Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Wrap Up

I can't say that I'm sorry to see 2013 go. Livia's mom passed away during the summer, and that loss cast a shadow over much of the rest of the year. But it was also the year we got into the publishing business in a much bigger way, and we bought property down on the Gulf Coast that we hope will someday be a second home for us. Right after Christmas a new dog came to live with us, a big, enthusiastic, affectionate Pyrenees/Shepherd mix we've named Sammy. Mostly it was a year in which there was just never enough time in the day.

So here's a look at how writing and reading went for me this year.


I topped a million words again this year (good) but my output dropped again for the third or fourth year in a row (frustrating). I finished the year with 5312 pages, which is down about a thousand pages from my best year ever. I'm still shooting for a million words again next year to make it ten years in a row, but if I don't make it...well, three-quarters of a million, or whatever it turns out to be, will just have to be enough. This year's output was all novels, 13 of them, no short stories for a change. Two of those novels (WEST OF THE BIG RIVER: THE LAWMAN and DANCING WITH DEAD MEN) even had my name on them, and both were well received, which is very gratifying.


Here are my ten favorites from the books I've read this year, in the order in which I read them:

MARVEL COMICS: THE UNTOLD STORY, Sean Howe (as a Marvel fan for more than 50 years, this was great fun, as well as telling me a lot of things I didn't know)

THE LAST RIDE and THE VULTURES OF WHAPETON, Robert E. Howard (I reread these two Howard collections before I wrote the introduction to WESTERN TALES, published by the Robert E. Howard Foundation Press)

SGT. PIGGY'S LONELY HEARTS CLUB COMIC, Stephan Pastis (a massive collection of one of my favorite comic strips, PEARLS BEFORE SWINE)

I TRAVEL BY NIGHT, Robert R. McCammon (a new historical horror yarn by an old favorite, and a lot of fun)

WEST OF THE BIG RIVER: THE ARTIST, Jackson Lowry (Robert E. Vardeman) (all the WEST OF THE BIG RIVER books have been good, but this tale of Charles M. Russell before he was a famous artist is the best of the bunch)

THE MASKED INVASION, Curtis Steele (Frederick C. Davis) (the first novel in the Operator #5 pulp series; man, I had a good time reading this one)

CONAN AND THE EMERALD LOTUS, John C. Hocking (the best Conan story by anybody other than Robert E. Howard I've ever read, hands down)

SADDLES, SIXGUNS & SHOOTOUTS, Charles Beckman Jr. (Charles Boeckman) (a great collection of stories from the Western pulps by one of the few surviving genuine pulp authors)

THE BURGLAR WHO COUNTED THE SPOONS, Lawrence Block (Bernie Rhodenbarr is back, and one of the best writers ever is at the top of his game)

As a bonus, here are three books not even out yet that you need to remember so you can grab them later on:

BULLETS IN THE BLACK, Walt Coburn (I got to read it ahead of time because I wrote the intro; it includes some of Coburn's best work)

THE SOUL OF A REGIMENT, Talbot Mundy (another collection that's in the works for which I wrote the introduction)

MIDNIGHT ROAD, Jada Davis (another almost lost hardboiled masterpiece from Davis, and a fine coming-of-age novel at the same time)

I read 128 books this year, up a little from last year, but it's worth noting that the total includes 30 books I edited and/or proofread for Rough Edges Press, Western Fictioneers, and Prairie Rose Publications. That might have something to do with my own writing output going down, even though I tried to do all the editorial work after I'd gotten my own pages for the day. It does take some mental energy, though.

I have no idea how many movies we watched. Quite a few, although I didn't blog about many of them except the ones featured in the Tuesday's Overlooked Movies series. Maybe one of these years I'll at least keep a list of them. Or maybe not.

I hope all of you enjoy whatever celebrating you do tonight and that 2014 is happy, healthy, and prosperous for everyone reading this.

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Warlock

This is another of the Western DVDs Livia got for me, and another one that I'd never seen until now. WARLOCK starts out like it's going to be another version of the Gunfight at the OK Corral story, with the fictional town of Warlock standing in for Tombstone, and Marshal Clay Blaisedell (Henry Fonda) and his friend, gambler Tom Morgan (Anthony Quinn) being thinly disguised versions of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. One of the cowboy faction who's been causing trouble in the area (Richard Widmark) even becomes sheriff, much like Johnny Behan in Tombstone. The character's name, Johnny Gannon, is even similar.

But from there, WARLOCK, based on a novel of the same name by Oakley Hall, goes off on its own tangents and winds up telling a considerably different story. Some characters you think will be sympathetic turn out, well, not so much. Heroic actions come from unlikely sources. And the final series of shootouts don't turn out to be the ones you'd expect, either.

This unpredictable storyline makes WARLOCK a pretty interesting movie. The cast, which also includes the beautiful Dorothy Malone and stalwart supporting actors DeForest Kelly and Whit Bissell, is also very good. I was never a Richard Widmark fan when I was a kid, but I've really come to enjoy his work. He brings a certain world-weariness to his roles that I don't think I appreciated when I was younger. Fonda is playing to a stereotype and seems to know it, using that familiarity to his advantage. And of course he'd played Wyatt Earp before, in MY DARLING CLEMENTINE.

The movie looks good, as well, and my only real complaint is that director Edward Dmytryck lets the pace lag a little too much in places, so that WARLOCK seems longer than it really is. It's also a movie that has several apparent climaxes, so you get fooled into thinking it's about to be over, and then it's not.

