The things you run across while browsing through the Fictionmags Index. I never heard of the pulp MODERN ADVENTURESS, and I'm not too surprised since Robert Leslie Bellem is the only author in this issue I've heard of . . . but that's not a bad cover, and Bellem is always worth reading, and some of the other stories could be good, you never know . . . so if I ever ran across this issue of MODERN ADVENTURESS, I might just read it.
I'll resist the temptation to make a cliffhanger joke here. This looks like the usual fine issue of NEW WESTERN, with stories by L.L. Foreman, Giff Cheshire, George C. Appell, Rod Patterson, W. Edmunds Claussen, Max Kesler, and Robert L. Trimnell. With the exception of Foreman and Cheshire, those aren't big names, but the other guys were pretty solid pulpsters for the most part.
Arnold Hano is best known for his sports non-fiction and for
being the editor at Lion Books during the Fifties who nurtured the careers of
Jim Thompson, Richard Matheson, and many other top-notch noir and crime
novelists. But he also wrote a number of dark, suspenseful Western novels under
a couple of different pseudonyms. Stark House Press is reprinting one of them,
THE LAST NOTCH, originally published as by Matthew Gant, as part of its Black
Gat Books line.
THE LAST NOTCH is based on some historical background that occurred in New
Mexico Territory during the 1870s, Governor Lew Wallace’s attempt to offer
amnesty to Billy the Kid and other gunmen and outlaws in the territory, in
order to prevent another outbreak of bloody violence like the one that took place
during the Lincoln County War.
Hano fictionalizes this considerably, changing the names while keeping the
personalities and events fairly accurate, then dropping his protagonist, Ben
Slattery, down in the middle of them. Slattery is a fast gun and a hired
killer, but he’s tired of that life and wants the governor’s amnesty. He wants
to be able to quit worrying about the Kid, who’s eager to have a showdown with
him and find out which one of them is truly faster on the draw. Before Slattery
can escape from his past, though, he has to do one last job, make one last
kill, for the biggest price he’s ever gotten.
All you have to hear is “one last job”, and you know things aren’t going to go
well for Slattery. Sure enough, they don’t, in as neat a twist as you’ll find
in a Western novel. How bad things can get, and whether or not Slattery
survives, you’ll have to read the book to find out.
THE LAST NOTCH is really a superbly written novel, vivid in its setting and its
characters. There’s not a lot of action; guns go off, but this is about as far
from a powder-burning shoot-’em-up as you can get. It’s very suspenseful and
fast-paced despite that, with some great confrontations between Slattery and
the Kid (who’s obviously Billy, although not called that). This novel reminded
me of the work of H.A. DeRosso, who Hano edited at Lion Books, and Lewis B.
Patten with its bleak outlook on the Old West. Highly recommended.
I would have
sworn that I had seen WINDS OF THE WASTELAND before, but when I watched it
recently, I didn’t remember a thing about it. So either way, it was new to me,
and if you can overlook the miscasting of John Wayne and Lane Chandler as
former Pony Express riders—they’re both much too big and heavy for that—it turns
out to be a pretty darned good B-Western. Luckily for me, I have no problem
overlooking such things.
Once the Pony Express has closed down, Wayne and Chandler decide to go into the
stagecoach business. They buy a franchise for a line that supposedly goes to a
booming town, but of course they’ve been snookered and Crescent City is a ghost
town with only two occupants. But one of them, wouldn’t you know it, has a
beautiful daughter who shows up soon after. Anyway, our heroes decided to make
a go of the stage line anyway, the town starts to grow, and soon they’re
involved in a stagecoach race to get a mail franchise from the government.
Their rival, naturally enough, is the guy who snookered them in the first
place. There are even a couple of sub-plots involving the stringing of telegraph
wire and a doctor who has lost confidence in his skills. WINDS OF THE WASTELAND
packs a lot into a running time of a little less than an hour.
There’s nothing new here, and there wasn’t in 1936 when this movie was made,
either. But boy, do they do a good job of hitting their marks. Wayne seems to
be having a great time and does quite a few of his own stunts. The bad guy’s
chief henchmen are Bob Kortman and an uncredited Yakima Canutt, and as always,
it’s great to see Yak in action, sometimes doubling Wayne, sometimes playing
his own character, but always throwing himself around with abandon. He’s at the
reins on one of the stagecoaches in the climactic race, and it’s a great scene.
The only weak link is Phyllis Fraser as Wayne’s love interest, who has very
little to do and zero chemistry with the Duke.
