Monday, June 30, 2014

The Charnel God - Clark Ashton Smith

A while back John Hocking suggested that I read Clark Ashton Smith's story "The Charnel God", which originally appeared in the March 1934 issue of WEIRD TALES. Now I have, and I'm becoming more of a CAS fan after never reading much of his work until recently.

"The Charnel God" is one of Smith's Zothique stories, set on a far future, decadent Earth where magic has replaced science. The plot concerns a young couple unlucky enough to be stopping in a city where the local god demands that the bodies of anyone who dies there be placed in his temple so he can consume them. It seems that the wife has this unusual disease that causes her to fall into a death-like coma from time to time, and sure enough, a spell of it hits her while she and her husband are there. The doctor who is summoned pronounces her dead, over the husband's objections, and priests show up to cart the "body" over to the temple of Mordriggian to be consumed. The husband, the hero of the tale, is determined to break in and rescue her before she can be gobbled up.

But that's just the very beginning of the story, which gets much more complicated with a plot by a local sorcerer, reanimation spells, running around inside the temple, sinister priests who may or may not be human, and Mordriggian himself, the hungry and vengeful god whose decrees set everything in motion.

Smith spins this yarn in his typical lush prose full of vocabulary you'll have to look up (or go by context, which is what I tend to do). This isn't the sort of writing I normally like, being more a fan of the terse, hardboiled style, but damned if Smith doesn't make it work, and work beautifully. There's even some nice action and plenty of creepily vivid imagery. This one's been reprinted in a number of places and is worth seeking out. As for me, I plan to continue reading more of Smith's stories.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Dime Mystery, May 1940

I'm getting in the mood for some Weird Menace stories, goofy and formulaic though they may be. I don't have this issue of DIME MYSTERY, but I know I'd enjoy it if I did. The cover has just about everything: a red-robed monk with a hypodermic needle, a creepy henchman, a half-naked babe, even a mummy! Inside are stories by Weird Menace stalwarts Russell Grey (Bruno Fischer), Harrison Storm (also Bruno Fischer), and Wyatt Blassingame, plus yarns by Dane Gregory (better known for his Westerns, and whose real name was Ormond Robbins) and mystery author Stewart Sterling, who was really Prentice Winchell. All fine writers. 

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Fifteen Western Tales, September 1952

Here's another issue of FIFTEEN WESTERN TALES from the always dependable Popular Publications. Behind a pretty good cover with a nice sense of action, we've got stories by Robert W. Krepps (author of some well-regarded science fiction stories under the colorful pseudonym Geoff St. Reynard as well as numerous paperback movie novelizations under his own name), Verne Athanas, George C. Appell, C. Hall Thompson, Ray Gaulden, and Giff Cheshire. Solid entertainment, I'm sure.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Forgotten Books: Hangman's Harvest - M.E. Chaber (Kendall Foster Crossen)

HANGMAN'S HARVEST is a book I read many years ago and remember fondly for several reasons, including the McGinnis cover with a dead ringer for James Coburn on it. That Coburn lookalike was featured on all the Seventies paperback reprints of the Milo March series. Despite that this one says, it's not the 16th in the series, it's actually the first, published originally by Henry Holt in 1952 and reprinted in paperback a year later under the title DON'T GET CAUGHT.

Another reason I recall this book is that I read it during the first trip I took with Livia, back in the summer of 1976. I enjoyed it a lot, but I realized even then that it was heavily influenced by Dashiell Hammett's Continental Op fix-up novel RED HARVEST, right down to the similar titles. In this one Milo March, who's an insurance investigator but functions basically as a private eye, comes to the fictional Aragon City on a case and proceeds to take on all the gangsters and corrupt politicians who run the town. It's a very violent, fast-moving tale and quite entertaining. The Milo March books are about all I've ever read by Kendall Foster Crossen, the prolific pulpster and paperbacker behind the M.E. Chaber pseudonym. Crossen wrote the oddball pulp novels about the Green Llama, all or most of which are currently available in reprint editions. I want to try those one of these days.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Zombies From the Pulps!: The Graveyard Rats - Henry Kuttner

Henry Kuttner's "The Graveyard Rats", from the March 1936 issue of WEIRD TALES, is one of the most famous stories in this anthology and one of the most collected horror stories of the 20th Century, I would suspect. It's also notable for being Kuttner's first published story, a very polished debut in what turned out to be a stellar—if too short—career.

Mostly, though, this story of a corrupt cemetery caretaker's battle against the giant rats—and something else—that lurk inside and beneath the graves in his charge is just a great yarn, one of the purely creepiest stories you're ever likely to read. It's been years since I'd read it, and I had forgotten how scary it is and how the pace in it just gallops along. If you haven't read "The Graveyard Rats", you're in for a treat. This is another strong entry in ZOMBIES FROM THE PULPS.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: The Big Tease

(This post originally appeared in somewhat different form on July 19, 2009.)

