Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: The War Wagon

A Western fan could do worse than setting out to watch all the movies based on novels and stories by Clair Huffaker, many of them with screenplays by Huffaker himself. A couple of weeks ago I wrote about GUNS OF RIO CONCHOS, which I'd never seen before. This week it's THE WAR WAGON, which I had seen, but not in the past thirty years, at least.

THE WAR WAGON certainly has plenty of star power with both John Wayne and Kirk Douglas in it, playing former enemies who team up to steal a fortune in gold from evil mining tycoon Bruce Cabot, who framed Wayne for a crime and stole his land to get his hands on the gold in the first place. The shipment that Wayne and Douglas are after is being transported in the armored, Gatling-gun-equipped wagon of the title. To pull off the robbery—and THE WAR WAGON is very much a caper film—Wayne also recruits an Indian (an oddly cast Howard Keel), an alcoholic explosives expert (Robert Walker), and a cantankerous old-timer (Keenan Wynn) with a beautiful young wife who complicates things. Along the way, Bruce Dern has a small role as an ambitious but not very smart gunman.

Mostly this movie works very well. It's a little odd seeing good old stalwart Bruce Cabot as a slimy bad guy, but he does a decent job. There are a lot of humorous touches to go along with the well-done action scenes, and Wayne and Douglas are clearly having a good time. Douglas, still very athletic, does most of his own stunts, one of which is played for laughs at the end of the movie.

THE WAR WAGON was directed by Burt Kennedy, a good director who's better known for his screenplays. Clair Huffaker wrote the script based on his novel BADMAN, which was reissued in paperback in a movie tie-in edition under the same title as the movie (an edition I read when it was new). BADMAN, in turn, was an expansion of a novella called "Holdup at Stony Flat", which appeared in the 2nd April, 1957 number of the pulp RANCH ROMANCES, an issue that I happen to own and wrote about a few years ago as part of the Saturday Morning Western Pulp series. The story and the novel are much different, and the movie is even more different, but all three are well worth your time. (Covers are below.)

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: 5 Detective Novels Magazine, November 1949

A reprint detective pulp from the Thrilling Group. With a reprint magazine, you'd expect a pretty good line-up of authors, and you've got one in this issue: George Harmon Coxe, George Bruce, Ray Cummings, Paul Ernst, Steve Fisher, and Richard Sale. Lots of good reading there, I suspect.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Aces, December 1940

Another fine-looking issue of WESTERN ACES, with a good cover and stories by L.P. Holmes, Walker A. Tompkins, Gunnison Steele, Barry Cord, Wilfred McCormick, and WESTERN ACES perennial J. Edward Leithead. Four of those authors, Leithead, Tompkins, Steele (Bennie Gardner), and Cord (Peter Germano) also wrote Jim Hatfield novels for TEXAS RANGERS as Jackson Cole.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Forgotten Books: Ki-Gor--and the Secret Legions of Simba - John Peter Drummond

KI-GOR—AND THE SECRET LEGIONS OF SIMBA takes up right where the previous entry in the series, KI-GOR—AND THE GIANT GORILLA MEN, left off. In this story that originally appeared in the Winter 1939 issue of JUNGLE STORIES, Ki-Gor (Lord of the Jungle), Helene Vaughn (beautiful redhead American aviatrix), and their friend George Spelvin (former railroad porter from Chicago who has become the chief of an African tribe) are about to leave Africa for England and eventually America, where Helene will be reunited with her family after crashing in Africa, being rescued by Ki-Gor, and having several adventures with him. At the last minute, though, Ki-Gor decides he doesn't want to leave Africa after all, even though he's curious about his real family. (He knows by now that he's actually Robert Kilgour, the son of a Scottish missionary.)

It's a good thing Ki-Gor backs out on the trip, because before you know it, he's being recruited by British Intelligence to investigate a plot by an old enemy of his who's working with the Nazis to stage a continent-wide uprising that will leave the villain as the dictator of all Africa. This story soon turns into a hardboiled espionage yarn, the sort of menace that would be tackled a couple of decades later by fictional secret agents such as Sam Durell or Joe Gall. How it all plays out is still pretty pulpish, of course, but still, there are no fantastical elements at all and it's a significant departure from previous stories in the series.