Overall, WINDS OF THE WASTELAND is a thoroughly entertaining movie if you’re a
fan of the B-Westerns. I had a great time watching it.
I don't know about you, but I don't remember the last time I read a gripping polo story. Or any kind of polo story, for that matter. But C.S. Montanye provides one in this issue of the long-running pulp TOP-NOTCH. Montanye is best remembered, if at all, as one of the authors of the Phantom Detective novels under the house-name Robert Wallace. In fact, I think I recall reading that Montanye died in the middle of writing a Phantom novel and someone else had to finish it. He had a long, prolific career in a variety of pulps, though. Other authors of note in this issue are Burt L. Standish, S. Omar Barker, Hapsburg Liebe, Nels Leroy Jorgensen, and William Merriam Rouse. Actually, I kind of like that cover and the title "When the Mallet Flashed". If I was going to read a polo story, it might be that one.
A striking and unusual cover by Norman Saunders graces this issue of one of my favorite Western pulps, WILD WEST WEEKLY. The line-up of authors and stories inside is outstanding, too, leading off with a Sonny Tabor yarn by Paul S. Powers writing as Ward M. Stevens. Also in this issue are stories by Walker A. Tompkins, Allan R. Bosworth, Chuck Martin, Lee Bond, and Ralph Yergen.
I have a limited number of copies of the print edition of ROCKET'S RED GLARE, the space opera anthology I edited and published earlier this summer, and for the next four days (through Monday, August 21), they're on sale for $10 each, including shipping (to the U.S. only). PayPal preferred but checks accepted. Email me or let me know in the comments if you want one. This book has gotten excellent reviews and I'm very proud of it. From distant galaxies to the mean streets of Hollywood . . . from the war-torn skies of France in 1918 to the far side of the moon . . . The stories in Rocket's Red Glare exemplify the adventure, courage, and sense of discovery so vital to the American spirit. Whether daring to cross interstellar space or battling alien conquerors when they come right to our own back yard, the characters in these tales never give up, never stop fighting for their country, their lives, their honor. Featuring all-new stories by Sarah A. Hoyt (part of her USAian series), Brad R. Torgersen, Martin L. Shoemaker, Lou Antonelli, James Reasoner, and more, Rocket's Red Glare is packed with space opera excitement, dazzling scientific speculation, gritty action, and compelling characters.
First of all, is that a great title or what? "Senorita Death" is the fourth Kid Calvert "novel" to appear in the pulp WESTERN ACES (in the April 1935 issue, to be precise, with the usual fine cover by Rafael DeSoto), and it's also the shortest one in the series. Perhaps because of that, author Phil Richards drops us right down in the middle of the action as good-guy outlaw Kid Calvert is trying to find out what's behind the disappearance of several wealthy men in the bordertown of San Pablo. His investigation takes him to a cantina where the beautiful Dolores Estrada is singing. Is beautiful gun-totin' sheriff Terry Reynolds finally going to have some competition for the Kid's owlhoot heart? Well, maybe, but there's not really much time for romance in this yarn, because the action hardly ever stops. Except for when the Kid is wounded in one of the many gunfights and passes out or gets hit over the head by a villain and knocked cold. The rest of the time there's lots of powder burning and a somewhat muddled plot about land speculation and the nefarious goings-on at the inappropriately named Peaceful Ranch. As always, Richards' prose is breathless and terse and full of movement. Action and dialogue and plot all hurtle forward at breakneck speed. I'm sure most modern readers would think this stuff is awful, but I'm continuing to enjoy the heck out of the Kid Calvert series. There's only one more to go, and I'll get to it soon.
I’ve never read
the Zane Grey novel on which this movie is based, so I can’t say whether or not
it’s a faithful adaptation. But taken on its own merits, it’s a pretty good
early Western that I’d never seen until now. The story involves two feuding
families, the mostly respectable Haydens and the mostly no-good Colbys, who
move from Kentucky to Nevada after the Civil War. Jed Colby, the patriarch of
his clan, spent fifteen years in prison for shooting a Hayden, and he sets out
to get his revenge by rustling all the stock from the Hayden ranch before he
wipes them out.
Mostly, though, it’s a Romeo-and-Juliet yarn, with a very young, and at this
stage of his career rather wooden, Randolph Scott playing Lynn Hayden, who
falls for Ellen Colby, the daughter of his family’s arch-enemy. Ellen is played
by an actress I’d never heard of, Esther Ralston, and she pretty much steals
the movie with her portrayal of a beautiful but badass frontier girl. Evidently
Ralston had a long and successful career in silent films but played mostly
supporting roles once the talkies came in. That’s a shame, because she’s great
in this one.
