Friday, June 30, 2017

Forgotten Books: Kothar--Barbarian Swordsman - Gardner F. Fox

I must have read hundreds of comic books written by Gardner Fox when I was growing up, but at that time I had no idea he was also a novelist. The only books by him that I read were his sexy spy novels in the Lady From L.U.S.T. series, which he wrote as Rod Gray. I figured Rod Gray was a real guy and never dreamed he was the same person writing all those issues of THE FLASH and JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA I read. Anyway, I've since learned that Fox was a prolific paperbacker and wrote quite a bit of science fiction and fantasy under his own name, including a couple of sword and sorcery series. I've seen these books around for years and finally read one of them, KOTHAR: BARBARIAN SWORDSMAN, the first book in the Kothar series.

Kothar is a mercenary swordsman from the northern land of Cumberia (any resemblance to Cimmeria is totally coincidental, I'm sure), although he wasn't born there. He was found as an infant in a boat that washed up in a bay, and his true origins are unknown, at least when this book opens. Maybe his history will be revealed later on. This volume consists of three related novellas, which as far as I can tell were written for it, instead of being published elsewhere and then collected here.

In the first story, "The Sword of the Sorcerer", Kothar is working as a captain of foreign mercenaries in the land of Commoral, which is engaged in a civil war between the witch Red Lori, who has claimed the throne through sorcerous means, and Elfa, the rightful queen. Both women, of course, are breathtaking beautiful. After a battle against Lori's forces in which he's the only survivor, Kothar stumbles over the crypt of an ancient wizard who gives him a magic sword and commands him to help Queen Elfa regain the throne. The only catch is that whoever possesses the enchanted blade Frostfire can't own anything else valuable, which amounts of a vow of poverty. With that in mind, off Kothar goes to battle a sea monster, rescue another wizard who's on Elfa's side, and hack and slash with a bunch of Red Lori's soldiers before finally battling the witch in a final showdown. I don't think it's too much of a spoiler to reveal that Kothar wins and Elfa's kingdom is restored to her.

The second story, "The Treasure in the Labyrinth", finds Kothar being hired by a wealthy merchant to penetrate to the center of a labyrinth filled with deadly traps and steal the treasure that's supposed to be hidden there. No one knows what that treasure is, but everyone believes it's something immensely valuable. Kothar, naturally enough, battles his way to the center of the labyrinth, taking on several different supernatural menaces including a giant spider, rescues a beautiful girl, and eventually recovers the treasure. There's a twist, of course, but it's not too obvious and turns out to be fairly satisfying. Even more than the first story, this one shows a lot of Robert E. Howard influence.

"The Woman in the Witch-Wood" is the Lady Alaine, a sorceress who's been trapped there by an evil warlock who has taken over her castle. When Kothar meets her, of course he agrees to defeat the warlock and lift the spell holding Alaine in the evil woods. This leads to Kothar battling all sorts of mystical dangers that the warlock throws at him, then squaring off against the wizard himself. This final story in the book has a very nice twist at the end that I didn't see coming.

Kothar makes one big mistake in this book: he leaves Red Lori alive, and although she doesn't really play a part in the other stories, I have a hunch she'll show up again in later books in the series to cause more trouble for Kothar.

So what did I think of KOTHAR: BARBARIAN SWORDSMAN? Well, starting out, it struck me as generic, derivative, and downright silly. And really . . . it is. But somehow Fox won me over. His writing is vivid and fast-paced and has plenty of action, as well as being appropriately creepy when it needs to be. And the plots, while very typical of the genre, take an interesting turn here and there. Plus Kothar is a likable protagonist, not the smartest guy around but not exactly dumb, either, and certainly stalwart when it comes to battling evil. Novellas like these are the perfect antidote to the enormous doorstopper endless series that have come to dominate heroic fantasy. I had a lot of fun reading this book. I have the other four books in the series and suspect that I'll get around to them, too.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Stiletto #2: The Fairmont Maneuver - Brian Drake

CIA agent Scott Stiletto is back in Brian Drake’s latest novel THE FAIRMONT MANEUVER, and as usual, it’s a fast-paced espionage thriller with plenty of action. In this one, Scott rescues a Swiss scientist who’s being blackmailed by the Iranians into building triggers for nuclear bombs. That’s just the beginning, though, as Scott then answers a call for help from an ex-CIA colleague and former lover whose father has been murdered by mobsters trying to pressure her into selling her fashion design business. Why would mobsters want to take over a fashion design business, you ask? Well, in a clever plot twist from Drake, the reason doesn’t turn out to be what you’d expect.