Overall, I enjoyed WARLOCK quite a bit. I'm not sure why I never saw it before, but I'm glad I watched it now.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Famous Fantastic Mysteries, April 1953

Despite its name, this magazine from Popular Publications wasn't a mystery or detective pulp. Instead it was a reprint magazine featuring primarily science fiction and fantasy, with the stories sometimes abridged from their original appearances. FFM also had plenty of good covers, including this one by Lawrence Sterne Stevens. This particular issue includes a novel by H. Rider Haggard originally published in 1914, a short story by Margaret St. Clair, and a poem by Stanton A. Coblentz. I haven't read this issue of FAMOUS FANTASTIC MYSTERIES, but I've read several others and always found them enjoyable, although the notion that the stories had been cut is a little bothersome.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Dime Western, December 1949

The December 1949 issue of DIME WESTERN has a really strong line-up of authors behind that cover. I was able to read this one recently, thanks to Karl Rehn, and it's a fine issue.

The lead novella is "Born to the Smoke" by E.B. Mann, an author I've meant to read before but never have until now. It's a save-the-ranch yarn, as cowhand John Brent is revealed to be notorious gunman John Brant and booted off the Lazy H, thus ending what he hoped would be a budding romance with the owner's daughter. Before Brant can leave the ranch, though, he's bushwhacked and roped into an effort to stop a gang of outlaws from taking over the place. There's one small twist in the plot, but other than that veteran Western readers will probably know everything that's going to happen. Mann's prose is smooth, though, and several excellent action scenes more than balance out any predictability in the story.

I never read much of Roe Richmond's work except some of the Jim Hatfield novels he wrote under the Jackson Cole house-name during the Fifties for TEXAS RANGERS. And I didn't care much for those. They were written well enough, but Richmond saddled Hatfield with a whole gang of sidekicks I didn't like. (Some of those Hatfield novels were later rewritten into Lashtrow novels and published under Richmond's name by Leisure, Zebra, and Ace.) So I didn't really know what to expect from his novelette in this issue, "Battle Call for Last-Chance". This tale of small ranchers caught between sheepherders on one side and a ruthless cattle baron on the other is very good. There's a small but effective twist in the story, and the action scenes are top-notch. I've never gone out of my way to read Richmond's work because of my dislike for those Hatfield novels, but maybe I was wrong about that.

"Gunsmoke Angelus for Mesa Grande" is by an author I'm not familiar with, William Benton Johnston. This is the last story of his listed in the Fictionmags Index. It's the familiar plot of an old enemy returning to town to settle a score with the hero, but the writing is good and the ending is a bit offbeat, so I enjoyed it.

I've been reading and enjoying Clifton Adams' work for a long time, probably starting with the novels he wrote about lawman Amos Flagg under the pseudonym Clay Randall. "Private Manhunt" is an excellent novelette about drifting cowpoke Matt Reynolds, who becomes involved in hunting down some stagecoach robbers because of a pretty girl. This story is in first person, something that's a little unusual for the Western pulps, but it works very well with Adams' terse prose. There's plenty of action, and the touches of dry humor here and there add to the appeal. Top-notch work all around.

The real surprise in the issue is the novelette "Nine Coffins for Rocking H". Not the story itself, which is a well-written cattle baron vs. homesteaders yarn, but because of the author, John D. MacDonald. I hadn't realized that MacDonald wrote any Westerns. But it's not really surprising that he did a few of them since that was still a popular market when he was making his living as a pulpster in the late Forties. This particular story has some excellent action scenes and is a bit bleaker than most Western pulp stories. I'm not sure MacDonald felt all that comfortable with Westerns, though. It has a certain by-the-numbers quality to it. But it's still a good story.

No surprise is that "Once a Gun-Wolf—" by T.T. Flynn is my favorite story in the issue. I don't think Flynn ever wrote a bad story. At least I haven't run across any so far. This one is an "outlaw trying to go straight and escape his past" yarn, and while the plot isn't surprising (except for one late twist I didn't see coming), Flynn's writing is so good it swept me along and easily kept me entertaining and engrossed. He's just one of the most solid Western writers I've encountered, in or out of the pulps.

DIME WESTERN is one of the best Western pulps overall, and even as late in the game as 1949 could still put out exceptional issues like this one on a regular basis. There's not a bad story in the bunch. In fact, they range from very good to excellent. It's issues like this that tend to spoil the pulp reader.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Now Available: The Saint in Miami - Leslie Charteris (Introduction by James Reasoner)

Today's mail brought a fine Christmas present two days after the fact: a copy of the new British reprint of THE SAINT IN MIAMI, my favorite Saint novel, for which I was fortunate enough to write the introduction. When Ian Dickerson, the series editor, asked me if I'd like to do one of the intros and did I have a preference which volume it would be, I didn't waste any time in answering him. I've loved this book ever since I first read it, lo, those many years ago, an event which I go into in more detail in the introduction. I can't tell you how pleased I am to see my name on the cover of this book. It seems to be available through Amazon UK (here's the page) but not the American Amazon, but I'm sure that if you're in the U.S. and want to get your hands on a copy, there are ways that can be done. You'll just have to use your imagination, as the actress said to the bishop...

Forgotten Books (combined with the Annual December 27th Post): The Emerald Land - Livia James

Since Friday falls on December 27th this week, I thought I'd combine my Forgotten Books post with my traditional December 27th post and talk about a book from very early in my career. THE EMERALD LAND has been out of print for 30 years, so I think it qualifies as forgotten.

For those of you coming in late, a quick word of explanation. I sold my first story on December 27th, 1976, so today marks 37 years as a professional writer for me. Of course, the story was actually bought earlier than that, in the offices of Ideal Publications in New York, but December 27th is when I got the check for it, which was the first I knew that it had been accepted. So that's the day I celebrate my anniversary as a pro. You can go back and check the December 27th posts in previous years if you want to learn more about that.

My first novel, TEXAS WIND, sold in the fall of 1979 (I don't remember the exact date; you'd think I would) and was published in October 1980. I was trying to sell other novels along the way, writing chapters-and-outline proposals for several of them that I don't even recall now. Livia and I managed to get an agent, Lea Braff, who had a literary agency along with Sharon Jarvis, who later became an editor at Ace, if I recall correctly. I believe Lea was representing Joe Lansdale at the time, and that Joe put us in touch with her. (If I'm remembering any of these details wrong, I'm sorry. It was a long time ago, and any correspondence from those days is long gone.) Livia and I wrote a proposal for a historical romance novel and sent it to Lea, and she promptly sold it to the first place she submitted it, Fawcett Gold Medal, which by that time was owned by Ballantine.