Elsewhere in the cast, the main villains are played by Jack La Rue and Noah
Beery Sr. La Rue, who usually played evil gangsters, is an evil cowboy in this
movie and is thoroughly despicable. Barton MacLane, Fuzzy Knight, and an also very
young Buster Crabbe are members of the Hayden family, as is an uncredited
Shirley Temple. John Carradine is supposed to be in the movie, too, in one of
those blink-and-you-missed-it roles, and I must have blinked.
There’s a lot of action in TO THE LAST MAN, and it’s well-staged by director
Henry Hathaway, with some good stunt and miniature work. Since this is a
pre-Code movie, the action is rather bleak and brutal at times, and we get a
couple of flashes of nudity, too, in a skinny-dipping scene with Ralston.
I enjoyed this film quite a bit. If you’re interested in early Westerns, it’s
well worth watching.
HEADQUARTERS DETECTIVE is a pulp that lasted only a few issues, but there were some good writers in its pages. This one features stories by Frederick C. Davis, George Harmon Coxe, Steve Fisher, Norman A. Daniels, and George A. McDonald, among others. With a lineup like that, I'm sure it was good reading.
Nice cover by the great H.W. Scott on this issue of SPEED WESTERN, and inside there's a very strong group of writers including Wayne D. Overholser, Walker A. Tompkins, Giles A. Lutz, Frank C. Robertson, and John Jo Carpenter (John Reese). If that's a salvage market pulp, I'll take it.
I've seen Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson's name on many pulp
covers over the years, but as far as I recall, I've read little if anything by
him. So I decided to remedy that and started off with THE SCARLET KILLER AND
OTHER STORIES, a collection of half a dozen yarns that all appeared in the pulp
THRILLING ADVENTURES in 1932.
The book starts off with "Guarded by Fire" (March), which finds
American engineer Jack Nelson in Paris, where he meets a beautiful young
Russian woman who holds the key to a fabulous treasure that's hidden somewhere
in her homeland. There seems to be a bit of a Dashiell Hammett influence in
this story. There's a sinister fat man, a weaselly little Soviet agent who
could easily be played by Peter Lorre, and of course the treasure that everyone
is after. Even with all that going for it, the story is still a bit on the
bland side. Not bad, but it seemed lacking in action and drama to me.
The scene shifts to the Texas/Mexico border country for "Fire and
Sword" (September), a fairly short, simple action yarn about a clash
between the U.S. cavalry and a gang of bandidos
from south of the border. I think this one is set in the early 20th
Century, the Pancho Villa era, if you will, but Wheeler-Nicholson isn't very
specific about that. It's an entertaining story, although there's not much to
It's back to Russia for the title novella (April), during the revolution when
U.S. army troops were sent to Siberia to protect American interests there. The
protagonist is a two-fisted American mining engineer who tries to rescue a
beautiful young woman from a bloodthirsty Bolshevik warlord known as the
Scarlet Killer. This one has a lot of action, with Cossacks charging around and
battling Bolsheviks, not to mention a really gruesome murder method employed by
the Scarlet Killer. The biggest drawback in this one is that the hero is dumb
as a rock. But to be fair, he hadn't read hundreds of pulp stories and so was
less likely to recognize all the bad guys' tricks.
As you’d guess from the title, “The Scourge of Islam” (October) is a Middle Eastern
adventure, as French crusader Hugh de Galliard, the only survivor from a group
of crusaders on their way to meet Genghis Khan, falls in love with a beautiful
girl, gets mixed up in Persian politics, is captured, escapes, teams up with
ol’ Genghis, and generally does a bunch of hacking and slashing. The epic
battle scenes are well-done and reminiscent of Robert E. Howard’s crusader
yarns. There’s a grisly execution method on this one, too. The ending is a bit
of a letdown, but overall this is a good story and my favorite in this
“The Fame of Albert Muggins” (November) is a comedy about a meek, weaselly
British soldier in Hong Kong, just before World War I, who finally explodes
under the mistreatment by his sergeant and wallops the non-com, then strikes an
officer as well and deserts his unit, escaping Hong Kong by stowing away on a
Spanish ship. This leads to a series of mildly amusing adventures. As a comedy,
this isn’t much, but Wheeler-Nicholson does an excellent job with the setting.
This collection wraps up with “The Dumb Bunny” (December), another story about
U.S. troops in Russia at the time of the revolution. In this one, a Bolshevik
plot to massacre a bunch of Americans is foiled by an unlikely hero. The
closing twist is a nice one, although it probably worked better and came as
more of a surprise in 1932.
