Friday, March 31, 2017

Forgotten Books: The Grand Cham - Harold Lamb

Several regular readers of this blog have been discussing Harold Lamb and his work, which prompted me to read something else by him. In the past I've read the novels DURANDEL and MARCHING SANDS and a few short stories, but it's been a while since I read anything else by Lamb. I started with one of his short novels, THE GRAND CHAM, which first appeared complete in the July 1, 1921 issue of the iconic pulp ADVENTURE.

This one opens in the year 1394, with Irish-French mariner Michael Bearn a prisoner of the Moslem potentate Bayezid, also known as the Thunderbolt, who is well on his way to conquering all of central Asia and parts of Europe. Although crippled by torture carried out at Bayezid's orders, Michael escapes and winds up back in Venice, where he joins a trade expedition to the fabled city of Cathay, which is ruled by a monarch known as the Grand Cham, or Khan. One of Michael's enemies is also part of the expedition, so treachery and danger ensue, and eventually they all wind up as prisoners of the Mongol warlord Tamerlane, who is actually the Grand Cham. There is no city of Cathay, only the great tent settlement of Tamerlane's horde. And as it turns out, an epic battle is shaping up between Tamerlane's forces and those of Bayezid, the man Michael Bearn seeks to destroy to avenge what was done to him.

If THE GRAND CHAM was a Fifties movie, it would be three hours long, have a cast of tens of thousands, and be directed by Cecil B. DeMille, that's how epic it is. As a novel, though, Lamb manages to pack a lot of story into a relatively short length. The characters are excellent. Michael Bearn is a dogged and stalwart protagonist, if a bit colorless. His sidekick, a former jester named Bembo, though, is great. Brave, funny, a little tragic, he really does a lot to liven up the story. The villains are properly despicable, and Lamb makes the historical character Tamerlane come alive.

I'll admit that I find Lamb's style a little dry at times, but there are still some fine scenes that make THE GRAND CHAM a good adventure yarn in the classic style. I definitely enjoyed it enough to read more by him, and next up is probably the short novel THE MAKING OF THE MORNING STAR, which is generally regarded as one of his best.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Now Available: This Ray Gun For Hire . . . and Other Tales - John M. Whalen

Who is Frank Carson? A paid assassin? A killer for hire? Or just a tough trouble shooter for rent? Hero or villain? You decide. Some say he's the kind of guy you call for a job so dirty or so dangerous nobody else will touch it. He knows danger and what can happen to people in the noir world of Tulon in the 22nd Century. There's nobody tougher or smarter. Frank Carson. John M. Whalen's THIS RAY GUN FOR HIRE . . . AND OTHER TALES.

In addition to the five sci-fi noir stories featuring Frank Carson, this collection includes four tales about some of the other characters who lived in the Tulon universe Whalen first created for the novel, THE BIG SHUTDOWN. There's plenty of space opera action and sci-fi noir intrigue in THIS RAY GUN FOR HIRE ...AND OTHER TALES.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Battle Stories, February 1929

A mid-air shootout. I like this cover by Jerome Rozen. There are some good authors in this issue of BATTLE STORIES, too: Raoul Whitfield, Frederick C. Painton, J.R. Johnston, Harold F. Cruickshank, and Arthur Guy Empey, among others.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Texas Rangers, March 1956

This is a pulp that I own and read recently. The scan is of my copy, which I try to do when possible.

The Jim Hatfield novel in this issue, "Guns Across the River", was written by Peter Germano under the Jackson Cole house-name. It's a cattleman vs. sheepherders yarn, but Germano puts a lot more plot that that into the story. In fact, there are almost too many characters and too much plot for a novel that runs maybe 40,000 words. Hatfield is sent to Peaceful Valley to stop a bloody range war before it breaks out, but he's barely gotten there when he finds a dead body and then a would-be killer takes a shot at him. There's a weak sheriff, a stubborn deputy, a cattle baron, the cattle baron's two beautiful daughters, a former schoolteacher turned gunslinger, a kidnapped youngster, an old-timer who's supposed to be dead but apparently isn't, a blustering lawyer who seems to have been inspired by W.C. Fields (his name is H. Goldwyn Pepper), and a West Texas winter storm. The action hardly ever slows down for more than a few paragraphs.

