You couldn't ask for much more out of this debut issue of MARVEL SCIENCE STORIES. You've got a cover by Norman Saunders, and inside are three stories by Henry Kuttner (two under pseudonyms), plus yarns by Arthur J. Burks and Stanton A. Coblentz. I don't have this issue (the scan comes from the Fictionmags Index), but I'll bet it's great. I love this era of science fiction.
Another good cover by Sam Cherry starts off this issue of the long-running Western pulp WEST, which started out at Doubleday but by this time was part of the Thrilling Group. The lead story is "The California Ranger" by A. Leslie, who was really A. Leslie Scott, who wrote about Texas Rangers and Arizona Rangers, so why not California Rangers, too? Also in this issue is one of the late Zorro stories by Johnston McCulley, plus stories by Harold Cruickshank, Cliff Walters, and Tom Parsons, a Thrilling Group house-name.
Jimmy Christopher, Operator 5 in the American
Intelligence Service, is back to save the country from complete and utter
destruction, rescue his kidnapped girlfriend/plucky girl reporter Diane
Elliott, and demonstrate a magic trick to his ward, scrappy Irish lad Tim
Donovan. And if there’s any time left over, he’ll worry about his dad, former
intelligence operative John Christopher, who has a bullet lodged near his heart
that might kill him any time if he exerts himself too much. The devastating
menace this time around is a super-corrosive agent that melts almost everything
with which it comes in contact, making the title of this novel, THE MELTING
DEATH, particularly apt. It’s the fourth yarn in the Operator 5 series,
originally published in the July 1934 issue of OPERATOR #5 MAGAZINE. (Why does
Jimmy Christopher refer to himself as Operator 5, when the title of the
magazine is Operator #5? I have no idea, but I’ve wondered about that
This one starts with the dedication ceremony for a magnificent new bridge
spanning the Mississippi River. If you can’t guess right away that the bridge
is going down, causing massive death and destruction, you haven’t read any of
the other Operator 5 novels. Or any pulp hero novels, for that matter. I mean,
the title of the novel is THE MELTING DEATH, for cripe’s sake. Jimmy
Christopher is on hand for the dedication and manages to rescue as many people
as he can. Then he’s immediately ordered by his superiors, all the way up to
the President, to find out who’s responsible for this atrocity. A group of
European warmongers known as the Purple Shirts are believed to be connected
with the attack. One of their spymasters is somewhere in the country, so Jimmy
Christopher quickly gets on his trail.
The melting death attacks continue, with military installations and skyscrapers
being destroyed. Jimmy Christopher races from place to place, trying to thwart
the plans of the evil plotters who are trying to scuttle the disarmament
movement and not so coincidentally take over the American steel industry and
become filthy rich at the same time.
Eventually Jimmy Christopher emerges triumphant and the hidden mastermind is
exposed, just in time to prevent the destruction of the United States Capitol.
Now he can catch his breath, enjoy spending time with Diane, and maybe show Tim
another magic trick. But this respite won’t last long, because the very next
month there’ll be some other horrible threat to the country that only Operator
5 can deal with.
As I’ve said before, don’t get me wrong. This series lends itself to a little
gentle ribbing, but man, is it fun. Frederick C. Davis, who wrote these early
entries under the house-name Curtis Steele, really knew how to spin a yarn.
Jimmy Christopher and his supporting cast are very likable, and the action
seldom lets up for more than a page or two. I’ve read enough of the later ones
to know that in some ways they get even better as they go along. I’m going to
continue reading the series in order, including the ones I first read in
paperback reprints decades ago, and I fully expect to continue having a great
time. Operator 5 is one of my all time favorite pulp hero series.
Six full length detective novels with a mix of longtime bestselling mystery authors and some new to the genre. This set includes James Reasoner’s legendary debut novel TEXAS WIND. Originally published in 1980, TEXAS WIND has been acclaimed as one of the finest private eye novels ever written. DEVIL IN A CAGE is a classic private eye novel by renowned action/adventure author W.L. Fieldhouse. Featuring a compelling protagonist in John Weller, a complex plot, sheer storytelling energy, insightful social commentary, and a vivid portrait of Las Vegas that could only be provided by an insider like Fieldhouse. A powerful novel of crime and detection. Multi award winning novel WILD NIGHT is a historical detective novel. In the 1920's Lucas Hallam was something of a legend: a Texas Ranger turned Pinkerton agent turned Hollywood P.I. And when the occasion arose, Hallam mounted up again and rode with Tom Mix, William S. Hart, and the other famous movie cowboys of the silent era. He didn't think of his past often, and it was the furthest thing from his mind when he went into Chuckwalla, California, hoping to turn the ghost town into a movie set . . . even when the two men started shooting at him. SOME DIE HARD is legendary mystery and thriller author Stephen Mertz's first novel, originally published in paperback nearly forty years ago and long out of print. Part hardboiled private eye yarn, part classic novel of detection (with a locked-room mystery unlike any other), SOME DIE HARD is pure entertainment. In TRIPL3 CROSS, veteran author John Hegenberger spins a yarn that is both an exciting thriller and a compelling piece of "noirstalgia", expertly recreating a sense of late-Eighties paranoia and double-dealing and painting a vivid picture of Washington and Cuba during that era, as well as saving a shocking twist for the very end. Acclaimed, bestselling historical novelist James J. Griffin makes a stunning debut as an author of contemporary thrillers with MURDER AMONG THE CLOUDS. Fast-paced, populated with compelling, intriguing characters, and filled with fascinating police procedure and breathtaking suspense.
What a great bizarre cover by Norman Saunders on this issue of TEN DETECTIVE ACES. I wonder if the story by G.T. Fleming-Roberts lives up to it. He was a pretty good writer most of the time. Other good writers in this issue are Lawrence Treat and John A. Saxon, plus a number of other authors I haven't heard of.
That's a colorful, eye-catching cover on this issue of the long-running WESTERN NOVELS AND SHORT STORIES. Once you get past that action-packed scene, there are stories by Walker A. Tompkins, Joseph Chadwick, Dean Owen, Ray Townsend, and a few other lesser-known writers. WESTERN NOVELS AND SHORT STORIES was considered a third-string Western pulp, at best, but most of the time it had pretty good writers in its pages.
