Monday, November 27, 2017

Play a Cold Hand - Terence Faherty

A while back I read THE HOLLYWOOD OP, a collection of stories by Terence Faherty featuring private eye Scott Elliott. These ranged in time period from the Forties to the Sixties, and I thought they were great. I picked up copies of some of Faherty’s novels starring Elliott but you know me, attention span of a six-week-old puppy, so I never got around to reading them. However, I recently got my hands on an ARC of Faherty’s latest Scott Elliott novel, PLAY A COLD HAND, and read it immediately. And I’m very glad I did.

This one takes place mostly in 1974, although there’s a lengthy flashback to 1952 and a murder that took place in 1944 figures prominently in the plot. Elliott’s old boss, long retired from the private detective business, is murdered while trying to solve one last big case. In fact, the book opens with Elliott being called to the scene of the murder and talking to a friendly cop, for all the world like the opening of a Mickey Spillane novel with Mike Hammer and Pat Chambers.

However, that’s the only thing in PLAY A COLD HAND reminiscent of Spillane. This novel is much more in the Raymond Chandler/Ross Macdonald vein, all the way down to a late reference to a Chandler novel that provides a clue. The plot is properly convoluted, involving mobsters, a con game, a beautiful torch singer, movie stars, blackmail, black marketeering during World War II, and numerous secrets bubbling up from the past to cause trouble in the present.

To put it simply, this is a wonderful book. It’s set in 1974, as I said, and reads like it could have been written then. It passes the Front Porch Test with flying colors, right down to the masterful solution that had me smacking my forehead and looking back to see if the vital clues were really all there. And sure enough they were.

Don’t let anybody tell you they don’t write ’em like they used to. Sometimes they do, and PLAY A COLD HAND is a prime example. It’ll be out soon from Perfect Crime Books, and I give it my highest recommendation.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Thrilling Adventures, May 1934

I've seen a lot of "guy fighting a bear" covers over the years--on pulps, on men's adventure magazines, and on outdoor and hunting magazines. This is a pretty good one. There are some top pulpsters inside this issue of THRILLING ADVENTURES as well: L.P. Holmes, Arthur J. Burks, Frederick C. Painton, Charles Green, L. Ron Hubbard, John Scott Douglas, and Syl McDowell.

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Masked Rider Western, December 1949

I haven't read this particular Masked Rider novel, but since it's by Walker A. Tompkins, I'm sure it's pretty good. Tompkins always seemed to have a nice touch for the character in the ones by him that I've read. There are some other top-notch writers in this issue: L.P. Holmes, Lee Bond, and Clee Woods.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Forgotten Books: The Night Hell's Corners Died - Clay Ringold (Ray Hogan)

Clay Ringold was really Ray Hogan, and if you’ve read any of Hogan’s numerous Western novels published as Ace Doubles, you know what to expect from his work: a short, tough-minded, fast-paced action Western yarn, told in a terse, very effective style.

That’s certainly the case with THE NIGHT HELL’S CORNERS DIED, published under the Ringold name in 1972. This one is even tighter than usual, as Hogan compresses all the action into a single 12-hour span. The plot is simple: the respectable businessmen in the former trail town of Hell’s Corners decide it’s time to clean up the lawless element in the settlement, so they hire a town-taming marshal. But he proves not to be up to the job as the outlaws and the crooked saloon owner whose establishment is their headquarters all fight back. When the bad guys go on a rampage that threatens to destroy the town, local ranch hand and former gunfighter Cord Munger, who has put his violent ways behind him for the most part, winds up being the only chance for Hell’s Corners to survive.

This is pretty standard stuff, but Hogan puts a nice spin on it by having Munger be more of an anti-hero than a hero. He’s almost as unsympathetic as the villains and would gladly ride off and let the outlaws run roughshod over the town, if not for a young orphan with whom Munger feels a certain kinship, having been raised in an orphanage himself. Once Munger does decide to take a hand, his plan to battle a much superior force by himself is pretty clever.

