Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: In the Heart of the Sea

I knew that Herman Melville's novel MOBY DICK was based on actual incidents, but I didn't really know the story behind it. IN THE HEART OF THE SEA spins that yarn, the tale of the real-life whaling ship Essex and its encounter with, you guessed it, a great white whale. How accurate it is, I don't know, but I thought it was a well-done, old-fashioned adventure movie, not surprising since it was directed by Ron Howard, who is very much an old-fashioned director whose work has often reminded me of the movies made by Howard Hawks. Chris Hemsworth stars in this one as the first mate of the Essex, and I tend to like him, too. IN THE HEART OF THE SEA bombed at the box office and got mostly bad reviews, but I enjoyed it quite a bit.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Dime Detective, April 1940

I love this cover. Don't know if it's based on one of the stories inside--or if one of the stories might be based on it--or if it's just goofy brilliance. But I think it's a dandy, no matter what. And speaking of the stories, they're by Frederick C. Davis, Norbert Davis (a Bail Bond Dodd yarn), Hugh B. Cave, Leslie T. White, Dale Clark, and William Edward Hayes. That's a mighty strong line-up. DIME DETECTIVE was a great pulp.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Famous Western, March 1943

We're right in the middle of a saloon gunfight on the cover of this issue of FAMOUS WESTERN. Looks like the work of H.W. Scott to me, but I could be wrong about that. Inside are stories by Chuck Martin, Archie Joscelyn, Lee Floren (twice, once under his name and once as Cliff Campbell), and Fred Gipson, the author of OLD YELLER his own self, among other, lesser-known scribblers. Edited by Robert W. Lowndes, of course.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Forgotten Books: Pistol Passport - Eugene Cunningham

Years ago I came across a mention of a series of stories by Eugene Cunningham about a former Texas Ranger forced to turn outlaw when he’s framed for murder. These appeared in FRONTIER STORIES and ACTION STORIES. I thought at the time they sounded like a prime candidate for reprinting, and as it turns out, some of them were, in somewhat different form. At least I think so.

Cunningham’s novel PISTOL PASSPORT was published in 1936. It opens with a former Texas Ranger named Steve Drago being convicted of murder for what was really a fair fight with a member of the opposing clan in one of those famous Texas feuds. Drago escapes from custody and tries to make it across the border into Mexico, but he winds up being sidetracked to the Taunton Basin in West Texas where there’s a range war going on between two factions, both of which are pretty bad. All the other ranchers in the basin are caught in the middle of this violent clash, including a beautiful young blonde who’s trying to run the family ranch with the dubious help of her ne’er-do-well brother. Drago, being a former lawman and a deadly gunfighter, naturally sides with the underdogs and pulls a RED HARVEST by playing the two bunches of bad guys against each other.

This results in a fine Western novel. Cunningham wrote great action scenes that are more graphic and hardboiled than most of what appeared in the Western pulps during the Twenties and Thirties. Having been a Texas cowboy himself, his descriptions of the range and of ranch life have the unmistakable ring of authenticity. The action may be over the top, but at least it’s grounded in reality. He also has a tin ear for dialogue at times, but mostly it’s very good. His style is just offbeat enough that I used to find it a little distracting, but once you get into the flow of his writing, it really sweeps you along.

Now, as for the connection between this novel and the Gip Drago pulp stories . . . In the December 1931 of FRONTIER STORIES, Cunningham published a novella entitled “Pistol Passport”. In the next three issues, more Cunningham novellas appeared. I don’t have a scan of the cover for December '31, but the cover of the next one features Cunningham’s novella “High Stakes” and clearly calls it “Another Gip Drago Novel of the Range”, meaning that it wasn’t the first in the series. I think “Pistol Passport” was, and that the next two stories, “The Leather Slapper” and “Riding Gun” were also part of the series. Then, according to the Fictionmags Index, the Gip Drago series ends until 1935, when it resumes in the pages of ACTION STORIES.

