess from the title, it's a riverboat yarn, as ace river pilot Steve Kent
returns to New Orleans right after the Civil War to settle a score with his
former mentor, who has stolen both fiancée and riverboat from Steve. But
instead he finds himself in a race with his sworn enemy to see which man's boat
can retrieve a fortune in furs from Fort Benton, high up the Missouri River.
That the owner of the furs is a beautiful blonde is an added complication.
Boeckman really pulls out the stops in this one, which action galore and just
enough romance. It's my favorite story in the book and would have made a great
John Wayne movie.
A while back I mentioned that despite the claims of some, there are still a lot
of great stories in the pulps just waiting to be reprinted. SADDLES, SIXGUNS
& SHOOTOUTS is vivid proof of that. Boeckman really should have had some
collections of his work published by Leisure, Five Star, etc., so more people
would be familiar with it. Even a long-time Western pulp fan like me hadn't
really heard of him until a year or so ago. Thank goodness his stories have
made a comeback, with a collection of his mystery and detective yarns and
several novels currently available. I hope this is just the first collection of
his Westerns with more to come, because it's one of the best books I've read
Normally I don't blog about single issues of a comic book,
preferring to wait until there's a collected edition available, but I'm going
to make an exception for VELVET #1, the first issue of a new spy series written
by Ed Brubaker and drawn by Steve Epting, the team responsible for some of the
best Captain America stories in the past twenty or thirty years.
According to Brubaker, he wants VELVET to be a cross between the more
over-the-top secret agent stuff like James Bond and The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and
the grittier espionage fiction of authors such as John Le Carre. I think he's
succeeded admirably in this first issue.
Set in the late Sixties and early Seventies, the story centers around the
activities of Arc-7, a top secret, ultra-hush-hush spy agency with headquarters
in London. I'm not sure if it's supposed to be a British agency or an
international one like U.N.C.L.E., but that doesn't really matter. One of their
agents is murdered while on a mission, and the leaders of the agency quickly
decide that there's a traitor in their ranks, a former top field agent who now
trains other agents.
But Velvet Templeton, the secretary to the agency's director, believes that the
man being blamed for the leak (who happens to be a former lover of hers) is
actually being framed, so she sets out to do some investigating of her own. And
Velvet has some secrets in her past that make things even more interesting, so
that by the end of this issue Brubaker has thrown in some very intriguing
twists along with plenty of action.
Since I was a huge fan of all the espionage novels, movies, and TV shows from
the Sixties, VELVET is right in my wheelhouse. Brubaker is one of the best
writers in the comics business, and I've always enjoyed Epting's stylish
artwork and top-notch storytelling. This first issue also includes a fine essay
by Jess Nevins, "A History of Spy Fiction Through the Cold War". I
really enjoyed this one and look forward to the next issue. Whether you read it
as it goes along or wait for the hardback or trade paperback, VELVET gets a
high recommendation from me.
Okay, I'm not
really the target audience for this book, and most of you probably aren't,
either. But I've always gone by the theory that if an author tells me a good
story, I don't care what genre it is. Besides, my wife is one of the publishers
of this anthology, but I didn't have anything to do with it, no editing, no
proofreading, nothing. So I'm coming at it with a fresh eye.
The concept is pretty straightforward: Western romances centered around
Christmas, with each story including some sort of food item, and naturally
you'll find the recipes for each of them in the back of the book. Sort of like
Livia's Fresh Baked Mystery novels.
The book opens with "A Christmas Miracle" by USA Today bestselling
author Phyliss Miranda. A beautiful saloon girl, a handsome doctor from back
east, a sick toddler, a snowstorm . . . plenty of ingredients here for a
heartwarming story, and it works well.
Cheryl Pierson's "Outlaw's Kiss" has an attention-catching opening
with a wounded man collapsing on the heroine's doorstep. He's not a stranger,
but rather a man she hates enough to think of him as Satan. But as she helps
him through the danger that faces him, she has to ask herself if he might
really be able to change. There's some nice suspense in this one.
