Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Marvel Stories, April 1941

This is a pulp I owned and read many years ago. I don't remember anything about it except the cover and the fact that I enjoyed it. Not surprising since the authors included Jack Williamson and Ray Cummings. The Polton Cross story in this one is probably the only thing I've ever read by John Russell Fearn. I have no memory of it. Fearn is one of those authors I've seen mentioned many times, just haven't actually read his stories.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Aces, April 1939

Good cover by Rafael DeSoto on this issue of WESTERN ACES, and some good authors inside including Dean Owen, Wayne D. Overholser, Barry Cord (Peter Germano), and Peter Germane (also Peter Germano).

Friday, August 29, 2014

Forgotten Books: Private Eye Action As You Like It - Joe R. Lansdale and Lewis Shiner

When Joe Lansdale mentioned on Facebook that an e-book edition of this collection was available, I knew I had to get it. My copy of the original edition is gone, and I wanted to read the introductions by Joe and Lew Shiner again. They're the best part of this book for me.

Not that the stories themselves aren't very good. They are. Some of my favorites, in fact. PRIVATE EYE ACTION AS YOU LIKE IT features three Ray Slater stories by Lansdale (including the first story he ever sold), three Dan Sloane stories by Shiner, and three John Talbot stories by both of them in collaboration. All of them except one were published originally in MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE—often in the same issues where I had stories appear.

That's what makes this book so great. It's a window back into another time, an era that in most ways is closer to the pulp days than it is to today, and not just time-wise. An era when stories were pecked out on manual typewriters, stuck in manila envelopes, and sent off through the mail to irascible old editors who'd been in the business for forty years, all in hopes of getting an acceptance and a check at the princely, pulp-like rate of a penny a word.

In his introduction, Joe writes about getting a rejection from Sam Merwin, Jr., the editor of MSMM, for a story that Joe had revised and submitted several times. When I read, "I get sicker of this story the more I see it. Try something new", I nodded and thought, yeah, that sounds exactly like Sam. What Joe doesn't mention is that the rejection was probably scrawled on a scrap of paper torn off of something else. I don't think I ever got any correspondence from Sam, rejection or acceptance, on anything resembling a letterhead. That was just the sort of hardscrabble magazine MSMM was.

But those of us who wrote for it formed a sort of fraternity, as Lew talks about in his introduction. We had half a dozen letters to other writers out in the mail all the time, an endless (or so it seemed then) circle of gossip, bitching, and encouragement. The lift in spirits that came whenever I opened the mailbox and found a letter from Nacogdoches or Austin or Brownwood or Durango was a tangible part of what kept me going through those days of pounding out stories and collecting rejection slips or the occasional check for $15 or $25 or even, happy day!, $40 or $50. Groceries this week, baby!

As I've said before about other things, man, I wouldn't go back to those days...but I'm awfully glad I lived through them.

So, I haven't said much about the actual book. It's great. The stories are wonderfully entertaining, classic private eye yarns that were like nothing else being published at that time, and you can see the genesis of both writers in them. I can't read them now without visualizing the covers of those issues of MSMM where they first appeared. I love 'em, simple as that. And PRIVATE EYE ACTION AS YOU LIKE IT is one of the best time machines you'll ever find. If you've never read it, do yourself a favor and grab a copy right away.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Zombies From the Pulps!: While Zombies Walked - Thorp McCluskey

I don't know anything about Thorp McCluskey except that he wrote several stories for WEIRD TALES, some of which have been anthologized over the years. And here's another one, "While Zombies Walked", which was cover-featured on the September 1939 issue of the magazine. This one features a stalwart protagonist who wants to find out why his girlfriend wrote to him breaking up with him soon after she went to take care of her elderly uncle, who had suffered a stroke. When he arrives in the area he finds men working in the cotton fields in a sinister, dazed state. Some of them even appear to have suffered fatal injuries.

No surprise there, but McCluskey provides a nice twist by setting his story in the rural South and making these apparent walking dead poor white trash. In many ways, "While Zombies Walked" is as much a backwoods tale reminiscent of Erskine Caldwell as it is a horror yarn, although make no mistake, it winds up pretty horrific (in a good way). There's even an evil, bombastic preacher who's been tempted by dark forces and given in to them.

Like the Bruno Fischer story that precedes it in ZOMBIES FROM THE PULPS!, "While Zombies Walked" is well-written and a little more restrained in tone than some of the other stories in this anthology. But it's very entertaining and makes me think I ought to keep my eyes open for more stories by Thorp McCluskey.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Night Passage

NIGHT PASSAGE is famous as the movie that caused a rift between its star James Stewart and the director who was supposed to helm it, Anthony Mann. Mann quit the picture early on and was replaced by James Neilson. It's not generally regarded as being up to the standard of the earlier Stewart/Mann Western collaborations, but as an hour and a half of entertainment, it's pretty darned good.

Stewart plays Grant McLaine, a former troubleshooter for the railroad who lost his job because he was suspected of letting an outlaw get away. He's been reduced to playing the accordion in end-of-track camps for nickels and dimes. However, when several payrolls in a row are lost to a gang of outlaws headed by the notorious Whitey Harbin, McLaine gets his job back and is tasked with getting a $10,000 payroll through to the railhead.

Naturally enough, the gang goes after the money, including the Utica Kid, the fast-draw outlaw who McLaine supposedly allowed to escape several years earlier. There's a link between the two men that won't come as much of a surprise when it's finally revealed, but it does an effective job of setting most of the plot in motion and eventually leading to a well-done shootout that serves as the movie's climax.