This sale was a big deal for us. The advance was pretty good: $8000. That was far and away the most we'd ever made from writing. With the first half of the advance in hand, and my regular job writing Mike Shayne stories for MSMM (300 bucks a month, doesn't sound like much, but we saved up and bought a used van with it, high cotton in those days), plus fairly regular short fiction sales to MSMM and various men's magazines, in January 1981 I was emboldened to quit my job running the office of my dad's TV and appliance repair business to concentrate solely on writing.

Nowadays I feel pretty bad about that decision for a number of reasons, one of which is that I was too young and inexperienced to be a full-time writer and didn't really take advantage of the opportunity. I had already finished the first draft of THE EMERALD LAND while still working at the TV shop, starting on it as soon as Fawcett made the offer and writing about 80,000 words in a crazed three-week stretch. Once I was working full-time at home, Livia rewrote the manuscript while I wrote Shayne stories, then we both polished it and sent it in. The editor at Fawcett who bought the book was Michaela Hamilton, but the person who actually edited it was Michael Ossias, who I never heard of before or since. He wanted some fairly extensive revisions, which in those pre-computer days meant that the whole manuscript had to be retyped. Once we'd done all the rewriting, covering the pages with handwritten revisions and new material, we embarked on a marathon retyping session, switching off at the typewriter and doing the entire book in one stretch from eight o'clock at night until six o'clock the next morning. Then we got some sleep, had a late breakfast, took the manuscript into Fort Worth to have it photocopied (pre-computer days, remember?), and shipped the original off to New York.

A couple of years later in 1983, the book was published under the wildly original pseudonym Livia James, the only time we've used that name. The cover was pretty good, and I was proud to have a book published by Gold Medal, even though it wasn't the "real" Gold Medal.

So what's the book about? It centers around the lives of this beautiful Irish girl and her family in the 1850s, first in Ireland, then in New York when they come to America, and finally Kansas after they head west to settle on a farm just in time for the bloody lead-up to the Civil War. There are dastardly villains, a couple of heroic mountain men, some romance and angst, and a considerable amount of action. In other words, it's the sort of historical soap opera that Livia and I have written on a number of other occasions in our careers.

Despite the decent cover I mentioned above, the book didn't sell very well. There were a lot of historical romances competing for rack space and readers' attention in those days, and "Livia James" was a complete unknown. It certainly didn't sell well enough that Fawcett clamored for another book from us. By the time it came out, I was working part-time in a comic book store owned by a friend of mine and writing as many short stories (some of which sold) and book proposals (none of which sold) as I could. We were about to branch out and start our own used bookstore, in hopes that would provide enough cash flow to keep us afloat while we continued trying to sell novels. That idea didn't work out, either. We ghosted a few books for friends, one of which paid pretty well but didn't lead to anything else, but by and large it was a dry spell that lasted for several years and was bad enough that I remember being excited when I got a $60 check from a men's magazine for a porn story. We had parted ways with Lea Braff, who was never a good fit for us as an agent despite her successful sale of THE EMERALD LAND, and had been with another agent for a while who wound up dropping us as clients after selling one book for us (a contemporary romance that remains unpublished to this day, and always will). In the mid-Eighties it looked like my career as a writer was going to come to a screeching halt less than a decade into it.

Of course it didn't, but that's a story for another time. To get back to THE EMERALD LAND, I've never reread it so I don't know how well it holds up, but I remember it as being fairly entertaining and I doubt that it's completely cringe-worthy, although I know we would do some things differently if we were writing it today. It's never been reprinted and likely never will be, but if there are such creatures as Reasoner completists who want to read it, there are used copies available on-line and none of them are expensive. (By the way, if there actually are any Reasoner completists, they're bound to be disappointed, because probably a third of my novels don't have my name anywhere on them and I'm contractually forbidden from claiming them. Just another of the odd turns my career has taken.)

So, 37 years in and I'm still at it, thanks to an enormous amount of help from Livia, our daughters, and any number of editors who had faith in me, from Sam Merwin Jr. to Gary Goldstein. I have no plans to retire, although I wouldn't mind slowing down a little. But there are still too many good books I want to write, so I hope I'm around for a while yet, turning out those pages.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Upon My Soul - Robert J. Randisi

As many excellent hitman novels as there have been over the years—Lawrence Block's Keller series and Max Allan Collins' Quarry series come to mind—you wouldn't think there would be much left to do with the sub-genre. But you'd be wrong, as Robert J. Randisi's new novel UPON MY SOUL proves quite handily.

Sangster, the protagonist of this novel, was an efficient, highly skilled killer for hire until the morning he woke up and realized he had a soul. This discovery led him to retire from the business, and he's spent the last several years leading a quiet, peaceful life in Louisiana.

But people at that deadly level of the underworld usually aren't allowed to walk away, as readers of Peter Rabe's Daniel Port novels and Ennis Willie's Sand series (not to mention the Butcher men's adventure novels) know very well. Sangster's past catches up to him in bloody fashion, and he's forced to choose between preserving his new-found soul by honoring his vow not to kill again or avenging several brutal murders for which he feels some responsibility. It's a dangerous conundrum, and Randisi uses it to ratchet up a considerable amount of suspense.

As usual in a Bob Randisi novel, UPON MY SOUL is very fast-paced, but it's not quite as dialogue-driven as some and is a bit more reflective, which works very well. Sangster is an interesting and sympathetic protagonist, despite his ruthless background, and the supporting cast is good, too, especially a Jamaican cab driver in Las Vegas who becomes an unlikely ally and an elderly butler who is more than he seems. There are some nice twists in the plot as well.