I’ve never been much on “mockumentaries”, although I’ve seen some that were pretty entertaining, like A MIGHTY WIND. One of my daughters is a fan of Craig Ferguson, though, and she picked up a copy of THE BIG TEASE, a movie Ferguson co-wrote and starred in fifteen years ago. It’s supposed to be a documentary about Crawford McKenzie (Ferguson), a Glasgow hairdresser who’s been invited to Los Angeles for the prestigious Platinum Scissors competition, a “hair-off” for world-famous stylists. With a camera crew following him around, Crawford embarks on a series of adventures and misadventures in L.A. when he finds out that he’s not actually supposed to compete after all. He was just invited to be a member of the audience. But he’s determined not to let his friends and family down, so he tries to find a way into the competition, no matter what it takes.

I think Ferguson is a pretty funny guy, and he lives up to that here. THE BIG TEASE was made when he was a regular cast member on THE DREW CAREY SHOW (a series I always enjoyed, even in its later years when ABC was just burning off the episodes during the summer, and out of order at that). Carey shows up playing himself in this movie, and there’s an excellent supporting cast including Charles Napier, David Rasche, and Frances Fisher (who was once police detective Debra Saxon on the great hardboiled mystery soap opera, THE EDGE OF NIGHT). I laughed quite a bit and got caught up in the story. THE BIG TEASE is silly, no doubt about that, but it works and I enjoyed it. If you haven’t seen it, I think it’s well worth watching.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Monday Morning Digest Magazine: Mystery Monthly, June 1976

I remember grabbing this first issue of a new mystery digest off the magazine rack in Buddies' Grocery Store in 1976 and thinking, "Oh, boy! Another market!" You see, at that time I hadn't yet sold my first story, but I was following the old pulp tradition of keeping multiple manuscripts out in the mail to various markets all the time. I'm sure I sent some of my unsold stories to MYSTERY MONTHLY right away...where, you guessed it, they remained unsold.

But hey, I got stories to read by Ed McBain, Harlan Ellison, Gil Brewer, Edward D. Hoch, and Jack Ritchie, plus a lot of assorted columns and features. I'd say I got my buck's worth. I never sold anything to MYSTERY MONTHLY, but I picked up all the issues I came across during its short life. It only lasted about a year and a half.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Triple Detective, Summer 1954

TRIPLE WESTERN yesterday, TRIPLE DETECTIVE today. Although two of the authors in this issue are actually better known for their Westerns: Lee E. Wells and H.A. DeRosso, who has a short story in this one that's not mentioned on the cover. Also not on the cover are stories by Fredric Brown and my old editor Sam Merwin Jr. Along with Norman Daniels and Wyatt Blassingame, that's a pretty good line-up.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Triple Western, October 1952

I really enjoy novella-length stories, and these look like three good ones by popular Western pulp authors, two of whom happen to be favorites of mine: Lewis B. Patten and W.C. Tuttle. I like what I've read of Tom Roan's work for the most part, I just haven't read that much by him yet. I like the title of his yarn in this issue, though: "Wine, Women, and Buckshot". The Tuttle story sounds pretty intriguing, too.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Forgotten Books: The Incredible Adventures of Dennis Dorgan - Robert E. Howard

First of all, that's a great Jeff Jones cover on the Zebra edition of this book from 1975. I was already a Robert E. Howard fan, of course, but the cover certainly caught my attention when I saw it on the paperback rack at Thrifty Drug Store, one of my regular stops for paperbacks in those days. This collection was also my introduction to Howard's boxing fiction, and I recall having a great time reading it. Of course I know now what I didn't know then, that the Dorgan stories were actually unsold Steve Costigan stories with the main character's name changed. Howard sold one Dorgan story to Farnsworth Wright for the pulp MAGIC CARPET, but that was the only story in the series to see print in Howard's lifetime. When this collection came out, I believe it and THE IRON MAN, also from Zebra, were the only REH boxing fiction in print. Soon all of it will be available in deluxe editions from the Robert E. Howard Foundation Press, but I'll continue to have a soft spot for THE INCREDIBLE ADVENTURES OF DENNIS DORGAN. (Despite what the cover copy says, there's no real fantasy element to these stories...but plenty of adventure!)

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Splendor in the Grass

(This post originally appeared in slightly different form on August 25, 2010.)

When we started to watch this one, I commented that I’d never seen it before, and Livia asked, “How could you have missed it? It was on TV all the time when we were kids.”

Well, that’s true enough, but when I was a kid, I watched Westerns, comedies, Tarzan movies, war movies, monster movies . . . You get the idea. I wouldn’t have had much interest in a romantic drama about dysfunctional families and teenage lust, angst, and madness in 1928 Kansas.

Now, of course, I was able to watch it with considerable interest. It’s the kind of movie they just don’t make anymore. Yes, it’s a little hammy at times. Pat Hingle, as an oil wildcatter who’s struck it rich, chews the scenery shamelessly, but character actors like that could really make it work, and Hingle does here. Mostly, though, the movie belongs to Warren Beatty (in his film debut) as the rich boy in love with the butcher’s daughter, played by Natalie Wood. I’m not sure there’s ever been a movie star as pretty as Natalie Wood, and she’s beautiful here, as always, and turns in a pretty good performance, too.