Instead of the Old West frontier, the setting of Sarah J. McNeal's "A
Husband for Christmas" is 1919 Wyoming, and she does an excellent job of
capturing the era. Her hero is a little offbeat, too, a Native American auto
mechanic, and those things combine to make this an interesting tale.
"Peaches" is Kathleen Rice Adams' first story, but it reads like the
work of a polished professional. Adams takes a traditional plot, that of the
rancher and the schoolmarm, and elevates it with some fine writing. This is
like a John Wayne/Maureen O'Hara movie that was never made.
Jacquie Rogers' "A Gift for Rhoda" features a bounty hunter seeking
out his parents, who he hasn't seen in years, but when he reaches their
homestead in Idaho, he finds that they're not there but a beautiful blond mail
order bride is. Likable characters and some nice action in this one.
In "Her Christmas Wish" by Tracy Garrett, two lovers who have been
separated for years are reunited at an isolated stagecoach station on the Texas
plains. Garrett makes excellent use of the setting, and you've got to like any
story with a cattle stampede. Well, I do, anyway.
Tanya Hanson's "Covenant" finds a Nebraska homesteading couple
dealing with tragedy and secrets in very different ways. This one has some good
plot twists in it and characters you can't help but root for.
The book wraps up with Livia's story "Charlie's Pie" and is set not
far from where we live. You've got outlaws, Texas Rangers, a mysterious
stranger, a strong heroine, and pecan pie. Sounds good to me.
As I said, I'm not the target audience for this book and never will be, but the
stories are well written, funny at times, heartwarming at others, and I enjoyed
them. WISHING FOR A COWBOY is available in both e-book and trade paperback editions. I'm looking forward to seeing what Prairie Rose Publications comes up
This movie was pretty successful, so I'm fudging a little,
as I often do, by calling it overlooked, but I never saw it until now so I say
that counts. As I've mentioned before, we don't watch many horror movies around
here. ZOMBIELAND starts out a little too gruesome for my taste but then settles
down into more of an action comedy/road movie as nice guy college kid Jesse
Eisenberg, enigmatic loner Woody Harrelson, and sisters Emma Stone and Abigail
Breslin drive across the zombie-infested Southwest from Texas to California,
seeking an amusement park that's supposed to be a sanctuary from the plague
sweeping the country.
It's kind of funny after the fact when Eisenberg, who went on to play Mark
Zuckerberg in THE SOCIAL NETWORK, makes disparaging comments about Facebook.
The movie has lots of intentionally funny lines, too, likable characters, an
oddball cameo appearance from an actor playing himself, and plenty of action.
It's pretty gory, but after a while the violence becomes rather cartoonish,
sort of like a case of Acme Dynamite blowing up Wile E. Coyote.
I don't think this is a great film, but it's pretty darned entertaining, and I
think that's all it set out to be. Many of you have probably seen it already,
but if you haven't, it's worth watching.
Some of you have expressed a tolerance for these
nostalgia-laden, semi-autobiographical posts, so here's another one. I think
one thing most of us have in common is that we're avid readers and probably
always have been. Over the years you've probably had some special spots where
you read a lot and have fond memories of them because of that. I've already
written about how I enjoyed reading in Study Hall when I was in high school.
Here are some other favorite places of mine to crack a book or a comic.
When I was a kid my parents had a low-slung, upholstered rocking chair that was
always my favorite place to sit and read. It was next to a window in the living
room, so there was good light, and it just seemed to fit me. For most of the
years I sat in it, it was covered in some sort of cream-colored naugahyde-like
stuff. Next to it was a record cabinet (for those of you who remember records)
and when I got back from my weekly trip to the drugstore with the stack of
comic books I'd bought, I would sit down in that rocking chair, sort the comics
in the order I wanted to read them, saving my favorites for last, and not get
up until I'd read through the entire stack.