UPON MY SOUL is a fine crime novel, and I'm glad to report that it's also the first in a trilogy. I'm looking forward to reading more about Sangster's continuing struggle for his soul.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

New for Christmas

Great books to read, a bunch of exciting DVDs to watch, some fine music, and a couple of vital writing accessories in the calendars (I read each day's strip before I sit down to work). Also a bunch of vintage issues of the magazine FRONTIER TIMES on CD, a great research tool. Plus some warm clothes (I get cold easier than I used to) and a new pair of shoes, a code reader for auto repair work, and assorted goodies in my stocking. I am a lucky, lucky fella. Merry Christmas, everyone!

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Music I Like: White Christmas - Bing Crosby

This series of Christmas music comes to an end with my favorite, "White Christmas" as sung by Bing Crosby. I wanted to find a clip of the ending of the movie WHITE CHRISTMAS, but there doesn't seem to be one on-line at the moment. I don't know if my little experiment was a success or not. I don't seem to be any more in the Christmas spirit than I usually am, but in recent years, Christmas Eve is usually when it kicks in anyway. I hope it's a wonderful holiday for all of you.

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: Christmas Twister

I wanted to find an obscure Christmas movie to write about today, and they don't get much more obscure than this one. Actually, one of my daughters saw it last year when it debuted on the Ion television network and told me about it. My reaction at the time: "CHRISTMAS TWISTER? There's no such movie as CHRISTMAS TWISTER!"

Well, there is, and I'm here to tell you about it, if not wholeheartedly recommend it.

First of all, it's set in the area where I live, although it was filmed elsewhere, as quickly becomes obvious to anyone familiar with this part of Texas. In fact, the first scene takes place in Dublin, Texas, which has to be the only time I've ever seen a movie set partially in Dublin. Any movie. Other locales include Stephenville, Granbury, Lake Worth (about five miles from where I'm typing this), and Fort Worth.

The plot is pretty simple. A rare, unseasonal outbreak of killer tornadoes threatens Fort Worth and the surrounding area. Climate scientist Caspar Van Dien (who has certainly been in his share of less than stellar movies) realizes what's coming and tries to warn people, including his news broadcaster wife, but nobody will believe him. Sure enough, the tornadoes hit just before Christmas, chaos and destruction ensue, and the scientist and his wife and kids (who are all in different locations starting out, of course) try to survive and find each other. A few soap operatic sub-plots stretch things out.

Christmas is in December, but that's about the only thing CHRISTMAS TWISTER gets right as far as facts go. The science, the geography, the way people actually talk and act in Texas, all of that is pretty much wrong. One of the guys who wrote the script lives in Austin, but there's still a strong sense that he and his co-author just called up Google Maps and plucked names off of it. It doesn't help that the actors refer to highway numbers with "the" in front of them, as in, "Let's hop on the 1-9-9" or "We'll cut over to the I-30". I don't know how widespread that practice is in other parts of the country, but I've never heard anybody say such a thing around here. I've always thought that was a Southern California thing. County names are mispronounced, too.

Yes, I know I'm being picky about things that I happen to know even though they probably wouldn't bother people in other parts of the country. I'm sure I've made similar mistakes in my own work. You try your best and you go on. So I feel bad about pointing them out, but such things do make it hard for me to take the movie seriously.

That's probably the point, though. Movies like CHRISTMAS TWISTER aren't meant to be taken seriously. And in that respect it does manage some moments of goofy, over-the-top entertainment. Richard Burgi, who's made a career out of playing smarmy lawyers, smarmy doctors, and smarmy businessmen, is a smarmy meteorologist in this one, and one of his scenes is particularly effective. A statuesque blond actress named Kassandra Clementi plays the best friend of the scientist's daughter and actually puts some spark and humor into an underwritten part. The fact that she spends her on-screen time in extremely short cut-off jeans and cowboy boots probably doesn't hurt. She's Australian and currently featured on a soap opera down there, but I wouldn't be surprised to see her turn up again in American productions.

Other than taking place just before Christmas, there's not much holiday spirit in this one. It's cheaply made and for the most part very workman-like, but I stayed awake for the whole thing, which is worth something. Ion has shown it several times already this Christmas season. I don't know if it's scheduled again, but you should be able to look that up if you're interested. And hey, there's always next year, when I'm sure they'll show it again.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Music I Like: Merry Christmas, Darling - The Carpenters

A beautiful song and one of the purest voices ever. I think I posted it last year, but I can listen to it again and hope that you can, too.

More Edgar Wallace (and Keith Chapman)

Again courtesy of Keith Chapman, here's a photo of the young editor showing cover mock-ups from EDGAR WALLACE MYSTERY MAGAZINE to Wallace's children in 1964. Keith's holding the cover of the first issue, as seen in the previous post, in his left hand. A bit of publishing history for a Monday.

Monday Morning Digest Magazine: Edgar Wallace Mystery Magazine, August 1964 (Vol. 1, Number 1)

Is this the start of a new series here on the ol' blog? Well, maybe, maybe not. There are a lot of great digest covers we can look at. I was just thinking that I might start blogging a little less next year in an attempt to simplify my life, but then Keith Chapman, aka Chap O'Keefe, sends me a cover scan of the first issue of EDGAR WALLACE MYSTERY MAGAZINE, which came up in the comments on yesterday's post, and . . . well, there you go. It's a good cover, reminiscent of ones I've seen on MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE. Again, I don't recognize any of the authors' names except Edgar Wallace. Thanks for sending this along, Keith.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Christmas Music I Like: Silent Night

During most of World War II, my father was married and already had two kids, but by the closing months of the war he was drafted anyway and wound up being sent overseas just before V-E Day. He was stationed in Austria for about a year, and as he liked to say, he strung telephone wire all over the country as part of the Signal Corps. But the one Christmas he was there, he was able to go to the little church in Oberndorf where the song "Silent Night" was written. That meant a lot to him, and I've never forgotten listening to him tell that story. A simple thing, but it means a lot to me, too. I don't know who does this version, but the song was written to be played on a guitar, so it seems appropriate. This one's for my dad.