This guy Orrie Hitt can really write, see? This book
here called THE WIDOW, it’s about a tough guy named Jerry who gets fired from
his job building a highway, so he goes to work washing dishes and sweeping out
at this crappy café that’s got some crappy tourist cabins with it. It’s a lousy
job, but Jerry’s okay with it because there’s this girl named Linda who’s
married to the son of the old lady who owns the place, and she’s a real babe.
Then there’s this other girl named Norma, and she used to work as a nude model,
so you know she’s gorgeous, but she’s also really nice and would just as soon
put all that behind her. So Jerry likes both of ’em and figures, well, why the
hell not, he’ll just make a play for both of them and see what happens. But
then Linda’s husband, who’s a hotrodder, wrecks his jalopy and kills himself,
which means Linda’s a widow now, and you know how widows are, and at the same
time Jerry finds out that the land where the café and the cabins are is
actually worth a bundle, and if something was to happen to the old lady, hey,
Jerry might be able to get his hands on some of that dough and get one or both
of the girls to boot . . .
Well, you gotta read it to find out what happens, but this guy Hitt is good, I
tell you, pal. You should pick up a copy.
Do some people collect noose covers? Surely they do. No matter what sort of cover is on a pulp, somebody somewhere collects that kind. I don't collect noose covers, but I do have a real fondness for THE PHANTOM DETECTIVE and have never read a novel featuring the character that I didn't enjoy. The Phantom novel in this issue, "Master of the World", is by Norman A. Daniels writing under the Robert Wallace house-name, and there are also stories by long-time pulp author/editor Anthony M. Rud and two authors better known for their Westerns, Allan K. Echols and A. Leslie Scott, writing as A. Leslie this time around. Quite a few Phantom Detective novels have been reprinted, and I need to round up some more of them.
Like all the other Popular Publications Western pulps, .44 WESTERN had good covers, evocative story titles, and top-notch authors. The biggest names in this issue are Giff Cheshire and Tom Roan, but Max Kesler, Harold F. Cruickshank, and Rolland Lynch were all prolific, well-regarded pulpsters. Kesler wrote quite a few oil field stories, which I nearly always like. This looks like a good solid issue.
I like to read a good sea-going adventure novel now and
then, even though I’m about as much of a landlubber as you’ll ever find. Boats
and I do not mix. Similarly, I like aviation fiction, too, even though I’ve
been in a plane twice in my life, hated it, and will never go up again if I can
avoid it. But to get back to the sea, I recently read RICHARD BOLITHO,
MIDSHIPMAN, the first novel (chronologically, not publication order) in a
long-running series that was written by Douglas Reeman under the pseudonym
Alexander Kent. I’ve seen these books around for years but have never tried one
until now. Based on my enjoyment of this one, I’ll be reading more.
This novel is set in 1772, as sixteen-year-old Richard Bolitho is about to set
sail as a midshipman (not exactly an officer, but a higher rank than common
sailor) on His Majesty’s ship Gorgon,
a huge vessel that carries 74 cannon. Despite his young age, Bolitho is an
experienced midshipman, having gone off to sea when he was twelve because
that’s what the males in his family do. His grandfather was an admiral and his
father was a ship’s captain, and great things are expected of him as well. The Gorgon is going to patrol off the east
coast of Africa and search for pirates who have been plaguing shipping in the
It comes as no surprise that Bolitho and the Gorgon encounter those pirates, but before they do, Reeman provides
a vivid and interesting look at life aboard ship during this era. Bolitho makes
both friends and enemies and proves to be a likable protagonist. I enjoyed this
part of the book, but the pace gets a welcome kick in the pants when the Gorgon comes across an abandoned ship
that’s been looted by the pirates they’re after. This leads them on the
corsairs’ stronghold, an old castle on the African coast.
There are good action scenes on both land and sea with plenty of hacking and
slashing, and you know I always like a good swordfight. Reeman leaves the door
open at the end for a sequel, and I’m eager to read it. Best of all for my
tastes, RICHARD BOLITHO, MIDSHIPMAN is no bloated, overlong historical epic. It’s
a nice, brisk action yarn that’s probably not much more than 50,000 words. If
the other books hold to this pattern, I’ll definitely continue with the series.
"The Best in New Detective Fiction", this cover from MYSTERY BOOK MAGAZINE proclaims, and I think they could make a persuasive argument. Inside this issue are "The Case of the Dancing Sandwiches" by Fredric Brown, also known as one of the famous Dell 10 Cent Books (see below), as well as stories by John D. MacDonald, Philip Ketchum, D.L. Champion (creator of the long-running Phantom Detective series), the house-name John L. Benton, and a couple of authors I've never heard of, Jonathan Joseph and Bryant Ford. I don't know if that's actually the best, but it's pretty darned good.
Bill S. Ballinger is one of those mystery authors I’ve
been aware of for decades without ever reading much by him. I recall reading a
couple of his espionage novels featuring secret agent Joaquin Hawks back in the
Sixties, but I couldn’t tell you anything about them. However, I just read his
early suspense novel PORTRAIT IN SMOKE, which Stark House is reprinting in a
double volume along with the novel THE LONGEST SECOND, and I can see why it has
a reputation as an excellent novel.
To start with, Ballinger uses a technique that I hardly ever like, alternating
between first and third person, but makes it work really well. The first person
sections are narrated by Danny April (great name), who runs a low-rent
collections agency in Chicago. In an old file from long before he bought the
agency, he finds a photograph of a beautiful young girl named Krassy
Almauniski. And to put it simply, he becomes infatuated with her, all because
she reminds him of a girl he saw once when he was a young man but never talked
to. Love at first sight? Maybe, but certainly obsession at first sight. Danny
starts trying to find her, or at least find out what happened to her, and these
parts of the novel form a top-notch procedural yarn as Danny traces out the
details of Krassy’s life, step by step.
At the same time, in the third person sections, Ballinger gives the truth about
Krassy’s life, as opposed to Danny’s somewhat skewed view. This part of the
book reads more like a naturalistic novel about a young woman’s determined
climb out of the poverty and squalor of Chicago’s stockyards district all the
way to the heights of wealth and power, no matter what it takes. It’s
inevitable that these two storylines will intersect eventually, and when they
do, that’s when PORTRAIT IN SMOKE becomes a noirish crime novel with a very
nice twist ending.