The style is different, too, more realistic and almost literary in places. All this leads me to conclude that a different author penned KI-GOR—AND THE SECRET LEGIONS OF SIMBA, the second or possibly third writer to contribute a story to the series. I've enjoyed all of them, but this is probably my favorite so far because it's better written. Although, admittedly, it does lack some of the goofy charm of the earlier ones. It's still a good jungle adventure novel and left me eager to read the next one.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Stormfall - John Hegenberger

L.A. P.I. Stan Wade is back in STORMFALL, the latest in John Hegenberger's fine series of historical mysteries. It's 1959 this time, and Stan is on his way to Texas, hired by legendary director John Ford to investigate a murder that takes place during the filming of THE ALAMO. The case seems pretty simple, but John Wayne is involved and Ford doesn't want anything to damage Wayne's reputation and stop him from completing his pet project about the iconic battle. Naturally, things turn out to be a lot more complicated than they appear at first, and before the book is over, Stan Wade winds up back in Los Angeles, battling a deadly conspiracy that threatens widespread death and destruction.

As always, Hegenberger does a great job of vividly recreating a time and place, adding plenty of period details without overwhelming his breakneck-paced plot. The Stan Wade series is one of the most purely entertaining around, and STORMFALL is another great one. Highly recommmended.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Lucy

Combine a bloody action thriller about a gang of Korean drug smugglers with ruminations about human intelligence and cerebral capacity, throw in Scarlett Johansson as an unwilling drug mule who gets superpowers when a bag of experimental drugs starts leaking inside her, and you have LUCY. This movie was written and directed by Luc Besson, which means it'll be nice to look at, have some nifty action sequences, and will strain your suspension of disbelief so much your brain will probably need an Ace Bandage after you watch it. All that said, I found it an enjoyable enough way to spend an hour and a half.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Now Available: Death and the Naked Lady/The Lady and the Cheetah - John Flagg (John Gearen)


Mac McLean, successful international singer, boards the DauphinĂ© on his way to New York, unaware that his patron, Georges Fournier, has just been murdered in Paris. But death is also on the passenger list of the luxury liner as it makes its way across the Atlantic. It starts innocently enough when McLean finds a case under his bed filled with Fournier’s precious jade figurines. Everyone seems interested in these statuettes. Lady Harcourt, playing around on her husband Albert, is intrigued when she finds them under McLean’s bed. The unsavory Gonzales makes it clear that he wants them. So does Joseph Pasquela. But why does a man so rich ask McLean to spy on his wife Elisabeth, formerly the Naked Lady of the Folie Bergère? And why does movie star, Lili Fenwick, keep showing up in his stateroom? When death makes an appearance, it is not entirely unexpected.


Bert Mason’s wife Myra has disappeared. Was she cheating with Milt, as everyone says? Bert laughs them off. Milt wouldn’t cheat on his wife. Not Lillian. Then they find Myra’s body...


After a bogus interview is published, everyone thinks that Rafferty Valois is an international man of adventure when, in fact, he is simply an out-of-work newspaper man. But that doesn’t stop him from accepting a job from the Countess Becellini to retrieve a packet of stolen letters for her. The Countess is trying to make sure nothing comes between the marriage of her daughter Bianca and the deposed King of Movania, soon to be reinstated to the throne. But there are others who want the letters, and are prepared to offer Valois large sums for their deliverance—Bianca’s grandmother for one, “the bitch of Rome;” and Carlo Cattoriere, a deported gangster who has other plans for the former king that involves his niece, Maria. They all think Valois such a clever man that surely he can find them for him. Because if he doesn’t, his life won’t be worth a damn.

As you can see from the cover, I wrote the introduction to this collection of two novels and a short story by John Flagg, and good yarns they are, too. If you're a fan of the Fifties Gold Medals and haven't read these, this volume is highly recommended.

The Communion of Saints - John Barlow

When good and evil come home...

Following the murder of his father, John Ray is getting his life back on track, and putting the criminal past of his family behind him. But when Shirley Kirk of the West Yorkshire Police asks him for a favour, he's sucked into a mystery that is as confusing as it is devastating. Discreetly.