The same drugstore where I bought my comics also carried a few digest
magazines, and I remember reading issues of THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. MAGAZINE in
that chair. I could read the entire U.N.C.L.E. novella in the current issue in
one sitting, between the time I got home from school and supper (which was
always at six o'clock on the dot). Then I'd read the back-up stories the next
afternoon. I also recall sitting down in that rocker one Sunday afternoon,
after church and Sunday dinner, with the Bantam paperback of THE
THOUSAND-HEADED MAN, one of the early Bantam reprints of the Doc Savage novels
and the second one I read after METEOR MENACE. Again, I didn't get up until I'd
read that entire paperback. I'm thinking I ought to reread it, if I can ever
find the time.
One other thing I liked about that rocker: if you rocked hard enough in it, you
could tip it over backward. I never got hurt doing that, but my mother hated
it. Years later, after I had kids, my mother still had that same chair, and I
taught the girls the trick. My mother still hated it. I told her that if she
ever got rid of the rocker, I wanted it. Well, she got rid of it, all right,
but she wouldn't tell me what she did with it. I suspect she didn't want me to
have it because she was afraid the girls would hurt themselves tipping it over.
And maybe she was right.
Of course there were other places in my parents' house where I read a lot,
including my bed, where I would prop pillows behind me and sit up half the
night reading Edgar Rice Burroughs and classic mysteries (John Dickson Carr's
THE THREE COFFINS comes to mind, along with a number of Ellery Queen novels)
and the summer between eighth and ninth grades, all three Lord of the Rings
novels. At some point I got an actual recliner in my room, and that was where I
read THE MALTESE FALCON, THE BIG SLEEP, THE MAN FROM DEL RIO, and lots and lots
of comic books.
Another of my favorite places to read was a lounge chair on our front
porch, as long as the weather was nice, of course. I read more Burroughs there,
along with several novels by Robert Heinlein and Isaac Asimov's THE FOUNDATION
TRILOGY (in the fat Science Fiction Book Club omnibus edition that some of you
probably remember). I laughed my head off reading Richard S. Prather's Shell
Scott novel STRIP FOR MURDER. (Those of you who have read it know the scene
that set me off.) I read some mainstream fiction there, too, including a volume
of Ben Hecht's short stories, some Irwin Shaw, THE MAGUS by John Fowles, and a
book that was a bestseller at the time (forgotten today, of course) THE SECRET
OF SANTA VITTORIA.
A couple of doors down the street was a rent house that my parents owned, and
for a while my sister and brother-in-law lived there. I hung out there quite a
bit and usually had a book with me. It was on the front porch of that house I
read Mickey Spillane's ONE LONELY NIGHT. My brother-in-law had a shelf of
science fiction novels I raided, so there was still more Burroughs and
Heinlein, along with E.E. "Doc" Smith and A.E. van Vogt.
Along in those same years, I spent a lot of time at my aunt's house in the tiny
Texas town of Blanket, not far from Brownwood. Some of you know exactly where
that is, and no doubt you also know that there's not much to do in Blanket. I
had a transistor radio and stacks and stacks of books. I read the great comic
novel RHUBARB by H. Allen Smith. I read a bunch of Larry and Streak and Nevada
Jim Westerns by "Marshall McCoy", really Len Meares, who became a
good friend by correspondence years later. I read the Lancer editions of the
Conan stories by Robert E. Howard (complete with the meddling of L. Sprague de
Camp and Lin Carter, but I didn't understand that until years later, either).
While at the grocery store in Brownwood, I bought copies of FLINT by Louis
L'Amour and THE SPY IN THE OINTMENT by Donald E. Westlake. A trip to the
drugstore in Comanche, a dozen miles the other direction from Blanket, yielded
an issue of THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. digest magazine that featured "The
Pillars of Salt Affair", actually written by Bill Pronzini under the
Robert Hart Davis house-name. Years later, the one time I met Pronzini, I told
him how much I enjoyed reading that story in a big brown armchair in my aunt's
house. On a similar note, I recall reading one of Edward S. Aarons' Sam Durrell
novels, ASSIGNMENT—SCHOOL FOR SPIES, while I was there. Then, somewhere during
that stretch, I met the girl who lived across the street from my aunt and
afterwards spent less time reading, but it probably says something about me
that I remember all those authors and titles but have absolutely no
recollection of her name.