Germano was the most hard-boiled and realistic of the Hatfield authors, and he was also capable of the occasional touch of poetry in his work. I was a little worried that he had crammed too much into this story, but he maintained control over the plot and I wound up liking it a great deal. The somewhat bittersweet ending is very effective. Germano rewrote and expanded this into the novel WAR IN PEACEFUL VALLEY, which was published three years later as half of an Ace Double under his usual Barry Cord pseudonym. Texas Ranger Jim Hatfield becomes Deputy U.S. Marshal Matt Vickers, but everything else appears to be pretty much the same. I have this book but haven't read it, and I probably won't, now that I've read and enjoyed the original version.

George Roulston is an author I'm not familiar with. He appears to have published only half a dozen stories in the mid-Fifties. But his story in this issue, "Moment of Violence", is a good one. It's about an ex-convict returning to his home town after serving ten years for a stagecoach robbery in which the driver was killed. It was the convict's partner who actually pulled the trigger, but he never revealed who that was (although it's no secret from the reader). The reactions his return provokes lead to more violence. There's enough plot here for a novel, the sort that Gold Medal published during that era, but Roulston does a good job boiling it down to a short story.

H.G. Ashburn is another author unknown to me who published a few stories in the mid-Fifties. "Miguel's Private Miracle" is about scalphunters who show up at a small mission and try to terrorize the priest in revealing the hiding place of a group of Indian women and children. It's more about the nature of religious faith than anything else, making it a little offbeat for a Western pulp, but it's well-written and I enjoyed it.

The parade of unknown-to-me authors continues with Pat Pfeifer, another whose work appears to be confined to a handful of stories in the mid-Fifties. "Time Enough to Die" is about the showdown between a marshal and two brothers who want to either kill him or run him out of town. The marshal's newly hired deputy is a former friend of one of the brothers, so the lawman doesn't know if he's really facing two enemies, or three. Everything plays out like you'd expect it to, but the writing is good enough that it makes for an enjoyable yarn.

Even more obscure is Cameron Roosevelt, who has only two stories listed in the Fictionmags Index, "Showdown at Jericho" in this issue, and a story in an issue of 2-GUN WESTERN a couple of months later. "Showdown at Jericho" is a revenge tale, with the protagonist tracking down the man who stole both his wife and his money. The inevitable gunfight is resolved in a fairly clever manner, but what sets this story apart is its noirish tone and some excellent writing. This one is good enough that it's hard to believe Roosevelt sold only one other story, which makes me wonder if the name is a pseudonym for another, more well-known writer.

Finally we come to an author I've heard of, John Jo Carpenter, who was really John Reese. Reese used the Carpenter pseudonym for scores of stories in various Western pulps during the Forties and Fifties, while writing mystery and slick magazine stories under his real name. Later he wrote hardback and paperback Western novels as John Reese, a couple of which I've read and remember enjoying. His story in this issue, "The Reluctant Hangman", is a real oddity for a Western pulp in that there's no action in it at all. Instead it's a tale of psychological turmoil as a young deputy struggles with having to carry out a murderer's hanging because the sheriff is laid up with a heart attack. It's a gripping, very well-written story and makes me think I need to read more by Reese as John Jo Carpenter.

Eric Allen is another familiar name. He wrote a number of paperback Westerns, including a series set in a town called Whiskey Smith. I've never read any of them, but his novelette that wraps up this issue, "Death on the Chaco", is a good one, if a little by-the-numbers when it comes to the plot. It's a yarn about a young man who comes home to the ranch he just inherited from his murdered uncle, only find himself caught up in a brewing range war with a group of sodbusters. The plot twists in this one are pretty obvious, but Allen writes in a nice, easygoing style and I enjoyed the story.

There are also a few columns and features, but as usual I just skimmed them. My interest is in the fiction, and in that respect, this is an above-average issue. There's not a bad story in the bunch, and three of them—the Hatfield novel and the stories by Cameron Roosevelt and John Reese—are excellent. The quality of TEXAS RANGERS remained high right up until its end a couple of years later, and if you happen to have a copy of this issue on your shelves, it's well worth reading.

Friday, March 24, 2017

Forgotten Books: Ki-Gor--and the Forbidden Mountain - John Peter Drummond

What seems to be yet another new author comes on board this series with KI-GOR—AND THE FORBIDDEN MOUNTAIN, originally published in the Spring 1940 issue of JUNGLE STORIES. At first it appears that whoever wrote this novel never read the previous one, since the continuity that marked the first four stories is missing. Eventually, there are some references back to the previous novel, including the reappearance of one of the villains, which makes me wonder if the author of this one read the earlier story while he was in the middle of writing. There's a definite change in tone about halfway through KI-GOR—AND THE FORBIDDEN MOUNTAIN.