If you haven’t seen it before, most of the plot won’t really surprise you. Let’s see, it’s 1928 when the movie opens, and people are talking about getting rich off their stocks . . . hmm, I wonder what’s going to happen. However, the way the movie plays out does eventually take some unexpected turns. I was a little disappointed that some of the vital action takes place off-screen and is referred to rather casually by some of the characters, but other than that the story is pretty solid. William Inge, the playwright who did the screenplay, has a cameo as a minister. Always good to see a writer get some screen time.

I don’t think SPLENDOR IN THE GRASS is a great film, but I enjoyed watching it.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Now Available From Rough Edges Press: The Healer's Road - James Reasoner and Livia J. Washburn

For more than thirty years, bestselling authors James Reasoner and Livia J. Washburn have chronicled the story of America in their award-winning historical novels. THE HEALER'S ROAD is one of their greatest sagas, the sweeping story of a family dedicated to the practice of medicine and caught up in the violence and heartbreak of America's bloodiest war. 

Thomas Black rose from poverty, superstition, and tragedy to become a respected physician. His son John is reluctant to follow in those footsteps but is forced to do so by the madness of war. And Thomas's daughter Sara is the most devoted of all to healing the sick and injured, despite living in a world that opposes her every ambition. 

From Boston to Washington D.C. to the battlefields of the Civil War, THE HEALER'S ROAD is a tale of triumph and loss, of courage and despair, of life and death and love and hate vividly portrayed by a pair of master storytellers. Long out of print, THE HEALER'S ROAD is now available again in this newly revised e-book edition. (Also available at Smashwords and Barnes & Noble.)

(And the sequel, HEALER'S CALLING, is coming soon.)

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Argosy, October 17, 1936

Like yesterday's STAR WESTERN, this is another pulp featuring a Robert E. Howard story that was published in the months after his death, in this case "Gents on the Lynch", a Pike Bearfield story. This issue has an all-star lineup, because in addition to REH there are also stories by H. Bedford-Jones, Donald Barr Chidsey (one of the excellent Fisher/Savoy series), Allan Vaughn Elston, Eustace L. Adams, and L. Ron Hubbard. The fine cover is by Emmett Watson. ARGOSY was at its peak in the mid-Thirties, as far as I'm concerned.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Star Western, September 1936

Since the annual Robert E. Howard Days celebration is going on in Cross Plains this weekend, I thought I'd feature one of Howard's relatively few appearances in a Western pulp. This issue of STAR WESTERN includes the story "The Curly Wolf of Sawtooth", featuring one of Howard's larger-than-life characters Bearfield Elston. It was published a few months after his death, so he didn't get the chance to continue with the series. This appears to be a pretty spectacular issue all around, with stories by Walt Coburn, Harry F. Olmsted, Cliff Farrell, Art Lawson, John A. Saxon, and William F. Bragg. Plus a cover by Norman Saunders. You couldn't ask for much more from a Western pulp.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Forgotten Books: The Dark Mirror - Basil Copper

Basil Copper is a British author probably best known for his horror fiction, but he also wrote a successful series of mystery novels about an American private eye named Mike Faraday. Years ago I ran across one of them at Fantastic Worlds Bookstore, which carried some British paperbacks, and read it and enjoyed it. Now Piccadilly Publishing is bringing back the series in e-book editions, and I just read the first one, THE DARK MIRROR.

Mike Faraday is from the Dan Turner/Shell Scott school of private eyes, quick with a wisecrack and with an eye for a good-looking babe. He's not quite as humorous as those two icons, but he's definitely up there with, say, Rick Holman and Al Wheeler from the Carter Brown books. In this novel he's hired by a man who has a connection to the murder of a shady art dealer. It seems that Mike's client turned over a valuable item of some sort to the victim, and he wants Mike to recover it without even being told what he's looking for. That seems like an impossible job, but it becomes even harder when Mike's client is abruptly murdered himself, which will come as no surprise to any experienced reader of private eye fiction.

From there the plot spins out into a complex maze of more murders, several femme fatales (all of whom go for Mike, of course), espionage, and high level corruption. Copper keeps things moving along at a brisk, highly enjoyable pace, all the way to an ending that probably won't be exactly what you expect. His version of Los Angeles rings fairly true—more authentic than the usual James Hadley Chase novel, anyway, and don't get me wrong, I like James Hadley Chase's work—and Mike Faraday is a very likable narrator/protagonist.

I'm glad the fine folks at Piccadilly Publishing are bringing these back. This is just the sort of series that's made for e-books: short, fast, and a lot of fun. If you're a private eye fan, you definitely should check out Mike Faraday.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Faith and the Law #1: The Ambush/Lone Star Ranger #1: A Ranger to Ride With - James J. Griffin

Nobody writes about the Texas Rangers with more passion and enthusiasm than James J. Griffin. He's recently started two new series which feature Ranger heroes, and both are highly entertaining.