Ballinger’s writing is smooth and polished, and his control over the
complex plot really had me turning the pages. This one hits the mark all the
way around for me with the writing, the pace, the plot, and the compelling
characters. Highly recommended.
A dark room...a warm woman...a cold knife... It begins at the end of the line with a killing. But it had started simply enough when press agent Archie St. George hires private investigator Barney Glines to retrieve some missing jewels stolen from his beautiful client, Kyle Shannon. Glines knows he's being set-up for something but he goes along with the exchange out of curiosity more than anything. That and Kyle Shannon. Turns out that the real jewels are a cache of nude photos of Miss Shannon, who is now being blackmailed. Soon Glines finds himself in a dead woman's room who's been shot with his own gun and the police are jumping to conclusions. It's beginning to look like whoever's behind the blackmail wants to make sure that Glines is the fall guy. Unless Glines can find him first. I've actually reviewed the original edition of this fine private eye novel twice already on the blog, first back in 2006 and then a couple of years ago as a Forgotten Books post. I enjoyed it and am glad to see that Black Gat Books is making it available again. Good cover on the new edition, too.
I keep telling guys, never trust a suit of armor. Nine times out of ten, there's a killer hiding inside it. But do they listen to me? No. But if they did, there wouldn't be a story, would there? Day Keene is the biggest name in this issue of DETECTIVE TALES, at least he is unless you know that one of the other authors, John Lane, was really John D. MacDonald. C. William Harrison has a story in here, too, but I think he was best known as a Western pulpster. The other authors are either house-names or writers I've never heard of, like Philip Weck and Robert Zacks. So I can't guess at the overall quality of the fiction, but I like the cover and I'm sure the stories by MacDonald and Keene are good. (I wish somebody would do a complete collection of JDM's pulp detective yarns.)
I keep posting about issues of LARIAT STORY MAGAZINE because I love the covers, the authors, and the story titles. This cover scan, like most featured here, comes from the Fictionmags Index. The lead story in this issue is by one of the most prominent authors in the Fiction House Western pulps of this era, Les Savage Jr., and the title, "Six-Gun Bride of the Teton Bunch" is pure greatness as far as I'm concerned. It was also the title story in the Barricade Books collection of stories by Savage that was published in the Nineties. Other top authors featured in this issue include L.P. Holmes, D.B. Newton, Dan Cushman (also a Fiction House top-liner), and Ray Gaulden. That's a pretty impressive line-up.
WAYWARD GIRL starts out about as bleak as any Orrie
Hitt novel I’ve read so far. The protagonist, Sandy Greening, is a 16-year-old
prostitute and heroin addict who lives with her drunken, slutty mother and is a
member of the Blue Devils, the local gang of young hoodlums who are at war with
a rival gang, the Black Cats. Sandy was raped by a neighbor when she was 14,
she has to fend off the advances of her mother’s drug-dealing boyfriend, and when
the leader of the Blue Devils kills a guy during a rumble, she’s hauled in by
the cops for questioning in a murder case!
With all that going on, it’s a little surprising that when Sandy does finally
get in trouble with the law, it’s a simple prostitution bust that gets her sent
to a reform school. That reform school is a progressive one that tries to
rehabilitate the girls sent there. At least it is on the surface, but the
school has some criminal secrets of its own . . .
As you’d expect from a novel published by Beacon Books in 1960, WAYWARD GIRL gets
pretty doggone lurid. And after a little bit of a slow start, man, does our old
friend Orrie Hitt keep the pedal to the floor. This book races along and is
hugely entertaining. Brian Greene, who contributes the introduction to the
Stark House volume that reprints this novel and another Hitt tale, THE WIDOW,
compares WAYWARD GIRL to a drive-in movie, and that’s pretty accurate. I can
see it being filmed in gritty black-and-white.
What elevates it from the usual story like this, though, is the theme of
sympathy for the underdog that runs through most of Hitt’s novels. He doesn’t
sugarcoat things, and he doesn’t blame society for the characters’ problems. They
bear the responsibility for their own actions and bad decisions. But there’s
also a sense of understanding what led them to those actions and decisions, and
Hitt seldom comes right out and condemns his protagonists. They usually find
their way back to the possibility of happiness, at least. Hitt’s novels are
like no others in the so-called sleaze genre, and while some are better than
others, I’ve never read one that failed to leave me both entertained and
emotionally moved. If you’ve never read his work, WAYWARD GIRL would make a
decent starting place. If you’re already a Hitt fan, like me, you’ll want to
grab this new reprint right away.
Another fine, colorful Rudolph Belarski cover on this issue of ARGOSY, one of my favorite pulps. This issue features an installment of the serial "Seven Footprints to Satan" by A. Merritt (reprinted from its original appearance in ARGOSY ALL-STORY WEEKLY in 1927), plus a South Seas novella by Allan Vaughan Elston and stories by Garnett Radcliffe, Walter C. Brown, and more serials by Walter Ripperger and Howard Rigsby. I'd love to have a complete run of ARGOSY from the Twenties and Thirties. So many great serials . . .
Like RANCH ROMANCES, THRILLING RANCH STORIES may have been aimed at a slightly more female readership, but at least during the Fifties it featured quite a few hardboiled Western action yarns. In this issue, with a good cover by Sam Cherry, there are stories by Walker A. Tompkins, Wayne D. Overholser, Giff Cheshire, Paul Evan Lehman, Cibolo Ford, and Samuel Mines.
I’ve seen the
name Van Cort in the table of contents in numerous Western pulps and have read
at least one story under that name that I recall. I enjoyed it, too. I found
out recently that Van Cort was a pseudonym for Wyatt Blassingame, a prolific
and well-respected author of Weird Menace and detective tales for various
pulps. (I believe he was also the brother of well-known literary agent Lurton “Count”
Blassingame.) I don’t think I’ve read any of Blassingame’s work under his own
name, although I have a couple of collections of it, but I did just read his
short Western novel “Hot Lead for Gleaming Rails”, published in the August 7,
1937 issue of WESTERN STORY (with the first name of the pseudonym misspelled),
and thought it was very good.