The biggest difference, though, between this novel and the previous ones is the characterization of Helene Vaughn, the beautiful redhead who shares Ki-Gor's adventures. In the earlier novels, Helene is a real bad-ass, picking up a rifle or a Tommy gun and fighting the bad guys right alongside the Lord of the Jungle. In this book, she's ditzy and incompetent almost all the way through, although she does quite a bit to save the day in the late going. She's certainly not the Helene the reader has come to know in the first four novels.

All that said, KI-GOR—AND THE FORBIDDEN MOUNTAIN does have some things going for it. The writing is reasonably good, the action scenes are okay, and as a lost race novel, it definitely shows a lot of Edgar Rice Burroughs influence. That lost race lives on top of a mysterious flat-topped mountain surrounded by a sinister force that kills invisibly, which leads the natives in the area to dub it the Invisible Death. (Well, what else would you call it?)

This is the weakest of the novels so far, an uneasy mixture of the goofiness of the early stories with the more hardboiled realism of KI-GOR—AND THE SECRET LEGIONS OF SIMBA. I enjoyed it enough to keep reading and I hope the next novel will pick up the pace again.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Bloody Arizona - Frank Leslie (Peter Brandvold)

Peter Brandvold, writing as Frank Leslie, brings back his popular character Yakima Henry in BLOODY ARIZONA, the first of four connected novels to feature the character. This one opens with the drifting half-breed gunfighter in jail, but before the book is over, he'll have pinned on a lawman's badge and set out to avenge a murderous raid on the settlement of Apache Springs in Arizona Territory. Along the way there's some domestic drama with a couple of beautiful sisters and an encounter with a washed-up old outlaw called the Rio Grande Kid who proves to be a surprisingly effective sidekick.

As always with Brandvold's work, the action scenes are superb and the setting is rendered vividly and effectively. Yakima Henry is a fine character (every time I read one of Brandvold's books, I think the protagonist is my favorite of his characters—until I read the next one and change my mind), and the Rio Grande Kid shamelessly steals every scene he's in. Brandvold is one of the most purely entertaining writers in the business today, and BLOODY ARIZONA is another great tale well told. Highly recommended.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Terror Tales, August 1939

Pulp covers don't get more lurid than in the Weird Menace genre, and this one from the August 1939 issue of TERROR TALES raises that luridness to new levels. But you would have spotted it right away on the newsstand, wouldn't you? Inside are stories by stories by pulp stalwarts Wyatt Blassingame, Russell Gray (who was really Bruno Fischer), and Ray Cummings, writing under his own name and in collaboration with his daughter Gabrielle as Gabriel Wilson.

A Middle of the Night Music Post: The Captain of Her Heart - Double

Haven't been posting many of these lately, but I'm up sick tonight (just a bad cold), so here's one I like.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Wild West Weekly, June 15, 1940

Robert Stanley is probably best known for his paperback covers, but he did a number of pulp covers, too. I really like this one for WILD WEST WEEKLY. The colors are very eye-catching. So is that title, "The Devil's Calling Card", the lead novel by Chuck Martin, who also wrote as Charles M. Martin. Elsewhere in the issue is a Sonny Tabor yarn by Paul S. Powers writing as Ward M. Stevens, plus an installment of the serial "Don Hurricane" by Brad Buckner (our ol' pard Ed Earl Repp) and stories by J. Allan Dunn (writing as John B. Strong) and S. Omar Barker. Looks like a fine all-around issue.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Forgotten Books: Just the Way It Is - James Hadley Chase

JUST THE WAY IT IS was published originally in 1944 under the pseudonym Raymond Marshall, although it's been reprinted several times as by James Hadley Chase, the much more famous pen-name of its author, Rene Raymond. It appears again under the Chase name in a recent double volume from Stark House, along with BLONDE'S REQUIEM, another novel first published as by Raymond Marshall.