John soon begins to uncover a complex mystery involving blackmail, kidnap and murder. But why are the police really asking for his help? There are people on the Force still out to get John Ray for his past misdemeanours. And they are not the only ones who know about his family's past.

A novel set in the city of Leeds, THE COMMUNION OF SAINTS is novel about innocence, vengeance, and the power of good and evil. It is the third crime thriller in the John Ray / LS9 series.

I read and enjoyed the first book in this series several years ago, and I liked this one quite a bit, too. The plot has some nice twists, and John Ray is a flawed but sympathetic protagonist. The best thing, though, is John Barlow's writing, which is really smooth and skillful. An excellent British thriller and well worth reading.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

The Fire of Asshurbanipal - Robert E. Howard

It's traditional for fans of Robert E. Howard's work to read something by him on his birthday. This year I picked one of his stories that I hadn't read in a good number of years, "The Fire of Asshurbanipal". What a wonderful yarn it is, too. You've got a lost city in the desert, ancient and abandoned and sinister. You've got a skeleton sitting on a throne clutching an enormous red gem supposedly forged from the fires of Hell itself. You've got two brave adventurers, American Steve Clarney (I'll bet he's a Texan, although the story doesn't say so) and his Afghan sidekick Yar Ali, who are after the gem and pursued by a gang of Bedouin outlaws who want revenge. Oh, and did I mention that the gem is supposed to be cursed? And that this story is connected to the infamous Cthulu Mythos? Throw in one of my all-time favorite pulp covers, the work of J. Allen St. John, and you've got an excellent way to spend the evening and pay tribute to the great Robert E. Howard.

Bob's Birthday

Today is the 111th anniversary of Robert E. Howard's birth in Peaster, Texas, about twenty miles as the crow flies from where I'm sitting. CONAN THE USURPER, bought brand-new in 1967 at Barber's Bookstore in downtown Fort Worth, was my introduction to his work. I know now that there's 'way too much de Campian meddling in this book, but I wasn't aware of that then, and anyway, I was 14 years old and look at that great Frazetta cover! Look at that giant snake and all those cool monsters and skeletons in the background! What more does a 14-year-old boy need on a paperback cover? (Well, maybe a scantily clad McGinnis babe, but that's a different post.) Anyway, happy birthday, Bob, and thanks for all the great reading over the years.

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Short Stories, October 25, 1935

Another good-looking issue of SHORT STORIES with a fine Mountie cover by Frank Spradling and stories by the all-star line-up of H. Bedford-Jones, Clarence E. Mulford, Harry Sinclair Drago, L. Patrick Greene, Hapsburg Liebe, S. Omar Barker, and Richard Howells Watkins. SHORT STORIES was always a high quality pulp.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Attention Span

I don't seem to have the attention span to read anything longer than a novella these days. I have some Forgotten Books posts about novels already scheduled, but other than that there may be a lot of posts about anthologies, collections, and pulp "novels" that are actually closer to novellas. I'd already just about given up on reading anything longer than 400 pages, although I'd manage one now and then. Now even a book that's 60-70,000 words seems like too much to tackle. I read on one for a couple of days and get burned out. I've been through stretches like this before, don't know what causes them or how to break out of one, but this time it seems to be settled in for good. At least I'm still reading and I have plenty of shorter stuff on hand. Does this happen to anybody else?

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Lariat Story, May 1941

An issue of LARIAT STORY with a good cover and stories by a couple of my favorite authors, Walt Coburn and Eugene Cunningham, plus other yarns by prolific and well-respected Western pulpsters Art Lawson and Dee Linford. There's a story by John Starr, too, but that was a house-name so there's no telling who wrote it.

Friday, January 20, 2017

Forgotten Books: Devil's Manhunt - L. Ron Hubbard

DEVIL'S MANHUNT is another collection of L. Ron Hubbard stories from the Western pulps, and not surprisingly, it's quite entertaining for an old Western pulp fan like me. Actually, these are stories from a particular Western pulp, since all of them originally appeared in FAMOUS WESTERN, one of the Columbia pulps edited by Robert A.W. Lowndes.