Eventually I went off to college, spending a year at Southwest Texas State
University in San Marcos (it's now just Texas State) and then finishing my
degree at North Texas State University in Denton (now the University of North
Texas). At SWTSU I read a bunch of Doc Savage and Nick Carter novels, many of
which my roommate borrowed and read as well. I lived in a dorm for one year at
NTSU, had an apartment in Denton for a year, and commuted for a year, plus the
two summer sessions it took me to finish up. I still read a bunch of comics,
and it was along in here that I started reading the Executioner series as well,
going through them as fast as I could lay my hands on them. I remember reading
a number of Donald Hamilton's Matt Helm novels while I lived in the apartment.
While I was commuting, my home-away-from-home became the NTSU library,
particularly an isolated corner where a dozen or so study carrels were located
behind the stacks where thousands of bound periodicals were shelved. I sat in
one of those carrels between classes with food I had snuck in and whatever
paperback I was reading, often one of the Jove reprints of a Shadow novel with
a cover by Jim Steranko. The library had some of the early trade paperback
collections of classic comic strips like DICK TRACY and TERRY AND THE PIRATES,
and I'd get those off the shelves and read them as well.
Of course, that area was designed for studying, which I also did . . . very
occasionally. It's a wonder I ever made it through college. But hey, when you
stop and think about it, I was studying. I just didn't know it.
Later I grew up (sort of), got married, and had daughters who wanted to go
to dance class and Girl Scouts. I spent a lot of hours sitting in various
vehicles outside of various buildings waiting for them, and of course you know
how I passed the time. With pulps, and Dean Koontz novels, and science fiction
digests. (I was on my great hiatus from comics by then.) The Girl Scout troops
met in the local community center and the parking lot wasn't lit well enough to
read by during the winter months when it was dark by the time we'd get there.
So I took a little battery-powered light with me and held it over the book with
one hand while I turned the pages with the other hand. Sometimes it was cold
enough that I had to wear gloves. Sure, I probably could have gone into the
building and found some place warm and well-lighted to sit and wait, but I got
to where I enjoyed being out there in the car, huddled in a coat, a little
island of light in a dark parking lot, just me and my books. I'm sure people
thought I was crazy. But I'll bet a few of you understand.
Now I read mostly on the sofa in our living room. As I write this, my Kindle, a
trade paperback collection of some Western pulp stories, and a magazine are
waiting there beside it for me. Here in my office there's a stack of comics
three feet to my left, within reach if I lean over a little between chapters in
the current manuscript. To my right is a low bookcase full of research books,
but stacked in front of it so that I have to move them occasionally are a
couple of stacks of pulp reprints from Black Dog Books and Altus Press and some
trade paperback comic book collections. On top of the bookcase is a small stack
of library books (a mystery novel and two old Westerns). If I turn my chair
around, I'm facing eight sets of metal shelves (four pairs set back to back)
completely full of double-stacked paperbacks. On the tops of those shelves are
big stacks of hardbacks and trade paperbacks, and there's another set of metal
shelves full of hardbacks and trade paperbacks stuck in a corner, along with
two six-foot-high stacks of unshelved hardbacks and trade paperbacks. Now, as I
look around, I spot a bag of paperbacks I bought at one of the stores down at
the coast this past summer that I've never gotten around to putting on the
shelves. And this is after losing everything in the fire and starting over less
than six years ago. If I never buy another book, I'll never get around to
reading all the ones I have.
But what a sad world it would be if I never bought another book. There are
bound to be more good reading spots out there, just waiting for me to discover
It's been a long day on the trail. The sun is setting, the campfire is burning, and the storytellers are sitting around waiting to entertain you. TRAILS OF THE WILD features six short stories of the Old West and a brand-new Cash Laramie novella by Wayne D. Dundee.
Tension builds as a Texas Ranger is pinned down by an outlaw's rifle fire and a deadly diamondback crawling over his legs.
Laughs abound when a man fights to maintain his own identity in the shadow of his famous, deceased grandfather Davy Crockett.
Fear strikes while shape-shifting coyotes prowl outside the shack of a sole line rider in secluded ranch territory.