Chase (we might as well call him that) was an English author who specialized in crime and mystery novels set in the United States. In JUST THE WAY IT IS, the story revolves around two neighboring small cities, Bentonville and Fairview, as well as a slum area outside Fairview known as Pinder's End. Bentonville's criminal underworld is controlled by a mysterious mastermind named Vardis Spade, but nobody knows who Spade really is or what he looks like. Clare Russell, a newspaper reporter, stumbles across the fact that a low-level criminal has bought Pinder's End. Clare's boyfriend's best friend is a gambler named Harry Duke, who is widely reputed to be a dangerous, shady character. Harry Duke rents an office from poolroom owner Paul Schultz, who has a beautiful mistress called Lorelli and a driver/gunman named Joe. All of these people, and assorted others, are vying to find out what suddenly makes Pinder's End so valuable and get their hands on whatever it is, no matter what it takes, including double-crossing, kidnapping, and murder.

The plot of this novel is actually pretty simple once you get to the core of it, but with all the conniving characters running around drinking, smoking, and killing each other, Chase makes it seem complicated. It's all as hardboiled as can be, with lots of snappy banter and terse action. I've read quite a few James Hadley Chase books, and they're always fast-moving and entertaining. JUST THE WAY IT IS fits that description very well. I had a fine time reading it. In my opinion, Chase never really succeeds in sounding like an American—he still sounds like an Englishman trying to sound like an American—but hey, if I was trying to write crime novels set in 1940s England, I probably wouldn't get it completely right, either. What he succeeds at is spinning good yarns, and if that's what you're looking for, Stark House has published quite a few of his novels. I recommend any or all of them.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Overlooked Movies: Skiptrace (2016)

I'd never heard of this Jackie Chan movie until Livia came across it. The title is rather deceptive, since the movie isn't about skiptracers at all. Chan is a police detective in Hong Kong who's trying to bring down a drug kingpin known as the Matador. When his partner is killed in that effort, Chan becomes obsessed with the case. (Stop me if you've heard this plot before. On the other hand, don't, because then there's no post.) Johnny Knoxville plays an American gambler/con man who has the members of a Russian crime family after him. He stumbles across some information connected to the case Chan is working on. So they have to team up and work together to solve both problems, and that winds up with them getting lost in Mongolia before they finally get back to Hong Kong. Along the way there are wisecracks, crazy, death-defying stunts, and some spectacular Chinese landscapes.

This action/buddy comedy/road movie is really by the numbers, but Jackie Chan is always likeable and fun to watch. Johnny Knoxville doesn't annoy me as much as he does some people (faint praise, I know). And the script has a few over-the-top goofy moments that make the movie better than it could have been. SKIPTRACE isn't in the upper ranks of Jackie Chan movies, but it is a good popcorn movie, which is probably all it ever set out to be.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Thrilling Wonder Stories, April 1947

That cover is by Earle Bergey. (Was there ever any doubt?) I know his work was controversial at the time, but dang, I like his covers. This issue of THRILLING WONDER STORIES contains stories by Henry Kuttner, Bryce Walton, George O. Smith, L. Sprague de Camp, and Will F. Jenkins twice, once under his most famous pseudonym Murray Leinster and once as William Fitzgerald. My old mentor Sam Merwin Jr. was the editor. Good stuff.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Max Brand's Western Magazine, September 1953

That's a nice atmospheric cover by H.W. Scott on this issue of MAX BRAND'S WESTERN MAGAZINE, and only the Max Brand story appears to be a reprint (from the January 2, 1937 issue of ARGOSY). The other authors in this issue include H.A. DeRosso, George C. Appell, Gordon D. Shirreffs, Fred Grove, and the house-name Bart Cassidy. That's a good bunch of writers.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Forgotten Books: Owl-Hoot Horde - Clint Douglas (Lawrence A. Keating)

Kid Calvert is the only son of outlaw Gunner Calvert and was raised by Gunner and his gang, known as the Calvert Horde. Also in the gang are massive Swede Andersen, also known as The Giant, fancy-dressed gambler Dandy McLain, and assorted other supporting characters. Most of the men in the gang wound up on the wrong side of the law through bad luck or other mitigating circumstances, and Gunner holds them to a strict moral code. They're good guy outlaws, much like Robin Hood and his Merry Men, and they always avoid clashing with honest lawmen, saving their bullets for the crooked star packers.

But then, while the Calvert Horde is trying to save the herd of a small rancher from minions of the local cattle baron, both Gunner Calvert and Sheriff Mart Reynolds are mortally wounded in the resulting gun battle. Gunner and Reynolds have always respected each other and managed to dodge this tragic confrontation until now, but with both of them dead, The Kid has to take over the gang and finds himself facing the new sheriff . . . who happens to be Mart Reynolds' beautiful, gun-toting daughter Terry.