Stewart is fine as always. I can watch him in anything and always enjoy his work. He even sings a couple of songs, something I don't recall him doing in any other film, and does an adequate job of it. As the Utica Kid, Audie Murphy gives one of his better performances. While he was never a great actor, I've liked every movie I've ever seen with him in it. As the villainous Whitey Harbin, Dan Duryea is weaselly as ever. Brandon de Wilde, a few years after his role in SHANE, plays a kid who gets involved with the outlaws.

The rest of the cast is top-notch: Jack Elam and Robert Wilke as two of the outlaws, Jay C. Flippen as a railroad magnate, Paul Fix and Ellen Corby as a married couple in the end-of-track camp, and plenty of other fine supporting players. The Colorado scenery (the movie was filmed along the narrow-gauge railway between Durango and Silverton) is spectacular. The script is by the always dependable Borden Chase, based on a novel by another old pulpster, Norman A. Fox.

I saw NIGHT PASSAGE many years ago but remembered nothing about it. I enjoyed it a great deal this time around. It's a little too formulaic to belong in the top rank of Westerns, but it's good solid entertainment and well worth watching.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Westward Tide #1: Trail Justice - Jack Tyree (Wayne D. Dundee)

THE WESTWARD TIDE is a new series by Wayne D. Dundee and Mel Odom, writing under the pseudonym Jack Tyree, and as you'd expect from those two authors, it's top-quality entertainment.

TRAIL JUSTICE by Dundee launches the series, which is the story of a wagon train from Missouri bound for Oregon in 1848. Wagon trains have long been fertile ground for authors of Westerns and historical novels. I've written a few myself. They're a natural, with plenty of built-in drama and a wide variety of characters. You can tell almost any sort of story against the backdrop of a wagon train journeying across the plains.

Strong characters are the highlight of TRAIL JUSTICE. Towering mountain man Elwood Blake and young dandy Basil St. Irons serve as scouts for the wagon train and are the protagonists of this first novel, but wagonmaster Eugene Healy and his wife Ingrid, the Reverend Klevold, and villainous Morgan Velmont also make quite an impression. When a trio of plotters carry out murder and robbery a short time after the wagon train departs, Blake and St. Irons set out on their trail to bring them to justice. But while that's going on, Dundee also skillfully sets up some plot threads that are unresolved, so I suspect Odom will take those up in the next installment.

This has the makings of a really fine series, and I'm looking forward to the next book. For now, if you're a fan of strong, fast-moving historical Westerns, TRAIL JUSTICE gets a high recommendation from me.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

A Kickstarter of Note: Sword of Wood - Chuck Dixon

Lord William Corrington, the second baron of Corrington and Knight of Christ is a warrior in the Holy Lands at the time of the First Crusade. Tired and disillusioned by years of war, William journeys home to his manor and village along with his squire, Pilsen, only to find the fields and hovels empty and his wife and children gone.

A Dominican friar named Henri DuChamps is the only soul remaining and is forted up in the village church. The friar is glad to see William, but is angered with his absence, stating that while the men of England were out fighting God’s war, Satan has come to take England in the form of an army of vampyres. He tells William of a rampaging horde of monsters that he has been stalking for a year. They sweep down on villages to kill and abduct all they find. They are an army of Satan’s and their ranks swell with each attack. A dark red-haired lord and agent of the Devil called only Kerioth, or ‘The Apostle,’ leads them.

William cannot know if his wife and children have been taken as feedstock or have joined the blood-sucking host.

I'll read just about anything Chuck Dixon wants to write, and this graphic novel looks excellent. You can find out the details about it here.

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Short Stories, July 25, 1936

SHORT STORIES was a great adventure pulp, and this issue is especially noteworthy because it featured not just one but two of the authors who were dubbed "King of the Pulps" at one time or another: Erle Stanley Gardner and H. Bedford-Jones. They're also two big favorites of mine. There's also an installment of a Halfaday Creek serial by James B. Hendryx and stories by S. Omar Barker, Hapsburg Liebe, and Stephen Chalmers. Looks like a fine issue all around.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Triple-X Western, November 1931

I love the way the stampeding bull on this cover by Denton Clark seems to be looking right at the reader. That would have caught my eye for sure. So would the presence of a W.C. Tuttle yarn. Other authors in this issue whose names are at least somewhat familiar are Stephen Payne, Jay Lucas, and Carmony Gove. TRIPLE-X WESTERN, published by Fawcett, started out as a general adventure pulp called TRIPLE-X MAGAZINE but changed titles and focus from one month to the next in the spring of 1931, after which it ran for several more years.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Fyredrake's Prey Now Available in Trade Paperback

The print edition of my heroic fantasy novel THE FYREDRAKE'S PREY is now available from Amazon. I'm trying to figure out a way to write more books like this, but it's probably going to be a while.

Forgotten Books: Lust Victim - Don Elliott (Robert Silverberg)

Recently Stark House reprinted two more of Robert Silverberg's early Sixties soft-core novels, LUST QUEEN and LUST VICTIM, so strictly speaking I don't know if you can call these books forgotten, but it wasn't that long ago they were. Bill Crider wrote about LUST QUEEN on his blog a while back. Today I'm taking a look at LUST VICTIM.

This novel was originally published in 1962 under the title NO LUST TONIGHT, which Silverberg mentions in his introduction was changed from his original title LUST VICTIM by editor Earl Kemp. For the reprint the original title has been restored, which is good because it works on several different levels. Almost every character in this novel is a victim of lust in one way or another.