The title story, from the February 1950 issue, is yet another variation of Richard Connell's iconic story "The Most Dangerous Game". A young prospector in Arizona strikes gold but is captured by two outlaws who plan to make him work the claim until all the gold is exhausted and then hunt and kill him for sport. The desperate hero comes up with some clever ways to turn the tables on them and wage a fight for survival. This is a really nice tale with plenty of suspense and a satisfying ending.

"Johnny, the Town Tamer" is from the August 1949 issue, has as its protagonist a young rancher from Texas who rides into a Kansas cowtown to settle a score and recover some money stolen from his foreman the year before. It's a clever yarn, and with its Texan hero wreaking havoc in a Kansas town, aided by a big, bearded, buckskin-wearing sidekick, shows some definite Robert E. Howard influence.

Finally, from the December 1949 issue of FAMOUS WESTERN, comes "Stranger in Town", the tale of a young puncher framed for a stagecoach robbery and several murders who is pursued by a lawman with a sinister secret of his own. The showdown comes in the town where the fugitive has settled down.

These are excellent stories, more hardboiled and mature than some of the earlier pulp fare, and typical of the increase in quality of the Western pulps during the post-war years. Because of that, DEVIL'S MANHUNT is my favorite of the Hubbard Western collections I've read so far. It's well worth reading for Western fans.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Now Available: The Digest Enthusiast, Book Five

A new volume of THE DIGEST ENTHUSIAST is out, which means plenty of good reading for fans of digest magazines such as myself. For me the highlights of Book Five are a lengthy interview with Bill Crider, my oldest friend in the writing business; Gary Lovisi's review of the fine noir novel HONKY TONK GIRL by Charles Beckman, Jr.; and a couple of articles/checklists by Peter Infantino, one covering the relatively obscure crime digest JUSTICE, the other an extensive look at a magazine I've read a great deal about but never seen, MAGAZINE OF HORROR, edited by Robert A.W. Lowndes. I've long been interested in Lowndes' ability to put out some pretty entertaing pulps on tiny budgets, and he did the same with this digest. There's also a summary by DIGEST ENTHUSIAST editor/publisher Richard Krauss of a 1949 WRITER'S YEARBOOK article by Lowndes about writing fiction for the pulps. Great stuff all around, and highly recommended.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Revenants #1: Assault on Abbeville - Jack Badelaire

Jack Badelaire has come up with a great concept for his new World War II adventure series: five soldiers, each from a different nation conquered by the Germans, are considered missing in action and presumed dead, but in actuality, they've been recruited by a British spymaster to form an elite commando squad that can be sent on vital but unofficial missions behind enemy lines. The squad consists of men from Poland, France, Norway, Belgium, and Holland. To put it in terms that a lot of guys of a certain age will grasp immediately, THE REVENANTS is BLACKHAWK as written by Alistair Maclean, with a little dash of CHALLENGERS OF THE UNKNOWN thrown in.

Badelaire brings that concept to life with considerable skill and excitement in ASSAULT ON ABBEVILLE, the first novel in the series, which finds the Revenants being smuggled into occupied France to make contact with a group of partisans and assassinate a German fighter pilot who's been taking a great toll on British bombing raids. This will not only rid the Luftwaffe of a valuable asset but also damage German morale . . . if all goes as planned. Which, of course, it doesn't.

ASSAULT ON ABBEVILLE is fast-paced and full of action and has an undeniable sense of authenticity. Badelaire is a long-time fan of World War II adventure fiction and it shows in this and his other novels. If you're a fan of the genre, you owe it to yourself to pick up his books.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: Rio Conchos

Livia, bless her heart, keeps finding Western movies for me to watch that somehow I never saw before. I've been aware of RIO CONCHOS ever since it came out in the Sixties. It ran on TV dozens of times after that. I've seen the novel by Clair Huffaker that it's based on and may even have a copy on my shelves somewhere. But I had never actually watched the movie until now.