Now, having read the novel PISTOL PASSPORT, it’s a fairly seamless narrative, but the plot is just episodic enough to make me believe that Cunninghan rewrote those first four Gip Drago novellas into this novel featuring the renamed protagonist Steve Drago. (Sort of the way Hammett did with RED HARVEST, to go back to that.) If that’s actually the case, it makes me wonder about those later Gip Drago stories, since the ending of the novel wraps things up pretty neatly and doesn’t leave much room for a sequel. But of course, being an inventive pulp writer, Cunningham could find a way. I still hope somebody will reprint those later stories. I really enjoyed PISTOL PASSPORT and give it a high recommendation for fans of the Western pulps and hardboiled, traditional Western novels.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Now Available for Pre-Order: Blaze! Bloody Wyoming - John Hegenberger

All J.D. Blaze wanted to do was celebrate his wife Kate’s birthday, but when you’re the Old West’s only pair of husband-and-wife gunfighters, trouble is never far away. A savage attack and a dangerous injury not only threaten Kate Blaze’s life, she also finds herself a captive of twisted killers and unsure of her own identity. But J.D. will battle with his wits, a pair of rock-hard fists, and a blazing .45 to find Kate and free her before it’s too late! 

Acclaimed author John Hegenberger joins the BLAZE! team with a scorching tale of hate and revenge that leads to an apocalyptic showdown. Read BLOODY WYOMING and see why BLAZE! is today’s bestselling Adult Western series.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

The Digest Enthusiast, Book Four

Interviews • Art Taylor (Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine) • Editors: Alec Cizak (Pulp Modern), Jennifer Landels (Pulp Literature), John Kenyon (Grift Magazine), Kristen Valentine (Betty Fedora) and Sheri White (Morpheus Tales) on the new generation of digital digests.

Articles • Suspense Magazine and Suspense Novels by Richard Krauss • Galaxy Novels by Steve Carper • Galaxy Magabooks by Gary Lovisi • Criswell Predicts: Fate & Spaceway by Tom Brinkmann • Shock Mystery Tales by Peter Enfantino • Pocket Pin-Ups trading cards by Richard Krauss

Reviews by Joe Wehrle, Jr. and Richard Krauss • H.G. Wells Society Newsletter • Bulldog Drummond by Sapper • Mystery, Detective, and Espionage Magazines by Michael L. Cook

Fiction • “The Hideout” by Ron Fortier, art by Rob Davis • “A Rat Must Chew” by Gary Lovisi, art by Sean Azzopardi • “Strangers in Need” story and art by Joe Wehrle, Jr. • “Wounded Wizard” by John Kuharik, art by Michael Neno Includes explicit language.

Cartoons • Brad Foster • Bob Vojtko

Also includes • Editor's Notes • Suspense Magazine contents and reprint sources • Social media round-up • Opening Lines

Includes nearly 100 cover images.

THE DIGEST ENTHUSIAST continues to be one of the very best publications out there. I mean, look at that line-up. Highlights for me are the in-depth looks at SUSPENSE MAGAZINE, SHOCK MYSTERY TALES, and the Galaxy novels, plus some great fiction including a Brother Bones story by Ron Fortier. The Bulldog Drummond review also sparked considerable interest on my part, since I've read one of the books in that series and have been wanting to get around to the others for a long time. If you have any interest in digest magazines, you really need to be reading THE DIGEST ENTHUSIAST.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Tuesday's Overlooked Movie: The Forbidden Kingdom

Our daughters have been recommending this movie to us for several years, and we finally got around to watching it. Any movie with both Jackie Chan and Jet Li has to be a certain amount of fun, I think, and this one is. The plot has a young American fan of martial arts movies being magically transported to another realm (the Forbidden Kingdom of the title), so he can restore a fighting staff to the Monkey King, who's been encased in stone by a bad guy. Lots of stuff happens, usually involving elaborately staged fights. Chan is a drunken immortal, Li a bad-ass monk, and I'd never really heard of anybody else in the film. But it looks great and is quite entertaining. I'm glad we finally managed to watch it.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Now Available: Death by Dressage - James J. Griffin

New Hampshire State Police detective Paul Talbot returns for another spine-tingling murder mystery. Someone is killing many of the top dressage riders on the horse show circuit. This time, though, the murders hit too close to home when his wife Jacquie’s riding instructor, Horst Wilhelm, is murdered and the body hung from the covered bridge near the Talbots’ farm. Paul becomes the prime suspect in Wilhelm’s murder and is taken off the investigation just when it appears Jacquie may be the murderer’s next target. Sprinkled throughout with welcome, offbeat bits of humor, DEATH BY DRESSAGE will keep you on the edge of your saddle until the shocking conclusion is reached. 

