Sunday, October 21, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Argosy, March 4, 1939

Lots of red to catch a potential reader's eye in this ARGOSY cover by George Rozen. Complete novelettes by Frank Richardson Pierce and Paul Ernst are pretty good selling points, too, along with serial installments by Allan Vaughan Elston, George Washington Ogden (a reprint of a serial from ALL-STORY in 1918), and Marco Page.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: New Western, January 1946

"We gotta get this shipment through tuh the coyote, Tex!"
Okay, this is one of my favorite Western pulp covers so far. Frantic powder-burning action, injury to a hat, reins in the teeth, and great detail (that's a keg of Gut Buster Whiskey XXX under the canvas). Sam Cherry, working for Popular Publications instead of the Thrilling Group for a chance, really outdid himself on this one. Inside are stories by Harry F. Olmsted, Giff Cheshire, Joseph Chadwick, Eli Colter, and Miles Overholt. Pretty good lineup to go with that great cover.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Forgotten Books: Slaves for the Renegade Sultan - John Peter Drummond

Continuing in my reading of the Ki-Gor series in order, I’m up to “Slaves for the Renegade Sultan”, which originally appeared in the Spring 1942 issue of JUNGLE STORIES, with a cover by George Gross, one of my favorite pulp and paperback cover artists. This one doesn’t have a very high reputation among Ki-Gor fans, and I thought it was kind of a step back in a steadily improving series, too.

First of all, I suspect this is another case of the cover being done, title and all, before the story was ever written, because while the villain is a slave trader, no actual slaves appear and that activity plays no part in the plot. Who’s the renegade sultan? Don’t know, because no such character appears in the story or is even mentioned.

What drives the plot of this yarn is a drought, and the clashes over land and water in such extreme circumstances could have produced a good story. It’s an interesting set-up, and I’ll give the author credit for that. I’m almost certain this is a totally different author from the one who wrote the past few stories. Ki-Gor’s pygmy sidekick N’Geeso and the loyal elephant Marmo are nowhere to be found. Tembu George, the American-born leader of the Maasai, is back after being missing in the previous story, and although his stereotypical dialect is overdone, he’s still a great character, smart and brave and funny. Ki-Gor himself is as stalwart as ever.

Where the author really misses badly is his characterization of Helene, Ki-Gor’s beautiful redheaded wife and partner in adventure. Occasionally, the authors have had her do something dumb in the past, but without getting into spoilers, she’s an absolute idiot in this one, a far cry from the badass who mowed down bad guys with a Thompson submachine gun in an early novel in the series.

Having said all that, the story moves along fairly swiftly and features several good action scenes. I found it entertaining in some parts and annoying in others, and the ending is a bit of a letdown. However, the next story in the series is supposed to be a really good one, so I’m looking forward to reading it and will report back here on it in due time.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Arroyo de la Muerte - Frank Leslie (Peter Brandvold)

ARROYO DE LA MUERTE, which translates as “Canyon of Death”, is the fourth and final novel in the Bloody Arizona Quartet, a series of four books by Frank Leslie, who in real life, of course, is my old friend and very popular Western author Peter Brandvold. This series features Yakima Henry, a half-breed lawman and one of several characters created by ol’ Mean Pete under the Frank Leslie name. During the course of the series, Yakima has served as the marshal of Apache Springs and gotten involved in a romantic triangle with the two beautiful daughters of local mining tycoon Hugh Kosgrove: Julia Taggart, the widow of the town’s previous marshal and now the proprietor of a hotel and whorehouse in Apache Springs; and Emma Kosgrove, Julia’s younger sister, a wild, tomboyish blonde who like to roam around the wilderness and in the course of her roaming discovered an old Spanish church full of golden treasure that’s been cursed by an Apache witch.

Got all that? Good, because all those plotlines come to a head in ARROYO DE LA MUERTE, which finds Yakima quitting his marshal’s job and turning the badge over his deputy, an old reformed outlaw known as the Rio Grande Kid. The novel opens with a murder which sets Yakima on the trail of the two killers, then goes on to involve several threats to the hidden treasure, which Emma has sworn to protect because of the curse on it.