FAITH AND THE LAW, VOLUME 1: THE AMBUSH is the first episode in an ongoing serial from High Noon Press. Tad and Chaz Jankowski are twin brothers, one a priest (Tad) and the other a Ranger (Chaz) in frontier Texas. Chaz is pursuing the mastermind behind an outlaw reign of terror when he falls victim to the ambush of the title. Tad's reaction maybe isn't totally unexpected, but it's very satisfying anyway, and I'm certainly looking forward to the next installment of this story.

In A RANGER TO RIDE WITH, the first volume of the new series LONE STAR RANGER from Painted Pony Books, Griffin introduces us to Nathaniel Stewart, a young man from Delaware whose family moves to the Texas frontier. Nathaniel, or Nate as he soon comes to be called, doesn't like Texas, and he has good reason to like it even less when the rest of his family is wiped out by outlaws in a raid on the ranch. Nate falls in with a group of Texas Rangers and even becomes a probationary member of their troop as they search for the gang responsible for this tragedy.

A RANGER TO RIDE WITH is one of Griffin's best books so far, reminiscent of the Texas Ranger novels Elmer Kelton wrote late in his career. Nate Stewart is an excellent character, and I'll definitely be reading as he continues his quest for vengeance on the killers of his family.

Arkham Woods - Christopher Rowley

Let me start out by saying that I'm not overly fond of the manga format, especially for graphic novels that weren't published in Japan to start with. Doing a story that way strikes me as being almost as pretentious as not using quotation marks in fiction.

That said, I can get used to it once I start reading, and as a result, ARKHAM WOODS turns out to be fairly entertaining.

This graphic novel was written by Christopher Rowley, the author of a number of well-regarded science fiction and fantasy novels (none of which I've read, although I remember seeing some of them), and drawn by Jhomar Soriano, a Filipino artist with whom I'm not familiar at all. As you'd probably suspect from the title, this is straight-out Lovecraftian horror. Teenage Kirsti Rivers moves with her artist mother from L.A. to the creepy New England town of Arkham Woods, where Kirsti's mother plans to sell the even creepier old house she's inherited. Kirsti makes a few friends, outcasts like herself, and when they discover that there's a mysterious pattern etched into the floor of the house's basement, you can probably guess as well as I did what they're going to do about it. That's right, they poke around until they start a chain of events in motion that's not going to end well.

Despite the maybe a little too familiar plot, the characters are likable for the most part and the story moves along at a nice pace. Also, this may well be the only graphic novel where a tentacled monster drives a bulldozer, and you've got to like that. I don't see any reason why ARKHAM WOODS couldn't have been done in a traditional format, but you can just chalk that up to my curmudgeonly nature, I suppose. That didn't keep me from enjoying it.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Zombies from the Pulps!: The Walking Dead - E. Hoffmann Price

I really enjoy the Spicy pulps. Sure, they're formulaic, no matter what the genre: stalwart, square-jawed (and not always too bright) protagonist, plenty of over-the-top action, and beautiful, willing babes who have a habit of losing their clothes. Anything you get in the way of characterization or an actual plot is a bonus, but there's more of that in the Spicies than you might expect.

E. Hoffmann Price was a consummate pulpster, selling to magazines at or near the top of the line (ADVENTURE and ARGOSY), down to the Spicy titles and other pulps published by Trojan. Since he wrote every sort of story, it makes sense that he would turn his hand to zombie yarns, too. From the November 1935 issue of SPICY MYSTERY STORIES, "The Walking Dead" is set in the Mississippi Delta of southern Louisiana. The hero is searching for one of his servants who disappeared while running an errand for him, and that search leads him to a mysterious plantation where there's something wrong with the workers in the fields. Throw in a sinister plantation owner with a beautiful niece who wants to escape from the place and you've got the framework for a fast-moving action story and another one influenced by Seabrook's THE MAGIC ISLAND.

Price was such a good writer that he could take a formulaic plot like this and make it work, at least for the time it takes to read it. It isn't an example of Price's best work, but it is a lot of fun to read.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014


To start with, I didn't even want the dog. We already had a dog, and 'way too many cats, and taking on another pet just didn't make sense. But our neighbors wanted to find a new home for him, and Livia and the girls wanted to take him in, so I said, Sure, we can take him. He was a small, black-brown-and-tan dog, part Chihuahua, part Doberman, at least a year old because he was fully grown, and he came with the name Dobie, which suited him so we never changed it.

Without a doubt, making him part of our family was one of the best decisions we ever made.

It didn't take us long to realize that this was a dog accustomed to getting his own way. When he wanted out, he wanted out right then. Same with wanting back in. He wanted to lay where he wanted to lay, and by God, that's where he was going to lay. Usually that was in somebody's lap, most often either Livia or our daughters Shayna and Joanna. But he liked me, too.

Not much of anybody else, though. He was pretty fond of Livia's parents, especially her mom. Anybody else who set foot in our house was in danger of getting an ankle nipped. He snuck up and got Livia's brother Bruce often enough I think it became sort of a game between them.

He was also the smartest dog I've ever known. We installed a dog door at the far end of our house. Dobie would come to the front door, scratch on it to be let in, and we'd yell, "Go around!" A minute later, by the time we could get there, he'd be inside the room where the dog door was. He understood so many words I can't even come close to remembering them all. All we had to do was say, "Where's Shayna?", and Dobie would jump onto the back of the sofa where he could look through the picture window at the driveway and wait for her to drive in. That was one of his favorite places, perched on the back of that sofa watching the world go by.