Dave Lamson is a successful young industrialist married to a beautiful wife named Moira. Their idyllic suburban life is shattered one Saturday night when a burglar breaks into their house, ties up Dave, and forces him to watch while he rapes Moira. They both survive the incident, but their lives are ruined by the psychological effect the attack has on Moira. This leads Dave to have a number of sordid affairs—and also provides the requisite number of sex scenes for the book.

Silverberg is nothing if not clever, though, and not everything is what it seems to be. There's some detective work and some hardboiled action before the book arrives at a fairly satisfying conclusion.

The biggest problem with LUST VICTIM is that Dave is such a jerk it's hard to root for him. "It's been TWO WHOLE DAYS since you were raped. Aren't you over it YET?" (I'm paraphrasing, but that's the way he comes across at times.) Still, Silverberg is a skillful enough writer that we do indeed wind up rooting for Dave. And of course the book is well-paced and the prose just as smooth as it can be, as always from Silverberg.

I have to admit, I love these books from William Hamling's publishing empire. Even when they're not as well-written as those by Silverberg, Lawrence Block, and Donald E. Westlake, they're such perfect snapshots of the era in which they were published. And thankfully more and more of them are being reprinted. For now, you can't go wrong with this Stark House edition of LUST QUEEN and LUST VICTIM.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

38 Years Ago Today...

Where does the time go? (I know I've posted this picture a number of times before, but thanks to the fire of '08 we don't have many photos left from those days.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Blackout - Tim Curran

BLACKOUT is the first thing I've read by Tim Curran. It's a well-written horror/science fiction novella that's very reminiscent of not only 1950s SF movies but also the work of Stephen King, in that he takes a group of normal people (in this case middle-class suburbanites) and puts them in an unexpected and very harrowing situation so we can see how they react.

Curran spends a little time introducing us to his characters, but it doesn't take long for things to start going to hell as the power goes off following a mysterious thunderstorm. A darkness deeper than the normal night settles over the neighborhood, something unseen but huge hovers above it, and people are snatched up to an unknown but probably grisly fate by sinister tentacle-like cables that drop down out of nowhere. One by one, our little group of protagonists shrinks until...

Curran writes well, creating sympathetic characters and moving his story along at a nice pace. He handles action just fine and a lot of the scenes are genuinely creepy, as well as occasionally gross. My only complaint is that I didn't care much for the ending, and that's more of a philosophical difference rather than any failing on Curran's part. Overall I liked BLACKOUT quite a bit, and if you enjoy dark science fiction tales, you should check it out.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Tuesday's Overlooked TV: Klondike

I'd never heard of this mini-series that ran originally on the Discovery Channel until we came across the DVDs of it, but being a sucker for Northerns I had to get it and watch it, of course. It's very loosely based on actual incidents during the Yukon Gold Rush, but it takes so many liberties I think it would be best just to consider it historical fiction and evaluate it on that basis.

And my evaluation is, it's not bad. Not great, but certainly entertaining. It's the story of two young men from the east who head west to make their fortunes after graduating from college. They're likable sorts, and after a few minor adventures they wind up on their way to Alaska, where they travel over Chilkoot Pass with all the other gold-seekers on their way to Dawson on the Yukon River. When they get there, they'll encounter murder, romance, and adventure...not to mention Jack London.

Now, it just so happens I've written a novel with this same general setting and time period, so I know a little about it from my research. KLONDIKE gets quite a few things wrong, but what's the point of going into them? It's a good yarn, complete with stalwart heroes, despicable villains, colorful supporting characters, some humor, some tragedy, and lots of action. I'm fine with cutting it the same amount of slack I would for a big budget Hollywood historical from the Forties, which it resembles in a lot of ways.

It also resembles DEADWOOD quite a bit (I can just imagine some executive saying in a meeting, "Make it just like DEADWOOD, only different), which is another series that possesses only a nodding acquaintance with historical accuracy. KLONDIKE doesn't have the same level of writing and acting, but few series do.

The cast is mostly unknown to me, other than Tim Roth playing a slimy villain, as he usually does, Sam Shepard as an angst-ridden priest, and the fine character actor Tim Blake Nelson as one of the hero's sidekicks. But they all do decent jobs. The scenery, as you'd expect, is magnificent. The story does fall apart a little at the end, as it keeps going right on past several suitable conclusions and is less satisfying than it could have been.

All that said, I enjoyed KLONDIKE. Watching it made me want to read some Northerns again. I may just have to do that.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Richard Stark's Parker: Slayground - Darwyn Cooke

Darwyn Cooke's graphic novel adaptations of Donald E. Westlake's Parker novels continue with SLAYGROUND. I actually haven't read all of the Parker novels (I know, I know, I should have by now), but I have read this one and remember enjoying it very much. It's the one in which Parker, after a botched armored car robbery, is trapped by gangsters and crooked cops in a deserted amusement park that's closed for the winter. That's it for the plot. But as always, Cooke's art and script perfectly capture the ultra-hardboiled tone of the books. I would never recommend that anybody should read these instead of the novels, but they make wonderful companion pieces.