I’m really enjoying this series for a couple of reasons. There’s a lot of all-out action, and Drake is very good at writing it in a style reminiscent of the classic men’s adventure novels. Also, Scott Stiletto is a very likable protagonist, human but not weighed down with angst or some cliched back-story. He’s one of the good guys and is very competent at what he does. Nor does Drake burden the tale he wants to tell with page after page of padding, as so many bloated contemporary thrillers do. THE FAIRMONT MANEUVER is lean and swift and very enjoyable.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Argosy, March 30, 1940

ARGOSY was still a full-fledged pulp in 1940, as you can probably tell by this octopus-fighting cover by Rudolph Belarski. Despite Foster-Harris's name being on the cover, he's not listed in the contents for this issue in the Fictionmags Index. However, there are stories by Donald Barr Chidsey, Johnston McCulley, Borden Chase, Robert Arthur, Jack Byrne, Kenneth Perkins, and David V. Reed, so that's no shortage of good authors.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Wild West Weekly, November 18, 1933

That's an action-packed cover by Walter Baumhofer on this issue of WILD WEST WEEKLY, and the line-up of authors and stories inside is great: a Johnny Forty-Five story by Paul S. Powers writing as Andrew A. Griffin, a Border Eagle story by Walker A. Tompkins writing as Philip F. Deere, a Hungry and Rusty story by Samuel H. Nickels, a Shorty Master story by Allan R. Bosworth, and non-series yarns by William F. Bragg, Arthur Hawthorne Carhart, and Cliff Farrell writing as Nelse Anderson. Pretty entertaining from cover to cover, I expect.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Forgotten Books: Avalon - Francis Stevens

Avalon is a family name in this long-forgotten pulp novel, not a place. Originally serialized in ARGOSY in September and October of 1919, it takes place on a group of isolated islands off the coast of South Carolina. In pre-Revolutionary times, these islands were granted by the King of England to the Avalon family, who still rule them as a sort of feudal fiefdom despite the presence of a few modern items such as automobiles, gasoline launches, and wireless communication with the mainland.

The current master of Five Isles is Florence “Flurry” Avalon, who is a rugged male despite his feminine name. Avalon is seldom in residence there since he also runs a coffee plantation in South America, but his sister and younger brother live in Cliff House, the ancestral family residence which serves as this novel’s version of The Old Dark House . . . because that’s the kind of story this is, filled with secret passages, villainous Spaniards, shipwrecked survivors, mobs of torch-bearing villagers, unexpected shots in the night, and love at first sight between Avalon and one of the passengers from the wrecked schooner who show up at Cliff House.

The author of AVALON is Francis Stevens (the pseudonym of Gertrude Bennett), who also wrote some early weird thrillers such as THE LABYRINTH and THE CITADEL OF FEAR. I’ve read THE LABYRINTH and thought it was okay up to a point. AVALON lacks as many weird elements, but its plot holds together better and overall I enjoyed it quite a bit. Yes, it’s melodramatic, and its style is so old-fashioned that it might be off-putting to most modern readers. But if you can put yourself in the right frame of mind, the story moves along at a good clip and some of the writing holds up well. It’s available in a reprint edition from Beb Books, and if you enjoy early pulp thrillers, you might want to give it a try.

(This post originally appeared in somewhat different form on May 11, 2008.)

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Now Available for Pre-Order: Blaze! Bad Medicine - Michael Newton

Arizona Territory is heating up—and Kate and J.D. Blaze are about to get burned! A fanatical Apache medicine man is determined to bring about all-out war between his people and the army, and he's doing it by slaughtering as many white settlers as he can find. Kate and J.D. are drawn into his dangerous situation when a woman and her children are kidnapped by the Apache raiders and intended for a gruesome sacrifice. The Old West's only team of husband-and-wife gunfighters will need all their cunning and deadly skill to bring the captives back alive and stop the medicine man's scheme to flood the desert with blood!