That's the set-up of OWL-HOOT HORDE, the lead novel in the very first issue of the pulp WESTERN ACES. This magazine was intended at first to be a Western character pulp, with Kid Calvert headlining every issue in a novel written by veteran pulpster Lawrence A. Keating under the house-name Clint Douglas. But publisher A.A. Wyn changed his mind and WESTERN ACES became a standard Western pulp, although it did feature a number of series characters, most notably L.L. Foreman's Preacher Devlin, who eventually moved over to WESTERN STORY. There were four more Kid Calvert novels in WESTERN ACES, although they were scattered out over the next year and written by a different author, Phil Richards. Will Murray explains all this in detail in his excellent introduction to a volume from Altus Press that reprints all five Kid Calvert yarns.

I found OWL-HOOT HORDE to be a pretty entertaining debut to the series. I think it's the first thing I've read by Lawrence A. Keating, who wrote one of the Masked Rider novels and a lot of other stories for various Western pulps. His style is a little clunky in places, but his action scenes are good and he provides some nice dramatic moments. The inevitable ill-fated romance between The Kid and Terry Reynolds is well-handled. There's nothing ground-breaking here, just good solid pulp storytelling. I'll be reading the other Kid Calvert novels over the coming months and reporting back on them.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Overlooked Movies: Below the Border (1942)

BELOW THE BORDER is one of the entries in the Rough Riders series of B-Westerns starring Buck Jones, Colonel Tim McCoy, and Raymond Hatton as a trio of U.S. marshals who work undercover. In this one they’re after a gang of rustlers and jewel thieves who have a hideout just across the Mexican border from Arizona. The plot is standard stuff, but as always, the chemistry between the three heroes is good and the movie also benefits from the presence of veteran heavies Roy Barcroft, Charles King, and Bud Osborne. There’s a pretty good shootout in this one near the end between Buck Jones and Charles King.

(This post first appeared in different form on January 1, 2010.)

Monday, March 06, 2017

Stiletto #1: The Termination Protocol - Brian Drake

A deadly nerve agent . . . one man standing between peace and Armageddon . . .

CIA agent Scott Stiletto is one of the best. When a derivative of sarin gas thought destroyed shows up on the open market, Scott races to keep the chemical weapon out of enemy hands. The Agency's only lead is a terrorist named Liam Miller, and Stiletto plans a simple snatch-and-grab that quickly lands Miller in U.S. custody. The rendition soon turns into disaster.

Another terrorist group snatches Miller in a blinding fast raid that leaves four agents dead and Stiletto wounded. Worse, the new players—calling themselves the New World Revolutionary Front—are the ones planning to buy the sarin gas. They use Miller to plant a false trail for the CIA to follow while their deadly plan comes to fruition.

The NWRF doesn't count on Miller having a few tricks up his sleeve, or Stiletto's relentless determination to complete his mission. And once Miller gets away and the two team-up to fight their common enemy, the NWRF faces the wrath of two men who are deadlier together than they are separately.

I read this over the weekend and thoroughly enjoyed it. Very much influenced by Nick Carter, Mack Bolan, and the other classic men's adventure paperback heroes, but it has a contemporary sensibility, too. Best of all, unlike most modern thrillers, it's not overwritten and bloated but lean and fast-paced instead, an exciting tale told in a hardboiled style. Great fun, and it gets a high recommendation from me. I'm looking forward to the next one in the series.

Sunday, March 05, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Thrilling Detective, October 1943

With a cover as lurid as this one by George Rozen, shouldn't the stories in this issue of THRILLING DETECTIVE have titles with a little more, I don't know, pizzazz than "Death Drives a Bus" and "Murder Sets the Stage"? The titles of the other stories aren't much snappier: "Eye-Witness Testimony", "The Motive Goes Round and Round", "A Toast to Victory". "Murder Meat" and "Ashes of Hate" are a little better, but not much. The authors are pretty solid, though: Fredric Brown, W.T. Ballard, Norman A. Daniels, and James P. Webb, among others.

Saturday, March 04, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Double-Action Western, March 1953

This is a pulp that I own and read recently. I don't know who did the cover art, but it goes pretty well with "The Californy Kid", the lead novel by Seven Anderton. Anderton was a prolific pulpster who is almost completely forgotten today. My friend Richard Moore is a fan of his work, but he's the only one I know. As far as I recall, I hadn't read anything by Anderton until now, but I thought "The Californy Kid" was a very good yarn. It's set in 1849, during the Gold Rush, and the title protagonist is a young, falsely accused outlaw who finds himself involved in a would-be uprising by the Californios, Mexican settlers who lived in California for generations before it was taken over by the United States. There's plenty of action and Anderton's writing is smooth and very effective. I definitely need to read more by him.