Speaking of which, he hated horses and cyclists with equal passion, and any time either came by while he was outside, he announced his moral outrage at their existence at great length and volume. Even after the years were catching up with him and he couldn't see very well anymore, he always seemed able to spot a horse, even at a distance, and would bark angrily.

I'm making him sound sort of cantankerous, and he was, no doubt about that, but he could also be incredibly loving. He really enjoyed spending time with all of us. For most of his life, with Livia and the girls that meant sitting in their laps (even if it meant sharing that lap with a—shudder—cat), but for me, well, he was my walkin' buddy. We went up and down this country road hundreds of times and hundreds of miles. He knew when it was time for our walk, and if I didn't get the leash and the halter, he'd start to whine. A number of years ago when I was going through some personal problems that really had me down, I walked even more as I tried to sort everything out, and Dobie was right there with me, every step of the way.

The years caught up to him, as they do to us all. Cataracts took most of his sight. He couldn't hear very well, and arthritis kept him from getting around like he used to. Then in December 2012 he had a stroke that severely limited the use of his legs. His front legs still worked well enough for a while that Livia built him a cart he could roll around in. He'd bang it into the kitchen cabinets, get stuck, and holler for help, which he always got, of course. Eventually he lost all the use of his legs, so Livia built another apparatus that supported him so he could stand up and eat his food. He was always a very healthy eater and never lost his appetite despite his health problems until the last two weeks of his life. Even then there were days when he rallied and ate fairly well.

The past eighteen months weren't easy on him, though. He didn't understand why he couldn't just get up and run around like he always had. I'm sure he was uncomfortable a lot of the time. He had trouble sleeping, so I stayed up with him many nights, trying to keep him quiet and as comfortable as possible. He liked the fresh air, so we'd sit out on the front porch at three o'clock in the morning with the temperature below freezing, me bundled up in a coat with Dobie inside it nestled against my chest, and we'd listen to the night and I'd talk to him and he would butt the top of his head against my chin like he was telling me, "Hey, it's okay." We'd be back out there in the middle of the summer with the heat of a scorching day still lingering. Those times he liked to lay on his side in the grass and rub his face in it, then lift his head a little and sniff the air like he'd just smelled something intriguing. He couldn't go see what it was, but he smelled it, and that moment was his. And mine. And the bond between us from those times will never be broken.

The past two weeks were really hard on all of us, as all his systems started to fail on him at once. But hardest on him because he was in real pain much of the time. Before that, yes, he'd had a stroke and he couldn't walk, but we could tell that he wasn't hurting most of the time. In fact, he seemed determined to continue living the best life he could. When it became obvious that wasn't ever going to come back, we decided we had to do something to ease his pain. We were going to take him to the vet today. In the end, though, he spared us that and passed away in his own bed very early this morning with me beside him rubbing his head and telling him how much we all loved him. Just a matter of luck it turned out that way, you might say, but I don't believe that. I think at the very last, with the same love and grace he always showed us, he tried to make it a little easier for us.

He's at peace now, resting between two rose bushes we planted this morning, surrounded by some beautiful white flowers we also planted. I can see the spot from the window of the upstairs office where I'm typing this. That's a comfort to me, and I know it will be even more so in the future. Right now the loss is still too fresh and it hurts like hell, so being a writer, what do I do? I write about it, and I appreciate each and every one of you who's reading this. I'm going to hang on to that small bit of comfort I feel when I look out the window and let it grow like the rose bushes and the flowers. I read something the other day that struck me as pretty wise: "Time heals most things. Give it a chance." That's what I intend to do, like we gave Dobie the chance to come into our lives almost two decades ago.

He didn't let me down then, and I know his memory won't now.

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Zulu

(This post originally appeared on August 11, 2009. It sure doesn't seem like almost five years ago.)

ZULU is a John Ford cavalry Western. Oh, I know John Ford didn’t direct it, and there’s not an Apache in sight, but scene after scene in ZULU plays as if the filmmakers had watched FORT APACHE, SHE WORE A YELLOW RIBBON, and RIO GRANDE a dozen times each before making ZULU. Take the opening scene, as the camera pans over a destroyed British regiment, then the victorious Zulu warriors come into the shot and one of them picks up a fallen rifle and thrusts it exultantly into the air over his head. That really plays like a John Ford scene to me. There are even several of Ford’s signature low-angle shots later in the film.

For those few of you who haven’t seen it, ZULU is the story of less than two hundred British soldiers trying to defend an isolated mission in Africa against four thousand Zulu warriors in 1879. I guess that makes it an Alamo movie, too, in the same way that David Gemmell’s LEGEND is an Alamo novel. The first half of the movie, before the attack begins, is really slow. It didn’t help matters for me that I had trouble telling the various soldiers apart, and the DVD didn’t have captions on it, so I understood only about half the dialogue. (Worst case scenario for a deaf old geezer like me: British accents and no captions.) The second half is full of action, though, and it’s well-staged. Given the movie’s age, all the fighting is pretty bloodless despite the rampant death and destruction, which seems a little odd after seeing so many war movies with such graphic gore, but I can’t say that the lack of blood splattering everywhere really bothered me. At least there was none of that blasted close-up, quick-cut editing.