All this and more raise the stakes and turn conventions upside-down. BEAT to a PULP's TRAILS OF THE WILD offers the boldest and most thrilling Western tales from the sharpest wordsmiths of our time.
(My short story "Rattler" is included in this anthology. I'm looking forward to reading the others. TRAILS OF THE WILD is available in both e-book and print editions.)
With all that action going on, that looks to me like it might be a Norman Saunders cover, but I don't know for sure and I'm not enough of an art expert to do more than hazard a guess. But whoever painted it, I like it, and the stories in this issue look good, too. Authors include Frederick Nebel, A. deHerries Smith, Karl Detzer, Sgt. Dan O'Rourke, and James P. Olsen. Love the title of the story by the house-name John Starr, too: "Sourdough Girl". If it didn't already exist, I might have to write it.
I don't recall the first Ross Macdonald book I read. It may
well have been THE MOVING TARGET, the first book in the Lew Archer series. I
remember checking it out of the library very early on. But not long after that
I joined The Mystery Guild, and one of the books I got as part of my membership
was ARCHER IN HOLLYWOOD, a thick green omnibus volume with three novels in it:
THE MOVING TARGET (which I'd already read), THE WAY SOME PEOPLE DIE, and THE
BARBAROUS COAST, as well as an introduction by Macdonald about the writing of
Well, that was enough to make me into a lifelong fan of Ross Macdonald's
writing and the Lew Archer series in particular. All the books up to that time
had been reprinted in paperback (most by Bantam, a few by Pocket Books), and
used copies were readily available. I snatched them up and read all I could get
my hands on, including the short story collection THE NAME IS ARCHER, which I
remember reading at my aunt's house in Blanket, Texas.
All the stories from THE NAME IS ARCHER—and more—can by found in THE ARCHER
FILES, a great collection published a few years ago by Crippen & Landru.
That "more" I refer to includes a biographical sketch of Lew Archer
by Tom Nolan, who edited the book, and what Nolan calls "Case Notes",
which are actually the openings of Archer stories that Macdonald never
finished. Some of these fragments are brief, only a page or two, but others are
fairly substantial. All of them are entertaining and very frustrating at the
same time, because we don't get to find out how the stories end. But
Macdonald's prose is as compelling and appealing as ever.
I won't claim to have reread all the stories in THE ARCHER FILES for this post,
but I reread several of them and they hold up very well, no doubt about that.
One of them, "Gone Girl", opens with a couple of lines I really like
and have never forgotten: "It was a Friday night. I was tooling home from
the Mexican border in a light blue convertible and a dark blue mood." Ah,
that sweet first-person private eye narration . . . I just love it.
If you've never read Macdonald's work and haven't made the acquaintance of Lew
Archer, THE ARCHER FILES would be a great place to start. If you're an old fan
like me, well, reading these stories took me back to the Sixties and early
Seventies, when I was devouring all the private eye yarns I could find, and it
was a great feeling. Now I might have to try to find the time to reread some of
the Archer novels.
In 1975, writer/artist Howard Chaykin created a character
for the short-lived Atlas/Seaboard comics company called The Scorpion. In the
two issues under that title produced by Chaykin, The Scorpion was a mysterious,
swashbuckling adventurer named Moro Frost who operated in 1930s Hollywood. Due
to creative differences, Chaykin left the title after those two issues, and a
third issue of THE SCORPION by different creators and featuring a different
character was published before Atlas/Seaboard collapsed. The company put out
some pretty good comic books during its short life (I read most of them), but
my favorite was probably Chaykin's version of THE SCORPION.
A short time later, the second issue of Marvel's black-and-white magazine
MARVEL PREVIEW featured a story called "The Power Broker Resolution"
that starred a mysterious, swashbuckling adventurer in 1930s Hollywood named
Dominic Fortune. The writer/artist who produced that story? None other than
Howard Chaykin. Yep, Dominic Fortune was a reworked version of The Scorpion,
with little changed except the character's name. I enjoyed it as much as I had
the two earlier issues.