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Detective Story Magazine, December 19, 1925

Uh-oh. Looks like Santa's up to no good. The very same week that the pulp featured in yesterday's post came out, another Street & Smith pulp with a Christmas-themed cover appeared. I found this scan on-line and the issue isn't listed in the Fictionmags Index, so you know as much about it as I do. Or possibly more, because the only name on the cover I recognize is Edgar Wallace, and I don't think I've ever read anything by him. But hey, it's a Christmas cover and it's three days until Christmas, so that's good enough, I suppose.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Christmas Music I Like - The Christmas Song - Mel Torme

A classic song, sung by the man who wrote it. Hard to beat that.

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Story, December 19, 1925

WESTERN STORY nearly always had a Christmas issue, and the theme often extended to the stories as well as the cover. This issue features "The Outlaw Santa Claus" by Robert J. Horton, "Santa Claus on the Trail" by Frank Richardson Pierce, "Prairie Yule" by Ernest Haycox, and "Christmas Comes to Brady's Flat" by Reginald C. Barker, along with an installment of Frederick Faust's serial "The White Cheyenne", published under the pseudonym Peter H. Morland. Wonder if anybody found this issue under their Christmas tree back in 1925.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Christmas Music I Like: Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas - The Carpenters

One of my favorite Christmas songs, sung by one of my favorite singers.

Forgotten Books: The Deep Cold Green - Carter Brown (Alan G. Yates)

I've seen Robert Barnard's books around for many years but never read any of them. So with this being Robert Barnard Week on Forgotten Books, I gave one a try...then another, and another. I didn't like or finish any of them, so sadly I have to say that Barnard just isn't an author for me. However, I thought that I still ought to read a mystery novel by a British author, and Alan G. Yates was born in England, right?

So that brings us to THE DEEP COLD GREEN, another entry in the long-running series written by Yates (and possibly a few ghosts) under the name Carter Brown. The Carter Brown books feature several different characters, and this one stars the one who's probably my favorite, police lieutenant Al Wheeler. As a bonus, it has a nice McGinnis cover, as most of the Carter Brown books from that era do.

As the book opens, Al is in Reno, Nevada, on his way back to his hometown of Pine City from a vacation. A beautiful redhead named Tracy barges into his room looking for a ride back to Pine City, but hot on her heels are a couple of bruisers who have come to take her back to her husband, professional gambler and casino owner Dane Tenison. They back off when they find out Al is a cop. Al and Tracy leave Reno together, but Tracy promptly disappears after they spend one night together. According to the motel clerk, she left on her own in a rental car, so Al doesn't think there's anything suspicious about her departure.

Back in Pine City, though, a body washes up on the beach a week later, and wouldn't you know it? The dead woman is Tracy Tenison. Or is she? Al quickly discovers that Tracy has a lookalike sister named Louise. It appears that Louise was only pretending to be Tracy back in Reno, because in actuality she was carrying on an affair with her sister's husband.

After that, things start to get a little complicated.

The Carter Brown books don't have much of a reputation anymore, but they usually featured complex plots that provided a genuine challenge for whichever detective was in that book to figure out. Most of the time, they even made sense. This tale involving several beautiful women, a murder frame-up, and the world of professional high-stakes gambling races right along in Yates' smart-alecky prose to an action-packed finale at sea. He even tries to put in a few poetic touches here and there and for the most part succeeds. Al Wheeler is a likable narrator/hero, and I always enjoy his adventures.

THE DEEP COLD GREEN was published in 1968, and it's a little more graphic sexually than the earlier Carter Brown books but not as pornographic as the ones from the Seventies. The whole Swinging Sixties atmosphere makes it read a little like a historical novel now. It's hard to believe more than forty years have passed since then. One thing hasn't changed, though: I read and enjoyed Carter Brown books back in those days, and from time to time I still do. This one's worth checking out if you're a fan and haven't read it yet.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Now Available: Vendetta - Ed Gorman

Peter Madsen became a priest to atone for a life of violence and a wartime tragedy and thought he had put away his gun for good. But then a grief-stricken young woman who's like a daughter to him sets out on a quest of vengeance, and Madsen is forced to take up the gun again as he sets out to save her from herself.

What Madsen doesn't know is that he's about to walk into a dangerous web of tangled emotions—lust, greed, hatred, and more—that will culminate in a shocking crime and a deadly showdown on the dusty street of a frontier town.

This classic novel now available again from Rough Edges Press demonstrates once more why Ed Gorman is one of the most acclaimed Western authors of all time. His tough, spare narrative voice, his painfully human characters, and his sure grasp of storytelling make VENDETTA a compelling reading experience.

VENDETTA is also available for the Nook and on Smashwords.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Topper/Topper Returns

(This post originally appeared in slightly different form on June 19, 2006.)

My daughter Joanna is a fan of Cary Grant movies, so we picked up a DVD that has both TOPPER and TOPPER RETURNS on it. I always liked the Topper TV series from the Fifties, which I watched in syndicated reruns during the Sixties. I've read some of the novels by Thorne Smith, too. I'd seen TOPPER, but the last time was many years ago. Sad to say, watching it now, it hasn't aged that well. Cary Grant is always good, of course, and Roland Young was a good character actor. But the film, while whimsical at times, just isn't very funny and meanders along at a slow pace.

I'd never seen TOPPER RETURNS and didn't really know anything about it, so I was surprised when I saw that Cary Grant wasn't in it. In fact, the only actors who return are Roland Young as Cosmo Topper and Billie Burke as his wife Clara. The credits open with a mysterious shadowy figure and dramatic music, as if this is a mystery movie rather than a comedy. Then I see that the screenplay is by Jonathan Latimer, the hardboiled mystery novelist, and Gordon Douglas, better known as the director of numerous action-packed Western, mystery, and adventure movies. Needless to say, my interest perked up. TOPPER RETURNS is indeed a mystery movie (with humor) rather than a comedy. Topper himself is an incidental character for much of the film, which centers around two young women visiting the creepy old house that one of them is about to inherit -- if she can live long enough to do so. Early on it becomes obvious that somebody is trying to kill one of them.