Stanley Baker plays the engineer who winds up in command of the defenders, an impossibly young Michael Caine is his second-in-command, and Jack Hawkins is a Swedish missionary. All of them do good jobs. The photography and the scenery are spectacular. Going back to my John Ford comparison, that part of Africa really does look like the American West. Overall, ZULU is okay, a war movie that just tells a story without any heavy-handed messages. That makes it worth watching in my book.

(Before I started taking part in the Tuesday's Overlooked Movie, etc., series, I ran a number of posts on the blog under the overall title "Movies I've Missed (Until Now)", which is basically the same thing. This was four or five years ago, and as busy as it looks like I'll be this summer, quite a few of those posts may be showing up again on Tuesdays. I hope long-time readers will forgive me for the reruns and that they'll be new to some of you.)

Monday, June 09, 2014

The Axeman of Storyville - Heath Lowrance

Gideon Miles is back in THE AXEMAN OF STORYVILLE, but he's not a deputy U.S. marshal in the Old West anymore. It's the early 1920s, and Gideon, now in his sixties, owns a jazz club in New Orleans along with his wife Violet. It's a peaceful, pleasant existence, especially after the action-packed life Gideon has led, but it's about to be disrupted by an axe-wielding serial killer.

Heath Lowrance, who previously authored the Gideon Miles Western novella MILES TO LITTLE RIDGE, does his usual great job with this story, which is more reminiscent of a hardboiled private eye yarn than it is a Western. Gideon isn't a licensed private investigator, of course, but he's pressured to take on the job of tracking down the sinister Axeman of Storyville anyway, his "client" being a powerful member of the Black Hand (the forerunner of the Mafia) who has a finger in most of what goes on in the French Quarter.

Lowrance captures the setting and the time period quite well, and despite Gideon's age he's still a tough, likable protagonist. The supporting cast is excellent, especially Gideon's young assistant, and the plot moves along at a fast pace. There's one late twist I didn't expect, and that's always a good thing. Overall, THE AXEMAN OF STORYVILLE is a really entertaining tale, and if you've read the previous entries in the Cash Laramie/Gideon Miles series, you'll certainly want to read this one. If you're a fan of hardboiled crime fiction you should check it out, too, even if you haven't read the earlier entries. I had a great time reading it.

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Excitement, October 1930

Now there's a goofy cover for you, from a Street & Smith pulp I'd never even heard of until I came across the listing for it on the Fictionmags Index. The only authors in this issue I'm familiar with are Ben Conlan, who wrote the Pete Rice stories, and Paul Chadwick, the creator of Secret Agent X. I think that cover would have scared me if I'd seen it when I was a kid. It's kind of creepy even now.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: New Western, May 1947

NEW WESTERN was a Popular Publications pulp, so it usually had the familiar yellow and red color scheme on the cover and some familiar names on the table of contents as well. In this issue, for example, are stories by Walt Coburn, Gunnison Steele, and William Heuman, to go along with contributions by Bill Gulick and Thomas Thompson, familiar names themselves although not as much so as the others. I'm sure the quality was pretty high. It always was in Popular pulps.

Friday, June 06, 2014

Forgotten Books: Sin-a-Rama - Brittany A. Daley, Adam Parfrey, Hedi El Kholti, Earl Kemp, eds.

(This post originally appeared in different form on March 1, 2005.)

Like a lot of paperback collectors, I'm fascinated by the soft-core porn novels published in the Fifties and Sixties. In fact, I'd say I like reading about the books and their authors about as much as I enjoy reading the books themselves (although I've read quite a few by authors like Harry Whittington, Mike Avallone, Lawrence Block, Donald E. Westlake, and Robert Silverberg under their various pseudonyms, and find them all consistently entertaining).

The highlight of this volume is a reprint of Silverberg's wonderful "My Life as a Pornographer", which I missed in its original magazine appearance. Opening the book and seeing the cover of LOVE ADDICT, which was Silverberg's first novel for William Hamling's Nightstand line, as well as the first Nightstand book published, prompted me to exclaim, "Hey! I've got that book!" I didn't realize it was the debut book in the most famous line of porn novels ever published. In fact, I was surprised as I looked through page after page of cover reproductions by just how many of those books I own. I've never really collected them, just picked them up now and then as I ran across them.

As is the case with IT'S A MAN'S WORLD, the other book I have that was published by Feral House, SIN-A-RAMA could have used a little more text, a little more of the ol' who-wrote-what. But it's still a great book, highly entertaining and informative. The only problem is that now I want to go dig out some of those Andrew Shaw and Clyde Allison and Don Elliott books I have and read them, and I just don't have time.

UPDATE: My copy of SIN-A-RAMA was lost in the fire of '08, but I remember it fondly, especially for all the great cover reproductions. I've read quite a few of those softcore novels since this post first appeared and always enjoy them. SIN-A-RAMA is still available on Amazon.