Legendary adventure writer Michael Newton is back with another gritty, fast-action novel filled with all the passion and excitement of the Old West.

A Middle of the Night Music Post: Victory - Two Steps From Hell

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Overlooked Movies: Lies and Alibis (2006)

I'd never heard of this movie, but hey, it's got Sam Elliott (quite possibly my favorite living actor) and Rebecca Romijn in it, so why not watch it? And as it turns out, LIES AND ALIBIS is a pretty entertaining, if hard to follow, little thriller.

British comedian Steve Coogan plays a guy whose business provides alibis for cheating spouses to help them get away with their affairs. Romijn, in an underwritten role, works for him. In a fairly predictable plot twist, one of their clients winds up killing somebody and wants Coogan to help him cover up the crime. As if that's not enough of a problem, Coogan is a former con man whose partner has a five million dollar bounty on his head from a Saudi prince they scammed. So people are after Coogan trying to get him to reveal where said partner is. There's also a hitman stalking him. Sam Elliott plays another hitman, this one known as the Mormon because he's, well, a Mormon. Selma Blair is one of his wives. James Brolin is a rich guy who can't be trusted. Lots of stuff happens, much of it not making any sense at the time, but it finally all comes together okay, if you squint your eyes and hold your mouth right.

LIES AND ALIBIS was written by Noah Hawley, who now writes FARGO. We've seen the first two seasons of that series, and when I told Livia that this movie was written by the same guy, she said, "I can see that." Quirky but entertaining dialogue, unlikable characters that you somehow like anyway, and lots of plot twists. I enjoyed it . . . but I think Rebecca Romijn is really good-looking and I can listen to Sam Elliott talk all day, no matter what he's talking about, so if you don't feel that way, you may not enjoy this movie as much as I did. I had a good time watching it and didn't fall asleep, which is my equivalent of the old "two thumbs up" bit, for those of you old enough to remember that.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Science Fiction Quarterly, February 1957

Ed Emshwiller is one of the classic science fiction cover artists, and this is a pretty good one. This issue of SCIENCE FICTION QUARTERLY has a good line-up of well-regarded authors inside, too: Frederik Pohl, Philip K. Dick, Wallace West, Randall Garrett, and Margaret St. Clair. I don't know anything about D.A. Jourdan, who wrote the other story featured on the cover.

A Middle of the Night Music Post: On and On - Stephen Bishop

I admit, when I think of Stephen Bishop the first thing that comes to mind is his scene with John Belushi in ANIMAL HOUSE, but this is still a pretty song and I like it.

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Famous Western, April 1958

This digest issue of FAMOUS WESTERN has a Norman Saunders cover, although that doesn't really jump out at me as Saunders' work. The biggest names among the contributors, at least as far as Western pulpsters are concerned, are Roe Richmond and Wade Hamilton, who was really Lee Floren. The lead novel is by E.E. Clement, a pseudonym for editor Robert A.W. Lowndes. The other novel is by Jim Mac Collister, his only credit in the Fictionmags Index. I have to wonder if he was Lowndes, too. And then there's a story by an author who probably wasn't well-known at all to Western readers of the day: Harlan Ellison. I don't know if "The End of the Time of Leinard" is his only Western, but it's a pretty good one, as I recall. It was reprinted in the anthology WESTERYEAR, edited by Ed Gorman.

A Middle of the Night Music Post: Suavecito - Malo

Another song from the Seventies that I always liked.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Forgotten Books: Latigo - Frank O'Rourke

Frank O'Rourke is one of those authors whose books I've seen around forever, but I've never read much by him. Three books, actually, WARBONNET LAW and GUN HAND, a pair of Westerns I thought were okay, and HIGH DIVE, a hardboiled mystery I didn't care for. LATIGO, my third Frank O'Rourke novel, is sort of a cross between those two genres. It takes place in a small town on the Missouri River in Dakota Territory, 1875, and involves three crooks—one local and two outsiders—who are plotting together to stage a phony bank robbery. They're also scheming to double-cross each other the first chance they get. But things go awry, as they always seem to in books like this, and a woman gets involved, and then more complications ensue and nobody can be trusted.