R.S. Lerch is even more forgotten than Seven Anderton. Between the mid-Twenties and 1953, he wrote a couple of hundred stories for the Western and detective pulps under his own name and the pseudonym L.R. Sherman (his real name was Roger Sherman Lerch), but only one novel that I can find any mention of, a Western called THE GUN-DEVILS that appears to have been published only as an Australian paperback. Whether that means Lerch was actually Australian, I have no idea. But I've read several of his stories now and enjoyed all of them. His novelette in this issue of DOUBLE-ACTION WESTERN, "Return to Hell", is about a town-taming marshal who just wants to settle down, marry his sweetheart, and become a rancher. But the girl won't marry him while he's still wearing a badge, and a range hog is moving into the area with a bunch of cattle and some hired guns. To support the cattle, he's going to have to take over some of the smaller ranches, and he'll do it with fire and lead if he has to. There's nothing original about this plot, but Lerch spins his yarn with enough skill to make it enjoyable reading. He was a solid second-tier, or maybe third-tier, writer who might have moved on to a good career as a paperbacker during the Fifties had he not passed away in 1953.

Lauran Paine was a prolific writer for the Western pulps but even more prolific as a novelist, authoring more than a thousand novels, many of them for British publisher Robert Hale under a multitude of pen-names. But even though I have maybe a dozen of his books on my shelves and numerous pulps with his stories in them, I'd never read anything by him until now. His short story in this issue, "Thunder River", is a standard range war yarn, with the small ranchers clashing with the range hog from back east over water rights, and while it's fairly well-written, I kept waiting for a twist that never came and didn't find the characters particularly engaging. I still need to read one of Paine's novels—I have friends who are fans of his work—but this story didn't impress me.

Nor did "Cattleman's Courage" by J.J. Mathews, an author I'm unfamiliar with. This is a cattlemen vs. sheepherders yarn, and while I'm more tolerant of stereotypical plots than just about anybody, they need something to engage my attention. I didn't find that here and wound up skimming this one.

Then there's "Emancipation of Crow Dog" by Lon Williams, a stand-alone by the author better known for his long-running series of supernatural Westerns featuring Deputy Lee Winters. This one has the unusual setting (for a Western pulp) of a Sioux Indian reservation in more modern times, late 19th or early 20th Century, I'd say. The reaction of a lot of modern readers would be to find it appallingly politically incorrect, and most of the phony "redskin" dialect is sort of cringe-inducing. However, the protagonist Crow Dog, who's doing his best to assimilate to the reservation way of life, is a pretty interesting character, and Williams sets up an intriguing conflict between the old ways and the new. Then, unfortunately, he does almost nothing with it, as the story limps to a very undramatic ending. A shame, because this could have been an excellent story.

There are also some assorted features and Old West history articles, but to be honest, I just skimmed through them, too. I read pulps for the fiction, that's all.

So to sum up, this issue of DOUBLE-ACTION WESTERN is definitely a mixed bag. The Seven Anderton story is excellent, and the one by R.S. Lerch is well worth reading. The stories by Lauran Paine and Lon Williams are readable but could have been better. The rest of the issue is forgettable. (The image is a photo of the actual copy I read. I wasn't able to scan the cover this time.)

Friday, March 03, 2017

Forgotten Books: Ladies of Chance - Anthony Scott (Davis Dresser)

Davis Dresser was a busy author during the Thirties even before he created one of the iconic fictional private eyes in Mike Shayne in 1939, turning out a number of mysteries and romances under assorted names. LADIES OF CHANCE was written for the lending library publisher Godwin in 1936 under the pseudonym Anthony Scott, then reprinted in digest format in 1949 by Novel Library. The protagonist/narrator Ed Barlow is a hardboiled, two-fisted tabloid newspaper reporter who's come to Miami to bust wide open the story of a gambling ring that's using crooked games to force respectable women into prostitution by getting their IOUs for gambling losses and then blackmailing them. To get the scoop, Barlow has to get close to several of the women involved and insinuate himself into the gang, an effort that more than once finds him getting hot and bothered with some dame or in danger of losing his life to gangsters.