This volume also contains a Parker short story "The 7eventh". I'm not sure if it's based on something Westlake wrote or if it's an original by Cooke, but either way it's good as well. I've read all four of these volumes so far and will continue to do so as long as Cooke wants to do them.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Blue Book, April 1935

It's almost hard to grasp just what a good magazine BLUE BOOK was. Take this issue from 1935. You've got Part 1 of the serialization of the first Kioga novel by William L. Chester, HAWK OF THE WILDERNESS. You've got two stories by H. Bedford-Jones, an Arms and Men yarn under his name and another story as by Gordon Keyne. You've got the final installment of SWORDS OF MARS by Edgar Rice Burroughs. Plus stories by Warren Hastings Miller, Sidney Herschel Small, Leland Jamieson, and Jacland Marmur. Some of these names are pretty much forgotten, but they were all fine writers. And that was just one issue of one pulp. It boggles the mind. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Now Available: Red Shadows, Green Hell - David Hardy

The green hell that is the Netherlands East Indies in 1859 is a dangerous place—but soldier of fortune Patrick "Blackie" Boyle is a dangerous man. Trapped between Malay fanatics on one side and Dayak headhunters on the other, menaced by sinister sorcery and entranced by a beautiful jungle queen, Blackie will need all his formidable skill as a fighting man to survive! 

RED SHADOWS, GREEN HELL is a thrilling 8,000 word short story of historical adventure, touched with fantasy and horror, from acclaimed author David Hardy. It's an exciting, fast-paced yarn in the grand pulp tradition of Robert E. Howard and Talbot Mundy, full of vivid, hardboiled action.

I think this is my favorite of Dave Hardy's work so far. It's a story that would have been right at home in ADVENTURE, ARGOSY, or BLUE BOOK, just the sort of historical adventure I like.

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Best Western, September 1935

The inaugural issue of this pulp had quite a line-up of authors: Max Brand, Clarence E. Mulford (with a Hopalong Cassidy story), J. Allan Dunn, Frank Richardson Pierce, and Paul Evan Lehman. Hard to imagine how many millions of hours of Western entertainment those five authors have provided for readers over the years.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Now Available: The Fyredrake's Prey - James Reasoner

Sir Gault the Red was once the fiercest knight in all Malachar, but that was before age and a life of peace reduced him to a shadow of the warrior he once was. Now his epic battles against the fyredrakes, the race of reptilian monsters that terrorized the countryside in times past, are just a memory...until an unexpected encounter prods him into a desperate attempt to recapture past glories.

Keldrick is the last of his kind, a giant fyredrake whose flaming breath once blazed a path of destruction across the land. He wants only to reach the legendary northland where others like him may still be found...but his journey will also be one last rampage of fire, death, and devastation across the domain of the hated humans.

These two natural adversaries are fated to meet, but before they do both will be drawn into a web of deceit, ambition, and lust that will leave them questioning who are the real monsters, humans or fyredrakes!

THE FYREDRAKE'S PREY is a gritty fantasy saga packed with bloody action and unexpected heroism from New York Times bestselling author and legendary storyteller James Reasoner, a never before published 70,000 word novel available only from Rough Edges Press.

A number of years ago I wrote and sold a fantasy novel, but due to some odd circumstances, it was never published. It would have been lost in the fire of '08 if I hadn't sent it to several friends to read, and a couple of them sent it back to me. I planned to do something with it someday...but you know how that goes.

Earlier this year I decided I wanted to get it out and polish it up. That polish job turned into major revisions, to the point that the basic plot and a few character names are about all that's left from the original version of the novel. I really enjoyed working on it, though, and definitely would like to do more with this setting, which ties in loosely with a few short stories I've done. When will I get a chance to do that? Heck if I know.

THE FYREDRAKE'S PREY is available right now in a Kindle edition, and a print edition is in the works and should be out in a few days. It's not quite sword and sorcery, not quite high fantasy, but more along the lines of what George R.R. Martin and Joe Abercrombie write, whatever you call that. Mostly I think it's an entertaining novel, and I hope some of you will check it out.

Forgotten Books: The Money Gun - Robert J. Randisi

Whenever I get the urge to read a Western by Bob Randisi, there are certainly plenty to choose from. You don't hear much about this one because it's a stand-alone instead of a book from one of his many series, but it's also one of his best novels.

The Money Gun is Faulkner, and he's a hired gun who specializes in killing bad men the law can't touch for one reason or another. His only friend in the world is Henry Tall Fellow, a half-breed bounty hunter who Faulkner teams up with from time to time. This novel tells two parallel stories: their effort to track down the notorious outlaw Jack Sunday, and in flashbacks, the first time the two worked together a quarter of a century earlier. Not all that surprisingly, those two stories wind up being connected.

As with any Randisi novel, THE MONEY GUN is fast-paced, has plenty of good dialogue, and some nice action. There's also a very effective sense of poignant melancholy as these two old friends deal with the infirmities of age and the weight of decades spent in a bloody, violent business. I was reminded of both RIDE THE HIGH COUNTRY and THE WILD BUNCH. The time period, 1898, the tail end of the Old West, just increases that sense of an era drawing to a close.

If you've never read a Randisi Western, THE MONEY GUN wouldn't be a bad place to start. It's both entertaining and moving. The original paperback edition from 2007 seems to be out of print, but ought to be easy enough to find. There's also a Kindle edition available on Amazon. If you're a Western fan, it's well worth reading.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Zombies From the Pulps!: The Man Who Loved a Zombie - Russell Gray (Bruno Fischer)

Bruno Fischer was one of the top writers of mystery and suspense novels for the iconic paperback publisher Gold Medal in the 1950s. One of his early novels for Gold Medal, HOUSE OF FLESH, sold well over a million copies and was one of the first big success stories for paperback originals. He went on to have a well-regarded career as the author of hardback mystery novels.