Ray Hogan was never a ground-breaking Western writer, but he’s also never let me down. His books are always entertaining. I really enjoyed THE NIGHT HELL’S CORNERS DIED, and if you’re a fan of traditional Westerns, it’s well worth reading.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving Western Pulp: Wild West Weekly, November 26, 1932

There are at least three Thanksgiving stories in this issue of WILD WEST WEEKLY: "Sonny Tabor's Trail to Thanksgiving" by Paul S. Powers writing as Ward M. Stevens; "Circle J's Thanksgiving Guest" by Ronald Oliphant writing as Cleve Endicott; and "One Turkey--Plenty Tough", a Shorty Masters yarn by Allan R. Bosworth. I suspect that "Celebratin' in the Thunder Birds" by Reginald C. Barker writing as Lee Harrington may be a Thanksgiving story as well. Other authors in the issue are Walker A. Tompkins and Lee Bond, once as himself and once as Frank J. Litchfield. The cover art is by H.W. Reusswig. The cover scan and the information comes from the Fictionmags Index, that invaluable site for which I'm very grateful. I'm also thankful for family, friends, and all of you who read this blog. I hope it's a wonderful day for all of you.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Big Showdown - Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins

I enjoyed the first book in this series, THE LEGEND OF CALEB YORK, which was Max Allan Collins' novelization of an unproduced movie script Mickey Spillane wrote for his friend John Wayne. I think the second book, THE BIG GUNDOWN, by Collins based on Spillane's characters, is even better.

Legendary gunfighter and former Wells Fargo detective Caleb York has been serving as the temporary sheriff in Trinidad, New Mexico Territory, but as the book opens he has turned over the job to an old friend of his and is about to leave for San Diego, where he's going to work for the Pinkertons. Unfortunately, a bank robbery occurs just before the stagecoach that will take York away from Trinidad arrives. This bloody crime keeps York from leaving and forces him to put on a badge again as he tries to find the bank robber who escaped and recover the stolen money.

Then there are a couple of murders, leading York to realize that more is going on than a simple bank holdup. On top of that, five gunfighting brothers who have a grudge against him are on their way to Trinidad to settle the score. And there may be more to that than there appears to be at first, too.

THE BIG SHOWDOWN is a really entertaining mixture of Western and crime novel. Caleb York is a good character, more flawed than the legend surrounding him might suggest but that just makes him human. His old geezer sidekick (I'm seeing him more as Al "Fuzzy" St. John rather than Gabby Hayes) is great, and the other supporting characters are interesting, too. As usual, Collins' fast-paced prose is smooth as can be. This is a fine traditional Western and I had a really good time reading it. There'll be at least one more book in the series, and I'm looking forward to it.

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: The Phantom Detective, January 1941

Never trust a guy in a suit of armor, that's my motto. You don't hear much about the Phantom Detective anymore, but I've always liked this series ever since I started reading the Corinth paperback reprints 50 years ago. Generally good covers and some fine yarns by various authors. This particular story is by Laurence Donovan.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: West, January 1953

I'm not really an art guy, but I like the composition on this cover. I have no idea who did the art. Inside are some good authors, including Gordon D. Shirreffs, Ray Townsend, and Ross Rocklynne. I think of Rocklynne as a science fiction writer and didn't know he had done any Westerns. Turns out he wrote a few over the years.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Forgotten Books: Lair of the Beast - John Peter Drummond

“Lair of the Beast”, from the Spring 1941 issue of JUNGLE STORIES, may be the best Ki-Gor novel I’ve read so far. It seems to be the work of yet another author who’s new to the series, although the style does remind me a bit of “Ki-Gor—and the Paradise That Time Forgot”. [Minor spoilers ahead.] In this one, Helene is taken captive by a gang of slavers who operate out of an ancient Moorish castle in the middle of the jungle. Ki-Gor, badly wounded in a battle with a vicious baboon, willingly becomes a prisoner because that’s the only way he can get to Helene. Then he has to recuperate, find a way for both of them to escape, and come up with a plan to destroy the evil slavers.

It won’t come as a surprise to anybody that he does so, but along the way the author comes up with some nice twists and dangers and a good supporting character in a somewhat shady Indian doctor who has thrown in with the slavers but isn’t as evil as they are. And he does redeem himself to a certain extent.

Whoever the author behind the John Peter Drummond house-name is for this story, he puts words together well and keeps this yarn moving along at a satisfying pace. The bloody, harrowing battle at the end is well-done, but again, it might not be exactly what the reader expects. A few things keep “Lair of the Beast” from being the top-notch pulp adventure tale it might have been. There’s no sign, not even a mention, of Ki-Gor’s sidekicks Tembu George and N’Geeso, and I’ve grown fond of both of them. The plot is a little thin, and the story tends to be bland in places, especially in the first half. A little more blood and thunder might have helped, although to be fair, there’s plenty of that later on. At one point, Ki-Gor does something really dumb. But he’s very clever later on. This sort of inconsistency is another reason I think this may have been a new author just getting his feet wet in the series.