Something seemed very familiar to me as I was reading this book, and after a while I realized what it was. With its complex and unsympathetic but human characters, the melancholy noirish tone that dominates the book, and the lack of the genre's usual trappings, LATIGO reminded me very much of an Ed Gorman Western. O'Rourke's prose doesn't have the elegance of Gorman's, nor are his characters as compelling, but LATIGO is certainly in the same neighborhood. It's not really a likable book, but it's well written and definitely suspenseful. My biggest complaint is the title, which has nothing to do with the book and seems slapped on just to make it sound more like a traditional Western, which it really isn't. It's a good book, though, and worth reading, although I suspect that O'Rourke will never be one of my favorites.

(That's the 1956 Bantam paperback above, the original 1953 Random House hardback below, both scans from the Internet. I own and read the hardback but don't have scanning capability at the moment.)

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Western Fictioneers Announces the 7th Annual Peacemaker Award Winners

Has it been seven years already? The winners of the 7th annual Peacemaker Awards, honoring the best in Western fiction from 2016, have been announced and you can read all about it right here. Congratulations to all the winners and finalists! In the spirit of full disclosure, one of the finalists for Best Novel was my Outlaw Ranger yarn, GUN DEVILS OF THE RIO GRANDE, and it's an honor indeed to be nominated.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Savage Scrolls: Scholarship From the Hyborian Age, Volume One - Fred Blosser

Back in the Seventies, when I was reading Marvel's black-and-white magazine THE SAVAGE SWORD OF CONAN and the color CONAN THE BARBARIAN comic book, I always enjoyed Fred Blosser's articles and essays about various aspects of Robert E. Howard's life and work. These pieces popped up from time to time and were favorites of mine. I had no idea who Fred Blosser was, but the guy knew his stuff.

Well, forty years or so have passed and Fred Blosser is a friend of mine and also a top-notch novelist I've been pleased to publish, and when it comes to Robert E. Howard . . . the guy still knows his stuff.

SAVAGE SCROLLS: SCHOLARSHIP FROM THE HYBORIAN AGE, VOLUME ONE features revised and expanded versions of some of those essays from the Seventies, along with a great deal of new material. In an earlier book, Blosser tackled REH's Lovecraftian fiction. About half of this one is devoted to Howard's best-known creation, Conan the Cimmerian, and the Hyborian Age in which he lives. It's an in-depth look at the characters and settings to be found in the stories, and if you want to know anything about Hyborian geography, weapons, government and legal systems, flora and fauna, etc., it's here, presented in a lively, informative, and entertaining style.

The rest of this volume takes the same approach to Howard's other series characters and his ventures into genres other than sword-and-sorcery. Blosser doesn't cover Howard's comedy Westerns, his boxing stories, and most of his horror stories. I assume they'll be the subjects of future volumes.

This is a wonderful book, very enjoyable, and the only bad part about it is that it makes me want to reread a bunch of Robert E. Howard stories. Of course, now that I think about it, maybe that's not such a bad thing . . . 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Overlooked Movies: The Stalking Moon (1968)

THE STALKING MOON is another Western that somehow I never watched until now. Based on a novel by T.V. Olsen, it's the story of Sam Varner (Gregory Peck), a civilian scout for the Army, who on his last mission before retiring finds a white woman (Eva Marie Saint) who's been a captive of the Apaches for the past ten years. She has her young son with her, and she wants Varner to help her and the boy get back to Ohio where she had family. Against his better judgment, Varner agrees.

What he doesn't know is that the boy's father is some ninja-like super-Apache who slaughters a bunch of people (off-screen) while tracking Varner, the woman, and the boy across Arizona and New Mexico Territories before finally catching up to them on the ranch Varner had intended to be his retirement home.