Richard Boone, one of my all-time favorite actors, plays an embittered rancher who's carrying out a vendetta against the Apaches because they killed his wife and daughter. He reluctantly joins forces with a couple of cavalrymen (Stuart Whitman and Jim Brown) and a Mexican bandit (Tony Franciosa) to track down a shipment of stolen army rifles that are going to be sold to the Indians by a crazed ex-Confederate officer (Edmond O'Brien). This mission leads them across the border into Mexico and results in several violent encounters with bandits, gunrunners, and Apaches, directed in gritty fashion by Gordon Douglas, an action specialist who made quite a few decent movies in the Sixties and Seventies.

Boone is good as always, and former NFL great Brown has a formidable screen presence. Whitman and Franciosa are okay, but neither will ever be a favorite of mine. The sight of O'Brien's half-finished antebellum Southern plantation house in the middle of the Mexican badlands is a striking, very effective image. One jarring note is a cantina on the Rio Grande that appears to be about four times bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. (On the other hand, maybe it's a Tardis.) The script, co-written by Huffaker based on his novel, ends a little abruptly for my taste. Overall, though, I found RIO CONCHOS to be a good, solid second-tier Western, and I very much enjoyed watching it.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Private Detective Stories, September 1940

Nobody was ever going to accuse the Trojan pulps of being too classy, as this lurid cover demonstrates. But a lot of the stories in their pages were pretty darned good. This issue of PRIVATE DETECTIVE STORIES features two yarns each by Robert Leslie Bellem (as Harley L. Court and Harcourt Weems) and E. Hoffmann Price (one under his name and one as by Hamlin Daly), plus stories by Roger Torrey, James H.S. Moynahan, and a couple of names that strike me as pseudonyms, John Archer and Robert Saxon.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Trails, June 1948

The two Ace Western pulps, WESTERN TRAILS and WESTERN ACES, were pretty good magazines during this era. This particular issue of WESTERN TRAILS features a good cover by Allen Anderson and stories by L.P. Holmes, Joseph Chadwick, Ray Gaulden, John Jo Carpenter, Gladwell Richardson, and Lee Floren. I've enjoyed every issue of WESTERN TRAILS that I've read. 

Friday, January 13, 2017

End of a Streak

Today while looking over the list of books I read in 2016, I realized that I didn't read a single library book last year. Not one. My sister took me to the bookmobile for the first time in the fall of 1959, and I'm fairly certain I read at least a few library books every year since then. But now, all my library cards are expired, and with all the books I own, both print and e-books, it's entirely possible I'll never read a library book again. Which is kind of sad.

Forgotten Books: Dead Men Singing - H. Bedford-Jones

I've enjoyed nearly everything I've read by H. Bedford-Jones, and DEAD MEN SINGING: THE MEN WHO FOUGHT FOR TEXAS is no exception. This volume from Altus Press reprints six stories that Bedford-Jones wrote for the pulp SHORT STORIES in 1935 and 1936 to mark the Texas Centennial. Unlike the two serials he wrote for ARGOSY on the same subject, "Bowie Knife" and "Texas Shall be Free!", which featured fictional characters as the leads whose storylines tied in with the history, the tales in this book involve only historical characters and are only light fictionalizations of the actual events.

The time period covered ranges from the early days of the Texas Revolution to the decisive Battle of San Jacinto and focuses on such figures as Ben Milam, Jim Bowie, Davy Crockett, James Fannin, and Sam Houston. Bedford-Jones gets the history right and does a fine job of making it understandable. Some modern-day revisionists might disagree with him on a few points, but that's fine with me since I tend to be a traditionalist.

I don't think this one is quite as good as those two ARGOSY serials, which are some of Bedford-Jones' best work, in my opinion, largely because he had more room to work with in those novel-length tales. But DEAD MEN SINGING is still excellent and as a long-time Texas history buff, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Now Available for Pre-Order: Blaze! Red Rock Rampage - Ben Boulden

J.D. and Kate Blaze ride into the settlement of Small Basin, Utah, on the trail of train robbers but soon discover that the town and the surrounding area are ruled by the iron fist of a renegade Mormon patriarch—and he has his eye on two beautiful young women he intends to make unwilling brides. Hired killers, corrupt lawmen, and brutal kidnappers mean a heap of trouble for the Old West's only husband-and-wife gunfighters. Forced to split up, Kate and J.D. have to battle their way back to each other to survive!