But before all that, under the names Russell Gray and Harrison Storm, he was a prolific contributor to the Weird Menace pulps, including the story "The Man Who Loved a Zombie" in the May/June 1939 issue of TERROR TALES. It's a well-written, fast-moving yarn about a man who returns to his hometown to find that some of the inhabitants are dying from a mysterious disease and then being resurrected as zombies by a sinister unknown mastermind. Fischer introduces us to the suspects in rapid-fire fashion, compressing all the events of the story into a few hours one night, opening in a graveyard and ending with a military-style siege of a mansion with machine guns chattering and an army of zombies carrying rifles.

Despite the over-the-top nature of the plot, Fischer's prose is fairly restrained for the Weird Menace genre and not as wild-eyed as that of, say, Arthur Leo Zagat. It's a different approach, but it works. "The Man Who Loved a Zombie" is a very entertaining story and one more reason to pick up a copy of ZOMBIES FROM THE PULPS!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Drifter Detective: Dinero Del Mar - Garnett Elliott

Jack Laramie, the Drifter Detective, is back in DINERO DEL MAR, which recounts three loosely connected cases that find Jack spending some time in my old stomping grounds, the Corpus Christi area. He's mixed up in an attempt to fix a beauty pageant, gets another case involving beatniks, bohemians, and artists when he's thrown into the drunk tank, and finally stumbles on a murder plot tied in with one of the previous cases. It all makes for a fast-moving, very entertaining yarn from author Garnett Elliott, who also supplies a surprising twist ending. Elliott does a great job with the setting, Texas in the 1950s, and this continues to be one of my favorite series. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: This Property is Condemned

(This post originally appeared on July 25, 2009, about another movie from our Tennessee Williams mini-marathon five years ago.)

This is one I had seen before, but it’s been close to forty years since I watched it, and on late night TV at that, cut up for commercials and probably shortened to run in a two-hour time slot, as well. So it was almost new to me.

There’s not nearly as much Tennessee Williams material in this film, which was “suggested” (according to the credits) by a short, one-act Williams play of the same name. While much of the dialogue from the play was used, the screenplay, which was co-authored by Francis Ford Coppola, splits the source material in two and uses it as a prologue and epilogue and invents the long flashback in between that makes up most of the movie, although the storyline is at least extrapolated from bits of dialogue in the original.

The film takes place in the small town of Dodson, Mississippi, where we first meet the 13-year-old girl Willie Starr walking along the railroad tracks near an abandoned and condemned boarding house that her mother used to run. Willie tells the story to a boy about her own age she encounters on the tracks, launching the flashback in which the boarding house is still occupied and Willie’s beautiful older sister Alva has numerous suitors among the railroad men who live there. But then a railroad employee named Owen Legate arrives to cut the runs that go through Dodson and lay off most of the men who work for the railroad, and things begin to fall apart for the Starr family. Naturally, a romance develops between Alva and Owen (they’re played by Natalie Wood and Robert Redford, what else would you expect?), which ruins the plan hatched by Alva’s mother to push Alva into the arms of a well-to-do railroad superintendent with a sick wife.

Things play out in Southern, depression-era, soap opera fashion, and even though I had a pretty good idea what was going to happen, I found the movie really entertaining in an old-fashioned way. I remembered liking it when I saw it before, and I did this time, too. It’s got a fine cast. I’ve always liked Robert Redford, Natalie Wood is beautiful (and it’s amazing how even at the age she was then, you can often see the little girl from MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET in her), and Charles Bronson is good in an unsympathetic role as a brutal railroad worker who plays up to Alva’s mother in order to get closer to Alva. Mary Badham, who played Scout in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, plays Willie. The photography by James Wong Howe is excellent, and I think the screenwriters did a pretty good job of expanding the play (which, admittedly, I’ve neither seen nor read).

Overall, I had a fine time watching this one. If you’ve never seen it, it’s worth a look. If it’s been forty years since you watched it, like me, it’s worth watching again.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Whack Job - Mike Baron

Mike Baron is another author whose work I read first in comic books, but he's a fine novelist as well. I'd previously read and enjoyed his horror novel HELMET HEAD. WHACK JOB is an action/adventure thriller (or at least it starts out that way) and is equally entertaining.

This novel opens with a top-secret black ops mission to Libya several years ago that finds American agents infiltrating a desert palace to assassinate Moammar Gaddafi. Things don't go as planned, however, and Otto White is apparently the only survivor from the botched mission. While he was in the palace he witnessed a bizarre phenomenon, the spontaneous combustion of one of Gaddafi's sons, but no one believes him. A pariah in the intelligence community, Otto winds up living in isolation on a Colorado mountaintop.

Until a wave of spontaneous human combustion begins to kill off world leaders and important financial figures, and then Otto is recruited to head up the investigation. Naturally, he uncovers ties to what happened back in Libya, but after that the investigation gets weirder and weirder and takes him to places he never expected to go—literally.