James J. Griffin is an acclaimed novelist of historical fiction, featuring stories of the famed lawmen from the Lone Star State, the Texas Rangers. His books are always full of action, suspense, and, just when needed, Jim’s off-beat sense of humor. As a native New Englander, he knows almost every foot of his adopted home state of New Hampshire. Jim is also a life-long horseman, and horses always play a prominent role in his novels and short stories. DEATH BY DRESSAGE is his second Paul Talbot mystery novel.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Top-Notch Magazine, May 15, 1928

This scan comes from David Lee Smith. TOP-NOTCH published some good fiction, although I've never considered it one of the top tier of pulps (despite its name). I don't recognize the names of any of the authors in this issue except Eugene Cunningham, but I'm sure most of the stories are pretty good. And that's a nice, action-packed cover. No idea who the artist was.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Trails, August 1934

This looks like a fine issue of WESTERN TRAILS! The cover is by Delos Palmer Jr., and inside are a Duke Buckland novella by Frederick C. Davis and a Bert Little novella by Clyde A. Warden. I've read one story in each of these series and liked them quite a bit. There are also stories by Francis P. Verzani (a prolific WESTERN TRAILS author), Richard Sale, and Joe Archibald. I'm sure I would enjoy this one if I had a copy of it. The scan this week comes from David Lee Smith. Thanks, David!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Forgotten Books: The Complete Films of William S. Hart - Diane Kaiser Koszarski

Since I wrote about William S. Hart's final film, TUMBLEWEEDS, a couple of weeks ago for Tuesday's Overlooked Movie, that got me interested in reading more about his life and career. There really hasn't been a lot written about him and his films, but I found a copy of this book and enjoyed it.

THE COMPLETE FILMS OF WILLIAM S. HART is just what it says it is, a listing of Hart's films including a synopsis of each one, contemporary reviews of them, and several photographs from each. This must have taken a lot of work, since many of Hart's films are pretty obscure. Diane Kaiser Koszarski also contributes a long biographical introduction about Hart's life, including some behind-the-scenes pictures.

I would have liked a little more critical analysis of some of the important pictures from Hart's career, like THE RETURN OF DRAW EGAN and HELL'S HINGES, not to mention TUMBLEWEEDS itself. But even so, this is an entertaining book and a worthwhile look at a towering figure in the early movie business. It's made me want to watch more of Hart's films, so with any luck I'll get to that soon.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: North-West Romances, Fall 1947

I own a copy of this pulp and read it recently, but I had to use a cover scan from the Fictionmags Index because the copy I own is coverless. The cover painting is the usual fine work from Norman Saunders. There’s plenty of fine reading inside this issue, too.

However, it starts off with a reprint by an author I’m not particularly fond of. I know, I know, Jack London is a classic. But he’s also one of those writers whose work has just never really resonated with me. “The White Silence” is his story here, and while the writing is good and I liked one of the character names—The Malemute Kid—the story never really engaged my interest.

I enjoyed the second story, though. It’s “The Stalkers” by a little known author named J.G. Wilson. It’s a mystery of sorts, with a stranger showing up to spy on a sinister trapper and gold miner. The writing is competent, there’s some action and a decent twist at the end, and while it’s nothing special, “The Stalkers” is entertaining.

John Starr is a house-name, so there’s no way of knowing for sure who wrote the novelette “Fool’s Timber”. Which is a shame because it’s a pretty good yarn. It’s a timber war story, as you’d guess from the title, and reminded me a little of those late Forties, bigger budget pictures from Republic Studios. It’s marred a little by some muddled characterization—it’s never really clear which of two different guys is actually the protatonist—and the ending is a little bit of a letdown. Overall, though, the writing is good, with plenty of action and some nice touches of humor. The first thing I suspect when I see a house-name is that the actual author has another story in the same issue, which made me wonder if Dan Cushman wrote this one. (Cushman has the lead novel, which I’ll get to shortly.) “Fool’s Timber” doesn’t really strike me as Cushman’s work, but like I said, it’s hard to be sure.

Next up is a reprint of a Robert W. Service poem, “The Trail of Ninety-Eight”. I’m not much of a poetry guy, but I like Service’s poems, including this one.

The next novelette in this issue, Tom O’Neill’s “Whitehorse or Bust”, gives us a possible answer to the question of who wrote “Fool’s Timber” but poses a bit of a mystery as well. This is an excellent, action-packed yarn about a slightly offbeat topic—the plot concerns a dangerous rivalry between two factions trying to get a load of orange and lemons to the gold fields first, fresh fruit evidently being worth a fortune on the Yukon. The action scenes are written in much the same style as those in “Fool’s Timber”, and characters in both stories use homemade blackjacks made from a piece of garden hose filled with buckshot. That’s not enough to say definitively that O’Neill wrote “Fool’s Timber”, but it’s enough to make me have a hunch that he did. But who’s Tom O’Neill, you ask? That’s another interesting question. The Fictionmags Index tells us he wrote quite a few aviation and sports stories between the mid-Thirties and the early Fifties, along with a few Westerns and Northerns, and that’s all we know about him, other than the fact that based on this story, he's a pretty good writer. I'd like to read more by him.