The debut novel from acclaimed young author Ben Boulden is a fast-action gem, full of intriguing characters, gritty violence, and vividly realized settings. Get in on today's bestselling original Adult Western series with BLAZE! RED ROCK RAMPAGE.

Flame and Thunder - Ben Bridges

Ben Bridges (also known as David Whitehead) has been writing about the adventures of fighting man for hire Carter O'Brien for a long time, and I've read and enjoyed most of those novels. In FLAME AND THUNDER, the latest of these top-notch Western yarns, O'Brien is hired to protect an oil wildcatter who's trying to strike it rich with a drilling rig on the Kansas-Oklahoma border. The wildcatter's lease is about to run out, and if he doesn't bring in a gusher before it does, a gang of outlaws led by the local saloonkeeper will take it over. Those hardcases will resort to anything to keep the well from coming in, including sabotage and murder.

I've always had a fondness for oilfield stories, and this is a very good one. Bridges does a fine job of capturing the rough-and-tumble setting, and as always, he writes some of the best action scenes in the business and populates his tale with interesting characters. The big battle at the end is spectacular, and the final showdown between O'Brien and the leader of the villains is very satisfying. I really enjoyed FLAME AND THUNDER, and if you're a reader of traditional Western novels, you probably will, too.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: The Shallows

The premise of THE SHALLOWS is about as simple as you can get: Blake Lively plays a surfer who's attacked by a shark off an isolated Mexican beach and has to take shelter on some rocks that are only exposed at low tide. She has to figure out a way to get to shore a couple of hundred yards away before the tide comes back in, without getting eaten by the shark. There's a little bit of back-story for the character, but not much. Otherwise this is a pure woman-against-nature yarn. If the protagonist was a guy instead of a girl, it could have been a story in a men's adventure magazine from the Sixties.

THE SHALLOWS is a really suspenseful movie. It's not quite an hour and a half long, but it seems longer because it's so intense. At one point Livia said, "This is worse than JAWS!" I replied, "Yeah, at least they had a boat—although they needed a bigger one." It's not a better film than JAWS, mind you, but it is pretty darned good. When we go to the coast, I generally don't get in any water deeper than my ankles anyway, and I think I'll continue that.

Sunday, January 08, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Weird Tales, July 1940

I used to own this issue of WEIRD TALES and read it many years ago, but I'm afraid I don't remember much about it except the H. Bedford-Jones story. But elsewhere in the issue are stories by Frank Gruber, Robert Bloch, Seabury Quinn, Manly Wade Wellman (writing as Gans T. Field), and Frank Owen, so I'm sure there's plenty of good reading there.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Star Western, June 1936

This issue of STAR WESTERN has a variation on the cowboy/wounded geezer/girl with a gun trio that appears on so many Western pulp covers. (The girl's not a redhead, and she doesn't appear that angry.) The art is attributed to H.W. Scott, and it may well be his work, but it's a different style than what I'm used to on his many covers for WESTERN STORY.

Inside, this is almost an all-star issue, with stories by T.T. Flynn, Harry F. Olmsted, Ray Nafziger, Oliver King (really Thomas Mount, better known as Stone Cody), C.K. Shaw, John G. Pearsol, and George Armin Shaftel. That's a very solid line-up.

Friday, January 06, 2017

Forgotten Books: Angel's Flight - Lou Cameron

The first novel by Lou Cameron I ever read was probably THE OUTSIDER, a tie-in novel to the TV show of the same name that starred Darren McGavin as private detective David Ross. The TV series lasted only one year, but it was excellent, and I recall that Cameron's novel based on it was very good, too. Years later, Cameron played an important role in my own career by creating the Longarm series for Berkley. He came up with a great character, and I thoroughly enjoyed writing about ol' Custis for 47 books spread out over 18 years. Along the way I read a number of Longarms and other novels by Cameron, including a couple of top-notch Westerns, DOC TRAVIS and NORTH TO DURANGO.

But his best book of all may well be his very first novel, ANGEL'S FLIGHT, published by Gold Medal in 1960.