Otto White and his German Shepherd dog Steve are about as likable a pair of protagonists as you're likely to find. Otto is damaged but tough and determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, no matter where it leads him. Baron keeps things moving along at a nice pace, all the way to an offbeat but satisfying conclusion. If you enjoy thrillers where nothing is what it seems and things don't turn out like you'd expect, then WHACK JOB gets a high recommendation from me.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Check 'Em Out: Fight Card Presents Battling Mahoney & Other Stories/Fight Card: Push - Jack Tunney (Nathan Walpow)

Fight Card Presents: Battling Mahoney & Other Stories is the second in a series of charity anthologies from the Fight Card authors’ cooperative – a writers’ community featuring many of today’s finest fictioneers, including James Reasoner, Loren D. Estleman, Len Levinson, James Hopwood, Mark Finn, Jeremy L. C. Jones, Michael Zimmer, Marc Cameron, Nik Morton, Marsha Ward, Clay More, Chuck Tyrell, Bowie V. Ibarra, Art Bowshire, and featuring an extensive essay, On Boxing, by Willis Gordon. 

Compiled by Paul Bishop and Jeremy L. C. Jones, 100% of the proceeds from these anthologies go directly to an author-in-need or a literacy charity. Words on paper are the life blood of a writer. The writers in this volume were willing to bleed in order to give a transfusion to one of their own – and then continue to bleed to give a transfusion to literacy charities in support of that most precious of commodities...readers. They are true fighters, every one...

(My story in this anthology is a brand-new Judge Earl Stark yarn called "The Bandera Brawl", for those of you who read the Big Earl series.)

You’re a “jobber.” You make your living by losing in the wrestling ring. You’re a good wrestler, but promoters don’t think you have what it takes to become a superstar. Then Thumper shows up. Big and strong, with a bunny-rabbit gimmick and fans eating out of his hand. His finishing move is called The Thump, and most guys don’t get up from it on their own. One night, Thumper puts his opponent in the hospital. Not a big deal. Sure, the outcome of a wrestling match is fake. But the “bumps” in the ring can be all too real. Sometimes you get hurt. Part of the territory. 

Then it happens again. Only this time, the guy who got Thumped is tossed into a car like a sack of potatoes. Lou Boone, the promoter who runs Central States Wrestling with an iron fist, knows you saw something and offers you a “push” if you keep your mouth shut. A push. Every jobber’s dream. To get to win some matches, to get to be on the big cards in the big arenas. You want it more than anything. You begin thinking you imagined the sack-of-potatoes guy – until it happens again. 

Now, you have to choose between wrestling fame and doing the right thing. Before this is over, someone else will be dead. And you don’t want it to be you … 

Based on the short story “Push Comes to Shove,” selected by Lawrence Block for the Best American Mystery Stories series.

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Clues, October 1939

An eye-catching skull cover by Modest Stein on this issue of the long-running detective pulp, plus stories by the enigmatic but usually entertaining Emile C. Tepperman, Arthur J. Burks, and William G. Bogart, among others.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: West, January 1946

Frontier doctors showed up as heroes in Western pulps from time to time, and here's a good example of one, right down to the title and the character's appearance on this cover by Sam Cherry. Bradford Scott, who was really A. Leslie Scott, expanded this story for hardback publication a couple of years after its pulp appearance, and then the novel was reprinted a few years after that by Harlequin, back when they published all sorts of genre fiction, not just romances. This issue of WEST is also notable for containing one of the later Zorro stories by Johnston McCulley, "Zorro Frees Some Slaves".

Friday, August 08, 2014

Forgotten Books: Edgar Rice Burroughs: Master of Adventure - Richard A. Lupoff

In the mid-Sixties, Edgar Rice Burroughs was probably my favorite author. I had discovered both the Tarzan series and the Mars series about the same time and was consuming them feverishly every time I came across one, which was pretty often in those days when Ace and Ballantine editions of books from both series were easy to find. So I was really thrilled to come across this volume, which not only provided me with information about Burroughs and his writing career that I didn't know but also discussed Burroughs novels I didn't even know existed! This book is the reason I read some of those novels, like THE MUCKER and THE BANDIT OF HELL'S BEND and THE MAD KING. For that reason alone I'd be grateful to Richard A. Lupoff for writing it, but it's also a well-written, very entertaining volume in its own right. Plus it has that great Krenkel cover. The book is still available in a slightly revised edition, but this is the one I read sitting on the front porch of my parents' house on a summer afternoon nearly fifty years ago, an experience I remember vividly.

And in one of life's oddities so common now in the Internet age, Richard A. Lupoff and I are both members of a Yahoo group, and I read his postings about various subjects daily. If you'd told that to that little kid on Hankins Drive all those years ago, I probably wouldn't have believed it.

But I would have wanted to.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Zombies From the Pulps!: Pigeons From Hell - Robert E. Howard

Now we come to the best story in ZOMBIES FROM THE PULPS!, in my opinion, and a story I've read at least a dozen times. Because of that, I thought I could just skim it for this blog post. But no. Once I laid eyes on the first sentence, I had to read the whole thing again, and I enjoyed it just as much as I ever have. Of course, I'm talking about Robert E. Howard's "Pigeons From Hell", which originally appeared in the May 1938 issue of WEIRD TALES.

For those of you who haven't read it, it's the story of two young men from New England who taking a driving vacation through the South, and what they encounter when they decide to spend the night in an old, deserted mansion on an abandoned plantation. Not much chance of anything good coming out of that!

I won't say anything more about the details of the story. It's exceptionally well-plotted by Howard with a very effective twist ending he saves for the very last line. Mostly, though, it contains some of his most vivid, compelling writing. This is a classic of horror fiction, one of Howard's best stories, and one of the best horror stories by any author that I've ever read. If you've never read it before, that's one more excellent reason to buy this book!