All that said, I enjoyed “Lair of the Beast” quite a bit. It lacks the over-the-top goofiness of the earliest Ki-Gor novels but is a considerable improvement over the few right before it. I expect to continue enjoying this series for a good long time.

Monday, November 13, 2017

52 Weeks * 52 Western Novels - Scott Harris and Paul Bishop, eds.

52 WEEKS • 52 WESTERN NOVELS is the first in a new series edited by my friends Scott Harris and Paul Bishop spotlighting some of the best in Western entertainment, starting with books both old and new and followed by volumes on Western movies and TV shows. It’s a great beginning to a very worthwhile project.

Written by a variety of Western authors and readers, including me, the entries in this book range from H.A. DeRosso’s bleak Western noir .44 to Will Murray’s classic history of the Western pulps, WORDSLINGERS. Each essay discusses a particular book and its author, along personal connections, behind-the-scenes facts, and movie adaptations for the books that were turned into films. It’s a fascinating approach that traces the traditional Western from its beginnings with THE VIRGINIAN and RIDERS OF THE PURPLE SAGE to THE LEGEND OF CALEB YORK by Max Allan Collins and Mickey Spillane, published in 2015. Anyone who hasn’t read Westerns before could read one a week, using this volume as a guide, and get a good sense of just what a wide range the genre really has. Plus there are plenty of really nice cover illustrations.

For what it’s worth, I’ve read 30 of the 52 books covered here, and I don’t doubt that I’ll read many of the others in the future. Quite a few of them are already on my shelves, just waiting for me to find the time. Whether you’re a Western fan or not, 52 WEEKS • 52 WESTERN NOVELS get the highest recommendation from me.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Smashing Detective Stories, December 1951

What a great cover on this issue of SMASHING DETECTIVE STORIES. A mummy-bandaged guy with a Luger and a sexy nurse . . . I'd be buying that as fast as I could slap down a quarter on the newsstand counter, assuming I had a quarter, of course. Inside are stories by a couple of guys better known for their Westerns, Roe Richmond and T.W. Ford, plus Robert Turner, E. Hoffmann Price, and Thomas Thursday.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Six-Gun Western, March 1946

SIX-GUN WESTERN was one of the Speed pulps, the slightly toned-down successor to the Spicy pulps. This is the first issue, and along with that nice cover, it has stories by Thomas Thompson, William Heuman, Joseph Chadwick, and old-time pulpster Victor Rousseau writing as Lew Merrill. That's a pretty good line-up of authors. 

Friday, November 10, 2017

Forgotten Books: The Guns of MacCameron - William Hopson

THE GUNS OF MacCAMERON starts off as a vengeance quest book. Former Confederate cavalry officer Tyler MacCameron has been roaming the West for eight years, hunting down and killing the men responsible for burning his plantation and murdering his wife and infant son after the war. He’s caught up and dealt with all but two members of the gang when he rides into the small Wyoming settlement where both of his targets have started new, apparently respectable lives.

From that point, however, the book doesn’t play out as you might expect, as it becomes a range war yarn instead, involving cattlemen and sheepherders. In this case, however, the two sides aren’t enemies. The big cattle and sheep ranchers team up to try to eliminate all the smaller outfits, and I’m sure you can guess which side MacCameron winds up on.

William Hopson started out in the Western pulps and went on to a long and successful career writing Western novels for hardback and paperback publishers. He wrote a few mysteries, as well, but I’ve never read any of them. I’ve read quite a few of his Westerns, though, and found his work to be inconsistent but mostly good, bordering on excellent, although he was capable of turning out a stinker now and then, especially in his later years.

THE GUNS OF MacCAMERON, published in hardback by Avalon in 1969 and reprinted in paperback by Macfadden-Bartell in 1971 (the edition I read) is one of Hopson’s good novels. The hero and the main villain are pretty one-dimensional, but all the other characters are a nice blend of good and bad qualities, and some of them turn out different than you might think they would. Hopson had an odd, even awkward style in places, but he was very good at action scenes and there are plenty in this book. There’s a great battle between a man and a grizzly bear that’s not as one-sided as it sounds. All in all, the book moves along nicely and comes to a satisfying conclusion.

THE GUNS OF MacCAMERON isn’t a great Western novel, by any means, but it is a good solid piece of entertainment for fans of the genre. If you like Westerns and come across a copy, it’s well worth reading. That’s true of most of William Hopson’s books.