Next up is a supposedly true feature by William Brockie, ex-constable of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, called “The Terror of Skeleton Valley”. I say supposedly true because it reads an awful lot like a short story about a Mountie’s attempt to capture what appears to be a cannibalistic serial killer. Not surprising since “Brockie” was really prolific pulpster C.V. Tench. This story is pretty grisly stuff for 1947, but it’s an entertaining little yarn.

The novelette “Satan’s Cache” is by R.S. Lerch, another pulpster whose name I’ve seen but whose work I’ve never read until now, as far as I recall. It’s an excellent yarn about a government geologist trying to find out what happened to a friend of his who disappeared in an area of the Alaskan wilderness supposedly roamed by some strange creature. The plot is pretty predictable, but the story moves along at a really swift pace and has some nice turns of phrase. I’ll be on the lookout for more stories by Lerch.

The short story “Long Winter of Dread” by F.C. French is the only thing listed by this author in the Fictionmags Index. It’s the only real clunker in this issue as well. The plot concerns two prospectors, one of whom is suspected of murdering his former partner, holed up for the winter in an isolated valley. The current partner worries that he’ll wind up dead, too. Except for a brief bit of action at the end, that’s all there is to it, and the writing doesn’t have any spark.

This issue wraps up with Dan Cushman’s novella “Beware the Sourdough Siren!”, which has a great blurb: “Out of the howling wastelands of frigid Alaska stalked the cunning lynx-lady to stake a naked claim in the lust-crazed fight for Malemute gold!” Well, I’m a little sad to report that the actual story is nowhere near that provocative. Nobody’s naked (it’s fifty below zero!), and the so-called Sourdough Siren is a fairly wholesome young woman, the daughter of a prospector. However, the story is a pretty good one about a rivalry between mining camps, with one side trying to claim-jump the other. The protagonist is a bit of an offbeat one. He’s a guy who delivers mail to all the mining camps. But he’s a two-fisted mailman who’s fast with a gun, so . . . Anyway, Cushman was one of the stars of the Fiction House pulps during this era, and it’s easy to see why. The story races right along and has a nice hardboiled tone with plenty of action. This one and “Whitehorse or Bust” by Tom O’Neill are the best stories in this issue.

This is the only issue of NORTH-WEST ROMANCES I own, although I have a collection of Cushman’s stories from that pulp I haven’t read yet, as well as other assorted reprints from it. I wouldn’t want a steady diet of Northerns, but now and then I like them just fine, and I was impressed with the overall quality of this issue. I wouldn’t hesitate to read another if it ever came my way.

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Story, May 2, 1936

This is a pulp I own and read recently. I’m not that fond of the cover art, but the color scheme is nice and eye-catching. The scan is from the copy I read.

The lead novel, which takes up almost half the issue, is “CCC Brand” by Seth Ranger, who was really Frank Richardson Pierce. I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read by Pierce under both of those names, and I’ve been wanting to try this series about the Civilian Conservation Corps. He wrote more than a dozen stories featuring the CCC for WESTERN STORY between 1935 and 1941, so they must have been popular. They’re not actually Westerns, or they’re contemporary Westerns, at best, but they are outdoor stories, and we all know that WESTERN STORY once cover-billed itself as publishing “Big, Clean Stories of Outdoor Life”.

But to get to “CCC Brand”, the hero of this yarn is young Dan Butler, who’s in such poor health that his doctor has given him six months to live. Dan wants to do something important with the time he has left, instead of just wasting away, so through a ruse he joins the CCC, even though he’s not really healthy enough to pass the physical. He winds up in the Pacific Northwest, and since he’s studied fish and game conservation, he soon comes up with a plan to improve the numbers of duck and salmon around the lake where he’s stationed. Something mysterious has been depleting the wildlife in the area. But before you know it, Dan’s run into a murder, some sinister characters, and a beautiful blonde. That’s a lot for a guy on death’s door to handle! Dan gives it his best shot, though.