The story didn't lead to much, though. A few years later in one of Marvel's
color comics, MARVEL PREMIERE #56, Dominic Fortune surfaced again in a story
called "The Big Top Barter Resolution", with art by Chaykin and Terry
Austin and script by David Michelinie. This is a fun story that features a
pre-Howling Commandos appearance by Dum Dum Dugan. But again it didn't lead to
an ongoing Dominic Fortune series.
Over the years other writers and artists used Fortune as a guest star in
various stories, filling in his back-story as they went along, something with
which I'm not totally in agreement. (The urge to produce "origin"
stories is a plague that afflicts mainly Hollywood—the movie version of SOLOMON
KANE, anyone?—but it crops up in the comics industry, too. As far as I'm
concerned the worst thing that Marvel ever did with Wolverine was to give him a
detailed origin. I much preferred the mystery that surrounded his early
But back to Dominic Fortune. A few years ago, Chaykin wrote and drew a Fortune
mini-series for Marvel's MAX imprint, which means it has a lot of cussin' and
nekkid women in it, two things to which I'm not opposed in principle, but it's
easy to go overboard on them and that's almost the case here. Not quite.
"It Can Happen Here and Now" finds Fortune being hired by a movie
executive to ride herd on three drunken, washed-up ham actors who are still
valuable to the studio. In trying to keep them out of trouble, Fortune winds up
in the middle of a Fifth Columnist plot to assassinate FDR. This story aspires
to be a fun romp, and most of the time it is. It's a little too heavy-handed in
its politics for my taste, but overall I enjoyed it.
The trade paperback DOMINIC FORTUNE: IT CAN HAPPEN HERE AND NOW reprints
the MAX mini-series, the two early Dominic Fortune stories from MARVEL PREVIEW
and MARVEL PREMIERE, and a six-part Fortune serial that previously was available
only on-line. This story, written by Dean Motter and drawn by Greg Scott, is
excellent, a globe-trotting adventure in which Fortune is hired by a young
woman who wants him to prove that her sister's deadly leap from the top of the
Hollywood sign was murder, not suicide. In the course of the story, Fortune
visits Berlin, where he encounters Barons Strucker and Zemo and the young S.S.
officer who will become the Red Skull; Latveria, where he meets gypsy healer
Werner von Doom and his pregnant wife (no points for guessing who that kid
turns out to be); and a tiny country in Africa called Wakanda. There's also a
cameo by Howard Stark. The story is a lot of fun for a long-time Marvel fan
Dominic Fortune certainly isn't one of Marvel's top-tier characters, but I like
him and I enjoyed this collection. If you're a fan of the character or of
Howard Chaykin's work, it's well worth reading.
This movie is overlooked in the sense that I wanted to see
it when it came out in 1972, but for one reason or another I never did until
now. Even though it's set during the Depression, it's very much a product of
its times with its not very convincing violence, its abundant nudity, and its
theme of the little guy striking back against The Man.
Barbara Hershey, surely one of the most beautiful actresses ever, plays Bertha,
the daughter of a cropduster who's killed early on when his greedy employer
forces him to go back up in a plane that's having engine trouble. (Every
character in this movie who isn't broke or who's an officer of the law is a
brutal, greedy, psychotic bastard, by the way. Like I said, it came out in
1972.) Left on her own, Bertha falls in with Big Bill Shelley, a union
organizer who's battling against the local railroad line. They get separated,
and she winds up traveling with a con man and gambler from up north. Eventually
they all wind up together, along with the black mechanic who worked for
Bertha's father, and decide to hell with union organizing, they'll just become
a gang of criminals instead, so we're off on a lot of Bonnie and Clyde-like
Most of the plot is so ham-fisted that it's cartoonish, even though it's
supposedly based on real events, and being that this was an American
International picture produced by Roger Corman, the production values sometimes
are a little less than top-notch. However, director Martin Scorsese (yep, that
Martin Scorsese; I believe this was the first movie he directed) keeps things
perking along at a pretty entertaining pace, and the film's crudities actually
wind up being part of its charm. I probably would have liked it better if I'd
seen it in 1972—I definitely would have been more a member of its target
audience then—but I enjoyed it now. The day Livia and I watched it, we had
started two current movies that turned out to be incredibly boring and wound up
stopping both of them after half an hour in which nothing happened. As I said
to Livia after we'd watched BOXCAR BERTHA, "At least stuff happened in
this movie." Yes, it does. And for that reason, along with the nostalgia
value, it's worth watching.