Sunday, November 05, 2017

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Amazing Stories, January 1944

I ask you, even if you were a robot, wouldn't you be mad if a guy was shooting you in the chest with a ray gun? This cover is by Robert Fuqua, and I can't help but like it. Inside this issue of AMAZING STORIES are three yarns by William P. McGivern, the cover story under his own name plus one each as by P.F. Costello and Gerald Vance. Other authors include Ross Rocklynne, Ed Earl Repp, and Berkley Livingston. This sort of stuff may not be held in high regard these days, but I like it.

Saturday, November 04, 2017

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Ace-High Magazine, October 1939

There's the stalwart cowboy in the red shirt and the gun-totin' redhead, but where's the old geezer? Maybe they're on their way to rescue him, provided, of course, they get away from the rannies shooting at them. Even though it wasn't officially part of the title, you can tell from the "Western Stories" emblazoned on the cover that by this time ACE-HIGH MAGAZINE was completely a Western pulp, despite having begun life as a general adventure fiction magazine. And an excellent Western pulp it is, too, with this issue featuring stories by Harry F. Olmsted, Cliff Farrell, Thomas Mount writing as Stone Cody, Art Lawson, and Kenneth A. Fowler. One of the lesser known authors--in fact, his story in this issue is the only one in the Fictionmags Index (the source of this scan)--is Dade Bartell. Now, I know absolutely nothing about Dade Bartell. Could be a pseudonym, could be a house-name, could be a real guy. But the name sounds like the main gunslinging henchman for the criminal mastermind behind all the rustling and land-grabbing. I may have to borrow that one of these days.

Friday, November 03, 2017

Forgotten Books: Bells of Doom - Maxwell Grant (Walter B. Gibson)

I was in the mood to read a Shadow novel, so I picked up a reprint I have of “Bells of Doom”, the 74th entry in the long-running series, which was originally published in the March 15, 1935 issue of THE SHADOW. That’s a great pulpish title and promises lots of sinister goings-on.

This one starts on an ocean liner bound for New York from England. One of the passengers is Lamont Cranston. Who, as we all know, is really The Shadow . . . only The Shadow isn’t actually Cranston . . . No, that’s too complicated a story. Those of you who already know it, fine. Those who don’t, it’s not really important in the context of this novel. Let’s just say that Cranston sits in on a poker game with three other travelers, one of whom is a rich guy who’s gotten hold of a rajah’s valuable jewels and is afraid that crooks are after them. Well, of course they are, and when everybody is back in New York, the other two players in the poker game, young wastrel Milton Claverly and smooth crook Hatch Rosling, conspire to steal the jewels.

Wait a minute, you say. This is a jewel theft book? What about the bells? We’re getting to them, because after The Shadow foils the robbery, Milton Claverly (who has covered up his part in it) travels to the small town of Torburg, where he inherits his father’s estate, which includes a mansion, a creepy crypt, an equally creepy bell tower (there are the bells!), and four enemies who swindled Milton’s dad out of a fortune. Before you know it, those four swindlers are being knocked off one by one, and every time one of them is killed, bells peal out from the tower, which is locked up tight and no one can get in to ring them. So this novel is sort of a locked bell tower mystery.

The Shadow is around, and so is his agent Harry Vincent, and everybody seems to have a hidden agenda, and the murders continue, and honestly, the whole thing is a little on the bland side until a dizzying bunch of double-crosses and hidden identities and plotlines that appeared to be long since abandoned, and while I figured out some of it and had a hunch who the hidden mastermind was, author Walter B. Gibson had me fooled on some things. It all wraps up with a nice shoot-out in that crypt.

Gibson’s Shadow novels are notorious for their padding, and that seems a bit more obvious than usual in this one. But hey, the guy was writing two mystery novels a month, so I’m willing to cut him some slack on that. “Bells of Doom” also could have used a little more action (some of The Shadow’s epic gun battles with hordes of mobsters in other stories are great). This isn’t in the top rank of Shadow novels . . . but you know what, I got a lot of enjoyment out of it anyway. I’ve been reading The Shadow for more than 40 years, ever since Bantam started reprinting them in the Sixties, and then when I was in college I was a big fan of the Jove reprints with covers by Jim Steranko. So the series has quite a bit of nostalgic appeal for me, and there are some nice creepy scenes in this yarn. Probably not the one to start with if you’ve never read a Shadow novel, but I liked it.