Quite a few people seem to like this movie a lot, but I'm afraid my verdict is decidedly mixed. The acting is good all around (Robert Forster, who I've always liked, plays a young scout), the production values are good, and the action scenes, when they finally arrive, are well-staged and effective. But man, this is an hour's worth of movie in two hours of running time. For most of the way the pace is beyond leisurely, especially considering that there's not a plot twist to be found anywhere. I don't want to seem too harsh--I'm glad I finally saw this--but I found it to be pretty much of a disappointment. I haven't read Olsen's novel, but I have to wonder if the story worked better as a book.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Coming Soon: Girl in a Big Brass Bed/The Spy Who Was 3 Feet Tall/Code Name Gadget - Peter Rabe

Lobbe wants his painting back. Goering confiscated it when the Nazis raided Rotterdam. But now, years later, it has been located, and the German government wants to return it. So Lobbe sends his assistant Manny deWitt to Munich to fetch it. The painting is Vermeer's Apple Girl, Lobbe's prized possession. The mission seems easy enough. But as deWitt soon discovers, those who have the misfortune to come in contact with the elusive Vermeer seem to experience an early and unpleasant death. The sooner he gets the painting and gets out, the better. If only it were that simple.

This time Lobbe sends Manny to a recently emerged African nation called Motana. It's deWitt s job to negotiate the contract to build a road through the country. As usual, Lobbe doesn't muddy the waters with too much information for deWitt. But this time, everyone seems to be up on the project but him. Yum Lee, the Chinese emissary who also wants the contract, is one step ahead of him. Inge, Lobbe's delightful niece, is strictly undercover. And then there's his ubiquitous taxi driver, Baby, who is much more (or less) than what he seems. Just what the hell is so important about this road anyway?

As gadgets go, it was supposedly a fairly large one, large enough to fill a medium-sized factory. Manny's mission is to buy it for his boss Lobbe before the competition beats him to it. The mission takes him to England under the eccentric guidance of a pilot named Max Garten, and into the unexpected arms of Meghan Bushmill. Together, the three of them form a kind of team as they try to figure out who are the good guys and who are the bad guys and if it even makes any difference anymore. Because whoever has the gadget can destroy the world, and even Lobbe may not be able to buy his way out of that one.

I had copies of all these books in their original editions back in my younger days and never got around to reading any of them. (Sadly, an all too common occurrence where me and books are concerned.) Now I can remedy that because Stark House is reprinting them in one big volume with a great introduction by Rick Ollerman. I'm really looking forward to these.

Bloody Arizona #3: Chiricahua Blues - Frank Leslie (Peter Brandvold)

Half-breed lawman Yakima Henry and the rest of his friends and enemies in the town of Apache Springs are back in CHIRICAHUA BLUES, the third book of Peter Brandvold's epic four-part series BLOODY ARIZONA. In this novel, Brandvold (writing under his familiar pen-name Frank Leslie) follows two storylines. In Apache Springs, Marshal Yakima Henry deals with the arrival of the long-awaited spur railroad line, as well a new threat to the mysterious old Spanish mission filled with gold that's played a part in the previous books. At the same time, Yakima's deputy, the reformed outlaw known as the Rio Grande Kid, is trying to deliver a prisoner by stagecoach, only to have the coach attacked and pursued by vengeful Apaches out to kill the Kid's prisoner and anybody who gets in their way.

As always in Brandvold's work, action abounds, and nobody in the business today writes better action. Also, Yakima and the Kid are both very likable characters, and the on-going romantic triangle involving Yakima and the Kosgrove sisters, Julia and Emma, is as intriguing as ever. These are great stories told in a distinctive voice, and I really enjoy them. CHIRICAHUA BLUES gets a high recommendation from me.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Thrilling Adventures, January 1936

This isn't a great machine gun cover, but it's a good one. And the authors in this issue of THRILLING ADVENTURES are mighty good: Hugh B. Cave, Leslie T. White, George Fielding Eliot, Oscar Schisgall, Gunnison Steele (Bennie Gardner), and house-name Jackson Cole.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Star Western, July 1940

I don't know about you, but I want to read the story that cover illustrates. It looks great! The line-up of authors in this issue of STAR WESTERN isn't as strong as some but still pretty good. Inside are stories by Harry F. Olmsted, W. Ryerson Johnson (billed on the cover as William Ryerson Johnson, which I don't recall seeing before), Stone Cody (Thomas Mount), John G. Pearsol, Dee Linford, Charles W. Tyler, and Kenneth Fowler. Great cover, good authors, and over-the-top story titles . . . Yep, that's a Popular Publications Western pulp.