The protagonist of this violent yarn is Lee Carey, a young man who works for
the railroad obtaining right-of-way for new lines. He returns to the town and
the valley where he grew up and still owns an abandoned ranch, with the
intention of building a spur line into the area, but he’s also out for revenge
on the crooked cattle baron who ran him out years earlier. Along the way he
helps out a young newspaper editor and the man’s wife and child, so Lee decides
that starting a newspaper and getting his new friend to run it will help him
mold public opinion in favor of the railroad. He also meets a beautiful young
woman who’s come to the area to search for her missing father, but she winds up
throwing in with Lee’s old enemy the cattle baron. One more complication is the
presence of the Laredo Kid, an old friend of Lee’s who has turned outlaw.
Having the Kid on his side may be more hindrance than help for Lee.
Blassingame does a fine job of weaving these strands together into a fast-paced
plot that includes a number of shootouts and bushwhackings, culminating in an
epic battle. Even while he’s doing this, however, he manages to work some moral
complexity into the story, as not everything turns out to be as black and white
as it appears at first. The good guys are not always sympathetic, and all the
bad guys aren’t stereotypical villains. Blassingame writes in a smooth, clean
style as well, without the overdone dialect and flowery descriptions that
sometimes show up in Western pulp stories. This reads more like a novel that
would have been published by Gold Medal in the Fifties.
As far as I can tell, Blassingame wrote only a couple of full-length novels as
Van Cort, but I’m going to hunt down copies of both of them. “Hot Lead for
Gleaming Rails” is available in an e-book collection, which is where I read it,
and if you’re in the mood for a good hardboiled Western yarn, I recommend it.
HOSTAGE FOR A HOOD Cribbins has the heist planned down to the last detail. He and Santino are driving one of the cars, on their way to hold up an armored car to remove its quarter of a million dollars. The only thing Cribbins doesn't plan on is being run into by Joyce Sherwood's Chevy. All they can do after that is quickly take over Joyce's car, including Joyce and her dog, and finish the job. When her husband Brad comes home and finds no Joyce and no dog, he knows something is wrong. He calls the police, but they only put him off, assuming that a missing wife could have run off with somebody. Brad knows different. But can he find her before the cops put so much effort into solving the armored car hold that they lose sight of the missing wife who is now part of the same crime?...before Cribbins decides he doesn't need a hostage anymore....before Santino finally flips out and starts to use his knife....? THE MERRIWEATHER FILE Ann Merriweather thinks someone is trying to kill her. She shares her fears with an old friend of the family, her lawyer friend Howard Yates, but though he believes her, there is nothing he can do. Then Ann's husband, Charles, is found by the cops with a flat tire by the side of the road and a murdered body in his trunk. The man had been shot. Charles is held for questioning, then arrested, and Howard agrees to take the case. But nothing is as it seems. The police quickly determine that the murder occurred at the Merriweathers' house. But Charles has an alibi. He was gone from the house all night. And Ann was asleep under the heavy influence of some sleeping pills. But someone killed the man in the trunk, and the more Howard discovers about the case, the less inclined he is to assume the innocence of his client. I've enjoyed everything I've read by Lionel White. I think I may have read HOSTAGE FOR A HOOD years ago, but I'll be reading it again in this reprint.
Brett Halsey has had a long, successful career as an actor
in movies and TV, but he’s also written a number of novels over the years and
in fact, according to his website he thinks of himself as a writer who acts,
rather than an actor who writes. I tend to agree with him. His latest novel,
and his first Western, WEST OF HELL, is a well written and solidly entertaining
The protagonist is bounty hunter Chris Tracy, who uses his manhunting skills to
finance his on-going search for his younger sister, who was carried off by
outlaws who raided the family farm years earlier. A veteran of the Civil War,
Chris is a decent but highly dangerous man when he needs to be. In this book,
he teams up with a friend from the war and an old desert rat in a quest to recover
some ancient golden figurines hidden in the New Mexico Territory wilderness.
These little statues, known as the Golden Apostles, date back to the days of
Spanish rule over the territory.
Naturally, several hardcases are after the valuable statues, too, and along the
way Chris and his companions also run into a shady gambler and the man’s wife
and stepdaughter. This trio complicates things quite a bit, too, and eventually
tragic violence breaks out.
WEST OF HELL is a pretty gritty book, the sort where you never really know
who’s going to survive and who isn’t, and Halsey springs a number of unexpected
plot twists as well. This one doesn’t play out in some respects as you’d
probably expect. Having written and read so many Westerns, I’m generally pretty
confident that I have a good idea what’s going to happen. In WEST OF HELL, not
Halsey does a fine job of developing the characters and depicting the
landscape. It’s easy to imagine him playing Chris Tracy in a Spaghetti Western
version of this tale from the Sixties, when Halsey was in Europe making some of
those films. He admits in an afterword that that experience was an influence on
the writing of this book.
I enjoyed WEST OF HELL quite a bit. It’s a good hardboiled Western and could
easily be the first of a series. I wouldn’t mind a bit if it was. Recommended.
You don't hear as much about the Dell pulps as you do about some from other publishers, but from what I can tell, they were consistently high quality productions. This issue of ALL FICTION STORIES, Dell's general adventure fiction pulp, sports a good cover by H.W. Reusswig, and inside you'll find a great group of authors: H. Bedford-Jones, Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, Tom Curry, and Seven Anderton, among others. Looks thoroughly enjoyable to me.
As usual, the poker game gets interrupted by a gunfight. Makes you wonder if they ever finished a hand in the Old West without burning powder. But there are some good authors in this issue of GIANT WESTERN, starting with two of my favorites, Walt Coburn and Leslie Scott (writing as A. Leslie this time around). There are also stories by Robert J. Hogan (probably best remembered for his aviation stories, including G-8 AND HIS BATTLE ACES, but he wrote a lot of Westerns, too), Ben Frank, Francis H. Ames, and house-names Sam Brant and Clay Starr.
I wouldn’t have guessed that it’s been more than ten years
since I read, enjoyed, and blogged about SOUTH OF SULU, the first collection of
George F. Worts’ Singapore Sammy stories from Black Dog Books. It seems more
recent than that, and the stories are still pretty fresh in my memory, which
means they were good ones, I guess. Now I’ve read THE PYTHON PIT, the second
Singapore Sammy collection, also published by Black Dog Books, and thoroughly
enjoyed it as well.