Faith and the Law #2: Ranger With a Collar - James J. Griffin

James J. Griffin's FAITH AND THE LAW series continues with the second installment, RANGER WITH A COLLAR. These stories feature two twin brothers in the Old West, Chaz and Tad Jankowski. One is a Texas Ranger and the other is a priest, and when the Ranger is ambushed while on the trail of a criminal mastermind, his priest brother takes up the badge--and the trail of the bad guys.

This tale is reminiscent of the old movie serials, although each installment doesn't end with a cliffhanger, and Griffin really carries it off well. These stories are very entertaining traditional Westerns. I don't know how many chapters we have to go before everything wraps up in what's bound to be a big showdown, but I plan to be there for all of them.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Coming Soon From Rough Edges Press: The Fyredrake's Prey - James Reasoner

Here's the cover Livia's done for my heroic fantasy novel that should be out sometime in the next couple of weeks.

Check It Out: The Westward Tide Book 1: Trail Justice - Jack Tyree (Wayne D. Dundee)

In the spring of 1848, the Culbertson-Barkley company, so named for the Illinois and Missouri counties from which most of its members came, heads out for the promise of new beginnings and new lives in the Oregon Territory. 52 wagons, 233 men, women, and children who have been battered by a seemingly endless string of devastating winters and destructive spring floods. Battered maybe, but not defeated. Instead, toughened and filled with a collective iron resolve to change their fate and their future.

But the Oregon Trail is a challenge, even for the toughest and most strong-willed. It starts out hard and gets progressively harder, every inch of the way. It is a foregone conclusion that not everyone who is there at the beginning will make it to the end. It will take men like Wagon Master Eugene Healy, trail scout Basil St. Irons, and former mountain man Elwood Blake to get as many through as possible. And it will take determined women like Ingrid Healy and Evelyn Harmony to nurture and encourage their men in order to help them find the strength and courage to endure. 

From within and without, they will be tested. By the elements, by the threat of Indians, by betrayal … and by secrets from the past. 

(A new Western series by Wayne D. Dundee and Mel Odom. This looks great. The first one, by Dundee, is available now. Review coming soon, but in the meantime...check it out!)

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Sweet Bird of Youth

(This post originally appeared in slightly different form on July 23, 2009.)

Livia’s working on a book with a Tennessee Williams connection (that book, of course, was KILLER ON A HOT TIN ROOF, the second in her Delilah Dickinson series), so we decided to watch some of the movies based on Williams’ plays that we’d either never seen before or hadn’t seen in a long time.

I’m certain I’d never seen SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH before. It came out several years after CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF (my favorite Williams film) and also stars Paul Newman. No Elizabeth Taylor this time, though. It was also written for the screen and directed by Richard Brooks, who did CAT. In this one Newman plays a young man named Chance Wayne, a would-be actor who has failed at every turn. He returns to his hometown in Mississippi with an aging actress, Alexandra Del Lago (Geraldine Page), he met in Palm Beach, and Chance is convinced she’s going to be his ticket to fame and fortune. Along the way, though, he wants to be reunited with his former girlfriend, who happens to be the daughter of a powerful, corrupt politician named Boss Finley (Ed Begley in a performance that won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar), who also has an evil son who hates Chance.

Lots of possibilities there for lurid, overheated drama, and the movie takes advantage of most of them. I kept thinking that if this was a novel and the corrupt politician wound up dead about 40 pages in and Chance was blamed for the murder, this would be a Gold Medal by Harry Whittington or another Williams (Charles), or possibly Gil Brewer or Day Keene. But since it’s based on a Tennessee Williams play, that doesn’t happen. Instead everybody lashes everybody else half to death with impassioned speeches for a couple of hours. That sounds more critical than I mean for it to. It’s just that with Williams, you know going in you’re going to get characters who are going through a lot of raw emotional torture. And although some of it comes across as a little hokey and over-the-top now, most of it works.

Nobody was ever better than Paul Newman at playing a thoroughly unsympathetic cad that you wind up rooting for anyway, and he does his usual fine job in this film. Geraldine Page is also pretty good as the actress who fears that her comeback film is a flop. Ed Begley chews the scenery a little too much for my taste as Boss Finley, but Rip Torn is pure evil as his son. Shirley Knight, as Chance’s former girlfriend, isn’t given much to do, but she looks good doing it.

This is a really bleak film with a studio-mandated ending that’s not really happy but at least somewhat hopeful, an ending that Williams and Brooks both disliked. I thought it worked all right, though, and without it the movie might have been too overpoweringly grim. Even as it is, it’s hard to say that I actually enjoyed it. I admired it, though, and think it’s a pretty good film. I’m not sure how I missed seeing it in the past 40-some-odd years, though. It must have played on TV dozens of times when I was growing up.

Monday, August 04, 2014

Bad Times #1: Cannibal Gold

There's no telling how many comic book stories by Chuck Dixon I've read over the years. Hundreds, certainly. But I'd never read any of his novels until now. CANNIBAL GOLD is the first in a new series of science fiction adventure novels, and it's a mighty good one. The set-up is pretty simple. Brother-and-sister genius scientists invent a time machine. Sister gets stuck in the past, 100,000 years ago in prehistoric Nevada. Brother hires a group of ex-Army Ranger badasses to go back in time and rescue her. Much shooting and fighting ensues.