Stephen Mertz has been one of the leading authors of
adventure fiction and a good friend of mine for more years than I like to think
about. His latest novel THE CASTRO DIRECTIVE is a fine addition to his body of
work, and it's a special pleasure and honor for me to read it since it's
dedicated to me.
Set in 1961, it's the behind-the-scenes story of the disastrous Bay of Pigs
invasion and the aftermath of that bungled operation. Aware that Castro has a
mole somewhere in the group of Cuban refugees planning the invasion, President
Kennedy sends for a special operative, Green Beret Sergeant Michael
"Graveyard" Morgan, to root out the spy.
A book like this is very tricky to write. Most readers already know the
historical outcome, so in order to generate any suspense you have to make the
story about how events wind up the way they did. In other words, the story is
about the journey, not the destination. Mertz does an excellent job of
accomplishing this by coming up with compelling fictional characters and some plausible
twists and turns that probably didn't happen but could have. He also makes good
use of the historical characters and events. The scenes featuring JFK, Bobby
Kennedy, and other historical figures come across as very authentic.
Then, part of the way through, Mertz throws in another highly effective twist
by involving Graveyard Morgan's estranged wife and daughter in the mix and
making the mission personal for him. This ratchets the suspense up to an even
I remember this era and the Bay of Pigs invasion fairly well, although I was
pretty young at the time and more concerned with surviving elementary school.
But I recall enough, and have studied enough history since then, to know that
Mertz does a top-notch job capturing that time period. If you want to read an
excellent historical thriller by a real pro at the top of his game, you
definitely should check out THE CASTRO DIRECTIVE, which is available in both
trade paperback and e-book editions. It gets a high recommendation from me.
Nobody ever bought a Weird Menace pulp because its cover was tasteful and restrained, and this is a perfect example of that. Creepy villains in space helmets, nearly naked girl, stalwart raygun-toting hero . . . what more do you need? Well, how about stories by Robert Leslie Bellem, Arthur J. Burks, Ray Cummings, Allan K. Echols (better known for his Westerns) and Russell Gray (Bruno Fischer)? Over the top, sure, but I'll bet it's fun.
I'm not sure I'd ever heard of this Western pulp from Ace, and I've definitely never seen any of the issues. This one has a busy but not bad cover, and one of the featured authors is the great Harry F. Olmsted. His story here was probably a reject from Popular or Street & Smith, but I'll bet it's pretty good anyway. Almost every other author in this issue is a house-name, so I have no idea who really wrote the stories.
When I read RUSTLER'S MOON by
L.P. Holmes last month, I enjoyed it enough that I knew I'd be reading more by
him soon. And so I have. THE SAVAGE HOURS is a short novel published by Ace
Books in 1966, and it's another fine piece of Western entertainment.
The protagonist of this one is undercover lawman Jim Bannion, who's sent in to
a rich ranching area in Oregon find out if the local badge-toter has turned
crooked. Immediately, Bannion finds himself in the middle of a land grab and
swindle cooked up by the local judge (not a spoiler, Holmes doesn't have any
real mystery in these stories). Several murders, bushwhackings, and brutal
fistfights later, Bannion and an unexpected ally close in on the bad guys and
set everything to rights in fine hardboiled style.
There's a decent plot twist in this one (that unexpected ally mentioned above),
but for the most part veteran Western readers will know what's going to happen.
Holmes writes so well, though, that it doesn't really matter. A book like this
is pure comfort food to somebody like me who grew up on them and would have
made a fine early Fifties movie directed by Andre de Toth and starring Randolph
Scott as Bannion. Or if you want a little lower budget, substitute Joseph Kane
for de Toth and Rod Cameron for Scott. I have several more L.P. Holmes novels
on hand and plan to get to them soon.