Singapore Sammy is really Samuel Larkin Shay, red-headed American adventurer in
southeast Asia during the 1930s. The character first appeared in 1931 in a
series of adventure yarns published in the pulp SHORT STORIES (the ones
collected in SOUTH OF SULU). Sammy is searching for his father, a conman named
Bill Shay, looking for vengeance because the old man deserted Sammy’s mother,
and also because Bill Shay has possession of a will that means Sammy will
inherit a fortune if he can get his hands on it.
Later that same year, Worts moved the series over to ARGOSY. The first four
stories to appear there are the tales collected in THE PYTHON PIT, starting
with “Sapphires and Suckers”, a novella which was serialized in two parts under
the title “Singapore Sammy” in the December 12 and December 19, 1931 issues of
ARGOSY. It serves as an adequate introduction to the character for anybody who
hadn’t read the earlier stories in SHORT STORIES, explaining about Sammy’s
quest to find his father. He gets mixed up with a beautiful young woman whose
father is a dangerous criminal and who, in partnership with Bill Shay, has sold
the young woman’s fiancee a worthless sapphire mine. Or is it worthless? That
becomes the question, leading to intrigue, double-dealing, and considerable
danger for Sammy. He’s good at staying a couple of steps ahead of everybody
else, though . . . except for his father, who always seems to give him the
More than a year passed before Sammy reappeared in the three-part serial “The
Python Pit”, in the May 6, 13, and 20, 1933 issues of ARGOSY. At 30,000 words,
this is almost a novel. Sammy and his sidekick, Lucifer “Lucky” Jones,
reluctantly agree to take a beautiful young woman to the remote island where
her father has been mauled by a tiger. The problem is, the island, called
Konga, is rumored to be inhabited by a race of gigantic cannibals and haunted
by the ghosts of all their victims. They set sail on their schooner, the Blue Goose, anyway. Sammy expects to run
into trouble, and that’s what happens, since nothing about the situation is
exactly what it appears to be at first. There’s a ton of action in this one,
and Sammy comes face to face with Bill Shay again. Worts massages the
back-story in this one, revealing that the villainous Shay is actually Sammy’s
stepfather (whether that was the intention all along, I don’t know, but I sort
of doubt it). He also introduces another recurring character to be a thorn in
Sammy’s side, the lovely but treacherous Shanghai Sally. Worts manages to get
all this in without ever letting up on the breakneck pace and the vivid
writing, which makes “The Python Pit” one of the best pure pulp adventure yarns
I’ve read in a long time.
Singapore Sammy next appears in “Isle of the Meteor”, a complete novelette
published in the August 19, 1933 issue of ARGOSY. Lucky Jones is off on another
adventure when this yarn takes place, so Sammy has to handle all the danger
himself when he agrees to help out a dying sea captain and deliver a cargo of
supplies to an isolated island where a group of communist-leaning, anti-war
Americans established a colony during the Great War (World War I, to us). Of
course, when Sammy gets there, surprises are waiting for him, most of them
quite perilous, including another encounter with Shanghai Sally. Bill Shay is
mentioned in this one but doesn’t appear. It’s a good, fast-moving tale with
some particularly brutal scenes near the end.
The final story in this volume is “A Whisker of Buddha”, originally published
as “Buddha’s Whisker” in the May 26, 1934 issue of ARGOSY. Sammy is in bad
shape when this one opens, having had ownership of the Blue Goose stolen out from under him and Lucky Jones while he was
drugged, by none other than Shanghai Sally, of course. He wakes up in Rangoon,
in a fog from the mickey Sally slipped him, but then some of the local
criminals start approaching him, wanting to hire him for a big job. This tells
Sammy something big is up, so he finds Lucky and before you know it, they’re up
to their necks in an adventure that involves infiltrating a secret ceremony
that can get them killed and stealing a small, jewel-encrusted chest that’s
supposed to contain an authentic hair from Buddha’s beard. This is the weakest
story in the collection because it takes a while to get going, but once it does
it’s pretty darned good, with lots of exciting scenes.
It also lays the groundwork for the next story, the only full-length novel in
the series, THE MONSTER OF THE LAGOON, which I also happen to have in reprint.
As much as I enjoyed THE PYTHON PIT, I’ll probably get to it fairly soon.
McShan is tough and smart, one of the top operatives
for the detective agency Honeycutt Personal Services. But he has his hands full
when he’s sent to the picturesque desert landscape of southeastern Arizona to
check on the well-being of a former Olympic gymnast who’s become involved with a
New Age cult. It doesn’t take long for murder to rear its ugly head, and McShan
finds himself neck-deep in a case involving vicious bikers, an unassuming
barber who may be a criminal mastermind, a wealthy entreprenuer hiding
dangerous secrets, and too many beautiful blondes with deadly secrets of their
Critically acclaimed thriller author Stephen Mertz
returns with a private eye novel in the classic mold, crackling with suspense
and plot twists, populated with compelling characters, and told with a sharp,
contemporary edge that will leave the reader breathless.
I've never read much from the gang pulps, but this issue of DOUBLE-ACTION GANG looks like a pretty good one, and a bit unusual, too, because most of what's inside it was written by a pair of authors much better known for their Westerns. The featured novel "This Way to Hell", which fills up about two-thirds of the issue, is by Harry Sinclair Drago, who had a long, prolific career as a Western novelist and pulpster under his own name and the pseudonyms Bliss Lomax and Will Ermine. The supposedly true story about the Jesse James gang attributed to Bill Stiles is actually by Ed Earl Repp. And there are two stories by Will F. Jenkins, one under his own name and one under his much more famous pseudonym Murray Leinster. While Jenkins/Leinster isn't really famous as a Western author, he wrote quite a few of them. On top of all that, I like the cover. If I actually owned a copy of this pulp, I'd read it, you can count on that.
This is a pulp that I own and read recently. The
picture (not a scan this time) is of my beat up copy, chunk out of the cover
and all. I’ve read some other issues of EXCITING WESTERN, mostly for the
Tombstone and Speedy stories by W.C. Tuttle, but this one comes before that
series debuted in the magazine. It has some other series stories, though, and
in fact leads off with one.