Overall, my introduction to the work of Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson was
entertaining but not outstanding. He clearly knew his stuff when it comes to
military matters and was knowledgable about a wide swath of history. He came up
with some great concepts as well, but in these stories at least, the execution
is on the ordinary side for the most part. More colorful protagonists and a
little more blood and thunder would have helped. I have two more
Wheeler-Nicholson collections, and I enjoyed THE SCARLET KILLER AND OTHER
STORIES enough that I’ll certainly read them.
In thirteen take-no-prisoners pulp yarns, Robert E. Howard scholar Fred Blosser caroms from the Old West to the noirish streets of urban America, and then beneath the earth itself, into a primitive world of savagery, to slam you silly with the best in pulp fiction. By bullet and sword, fist and fortune, Blosser's square-jawed yet often brutal heroes face down the worst that evil has to offer: Ringo and Horn blow away bootleggers, outlaws, Mafia thugs and assassins, and other lowlifes, from the backstreets to the backwoods. Commander Manta and Agent Gila battle the hallucinogenic horrors of a would-be world conqueror in Washington, D.C. Dax the Go-Run struggles to survive in the savage, subterranean world of Kaal-Dur, as he goes in quest of a captive princess. All this, and hitmen vs Cthulhu, too. You can't go wrong with hitmen vs Cthulhu. Plus, Blosser serves up a quintology of non-fiction analyses of such pulp topics as Dashiell Hammett's "Nightmare Town" and the Mafia novels of Richard Posner.
In a movie possibly inspired by the real-life Cal Farley's Boys Ranch, Gabby Hayes plays a kind-hearted cattleman who runs a home for orphans and wayward boys near Lodestone, Arizona. Unfortunately, one of the boys is actually the son of notorious bank robber King Blaine, who has been sending loot to the kid for him to cache on the ranch. The boy doesn't know what he's been doing; he's just hiding the packages his father sends to him, as requested. Then King Blaine is shot and killed by a sheriff, and the members of his gang descend on the ranch to try to recover the loot. An added complication is the fact that the local banker (a very stereotypical female battleaxe) is about to foreclose on Gabby's ranch. Luckily for Gabby, his old friend (and former resident of the boys' home) Roy Rogers shows up to sort everything out, catch the bad guys, and sing a few songs with a Kansas City nightclub entertainer played by Dale Evans. SONG OF ARIZONA has most of the right elements: Roy, Dale, Gabby, the Sons of the Pioneers (although somewhat depleted by the fact that a few of them hadn't yet returned from serving in the military during World War II when this was filmed), and a couple of decent villains in Lyle Talbot and Dick Curtis. Unfortunately, it comes from the era between directors Joseph Kane and William Witney when Frank McDonald was helming Roy's pictures, and McDonald's entries in the long-running series are the weakest. In this case, everything is just too mild and heart-warming. The action pales next to what was coming up under Witney, and the musical numbers are lackluster compared to the extravaganzas staged by Kane (who also did action better than McDonald). So why watch it? Well, it's Roy, who was one of the best horsemen of all the movie cowboys and fun to watch as he chases down the bad guys. Gabby says "Durned tootin'!" There are a couple of decent stunts. And in my case, I thought I had seen all the Roy Rogers movies, but I didn't remember this one at all while I was watching it, which means I either missed it or saw it so long ago I'd completely forgotten it. Either way, that makes it an Overlooked Movie as far as I'm concerned.