In fact, after some very well done opening scenes in which Dixon introduces us to the characters, the rest of the book is mostly action, which is handled excellently as you'd expect from someone with Dixon's credentials. But in a nice twist, the characters encounter a few things in the past they weren't expecting, and Dixon does a fine job of layering in a few hints that there's a bigger story going on. Although this book comes to a satisfactory conclusion, not everything is resolved, but that's all right. The second book is already out, and I'd already bought it and downloaded it to my Kindle before I was halfway through with this one. That's how much I enjoyed CANNIBAL GOLD.

Sunday, August 03, 2014

New From Rough Edges Press: Last Stagecoach to Hell! - James Reasoner

Bounty hunter Rye Callahan risked his life to capture the brutal outlaw Ike Blaine in a desert showdown. But an even deadlier danger awaits both men when they board the stagecoach bound for an isolated Arizona settlement with a sinister secret. Callahan will need all his cunning and gun skill to survive this trip on the last stagecoach to Hell!

New York Times bestselling author and legendary storyteller James Reasoner returns with a brand-new, never-before-published 10,000 word novella featuring Rye Callahan, the protagonist of his acclaimed story LAST CHANCE CANYON. In Reasoner's hands, the West has never been wilder!

Need something to read on a lazy summer Sunday afternoon? LAST STAGECOACH TO HELL! ought to be just about perfect. And for some background on this story you won't find anywhere else...I got the idea for it earlier this summer when I was coming back from Robert E. Howard Days in Cross Plains. I drove through Thurber, a tiny town that was once the center of Texas's coal mining industry. The smokestack from the smelter is still there after more than a hundred years and is a well-known landmark along that section of Interstate 20. I'd been wanting to write a story that combined the Western and the Weird Menace genres, and as I drove past the smokestack in Thurber I thought that would be something distinctive to include in a Western, and so the two ideas merged in my head. As it turns out, the story is mostly Western with only a little Weird Menace in it, but I think it's pretty entertaining. It's also only 99 cents, and if you have an Amazon Prime or Kindle Unlimited membership, you can even read it for free. I hope some of you will check it out.

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Startling Stories, July 1950

A redheaded space babe, a raygun-totin' hero, and an evil teddy bear on the cover, plus stories inside by Edmond Hamilton, Leigh Brackett, Jack Vance, Ray Bradbury, Walt Sheldon, Frank Belknap Long, and Doc Smith...What else could you want from an issue of STARTLING STORIES? I'd read this one in a second if I had a copy.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Dime Western, November 1948

I haven't actually read any Western pulps for a while, so I decided I need to remedy that, starting with this one. DIME WESTERN was one of the top Western pulps, of course, and this is a fine issue from fairly late in its run.

Rumor has it that by the late Forties, Walt Coburn's drinking problem was bad enough that the editors at Popular Publications had to rewrite his manuscripts pretty heavily at times. They still bought his stories, though, because of Coburn's reputation. I'm sure his name on a cover helped sell more copies of that issue. This time around, either the editor did a good job or Coburn was clicking on more cylinders than usual, because "Smoky River Deadline" is a pretty good story and reads almost like vintage Coburn to me. The protagonist, young Clay Kane, gets involved in a range war in Texas and has to flee the law. After several years he winds up in Montana and soon finds himself neck-deep in another range war, but this time he won't be running away. As usual, there's plenty of complicated back-story and several pretty big coincidences fuel the plot, but Coburn's narrative drive carries things along at a breakneck pace. The villain of the piece is a good one, too, and a little different from the usual Western pulp villains.

I've seen George C. Appell's name on various pulps many times, but I don't recall reading anything by him until now. "High Wire Rider" is a good story about the building of the transcontinental railroad and a former Union telegrapher's attempt to foil a payroll robbery. This is a well-written yarn, and I definitely want to read more by Appell.

John Jo Carpenter is another author I've probably read, but I don't know much about him or his work. His story in this issue, "Cold Deck, Hot Lead" is a pretty good one about a gambler with a great name (Tango Meegan) who kills a man in a gunfight over a poker game and winds up facing down an outlaw gang because of it.

It's not surprising that Tom W. Blackburn's "Ship Out with Captain Satan!" isn't a traditional Western. While Blackburn wrote plenty of traditional stories, he also liked to use a wide variety of historical settings and themes. This novelette takes place almost entirely on a ship bound from Panama to California during the Gold Rush, and it's a fine adventure yarn that finds one of the gold-seekers battling the ship's brutal captain.

Oddly enough, the story that prompted me to pull out this issue and read it is the only one I didn't really care for. A while back a friend of mine asked me about Bart Cassidy, specifically Cassidy's long-running series of stories about amiable outlaw Tensleep Maxon. I'd never read one, so I figured I ought to. The one in this issue is "Fire, Brimstone—and Tensleep Maxon!" It's told in a colorful, idiosyncratic first-person style, and it just didn't work for me. But I have more of them on hand and maybe I'll try another.

T.T. Flynn's stories, on the other hand, have never disappointed me, and "Death's Deputy" is no exception. Lon Hagerman is a gunfighting, town taming lawman, but he returns to his home on the trail of the man who murdered a friend of his, finds himself deputized by the ailing local sheriff, and has to break up the outlaw gang plaguing the area. As usual, Flynn spins his yarn in terse, swift-moving prose, and while the plot is nothing exceptional, it still makes for an entertaining tale.

The final story in the issue is "Good Loggers Are Dead Loggers", by the always dependable Frank Bonham. It's the old cattlemen vs. loggers plot, with a nice twist that finds the cattleman hero getting into the timber business. Bonham's stories always read well.

So, a good solid issue of DIME WESTERN, as most of them were. I hope to read another soon.