“Gold Loot” is the sixth installment of a long-running series about Pony
Express rider Alamo Paige. Walker A. Tompkins began the series, writing under
the name Reeve Walker, but when he went off to World War II, Charles N.
Heckelmann and Chuck Martin took over for him and Reeve Walker became a
house-name. (This information courtesy of Will Murray.) I suspect that “Gold
Loot” is by Martin, but I don’t know that for sure. Whoever the author is, it’s
a pretty good yarn. A former Pony Express rider who’s been fired and turned
renegade plans to hold up the Rock Creek, Nebraska, station, which happens to
be managed by a young Wild Bill Hickok, who’s good friends with Alamo Paige.
Paige is ambushed by the would-be robber and his partner, a beautiful young
blonde gets kidnapped, there’s a chase through a Nebraska blizzard, dynamite
gets thrown around and stuff blows up real good . . . You get the idea. The
plot may not be ground-breaking, but man, the action never lets up and it’s
pretty well-written. I really enjoyed this one a lot and am eager to read more
Alamo Paige stories.
With a title like “Sad Sam’s Joy Jag”, you’d expect both a humorous story and a
series entry from this story by Thomas H. Regan, who published only about a
dozen stories in his career. But while it does have its lighter aspects, this
tale seems to be the only one about the cowpoke known as Sad Sam. It opens with
a nice action scene that finds Sam and his rancher boss holed up in a cabin
that’s under attack by numerous gunmen. That develops into a story about a
battle over water rights, and Regan does a good job with it. As I’ve mentioned
many times before, I’m not a big fan of humorous Westerns, and a few things in
this one made me roll my eyes (like Sam’s horse being named Snigglefritz), but
overall I found it a pretty entertaining yarn.
It’s no surprise that I’d enjoy the novelette “Hangnoose Hides”, since it’s by
one of my favorite Western authors, L.P. Holmes. Down on his luck cowboy Bucky
O’Dell gets tangled up with a ring of bad hombres dealing in stolen cowhides,
is framed for a crime he didn’t commit, and is locked up in jail with a
rampaging lynch mob on the way to string him up. Getting out of this fix and
exposing the villains behind the whole thing will be quite a challenge. Holmes
was an expert at taking traditional plots and making them seem fresh, and he
does so here, mostly because Bucky O’Dell is a really likable protagonist and
the writing is just as smooth as can be. A fine, entertaining yarn.
“Ranger, Dig Your Grave” (a good title) is an entry in the Navajo Tom Raine,
Arizona Ranger series, written under the house-name Jackson Cole. I’ve read
some of these yarns before and enjoyed them, and this one is no exception.
Raine is sent to find out who’s been murdering farmers in Mormon Valley. The
plot is set up so it appears we’re going to get a cattlemen vs. sodbusters
story, but then the author provides some nice twists to go with the
well-written action scenes and the result is the best Navajo Tom Raine story I’ve
read so far. I don’t know who wrote it, but C. William Harrison’s name has been
associated with this series and I suspect it might be his work.
Gunnison Steele, whose real name was Bennie Gardner, wrote a couple of dozen
novels for the Thrilling Group’s Western character pulps TEXAS RANGERS, RIO KID
WESTERN, MASKED RIDER WESTERN, and RANGE RIDERS WESTERN, but he was much more
prolific at shorter lengths, authoring several hundred stories for a wide
variety of Western pulps. His story in this issue, “Man-Sized Maverick” is
about a fourteen-year-old boy who sets out to solve his grandfather’s murder
and catch the killers. As always with Gardner’s work, this yarn is well-plotted
and well-written and very enjoyable.
Allen K. Echols was also quite prolific during his thirty year career writing
mostly for the Western pulps. His short-short story in this issue, “The Trail
Herd”, is about a rustler selling a stolen herd, and it has a nice twist at the
end. I haven’t read much by Echols over the years, but maybe I should.
Joseph J. Millard, writing as Joe Millard, is best remembered as a paperbacker,
having turned out a number of original novels in various genres, as well as
being a dependable scribe of movie novelizations and tie-ins. But he wrote
quite a bit for the pulps as well, including the short story “Guns of Revenge”
in this issue. It starts out as a fairly standard tale of a man returning to
his home town to get vengeance on the man he blames for the death of his
parents. But nothing is what it seems at first as Millard provides several good
plot twists and some decent action along the way. This is another good story
and wraps up a really fine issue of EXCITING WESTERN. I enjoyed every one of
the stories and am looking forward to reading more issues of this pulp.
As I’ve mentioned numerous times in the past, Peter Germano,
who wrote mostly under the pseudonym Barry Cord, was one of the most dependable
authors of traditional Westerns. An Ace Double paperback original from 1972,
HELL IN PARADISE VALLEY is on the other side of Ray Hogan’s THE NIGHT HELL’S
CORNERS DIED, which I wrote about a while back. I’ve read the Germano novel now
and found it equally enjoyable.
HELL IN PARADISE VALLEY is a cattlemen vs. sheepherders book, but with a nice
twist in that it’s a group of Texas cowboys, led by rugged trail boss Jess
Riley, that gets tricked into agreeing to deliver a herd of sheep to Paradise
Valley. A plot like this could easily be played for comedy, but in Germano’s
hands it’s a tough, hardboiled action yarn. He throws in some other twists,
too, such as not all the characters turning out like they appear to be at
first, as well as danger from the past for some of them. He doesn’t try to cram
too much into the book’s relatively short length, though. The way this book is
plotted and structured, right down to the final shoot-outs, reminds me very
much of a late Fifties, early Sixties TV Western. It could have been adapted
into an episode of RAWHIDE with no trouble at all, although a few things would
have had to be changed.
HELL IN PARADISE VALLEY doesn’t break any new ground, but it does a very good
job of telling a mostly familiar story. If you’re a fan of traditional
Westerns, it’s well worth reading.