If TOPPER was too slow, the same can't be said of TOPPER RETURNS. There's a heck of a lot packed into the movie's fairly short running time. We get Joan Blondell as a cute, brassy ghost; Carole Landis as the blond bombshell who's the intended victim of the murder plot; snappy, hardboiled patter from rugged Dennis O'Keefe; a masked killer who sports a slouch hat and cloak that make him look a little like The Shadow; George Zucco (the poor man's Bela Lugosi) as a sinister doctor; secret passages, trapdoors, and revolving walls; a cavern with a hidden boat landing (one of the sure signs, along with quicksand, of a really good movie); and to top it all off, a fine performance by Eddie "Rochester" Anderson, one of the greatest second bananas of all time. I had a wonderful time watching this movie.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Christmas Music I Like: Christmastime is Here - Vince Guaraldi

Even though I don't watch it every year anymore, I still love A CHARLIE BROWN CHRISTMAS, the first and still the best of the Peanuts cartoons. And this is a beautiful song.

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: 10-Story Detective Magazine

Allen Anderson is best known for the pulp covers he painted for Fiction House, but here's one he did for a detective pulp from Periodical House, which appears to be one of A.A. Wyn's imprints, judging by the Ace logo on the cover. The heavy hitters among the writers in this issue are G.T. Fleming-Roberts, who wrote many of the best Secret Agent X novels, the extremely prolific Norman Daniels who went on to be a prolific paperback author as well, and Robert Turner. The best title in the issue, though, as far as I'm concerned, goes to Ted Stratton's "Slugs Along the Mohawk". I want to read that one!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Ranch Romances, May 1960

Rafael de Soto was still doing pulp covers as late as 1960, and RANCH ROMANCES was one of the few pulps still around by then. This looks like a fairly gritty issue, with stories by Joseph Chadwick, W.J. Reynolds, Leslie Ernenwein, and Joe Archibald. The Chadwick and Ernenwein stories are reprints from THRILLING RANCH STORIES and TEXAS RANGERS, respectively. I saw issues of RANCH ROMANCES on the stands now and then when I was a kid, although I never bought one, of course. My mistake.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Christmas Music I Like: It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year - Andy Williams

Growing up, we always watched the Andy Williams Christmas specials. I'm sure we saw the one this production number was on.

Forgotten Books: Fury on Sunday - Richard Matheson

(This post originally appeared in slightly different form on November 17, 2007.)

A while back I read and enjoyed Richard Matheson’s first suspense novel, SOMEONE IS BLEEDING, originally published by Lion Books in 1953. Now I’ve read his second novel, FURY ON SUNDAY, also published by Lion in 1953, and I liked it even better.

I have a fondness for books that take place in a short period of time. Everything in FURY ON SUNDAY happens during a four-hour span, in the wee hours of a Sunday morning. The plot is pretty simple: crazed pianist Vincent Radin escapes from the insane asylum where he’s locked up and sets out to kill the two people who have most wronged him, his former manager and the man who wound up marrying the woman Vincent was in love with when he went mad. Matheson cuts back and forth relentlessly between this handful of characters, creating a very effective atmosphere of suspense. His prose is pared right down to the bone, as it needs to be in a book of this type where the pacing is so important. It works here, whereas I thought the writing was rushed and sketchy at times in SOMEONE IS BLEEDING.

This novel is rare in its original edition but easily available in the Forge Books omnibus NOIR. It’s well worth reading.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Christmas Music I Like: Feliz Navidad - Jose Feliciano

I remember when this one was new. Liked it right from the start. I've always liked Jose Feliciano's music.

For You Bibliographers Out There

A great website devoted to all the various imprints of the Greenleaf publishing empire has just been launched, and you can find it here. I've barely looked at it, and I can already tell there's a wealth of information. And if you're just interested in some great paperback cover art, there are scans of all the books, with covers by Robert Bonfils, Harold Macauley, and others. Check it out! (LUST FARM is one of the Harry Whittington books, by the way, and the cover is by Bonfils.)

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Christmas Music I Like: Silver Bells - Johnny Mathis

This was my mother's favorite Christmas song.

The Best Reason to Have a Time Machine

Forget about all that "changing history" jazz. I want to go back to 1942 and pay a visit to this newsstand. Thanks to Paul Di Filippo for posting a link to this picture on the Fictionmags group. You can see more detail if you go to the page. There's a good chance I own copies of some of those pulps.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Christmas Music I Like: Winter Wonderland - Mitch Miller

Another one from my childhood. My parents were big Mitch Miller fans.

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Last Train From Gun Hill

LAST TRAIN FROM GUN HILL came out in 1959, so it was probably sometime in 1960 that I saw it at the Eagle Drive-In. Other than knowing that I saw it, I didn't remember anything else about it until I watched it recently. A lot of it must have gone right over my head when I saw it the first time because I was so young. This is one dark and gritty Western.

It opens with a couple of cowboys, one of them played by a young Earl Holliman, raping and killing an Indian woman who turns out to be the wife of Matt Morgan (Kirk Douglas), the U.S. Marshal in a nearby town. The woman's son, who is with her when she's attacked, gets away on a horse belonging to one of the men, and the saddle on the horse allows Morgan to identify the killers. The markings on it tell him it belongs to cattle baron Craig Belden (Anthony Quinn), who just happens to be an old friend of Morgan's. Seeking vengeance, Morgan travels to the town of Gun Hill, which is owned almost completely by Belden. This movie doesn't really have any plot twists, so it quickly becomes apparent that one of the killers is Belden's son, and friend or no friend, he's not going to allow Morgan to take him back to face justice.