There’s a lot in “CCC Brand” that’s pretty predictable, but honestly, I didn’t know how it was going to end and that’s pretty nice. Pierce had the knack of describing nature quite well, and his heroes are always likable. A couple of supporting characters, CCC “wood tick” Spruce Renfro and forest ranger Dave Logg, apparently appear in the other CCC stories, and they’re pretty likable, too. This is an entertaining yarn, and I’d certainly be happy to read more of the CCC series.

Ray Humphreys’ “Chief Plenty Dumb Horse”, despite its politically incorrect title, has no Indians in it. It’s part of a series, too, about Deputy Sheriff Shorty McKay, who evidently solves all the mysteries and corrals all the outlaws despite the sheriff’s low opinion of him. I’m not a big fan of most comedy Westerns, and while this one is pleasant enough, it’s so mild it’s almost not there.

“Hilltop Lady” by Harley P. Lathrop has a horse race, cattlemen vs. sheepherders, and a Romeo-and-Juliet romance. And it’s so mild it makes “Chief Plenty Dumb Horse” look tough and edgy.

“Bar-Nothin’s Bluff” by George Cory Franklin is also part of a series and is a more traditional Western about the foreman of a ranch crew who has to rescue one of his young punchers from a frame-up for murder. It’s a good enough story, and Bar-nothin’ (we never learn any other name for him) is an interesting character. I wouldn’t mind reading more of these.

“The Man From Mule Creek” is by Hugh F. Grinstead, an old-time pulpster, and concerns a youngster who sets out to play detective and catch a bank robber. There’s nothing really wrong with this one except that it didn’t hold my interest. It has the same bland tone as the stories by Humphreys and Lathrop.

There’s also an installment of a serial by Glenn Balch and assorted features, none of which I read, and a number of excellent illustrations by Nick Eggenhoffer. As you can tell, I found the fiction a mixed bag. I liked the CCC story quite a bit, the George Cory Franklin story isn’t bad, and the rest is pretty forgettable. I think by this time WESTERN STORY needed an injection of the sort of toughness to be found in the Popular Publications Western pulps, which it would get in a few years with the arrival of John Burr as editor.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Forgotten Books: Gunsight Pass - William MacLeod Raine

William MacLeod Raine was one of the most popular Western authors for a long time, but he’s almost completely forgotten today. I’d read one of his novels a while back and enjoyed it, so I figured it was time to try another one. GUNSIGHT PASS has the added attraction of being an oilfield novel as well as a Western, and I nearly always enjoy those.

Before the oil boom occurs near the town of Malapi, though, the first third of the novel is a more traditional Western, as young cowboys Dave Sanders and Bob Hart take part in a cattle drive that earns them a couple of bad enemies. Dave has a smart, fast pinto pony, but two crooks steal the horse and Dave and Bob leave the drive to try to track them down. This leads to a shootout that leaves Dave on the wrong side of the law.

Some authors would have then followed Dave’s career as an outlaw and his efforts to allow him to clear his name, but in this case his fundamental decency results in him getting caught and sent to prison. (I get the impression that most of Raine’s protagonists are really decent hombres, even when they might be better off not to be.) When Dave gets out of prison several years later and returns to Malapi, he finds that the oil wildcatters have moved in and the rancher he used to work for is now in the oil business, and his old pard Bob Hart is in charge of the drilling. And sure enough, one of Dave’s old enemies is on hand, too, still up to no good.

One thing that always stands out in Raine’s work is its authenticity. All the details of ranch life and working with cattle ring true, and so does his portrayal of life in the oil patch. It’s hard, dirty work, like cowboying, so it comes as no surprise that Dave and the other punchers take to it. The plot meanders along rather episodically, but eventually it all builds up to a very satisfying showdown involving old enemies and unexpected allies. And of course there’s some very mild romance along the way, as there usually was in Westerns from this era.

Raine’s prose is on the old-fashioned side, as you’d expect (GUNSIGHT PASS was published originally in 1921) and kind of melodramatic at times, but if you can put yourself in the right frame of mind it reads very well and the book flows nicely. It’ll probably be a while before I read another William MacLeod Raine novel, but I’ll definitely read more by him at some point. (I read this in a free e-book edition from Amazon, but I’ve included cover scans of some of the earlier editions with this post.)

Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Goon

I’ve written before about my fondness for inspirational, based-on-a-true-story sports movies. GOON actually fits in that category, although it’s considerably different from most such movies. It’s a comedy instead of a drama, for one thing, and it’s extremely crude, vulgar, and violent. I liked it quite a bit anyway.