In some ways this novel is very much a dry run for the creation of Mike Shayne a few years later. There's the Miami setting, with a lot of mentions of Flagler Street and Biscayne Bay. Despite being a reporter, since he's undercover Ed Barlow functions very much like a hardboiled private eye, and like Shayne, he's usually two or three steps ahead of everyone else. He even has another reporter who helps him out, like Tim Rourke in the Shayne novels. There's no buddy on the police force like Will Gentry or an official nemesis like Peter Painter, but there is a beautiful young woman named Lucy.

There are certainly some differences, too, though. Barlow is much more of a heel than Shayne, who always followed a rough moral code. In some scenes, Barlow is almost as unsympathetic as the crooks he's after. LADIES OF CHANCE isn't as well plotted as the Shayne novels, either, and the big twist ending won't come as a surprise to anyone. Dresser's usual smooth, fast-paced prose is already on display, though. This book reads really fast and enjoyably. I liked it quite a bit, and if you're a Mike Shayne fan it's well worth reading to see an early prototype of the big redheaded shamus.

In fact, because of the Shayne connection, there's an ebook version of this novel available under the Brett Halliday pseudonym, although it was never published with that name on it until now. That doesn't change the fact that LADIES OF CHANCE is a nice piece of sleazy, hardboiled fun.

Thursday, March 02, 2017

Stealer of Flesh - William King

I know William King primarily as an author for the Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 lines of epic fantasy and science fiction, although I haven't read any of his work for them. But he's also written quite a bit in universes of his own, including a sword-and-sorcery series about a warrior/priest (a Guardian of the Dawn) named Kormak. The first book in this series, STEALER OF FLESH, is a series of four linked novellas: "The Demon Unleashed", "The Wolves of War", "The Flesh Stealer", and "That Way Lies Death". In his notes on the collection, King discusses how as a young man he was a reader and fan of the sword-and-sorcery tales of Robert E. Howard, Fritz Leiber, Michael Moorcock, and others, especially the way so many of the stories by those authors were novellas instead of the enormous doorstop trilogies and endless series that passes for heroic fantasy these days. He set out to write something similar, and STEALER OF FLESH is the result. I can certainly see the influence of those authors in these yarns.

In the first story, "The Demon Unleashed", a nobleman takes Kormak prisoner and uses his sword, which has some limited sorcerous abilities, to free a demon known as a Ghul that has been trapped for centuries. Feeling at least partially responsible for the Ghul being loosed on the world, Kormak pursues it as it takes over various hosts and vows to destroy it. In "The Wolves of War" he encounters werewolves being used as a military force. "The Flesh Stealer" is set in the squalid criminal underworld of a big city. "That Way Lies Death" takes Kormak and several companions he's picked up along the way to a lost city in the desert for a final showdown with the Ghul.

The world in which all this takes place seems to be based, not surprisingly, on ancient Europe and Asia. King establishes some history in broad strokes and sets up an eternal clash between the west, which worships the god of the sun, and the east, which worships the gods of the moon. It's pretty easy to pick out the analogs to our own world, but to give King credit, he never dwells much on such things. They're just there as background to stories full of sorcery and swordplay.

To be honest, this book could have used another copyediting pass. But I'm willing to cut King some slack for that simply because these stories really are throwbacks to the sword-and-sorcery yarns of an earlier era and are lean and fast-moving instead of bloated and never-ending. I can easily imagine myself sitting on my parents' front porch reading a Lancer paperback of this book, and anything that can make me feel like that is well worth reading, as far as I'm concerned. Hey, I can edit those typos in my head and just keep right on going. King has written a number of full-length novels featuring Kormak, and I have the next few already on my Kindle, ready to go. If you're a fan of old-school sword-and-sorcery, STEALER OF FLESH is worth a try.

Posse From Stud Horse - David Hardy

Constable Alex McBride of the British Columbia Police, who brought law and order to the mining boomtown of Stud Horse in the first installment of this series, is back in POSSE FROM STUD HORSE, the latest story from David Hardy. McBride is on the trail of a horse thief and murderer, and this time he's accompanied by a posse of citizens from the boomtown as the pursuit leads toward the American border. The question is, by the time McBride catches up to the fugitive, will his companions prove to be a help or a deadly hindrance?

As always, Hardy's story is fast-moving and has plenty of action, and there are also some very nice passages showing the influence of Robert E. Howard on the author's work. These stories are top-notch historical adventure fiction.