ANGEL'S FLIGHT is an epic of jazz and the music business encompassing twenty years from the late Thirties to the late Fifties. The narrator/protagonist is Ben Parker, a bass player who as the book opens is part of the jazz combo Daddy Halloway and His Hot Babies. An ambitious young drummer who calls himself Johnny Angel works his way into the band, and it doesn't take Ben very long to realize that Johnny is pure evil and will lie, cheat, steal, seduce, and maybe even murder to get ahead.

The two men clash again and again over the years, through World War II, the post-war era, and then the turbulent Fifties. Ben Parker struggles to succeed while staying relatively honest, even though it makes him some dangerous enemies in the Mob, while Johnny Angel's star continues to rise as it seems he gets rewarded no matter how low he sinks. But finally, even Johnny Angel can sink too low to get away with it . . .

ANGEL'S FLIGHT is a great book. It's raw and mean and just thunders along with some fine storytelling. In its scope and its vivid portrait of American society over a couple of decades, it reminds me a little of Irwin Shaw's RICH MAN, POOR MAN. I've always enjoyed Cameron's work, but I didn't know he had a novel like this in him. I used to have a copy of the Gold Medal edition on my shelves, but I never got around to reading it.

Luckily, Black Gat Books, an imprint of Stark House, is bringing out a reprint edition in March, and I was fortunate enough to read an early copy. This edition features the same Mitchell Hooks cover painting as the original and a fine introduction by Gary Lovisi. It's available for pre-order now, and I give it my highest recommendation. ANGEL'S FLIGHT is the best book I read in 2016, and it might just be the best book you'll read in 2017.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

Ulterior Objectives - Scott Dennis Parker

I always enjoy a good World War II espionage yarn, and Scott Dennis Parker's latest novel, ULTERIOR OBJECTIVES, fits neatly into that category. Lillian Saxton, a supporting character in Parker's earlier novel WADING INTO WAR, takes center stage this time as she's sent to England on a top-secret mission for Army Intelligence in 1940. A former lover and classmate at Oxford is in Germany and wants to pass along some no doubt vital information to her. Needless to say, the mission does not go as planned . . .

Parker keeps things perking along nicely with good action scenes and some twists in the plot that I didn't see coming. Lillian is a fine protagonist, tough when she needs to be but hardly a super-agent. The ending of ULTERIOR OBJECTIVES makes me think we'll be seeing her again, and I certainly hope so. Recommended.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Tuesday's Overlooked Movies: True Memoirs of an International Assassin

Like GENIUS last week, TRUE MEMOIRS OF AN INTERNATIONAL ASSASSIN seems like a movie designed to appeal to me, although it's very, very different from that film about Thomas Wolfe and Max Perkins.

This one's a comedy starring Kevin James, who I tend to like quite a bit, and it's another movie about writing. In this case, James is a failed thriller novelist who works for an insurance company. When he finally manages to sell a manuscript about an assassin known only as The Ghost to a small-press publisher, the book is published as non-fiction instead of fiction, and of course you can make a pretty good guess how that's going to work out. James's character is taken for a real assassin, and before you know it, he's kidnapped and dumped down in the middle of a three-cornered war in a Central American country where the head of each faction wants to hire him to kill the other two rivals. Much running, shooting, and mildly amusing dialogue ensues.

Yes, it's all as silly as it can be, but I enjoyed it anyway. A lot of the publishing stuff is wrong, but the scenes where James is working on his manuscript, continually deleting and rewriting, ring true and are pretty funny. The supporting cast led by Andy Garcia as a revolutionary known as El Toro does decent work, and the plot has enough twists and turns to be interesting (although the final twist is really predictable).

I fully expect that many of you wouldn't care for this film. Kevin James's friendship with Adam Sandler and appearances in many of his movies might well be enough to predispose you not to like TRUE MEMOIRS OF AN INTERNATIONAL ASSASSIN. But if that's not the case, you could certainly find worse ways to spend a couple of hours. I had a good time watching it, that's all I can say.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Thrilling Detective, October 1937

What better way to start off the new year than with a Norman Saunders cover? This one's not as action-packed as some of his covers but still very effective. And "Hell's Brew at Gumbo Point" is one of the great goofy titles. Other authors in this issue besides Westmoreland Gray are Robert Sidney Bowen, Jean Francis Webb, and George Bruce.