A Middle of the Night Music Post: Rebel Rouser - Duane Eddy

Another song from my childhood. It annoys me that they've got Duane Eddy's name switched around at the beginning of this clip, but that doesn't affect the music.

Friday, June 09, 2017

Forgotten Books: Lust Shop - John Dexter

(This post originally appeared in somewhat different form on September 15, 2009.)

LUST SHOP is narrated by Pete Ritchie, who lives in a suburb of Los Angeles and owns a garage specializing in repairing foreign cars. Pete is a young, virile guy, of course, who enjoys romancing the rich, beautiful married women who bring in their foreign sports cars for him to work on, hence the title. To his surprise, Pete gets really hung up on one of his customers, a gorgeous blonde named Chris. She won’t have anything to do with him, though, until he agrees to handle a little problem for her. It seems that she’s being blackmailed . . .

Well, you know as well as I do that this is a set-up for a Gold Medal novel. However, since this isn’t a Gold Medal novel but rather an Evening Reader, Pete doesn’t jump right away at the chance to get involved in Chris’s troubles. Instead he tries to distract himself by bedding various other women in a series of scenes that seem like nothing more than padding at first. In a nice twist, though, later on they actually turn out to be connected to the main plot. When Pete finally does decide to try to get the blackmailer off of Chris’s back, you know things won’t turn out the way he wants them to. They’re just going to get worse. Again, this isn’t a Gold Medal, so even though you’d have to call it a hardboiled crime novel, the plot doesn’t play out exactly like you might expect if it was written by Charles Williams or Gil Brewer.

The thing about books published under the “John Dexter” house-name is that you never know what you’re going to get. I’m reasonably certain that this book isn’t by Robert Silverberg, Lawrence Block, or Donald E. Westlake. All the Harry Whittington novels published under the John Dexter name have been identified, and anyway, LUST SHOP doesn’t read anything like Whittington’s work. The breezy, wise-cracking style reminds me a little of the Clyde Allison books by William Knoles, but this doesn’t seem like a Knoles plot to me. Which means the actual author is probably one of the half-dozen or so other writers who turned out books for William Hamling’s sleaze publishing empire. I have no real idea which one it might have been.

LUST SHOP certainly isn’t some sort of lost classic, but it is a fast-paced, fairly entertaining yarn with a couple of decent plot twists and the occasional nice line. If you like this sort of book – and obviously I do – it’s worth reading if you come across a copy. I recently picked up a nice stack of coverless John Dexter books (including a couple of Whittingtons), so you can expect to be reading about more of them here on the blog.

(Yeah, well, I'm still working on that . . . There was no cover scan in the original version of this post because my copy is coverless and I couldn't find one on-line back in '09. But the one above comes from the great Vintage Greenleaf Classics website, which you have to check out if you have any interest in these books at all.)

Wednesday, June 07, 2017

Now Available: Summer Issue of Lowestoft Chronicle

Check out the latest issue of Lowestoft Chronicle, the free online magazine featuring fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, and interviews.

This summer at Lowestoft Chronicle:
On a summer vacation to Jersey Shore a restless seven-year-old awaits his first encounter with a hot new arcade game. In Japan, a longtime expatriate relates his many peculiar taxicab experiences. And in Thailand, a rough journey by ferry turns into a chaotic roller coaster ride of misery and despair for returning partygoers.

Laden with insightful and highly entertaining poetry and prose, we proudly present Issue #30, featuring the work of AN Block, Charles G Chettiar, Mary Donaldson-Evans, Brennen Fahy, Lou Gaglia, Elliot Greiner, Jill Hawkins, Anthony Head, Todd McKie, Frank Morelli, James B. Nicola, and Saundra Norton.