Caveman fiction shows up now and then in the pulps, as in this issue of TOP-NOTCH with a cover by Gayle Hoskins illustrating the lead novel, "Man of the Dawn" by Charles Willard Diffin. Now, I can't tell you much about Diffin except that he wrote quite a bit for the early ASTOUNDING and published sporadically in other pulps including TOP-NOTCH during the first half of the Thirties. I can tell you, however, that this issue contains "Sword of Shahrazar", a Kirby O'Donnell yarn by Robert E. Howard, which is its main claim to fame these days. It also includes stories by Carl Jacobi, William Merriam Rouse, Harold F. Cruickshank (known to me from many Western pulps), and a few authors I'm not familiar with. I don't own a copy of this issue, so the Howard story is the only one I've read, but the Diffin yarn sounds interesting and Jacobi was always worth reading.
Great cover on this issue of 10 STORY WESTERN (I don't know the artist) and a great bunch of writers inside: Harry F. Olmsted, Norman A. Fox, Gunnison Steele (Bennie Gardner), Ed Earl Repp, Leslie Ernenwein, John G. Pearsol, Richard Tooker (better known for his science fiction), George Michener, Jack Bloodhart, and Ted Fox. I'm not familiar with the last two, but the others range from great to dependably good. UPDATE: The cover art on this issue is by Albin Henning. Thanks to Sheila Ann Vanderbeek for the information!
You wouldn’t expect a pulp novel from 1934 called THE
YELLOW SCOURGE to be very politically correct—and you’d be right. However, this
novel, the third to feature Jimmy Christopher, Operator 5 in America’s
intelligence service, actually isn’t all that objectionable. Frederick C.
Davis, who authored this one under the house-name Curtis Steele, uses “the
Yellow Empire” as a stand-in for Japan, but I doubt if that fooled anybody even
in 1934. The Japanese characters aren’t caricatures, though, and the main
villain, a freelance female spymaster, isn’t even Japanese as far as I can
The plot of this yarn, which appeared in the June 1934 issue of OPERATOR #5, is pretty simple: a faction of the “Yellow Empire” military wants to
start a war with the United States and attempts to do so by launching an attack
on its own naval fleet with planes made to look like American craft. The fleet
is visiting the California coast and Jimmy Christopher happens to be on hand,
so of course he figures out right away what’s going on. Then Yellow Empire
ships, again disguised as American vessels, attack merchant ships from England,
France, and other European countries so they won’t come to America’s aid when
the Empire declares war.
There’s some espionage going on—Jimmy Christopher clashes with the female
mastermind behind the plan and undertakes a daring mission to obtain proof of
the Yellow Empire’s treachery—but for the most part THE YELLOW SCOURGE is a war
novel. In an eerie precursor of fears that were actually common seven years
later after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Empire’s fleet bombards the
American west coast, their army invades Mexico and advances on the United
States from the south, and they try to destroy the Panama Canal. The Americans,
led by Jimmy Christopher, of course, strike back with a long-range aerial
mission like the one to Tokyo led by Jimmy Doolittle. In a bit that smacks of
science fiction considering the era, they also battle the enemy with
radio-controlled rockets designed by Operator 5. It all makes for a fast-moving
and entertaining, if far-fetched, tale.
Almost all the elements of an Operator 5 novel are here: Jimmy Christopher
pretends to be society photographer Carleton Victor and banters with his
manservant Crowe; he stops in the middle of the action to demonstrate a magic
trick for his pugnacious 14-year-old Irish sidekick Tim Donovan; he worries
about his father, a former intelligence operative with bullets lodged near his
heart so that too much excitement might kill him. Jimmy Christopher’s twin
sister Nan is mentioned but doesn’t appear. This is an important novel in the
history of the series, though, because it marks the introduction of feisty gal
reporter Diane Elliott, who will serve as Jimmy Christopher’s love interest and
the bad guys’ kidnapping target for the remainder of the series.
Don’t mistake my somewhat flippant comments for criticism: I love this series. Frederick
C. Davis’s plots always hang together, and he can spin out these apocalyptic
scenarios that make the reader believe Jimmy Christopher really does have to
save the entire country from destruction every month. As far as I’m concerned,
the Operator 5 novels are top-notch pulp adventure yarns, and if you’re a fan
of that sort of storytelling and haven’t tried them, you should.
PORTRAIT IN SMOKE
Danny April is obsessed. He buys out a little collection agency in Chicago, and
that s how he first meets Krassy. He’d never seen anyone so beautiful. She was
Krassy Almauniski then, when he first runs across her picture in his files. She’s
gone through several identities since then. As Danny tries to track her down,
each new name presents him with a portrait of a woman on the move. Krassy is
climbing up the social ladder, one sucker at a time. There’s the photographer
who signs off on a charge account for her, later arrested for larceny. And the
ad executive... he gets off lightly. He gets to walk away with his pride. Not
all the men who Krassy meet are so lucky. But Danny knows he’ll be different.
So he keeps looking... until at last he finds her.
THE LONGEST SECOND When I awakened, I stared straight above
me at the ceiling ... I attempted to turn my head. It was then I realized that
my throat had been cut. The pain ran down both sides of my neck ... I gasped,
choking for air. The next day I regained consciousness again ... Suddenly it
struck me that I didn't know my own name!... They check his fingerprints
and find out that his name is Victor Pacific. He has no memories of who he is,
what he is, or why someone tried to kill him. He remembers the name Horstman.
But he has no idea of how to find him. All he can do is to begin a search for
the clues to his former life. Then he meets Bianca but will she be able to help
him before they strike again?
I haven't read anything by Bill S. Ballinger in a long time. Both of these novels sound great and I'm looking forward to them.
We all know Stark House as one of the top reprinters of
classic noir, hardboiled, and crime novels, but they also publish some
excellent original novels in those genres as well, the latest of which is DAMON
RUNYON’S BOYS by Michael Scott Cain.
Set in post-World War II New York City, DAMON RUNYON’S BOYS opens with the
leader of a Lindy Hop dance troupe being gunned down by a pair of zoot-suited
killers at the Savoy Ballroom. Soon investigating the crime is Damon Taylor,
the top writer at a national crime tabloid who was once a protégé of the
similarly named Damon Runyon. He has a cop friend who cuts him some leeway but
not an unlimited amount, and he also gets help from Walter Winchell and a young
reporter on a leftist journal named Truman Capote. Taylor’s probing of the case
takes him into the middle of a gang war over the garment district whose players
include the famous mobster Frank Costello. Not surprisingly, Taylor’s efforts
get him beaten up and threatened. More murders ensue. There are a lot of plot
twists to untangle before Taylor discovers the truth.