Middle-aged Frank Raven used to be a lot of things—a blind monk, a cop, a private detective, and a hard drinker. Now he doesn’t do much except run a funky old movie theater in bucolic Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, dance and sing with the local troupe of Morris Dancers, and record bird songs on his phone. A lanky young wunderkind director, Nick Mooney, brings his Hollywood film crew to town and hires the “retired” Raven to protect his star: the wild, unpredictable, gorgeous, and prodigiously talented twenty-one-year-old Juliana Velvet Norcross, aka VelCro. Reluctant at first, Raven takes on the job and slowly sees that there is more to VelCro than the troubled rebel she appears to be. She probes the former monk for his thoughts on God, love, and the soul. But Raven has renounced many of his former beliefs, and VelCro’s questions cause him to re-examine his life. On the eve of filming, storms ravage the small village, and the river that runs through the center of town floods its banks. VelCro becomes ill and withdraws into the care of Sarah, the eighteen-year-old daughter of Frank’s girlfriend, Clara. The storm passes, VelCro recovers, and filming begins. But during the first shot, she is swept away into the river, leaving no trace. What role did VelCro’s director play in her life? Did she fall? Did she jump? Was she pushed? Frank and Sarah are driven to find out what happened. Here's the blurb I gave this book after I read an advance copy: If you'd asked me whether it was possible to come up with a new take on the private eye novel at this late date, I might have said probably not. But I would have been wrong because that's exactly what Fred DeVecca has done with THE NUTTING GIRL. Yes, Frank Raven is an ex-cop and ex-private detective who drinks too much and is haunted by his past, like so many of his fictional brethren, but he does so in the small, idyllic town of Shelburne Falls, Massachusetts, where he's also part of a Morris Dancing group and records bird songs on his phone. He's also a former monk. When a Hollywood director arrives in Shelburne Falls to make a movie, a beautiful starlet goes missing, and it's up to Raven to find out what happened to her. With its offbeat protagonist, vividly rendered settings, and lyrical prose, THE NUTTING GIRL is one of the best debut private eye novels in a long time, and I'm eager to read whatever Fred DeVecca comes up with next. This really is an excellent novel and well worth reading.
There are only two stories in this issue of MARVEL SCIENCE STORIES, one by John Taine and the other by Harl Vincent. I know both names, but I don't think I've ever read anything by either of those authors. Maybe someone can tell me about them. In the meantime, I'll just look at that Norman Saunders cover, thank you.
Well, artist Albert Drake has certainly put his hero and heroine in quite a predicament on the cover of this issue of WESTERN ACES. I'm sure they'll get out of it, though. Inside this issue are stories by one of my favorites, J. Edward Leithead (one under his own name and one under his pseudonym Wilson L. Covert), Joe Archibald, Cliff Walters, Galen C. Colin, and others. I like that title, "Enough Rope for the Hangman".
THE EASY GUN is one of those novels that comes out of
nowhere and takes you by surprise. Published by Fawcett Gold Medal in 1970 and
promptly forgotten, it’s about 95% of a great Western. As for the unfortunate
other 5% . . . well, more about that later.
The story begins in El Paso with Big John Easy, a brawling gambler/con
man/outlaw who’s trying to go straight because he knows he’s set a bad example
for his 20-year-old son, also named John but known as Little Easy. The name is
ironic, because Little Easy is a massive six-and-a-half foot tall bruiser, even
bigger and tougher than Big John.
A dispute with a cattle buyer/gunfighter known as Long Gone Magoffin (this book
is full of great character names) leaves Big John dead and Little Easy on the
trail of the killer. Little Easy doesn’t know Magoffin’s name, but he knows the
man he’s after carries a gun with a fancy silver decoration on its black grips.
The trail leads to Ellsworth, Kansas, where Magoffin works for the villainous
Porter Jessup, a bizarre character who’s been in a wheelchair all his life
because of his crippled legs, but that doesn’t stop him from being truly evil
and establishing a criminal empire in Ellsworth, aided by his mute, giant,
former prizefighter henchman Burgoo.
If you’re worried that I’m giving away too much of the plot, all this happens
very quickly, and anyway, the real appeal of THE EASY GUN is the way Parsons
takes a whole heap of Western stereotypes (there’s even a crusading newspaper
editor who happens to be a blond, beautiful young woman) and turns most of them
upside down. Hardly anybody turns out to be exactly what you’d expect them to
be, although the plot plays out in a fairly predictable fashion, up to a point.
The writing is very good for the most part, leading up to a violent, epic
And that’s where THE EASY GUN drops the ball. Parsons rushes through the
ending, devoting only a few paragraphs to the apocalyptic battle that should
have been much more than it is. The last few pages of the book don’t work at
all, as far as I’m concerned. Earlier, Parsons had played very fast and loose
with the history and geography of Texas, which bothered me, but I would have
been willing to overlook that because I was really enjoying his style and
characters. That ending, though . . . I just can’t see it.
E.M. Parsons was best known as a TV writer, turning out scripts for various
Western and detective series in the Fifties and Sixties. As far as I can tell,
he published only three novels, all Westerns: TEXAS HELLER, from Dell in 1959;
FARGO, from Gold Medal in 1968; and THE EASY GUN, also from Gold Medal in 1970,
the same year he passed away. I have copies of the other two but haven’t read
them yet. I will, based on all the things I liked about THE EASY GUN. Maybe
I’ll like the endings better in the others. And it’s certainly possible
somebody else might think the ending of THE EASY GUN is just fine. Your
mileage, as the saying goes, may vary.