Now Available: The Digest Enthusiast, Book Six

It's always a good day when the latest issue of THE DIGEST ENTHUSIAST arrives. This one starts off with a fine barbarian cover by Brian Bruniak. Some of the highlights inside are interviews with science fiction writer Edd Vick and mystery writer B.K. Stevens, articles on everything from a book authored by Bob Hope and his team of comedy writers to Brian Aldiss's series of "Hothouse" stories that originally appeared in THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION, and reviews of WEIRDBOOK #34 and an SF magazine I don't remember ever seeing, INTERNATIONAL SCIENCE FICTION. The highlight of the issue for me, though, is Peter Enfantino's in-depth review of the first four issues of the iconic crime fiction digest MANHUNT. I don't agree with all of his opinions, mind you, but there's still a lot of great information to be found here and I love the way Enfantino writes about such things. As always, THE DIGEST ENTHUSIAST gets a high recommendation from me.

A Middle of the Night Music Post: Telstar - The Tornadoes

One of the songs of my childhood.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

A Middle of the Night Music Post: Orinoco Flow - Enya

I don't understand a word she's saying other than "Sail Away". And yes, I know, I could find the lyrics on-line, but I'm too lazy to do that. I just like the way the song sounds.

Monday, June 05, 2017

Now Available: The Great Chili Kill-Off - Livia J. Washburn

The chili in Texas is red-hot . . . and so is murder! Phyllis, Sam, Carolyn, and Eve head for West Texas to compete in a Fourth of July chili cookoff. Thousands of people have descended on a sleepy little ghost town, turning it into a boomtown for chili mavens, gamblers, musicians, and media. Raucous excitement fills the air, but so does chili when a sabotaged propane cooker explodes, killing the much-hated current champion. The victim leaves behind a tangled trail of sleeping with other men’s wives, cheating at cards – and maybe at chili cooking – and deadly anger. With Sam a possible suspect in the murder, emotions run hot as a bowl of Texas red as Phyllis has to untangle these threads in order to put her finger on the killer! Livia J. Washburn's beloved Fresh Baked Mystery series is back with another novel full of tasty recipes, dastardly doings, and brilliant sleuthing by Phyllis Newsom and her friends. THE GREAT CHILI KILL-OFF is a delicious dish of murder and detection.

Livia's Fresh Baked Mystery series continues with another funny, twisty, fast-paced yarn. I'm hardly an unbiased reader, but I really enjoy these books.

Leo Margulies: Giant of the Pulps - Philip Sherman

Philip Sherman emailed me several years ago when he was researching a biography of his uncle, the legendary editor and publisher Leo Margulies. I wasn’t able to help him much, but because of that contact I knew this book was in the works.

Now LEO MARGULIES: GIANT OF THE PULPS is out from Altus Press, and it’s a wonderful volume for fans of the pulps, digest magazines, vintage paperbacks, and basically anybody who has an interest in popular fiction of the Twentieth Century. Leo Margulies had a hand in just about all of those areas.

There’s plenty of information in this book about the various publishing enterprises Margulies was involved in, and while I already knew some of it, there’s a lot of background I wasn’t aware of. The sections about Margulies’ early days in the business were mostly new to me, as well.

But since Margulies was Sherman’s uncle, this volume provides an excellent portrait of Margulies the man without glossing over his flaws, although to be honest there don’t seem to have been very many of those, most notably a temper that could be explosive at times. But in addition to his skills as an editor and publisher, Margulies seems to have genuinely liked writers and been close friends with many of them. Sherman also devotes some space to Cylvia Kleinman, Margulies’ wife, who worked in various editorial capacities on many of his publications.

Now, as for my personal connection with all this (because what writer can resist talking about himself and his work), I broke in at MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE, the longest running and most successful of Margulies’ digest magazines, about a year after he passed away, so I never had any dealings with him. But several years before that, while I was still in college, I submitted a story to MSMM, the first time I’d ever sent a story to a magazine. It came right back with a rejection slip, of course, but Cylvia, who was the editorial director of the magazine at that time, wrote a personal note on it thanking me for the submission and asking me to send them something else. It was quite a while before I did, and by that time Sam Merwin Jr. had become the editor, so I got my rejections from him. And finally acceptances, too, for which Cylvia signed the checks. I’ve always been glad that my first story was accepted by a genuine pulp editor and paid for by another pulp editor. I can’t help but wish that I had gotten to know Leo Margulies as well.