From that point on, LAST TRAIN FROM GUN HILL generates the same sort of suspense as the original 3:10 FROM YUMA, as Morgan captures Belden's son but has to wait for the 9:00 o'clock train to get him out of town. The stand-off aspect reminded me a little of RIO BRAVO as well. Both of those movies are good company to be in, and LAST TRAIN FROM GUN HILL holds its own with them.

Director John Sturges was still several years away from the films for which he's best known, THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN and THE GREAT ESCAPE, and LAST TRAIN FROM GUN HILL is much smaller in scope than those movies. Sturges handles it very well, though, keeping things low-key for the most part, which makes the occasional outbursts of brutal violence even more effective.

This also reminded me of what a good old-fashioned movie star Kirk Douglas was. He's great in it, charming in an early lighthearted scene before he finds out what's happened and then grimly determined from then on, effortlessly athletic in doing most of his own stunts, dominating everybody else on screen except when he's working with Anthony Quinn, who is almost as good as the tortured father determined to protect the son he knows he tainted with his own brutality. Even though technically he's the bad guy, the viewer never quite loses every bit of sympathy for Quinn's character. That moral ambiguity works very well with the rest of the movie.

At an hour and a half, LAST TRAIN FROM GUN HILL doesn't waste any time. It's the sort of tough, noir Western that could have easily been a Gold Medal paperback. I really enjoyed it. (Actually, there was a novelization of the movie by the great Gordon D. Shirreffs, but it was published by Signet, not Gold Medal. I've never read it and don't recall ever seeing a copy.)

Monday, December 09, 2013

Mean Christmas Night - Wayne D. Dundee

If you want a Christmas story that's a little offbeat, look no further than Wayne D. Dundee's "Mean Christmas Night". Is it heartwarming? Well, yeah, kind of. It's got a priest and a homeless guy, and it takes place on Christmas Eve. Goodwill toward men and all that jazz, to quote Lucy van Pelt.

But Dundee introduces a much darker element, and the plot turns downright gritty and, well, mean, as the story's title indicates. It makes for a compact, fast-moving tale that you'll probably read in one sitting, as I did. This is good stuff, and it might even help get you in the Christmas spirit.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Christmas Music I Like: The Little Drummer Boy/Peace on Earth - Bing Crosby and David Bowie

I believe I saw this famous duet when it first aired, too. Although I like this version, in the spirit of full disclosure I have to admit that I'm not that fond of "The Little Drummer Boy". In 1961 or '62, I don't remember which it was, my family and I went to visit relatives in West Texas for Christmas, and the 1958 version of this song by the Harry Simeone Chorale was still popular enough that it played on the radio ALL.THE.TIME. Seemed like I heard it a thousand times during those four or five days. Ever since I can't hear the song without thinking of that trip. But you can't really dislike it. It's "The Little Drummer Boy".

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Argosy, August 7, 1937

You can always turn to ARGOSY for a good cover and a great line-up of authors, which in this issue includes Donald Barr Chidsey, Theodore Roscoe, Arthur Leo Zagat, Luke Short, and Frank Richardson Pierce. I'm pretty sure I have a copy of this issue somewhere, but I haven't read it yet.

Saturday, December 07, 2013

Christmas Music I Like: Carol of the Bells - Mannheim Steamroller

This is a pretty cool version of a nice song.

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Novels and Short Stories, August 1952

Boy, this cover is packed with action, and I think it's a pretty good bet the stories inside are, too, since the authors include Giles A. Lutz, Joseph Chadwick, Ray Gaulden, Stephen Payne, John Prescott, and Louis L'Amour writing as Jim Mayo. I don't think that's a Norman Saunders cover, but to me it seems to show some Saunders influence.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Christmas Music I Like: Do You Hear What I Hear - Bing Crosby

I think I remember seeing this show from when I was a kid. Or maybe I've just heard the song a lot. Either way, I like it. (As you might expect, we'll be hearing from Der Bingle again before this is over.)

Forgotten Books: Death Stalks the Night - Hugh B. Cave

This massive collection of stories from the Weird Menace pulps by Hugh B. Cave was edited by Karl Edward Wagner and at one time was supposed to be published by Wagner's company Carcosa. For one reason or another, though, it didn't come out until 1995, when it was published by Fedogan & Bremer. Hard to believe it was that long ago, since it seems like only a few years ago that I got my copy from Scott Cupp at one of the Cluefests, the Dallas-based mystery convention that was almost a medium-sized thing for a while. (Guests at various Cluefests included Janet Evanovich, Robert Crais, Wilson Tucker, Stuart Kaminsky, Joe Lansdale, Bill Crider, Steve Brewer, and a host of others. But Cluefest is worth a post of its own one of these days.)

To get back to DEATH STALKS THE NIGHT, it's a beautiful limited-edition book with a cover by Alan Clark and interior illustrations by Lee Brown Coye. The stories come from the pulps you'd expect—DIME MYSTERY, TERROR TALES, HORROR STORIES, SPICY MYSTERY, etc.—and most of them are novellas, so they're long enough for Cave to develop the plots and include plenty of action. As far as I remember, these are the first Weird Menace stories I read, and they turned me into a fan of the genre. Although many of the stories in those pulps were by authors not as skilled as Cave, I still enjoy them.

For the purposes of this post, I reread a couple of the stories to see how they hold up. "Death Stalks the Night" (STAR DETECTIVE, November 1935) starts out as a yarn about a gentleman thief, as wealthy, adventure-seeking playboy Justin Wayne becomes the Scarlet Thief to deal out justice to those who deserve it. (A wealthy, adventure-seeking playboy named Wayne...hmm.) Cave quickly turns the conventions of such a story on their head, though, by introducing a killer who employs a grisly murder method on his victims and turning it into a Weird Menace tale.