Thursday, June 05, 2014

Birthday Books

As some of you know, today is my birthday, and as usual when people asked me what I wanted, I said, "Books!" This has been my answer for more years than I like to think about. So, since many of you are book people, too, here are the ones I got as presents this year:

And as Livia said when I was sitting there looking through them, "Isn't it a shame you don't have time to read them?" Yes. Yes, it is. And one way or another, that's going to change.

Zombies From the Pulps!: The Devil's Dowry - Ben Judson

As you'd probably expect, the Weird Menace pulps featured quite a few zombie stories, too, and the first one in this collection from a "shudder pulp" is Ben Judson's "The Devil's Dowry" from the February 1935 issue of TERROR TALES.

The narrator of this yarn is a reporter whose fiancĂ©e has fallen ill and died suddenly. But there's a sinister Jamaican witch doctor who claims that he can bring her back to life—for a price, of course—and our grief-stricken hero is desperate enough to take him up on it. However, such things hardly ever work out just the way those left behind hope they do...

But this story is from a Weird Menace pulp, remember, so when all is said and done you can expect a logical explanation for all the strange goings-on. Judson doesn't disappoint in that respect. Authors who strayed far from the formula probably didn't sell very often in the pulps, no matter what the genre. His prose is fuctional but nothing special, but like most pulpsters he had the knack of moving a story along at a breakneck pace. That makes "The Devil's Dowry" an entertaining tale.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Wide Spot in the Road - Wayne D. Dundee

Wayne Dundee gives readers his version of the Drifter Detective, Jack Laramie, in the new novella WIDE SPOT IN THE ROAD. As expected, it's a highly entertaining yarn. Jack, pulling the horse trailer that's his home away from home, is on his way through the Texas Panhandle when he stops at a roadside diner for a bowl of chili. Just as he comes in, a rejected suitor of the pretty waitress running the place storms out. Jack is the only customer, the chili is good, the waitress is easy on the eyes and friendly...who knows what might happen.

What happens, of course, is that all hell breaks loose, and Jack finds himself facing off against an entire motorcycle gang in a scenario reminiscent of a Western, which is fitting since he's the grandson of legendary Old West marshal Cash Laramie.

As always, Dundee's prose is tough and assured and keeps things moving along at a brisk pace. He has a knack for creating fully rounded characters, both heroes and villains, and he does so in this tale, along with capturing the time and place perfectly as well. WIDE SPOT IN THE ROAD is a fine hardboiled action yarn and gets a high recommendation from me.

Paradox Falls - Peter Brandvold

PARADOX FALLS is Peter Brandvold's first true horror novel, although he's included horror and supernatural elements in some of his Westerns. It's a good one, too, as the plot finds three old friends upholding a tradition as they hike to the top of a mountain in Colorado. Jake is a writer, not as successful as he'd like to be, and when he and Ashley were teenagers they were each other's first love. But Ashley is now married to Dave, Jake's oldest and best friend, so anything that was between him and Ashley is long since over and forgotten.

Sure it is. With a setup like that, you know there's going to be plenty of tension on that hike to Paradox Falls, but if that's not enough there's also a serial killer loose on the mountain, a fortune in hidden gold that may or may not exist, a sinister, crossbow-wielding old-timer who may or may not be what he claims to be, a beautiful coed with a secret of her own, and assorted other complications.

As you can tell, Brandvold has packed a lot into this relatively short, fast-moving novel, and it really kept me flipping the virtual pages. The action takes a while to get started, but once it does it's full-throttle to the end and even more effective because of that build-up. Brandvold is one of the best Western writers in the business today, and PARADOX FALLS demonstrates that he may well have a fine career as a horror novelist ahead of him as well, if he pursues it.

This volume also contains the previously published horror short story "Devlin and Johnny Forever", which is also excellent and helps make PARADOX FALLS well worth picking up.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: Seven Men From Now

I would have sworn I'd seen all the Randolph Scott movies directed by Budd Boetticher, but we recently watched SEVEN MEN FROM NOW in a newly released DVD edition and I don't really ever seeing it before. It was the first of the Scott/Boetticher collaborations, and like the others, it's a top-notch hardboiled Western.

Scott plays a mysterious loner named Ben Stride, who early on establishes how dangerous he is by gunning down a couple of outlaws in the opening scene. (By the way, one of the outlaws is played by a very young John Beradino, a former major league baseball player who went on to a long career playing Dr. Steve Hardy on GENERAL HOSPITAL, a great character most of GH's current viewers have probably never heard of. But I digress...)

Stride helps out a couple of stranded pilgrims whose wagon is stuck in a mudhole, a married couple played by Gail Russell and John Larch. He agrees to travel with them since they're all headed to the same town. A short time later they encounter a couple of hardcases (Lee Marvin and Don "Red" Barry) who are acquainted with Stride. Marvin's character reveals that Stride is a former sheriff out for revenge on the seven outlaws responsible for his wife's death. Hence the title SEVEN MEN FROM NOW. He's already killed two of them, and he plans to catch up with the other five in the town where everybody seems to be headed.