But I’ve digressed. LEO MARGULIES: GIANT OF THE PULPS is one of the best books on the pulp and digest era that I’ve read, and I give it my highest recommendation. I really enjoyed reading it.

A Middle of the Night Music Post: Guantanamera - The Sandpipers

I've always liked this song. Maybe it's a little bit sentimental, but I don't care.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Short Stories, April 10, 1935

A striking "red sun" cover by H.C. Murphy on this issue of SHORT STORIES, and a great line-up of authors inside: L. Patrick Greene (a Major story), James B. Hendryx (a Halfaday Creek story), William Chamberlain, Frank Richardson Pierce, Bennett Foster, and Edward Parrish Ware. SHORT STORIES published every sort of adventure fiction and most of it was very good indeed.

Saturday, June 03, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Exciting Western, November 1946

A nice, somewhat unusual cover from Sam Cherry leads off this issue of EXCITING WESTERN, and inside are some stalwart authors, most notably W.C. Tuttle with one of his Tombstone and Speedy stories. There are also yarns by Gunnison Steele (Bennie Gardner) and Donald Bayne Hobart, dependable and prolific pulpsters, and a couple of house-name stories by Jackson Cole (a Navajo Tom Raine, Arizona Ranger story) and Reeve Walker (a Pony Express story). Looks like a good solid Western pulp.

Friday, June 02, 2017

Forgotten Books: Flash Casey--Detective - George Harmon Coxe

For a long time, George Harmon Coxe was one of the top mystery writers. His novels, most of them featuring Boston crime photographer Kent Murdock, were on all the library shelves. Before Kent Murdock, however, Coxe created another crime photographer who worked in Boston, Jack "Flashgun" Casey. Casey appeared in dozens of stories in the iconic pulp BLACK MASK, as well as a few novels. This early paperback from Avon, published in 1948, reprints four of the Flash Casey novelettes.

"Women Are Trouble", April 1935, finds Casey teamed up with a spunky gal reporter who happens to be a witness to a gangland slaying. He has to protect her as well as keep a vital piece of evidence safe until all the people mixed up in the racket are revealed.

In "Too Many Women", September 1936, Casey also has to work with a young female reporter, and they're assigned to cover a garden party, of all things. But on the way to the party, Casey snaps a picture of a swindler who just got out of prison, and before you know it, that photo is at the center of a complicated and violent plot involving some missing loot. This one suffers a little from having such a similar set-up to the first story. BLACK MASK readers probably never noticed since the stories were published more than a year apart, but I think if I'd been editing this collection, I would have put it last. Also, there's one plot angle that I don't think was ever explained. All that said, the story rockets right along and is very enjoyable.

"Casey—Detective", from February 1935, has what sounds like a pretty generic title, but it actually makes sense in the context of the story. In this one, Casey stumbles over the murder of a former bootlegger's ex-wife, clashes with the cops, and gets to the bottom of a tangle involving blackmail and kidnapping. It looks like the case is just about solved halfway through, but of course that turns out not to be true and there's still more action to come.

"Once Around the Clock", from May 1941, was also reprinted in the anthology THE HARD-BOILED DETECTIVE, edited by Herbert Ruhm, where I read it more than thirty years ago. However, I didn't remember a thing about the story, so I was able to enjoy it all over again now. Casey tries to help a young ex-con who's on the run from the cops, blamed for a murder he didn't commit, and clearing the man's name means also solving another murder several years in the past. A nice twisty plot and plenty of action since the story takes place from one midnight to the next.

I like the Kent Murdock novels I've read quite a bit, but I've always been a little more of a Flash Casey fan. Murdock, though plenty tough when he needs to be, is more urbane and sophisticated, while Casey is a big, two-fisted bruiser. Coxe's stories are always well-plotted and have plenty of action and a nice hardboiled tone. He's mostly forgotten and shouldn't be. This is an excellent collection and I really enjoyed it.