Historical mysteries like this are great fun, but they’re also tricky to write.
It’s easy to weigh them down with too much period detail, and sometimes the
historical characters act in unbelievable ways. I’m happy to report that Cain
doesn’t fall into either of those traps. The setting and the time period ring
true without being overdone, and although I’m far from an expert on either one,
I believed both Winchell and Capote might have been involved with this case.
Damon Taylor is a flawed but likable protagonist, and Cain keeps the action
moving along at a very nice pace indeed. DAMON RUNYON’S BOYS is exactly the
sort of complex, hardboiled, vividly written novel that I really enjoy, and I
had a great time reading it. Highly recommended.
A classic "red sun" SHORT STORIES cover by Frank Spradling, and inside can be found stories by H. Bedford-Jones, Gordon MacCreagh, James B. Hendryx, Cliff Farrell, Jackson Gregory, Bertrand W. Sinclair, Bob du Soe, and more. Classic is nearly always the right word to describe an issue of SHORT STORIES.
I like this cover by E.M. Stevenson. This issue of COWBOY STORIES is one of those rare Western pulps that features an airplane on the cover, and Stevenson's done a good job with it. I'm really intrigued about what's going on here. Inside are stories by J. Allan Dunn (a reprint of a Bud Jones story from an issue of WILD WEST WEEKLY that came out a year or so earlier), Forbes Parkhill, Robert Enders Allen (who was really Chandler Whipple), Ray Humphreys, Raymond W. Porter, and some lesser-known authors. Maybe not a top issue, based on that line-up, but I'll bet it was pretty entertaining anyway. And I'd have probably bought it just based on the cover if I had an extra dime in my pocket.
I’ve read quite a bit of Henry Kuttner’s work and
always enjoyed it. He’s one of my favorite science fiction and fantasy authors
from the pulp era and can always be counted on for well-written, fast-moving
yarns. That’s certainly true of LANDS OF THE EARTHQUAKE, a short novel
originally published in the May 1947 issue of STARTLING STORIES (under the
editorship of my old mentor Sam Merwin Jr., I might add).
LANDS OF THE EARTHQUAKE finds an apparently normal New Yorker, William Boyce,
having a black-out that loses a whole year for him. He doesn’t have amnesia, he
knows who he is, but that missing year is just gone except for the occasional
memory, the most haunting of which is of a beautiful young woman. He also
remembers a man’s face, and when he spots the guy on the street, Boyce follows
him to an old brownstone and winds up going through some sort of mystical
gateway to another dimension where time stands still but space moves in
rippling waves that cause entire cities to shift around like ships on an ocean.
Two such places seem to be anchored to each other, though: a massive castle
called Kerak that’s inhabited by a group of Crusading knights who wandered in
there from our world six hundred years ago, and the City, which is ruled by a
king who’s made an unholy alliance with a group of evil, otherworldly
Got all that? Because that’s mostly back-story. Kuttner knew how to pack a plot
with a lot of good stuff.
Boyce falls in with the Crusaders and helps them in their war with the City. He
meets a wizard and sees a living marble statue of a beautiful young woman
called the Oracle. He clashes with the mysterious Huntsman, who manipulates
events in this strange land according to his own enigmatic agenda. He becomes
acquainted with one of his own ancestors, the arrogant Crusader Guillaime du
Bois. Eventually he assumes Guillaime’s identity and penetrates the City as a
spy, where he finally encounters the young woman he remembers from his
black-out and discovers the truth of everything that’s going on. Epic stuff
There’s a little semi-science here and there, but mostly this novel falls on
the sword-and-sorcery side of things, and a mighty good one it is, too. Kuttner
frequently collaborated with his wife C.L. Moore, and although the details are
lost to the mists of pulp history, it seems very likely to me that she
contributed some to LANDS OF THE EARTHQUAKE, mostly in the vivid descriptions
that crop up from time to time. The straight-ahead action/adventure elements
strike me more as Kuttner’s work, though, and those scenes race along very nicely.
The theme of the duality of human nature, some good and some bad in everybody,
is also worked into the story subtly and effectively, giving the tale some
Overall, I think this is one of my favorite Kuttner novels so far. It’s
available in an e-book version and also as half of a double novel print volume
with UNDER A DIM BLUE SUN by Howie K. Bentley. I enjoyed it and give it a high
This latest entry in The Wild Adventures of Doc Savage is a sequel to one of the original pulp novels by Lester Dent. I won't say which one because that would be a spoiler of sorts, but anyone who's read it will recognize it right away. I recall reading that particular novel at my aunt's house in Blanket, Texas more than 50 years ago, and I'm sure the thought that I'd be reading a sequel to it half a century later never occurred to me. That said, I'm really glad I did, because I thoroughly enjoyed MR. CALAMITY. It's one of the rare Doc Savage novels that's also a Western of sorts, being set in Wyoming and featuring cowboys and rustlers galloping around on horseback and firing six-shooters. Of course, there's plenty of the usual Doc Savage superscience, too, in this tale of something that makes gravity go wild so that objects--including human beings--go flying in the air, sometimes all the way to the stratosphere. This one starts when Pat Savage, Doc's gorgeous, trouble-hunting cousin, is prospecting in the badlands near a ranch that Doc's associate Long Tom Roberts (the electronics genius) inherited from an uncle. Pat spies a man swimming in mid-air, hundreds of feet high. When the effect wears off, he plunges to his death. He won't be the last such victim of this mystery. Doc, Renny, and Johnny show up eventually. (You know who Renny and Johnny are, right? Colonel John Renwick and William Harper Littlejohn?) Much action ensues. People die, including some you wouldn't expect. Murray does a fine job with the Western setting and elements. I've been to some of the places he writes about in this novel, and he captures them perfectly. There's a big twist that every Doc Savage fan will see coming a mile away, and as far as I'm concerned, that's part of the charm of the series and the way it ought to be. Man, did I have fun reading this book. If you're a Doc fan, you will, too. I guarantee it. Highly recommended.