Burt Kennedy's screenplay would seem to be fairly simple, but it has a nice twist or two waiting. The action scenes are well-staged, the scenery is beautifully photographed, but the real appeal of SEVEN MEN FROM NOW is watching the great cast at work. Scott as the stoic hero and Marvin as a charming villain play off each other very well, and there's a really fine scene with the two of them, plus Russell and Larch, inside the close confines of the wagon while it's raining outside, that's claustrophobic in its intensity. Everything is conveyed in dialogue and close-ups, but there's a sense of pent-up violence that's almost overwhelming.

SEVEN MEN FROM NOW is short, less than an hour and a half, but it's very satisfying, the sort of movie where you don't want to take your eyes off the screen for a second. Not to sound too much like an old curmudgeon, but it struck me that this is a movie about grown-ups, with a lot of realistic, honest emotion behind its action scenes and Western trappings. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and if you haven't seen it yet, you should check it out.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Windy City Pulp Stories #14 - Tom Roberts, ed.

WINDY CITY PULP STORIES is the official publication of the annual Windy City pulp convention and has been produced in recent years by Tom Roberts of Black Dog Books. This isn't a program book but a full-fledged collection of articles and essays about pulp fiction. I've just read #14, and it upholds the tradition of excellent volumes in this series.

The theme of Windy City this year was a celebration of the detective pulps and the 85th anniversary of the publication of THE MALTESE FALCON, as well as the Western pulps and the 95th anniversary of the founding of the iconic magazine WESTERN STORY. In keeping with that, WINDY CITY PULP STORIES #14 features an early interview with Dashiell Hammett, dueling articles by Hammett and H. Bedford-Jones about the inclusion of sex in pulp stories, and a couple of articles about writing from legendary BLACK MASK editor Joseph T. Shaw. There's also a reprint of Hammett's first published story, "The Road Home". Evan Lewis contributes a fine original article about the career of hardboiled writer Cleve F. Adams, an author whose work I enjoy quite a bit.

Over on the Western side, there's an interview with William Macleod Raine, as well as an article by Raine about his fellow author Eugene Manlove Rhodes. Also featured are articles about writing for the Western pulps by prolific pulpsters George C. Henderson, W.D. Hoffman, and J.R. Johnston. Editor Roberts interviews one of the best Western writers around these days, Peter Brandvold. And I talk about some of my favorite Western pulp authors and magazines.

There's also a section on pulp art with beautiful illustrations by Virgil Finlay, Hannes Bok, and Edd Cartier.

The reprinted articles come from such sources as WRITER'S DIGEST and THE AUTHOR AND JOURNALIST, and Roberts sprinkles pulp market listings from those magazines throughout the book. All in all, it's a fine volume, packed with both information and entertainment, and best of all you don't have to have attended the Windy City convention to get it. You can order it from Black Dog Books right here, and if you're a pulp fan I give it my highest recommendation.

The War Makers - Kenneth Robeson (Will Murray and Ryerson Johnson)

Doc Savage is back in THE WAR MAKERS, the latest novel by Will Murray writing as Kenneth Robeson, this time from an outline by Ryerson Johnson, who ghosted three excellent Doc Savage novels for Lester Dent in the Thirties. THE WAR MAKERS is a sequel to one of those books, THE MOTION MENACE, as well as being tied in with another classic Doc yarn that will go nameless here because the title might be a bit of a spoiler.

As this story opens, some mysterious, invisible force is causing cars to stop as if they'd run into a wall and airplanes to fall from the sky. This force also causes the death of anyone unlucky enough to be caught in it. Evidence seems to point to the possible involvement of several executives in a car manufacturing company in Detroit, one of whom summons Doc to investigate before running afoul of the deadly mystery himself.

This is no prosaic extortion scheme like you might find in some pulp novels, however. The problem quickly escalates into Spider-like proportions, with the sinister force wreaking havoc across the nation and causing thousands of deaths. The country may well be tottering on the brink of collapse unless Doc and his crew can find out what's causing the terror and who's behind it. The chase takes them from the swamps of Florida to the frigid Canadian wilderness north of the Arctic Circle, with plenty of action, death traps, and narrow escapes along the way.

Murray's prose is, as always, pitch perfect for this sort of novel, as is his portrayal of these well-loved characters. The book has the usual great cover by Joe DeVito as well, and it's available in both e-book and trade paperback editions. It's been close to fifty years since I read my first Doc Savage, and I'm still reading and enjoying them. Sometimes it's good to be a kid at heart. 

Sunday, June 01, 2014

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Argosy, July 29, 1933

I always associate Karl Detzer's name with firefighter stories. He wrote a variety of other things, but I guess I've seen enough of these "burning building" ARGOSY covers featuring his serials to create that impression in my mind. Sadly, I don't think I've actually ever read any of them, so I'll leave it to someone else to assess his work. This looks like a good issue, though, with stories by Cliff Farrell, Charles Alden Seltzer, Albert Payson Terhune, T.S. Stribling, and Richard Howells Watkins in addition to the serial installment by Detzer.