My favorite story in this collection is "The Flame Fiend" (NEW MYSTERY ADVENTURES, April 1935). It's an oil patch story, and I have a real fondness for those. The scenes of entire oil fields being set ablaze by the asbestos-suit-wearing fiend of the title approach apocalyptic level. Cave keeps things galloping along with plenty of two-fisted action between and during the infernos.

Those two stories hold up just fine as far as I'm concerned, and I'm sure the others in the collection do as well. After our fire in '08, which took the copy I got from Scott along with everything else, there were only a few dozen books I knew I had to replace as soon as possible. DEATH STALKS THE NIGHT was one of them, so that ought to tell you right there I think it's really good.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Christmas Music I Like: Christmas Canon - Trans-Siberian Orchestra

I like just about everything by the Trans-Siberian Orchestra. This is a particularly pretty song.

The Devil Behind Me - Christopher Fulbright and Angeline Hawkes

THE DEVIL BEHIND ME is a new horror novella from Christopher Fulbright and Angeline Hawkes, and it's a good, gory yarn. In an opening scene set in Germany that reminded me a little of Robert E. Howard's "The Black Stone", young Alex Brandt and three of his friends spy on Alex's older sister, who is bent on some secretive mission in the woods. When Ilona Brandt winds up in a clearing complete with sinister alter and robed, chanting acolytes of the demon Krampus (the German anti-Santa who punishes bad boys and girls on Christmas Eve), you just know something terrible is going to happen, and boy, does it.

From there the story jumps forward to when Alex is grown and living in Dallas, far from Germany but still haunted by what happened there on that night so long ago. He decides he has to go back to his hometown and put all those old memories to rest, and his girlfriend comes with him so they can make a vacation of it. I don't think it'll come as a surprise to anyone that the trip doesn't quite go the way Alex intended.

Fulbright and Hawkes add murder to the mix, along with an old witch, some kinky sex, and ultimately a dramatic confrontation with evil itself. THE DEVIL BEHIND ME races along at a very satisfying pace, and it's creepy enough to satisfy any fan of horror fiction. I enjoyed it and think it's well worth reading.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Christmas Music I Like: Jingle Bell Rock - Brian Setzer

I took Scott Parker's suggestion from a couple of days ago and checked out some Christmas music by Brian Setzer, whose music I enjoy anyway. This is a pretty good version of "Jingle Bell Rock".

The Machineries of Mars - Charles Allen Gramlich

THE MACHINERIES OF MARS, the new novella from Charles Gramlich, starts out very much like an Edgar Rice Burroughs yarn, with the protagonist (who has amnesia) waking up on a crippled flier descending toward a vast red Martian sea. The Burroughs influence is acknowledged by Gramlich in the dedication, but it quickly becomes obvious that this isn't a tale of Barsoom. No, this story is set in the far future, following the collapse of a great Terran empire.

Continuing in the classic pulp tradition, though, the hero quickly stumbles into a battle between two forces who are unknown to him, and although he doesn't know what the conflict is about, his moral code forces him to take sides when he sees a woman and child in deadly danger.

Turns out he chose correctly, but not everything is what it seems and Gramlich has some neat twists in the plot waiting for the unwary reader. I have to raise my hand on that count because a couple of them took me by surprise, which is something I always enjoy.

Gramlich has done an excellent job of world-building in this story, and I hope he returns to the setting in the future because it seems to have a lot more tales waiting to be told. The pace is fast, the action scenes very well done, and overall this is a top-notch example of sword-and-planet fiction. If you're a fan of the genre, you definitely need to check it out.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Christmas Music I Like: Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer - Elmo and Patsy

Yes, it's stupid. Yes, a lot of people I know hate it. Many of you probably do, too. But it makes me laugh. Life needs some stupidity in it.

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: 100 Rifles

As an early Christmas present, Livia gave me a stack of Western DVDs that I'd either never seen before or last saw so long ago that I might as well have never seen them. You can expect to see posts about many of these over the coming weeks.

The first one we watched was 100 RIFLES, which certainly has a good pedigree behind the camera. The movie was directed by Tom Gries, probably best known for the iconic World War II TV series THE RAT PATROL (which still holds up pretty darned well, as far as I'm concerned), and written by Gries and the great Clair Huffaker, based on a novel by Robert MacLeod that I've never read.

The story is set in Mexico during the early 20th Century and centers around the efforts of a brutal army general (Fernando Lamas) to exterminate a bunch of rebellious Yaqui Indians. An outlaw known as Yaqui Joe (Burt Reynolds, who in an earlier film played a character named Navajo Joe) robs a bank in Arizona and escapes with the loot into Mexico, where he uses it to buy a shipment of a hundred rifles that he intends to give to the Yaquis so they can fight back against the Mexican army.

Complicating matters is Raquel Welch, a beautiful Mexican revolutionary also allied with the Yaquis, and former NFL superstar Jim Brown playing an American lawman who has chased Reynolds' character into Mexico in an attempt to recover the stolen money. As you might expect, all this leads to a lot of riding around and shooting. Unfortunately, that's one of the problems with this movie. It tends to wander around rather aimlessly at times. The evil general captures the three protagonists, they escape, the evil general captures them again, they escape again...you get the idea. All the while, the rifles and their hiding place serve as the plot's Macguffin.

None of the leads are called on to do much acting. Reynolds is cocky and charming, Welch is beautiful and fiery, Brown is stalwart and heroic. Brown's low-key performance is probably the best. He definitely had some screen presence. Lamas isn't helped much by the script. At one point he gloats to his prisoners, "So, we meet again, eh?"

All that said, I had a pretty good time watching 100 RIFLES. The scenery is good, and the action scenes are excellent, as you'd expect from Gries. It's always fun to watch Reynolds work, too. At this point he's not quite a movie star yet, and he brings a lot of enthusiasm to his role. There's a big battle at the end with Gatling guns and a train wreck and Stuff Blowing Up Real Good, and all that's right up my alley.

So while 100 RIFLES isn't a great film, it's entertaining, and if you're a Western fan and haven't seen it, you should check it out.