Seann William Scott, who I find a pretty likable actor in general, plays a young man who comes from a high-achieving family but works as a bouncer at a bar. When he gets in a fight at a hockey game with one of the players, he’s recruited by the local minor league team to play for them and serve as their enforcer. The team is terrible, but Scott’s character brings them all together, including an arrogant former NHL star, in time for them to make a run at the last wild card spot in the playoffs. There’s also a little romance along the way.

All this is based on—or at least inspired by—the career of Doug “The Hammer” Smith, who played for an assortment of minor league teams and was notable for getting into fights. Without having read the book about Smith on which the movie is based, I suspect that most of GOON is fictional. I found it pretty funny, but then, I’m a hockey fan, as well as a sports fan in general, and GOON does a good job of capturing the low-rent goofiness of minor league sports. This certainly isn’t a movie for everyone, so I can only give it a qualified recommendation, but I enjoyed it and think it’s worth watching if you’re a hockey fan and don’t mind a fairly high level of crude humor.

Sunday, June 05, 2016

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Adventure, August 1, 1935

I like the pulp covers by Hubert Rogers, and this is a good one. Inside you'll find a serial installment of THE FEUD AT SINGLE SHOT, the first novel by that "new Western writer Luke Short", plus stories by Arthur O. Friel, Theodore Roscoe, James B. Hendryx, and Arthur D. Howden Smith. That's a pretty potent lineup!

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Dime Western, October 1934

Very nice Walter Baumhofer cover on this issue of DIME WESTERN, and inside are stories by an all-star group of writers: T.T. Flynn, Walt Coburn, Cliff Farrell, Ray Nafziger, Robert E. Mahaffey, and house-name Bart Cassidy. No wonder DIME WESTERN is considered one of the very best Western pulps.

Friday, June 03, 2016

Forgotten Books: Normandy: A Graphic History of D-Day - Wayne Vansant

I recently ran across this trade paperback from 2012, and with the 72nd anniversary of D-Day coming up, this seemed like a good time to read it. I remember Wayne Vansant's work from the Marvel Comics series THE 'NAM, and he's an excellent choice to produce historical volumes such as this one.

NORMANDY is subtitled A GRAPHIC HISTORY OF D-DAY, but that's kind of misleading. Yes, there are illustrations on every page (very good ones, too), but there's also a great deal of text, so this is sort of a cross between a prose history and a graphic novel. Vansant starts with a quick background of the early days of World War II and then launches into the planning for the Allied invasion of Europe, which took several years, before covering the events of D-Day, June 6, 1944, itself. The combination of text and art is very clear and concise and historically accurate, as far as I can tell. I'm not a D-day "buff", but I've read quite a bit about it.

Despite the book's title, the planning and the invasion are covered in approximately the first third of this volume. The rest of the book is concerned with the Allies' advance across France, through the hedgerow country and beyond, all the way to the liberation of Paris. It draws to a close there, but there are other volumes in the series. I plan to get them as well, because NORMANDY is an excellent slice of history and well worth reading.

Thursday, June 02, 2016

Keller's Fedora - Lawrence Block

I’ve been in a bit of a reading funk in recent days, but I know how to cure that. I just reach for a Lawrence Block book. Block’s combination of plot, character, and some of the most readable prose in the business always reminds me why I love being a reader.

In this case, it was KELLER’S FEDORA, the most recent tale about Block’s hitman character. Block calls it a novella; at approximately 25,000 words, I tend to think of it as more of a short novel. But why quibble as long as the yarn is good, and it certainly is. As the story opens, Keller is mostly retired from his criminal profession and is living in New Orleans with his wife and daughter, collecting stamps and working as a building contractor. His former handler Dot contacts him with a possible job: rich guy has a trophy wife, trophy wife has a lover, rich guy wants lover gotten rid of. The potential client doesn’t know the lover’s identity, though, so Keller will have to function like a private eye and discover who the man is. So Keller buys a fedora, on what’s pretty much a whim, and sets out to do the job.

Of course, things turn out to be more complicated than that, although not extraordinarily so, but enough that Keller has to make two trips across the country to straighten things out and tie everything up in the sort of neat package he usually does. Along the way there’s plenty of fine dialogue and some pointed observations about modern life. It makes for effortless, entertaining reading, and that’s why I give KELLER’S FEDORA a high recommendation, whether you’re stuck in a reading funk or not.