As always in Brandvold’s work, there are great action scenes galore in this book, and he keeps the story moving along at a very brisk pace, but without sacrificing characterization. Yakima’s struggles in trying to decide between the two Kosgrove sisters are very well done. I wouldn’t want to be in the position of having to make that choice! Everything builds up to a satisfying conclusion, and while the Bloody Arizona Quartet may be over, I have a hunch we haven’t seen the last of Yakima Henry. I hope not, because I really enjoy reading about his adventures. ARROYO DE LA MUERTE gets a high recommendation from me.

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Overlooked Movies: Hot Lead (1951)

A number of years ago, one of the local TV stations ran quite a few of the B-Westerns starring Tim Holt and Richard Martin, and I remember thinking they were excellent, with good scripts and production values that were a little higher than a lot of B-movies. I hadn’t seen one since then until I recently watched HOT LEAD, a 1951 release written by William Lively and directed by Stuart Gilmore.

This one finds Tim Holt playing, well, Tim Holt, a cowboy who works on the Circle Bar Ranch owned by Gail Martin (Joan Dixon, who I have say, based on this one movie, isn’t a very likable female lead). Holt, who was a little on the short and stocky side and tended to wear very plain outfits in his movies, is pretty believable in the part. His buddy Chito Jose Gonzales Bustamonte Rafferty (Richard Martin) is also a ranch hand on the Circle Bar. They get mixed up in the efforts of an outlaw gang to force an ex-con telegrapher to help them hold up a train and steal a gold shipment, and before everything gets straightened out in the end, Tim and Chito find themselves mistaken for owlhoots and on the run from the law.

This is the only Tim Holt Western scripted by William Lively, and while it’s not as well-written as I remember the other movies in the series being, there are a few good lines. No real plot twists, though, and Chito isn’t as funny as he usually is. By the way, if you noticed the character’s full name above, you probably tumbled to the fact that Chito isn’t at all politically correct in this day and age, at least on the surface. But he’s actually one of the best sidekicks in B-Westerns, every bit as tough and smart and competent as Tim. The two of them work very well together, both as characters and as actors. Elsewhere in the cast, the two main bad guys are John Dehner and Robert Wilke, so that’s another plus for the movie. The action scenes and photography are top-notch, for the most part.

So while HOT LEAD isn’t as good as I remember the other Tim Holt Westerns from that era, I very much enjoyed watching it. The Roy Rogers movies will always be my favorite B-Westerns, followed probably by the Hopalong Cassidy movies, but I think the Tim Holt Westerns from the late Forties and early Fifties are well worth seeking out. I plan on doing just that, because I want to watch (or re-watch) more of them.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Monday Memories: Dogs and Cats

Today I thought I’d write a little about the various dogs and cats I had when I was a kid. A word of warning: for the most part, these stories do not end well.

The first dog I ever remember was a sweet little cocker spaniel named Taffy. I was around four or five at the time. I don’t know for sure how long my family had had her, but she got sick and died fairly soon after I got old enough to remember such things. I don’t recall the cause, but I do know my parents weren’t the sort to get immunizations for their dogs or to take them to the vet when they got sick. They weren’t exactly cold-hearted about such things, but they had both grown up during the Depression and they were . . . pragmatic, let’s say . . . about a lot of things. A pet dies, you get another one and go on.

We didn’t have much luck with the next dog, either, a little fluffy white spitz/poodle mix whose name I don’t remember, because we had her only a few months before she came down with distemper and passed away.

With that sort of track record, it might not have been a good idea for us to get another dog, but we did, a female beagle/terrier mix named Lady. My parents didn’t believe in getting pets fixed, either, and since Lady roamed loose in the neighborhood, it was inevitable that she’d wind up with a litter of puppies. They gave all of them away except for a fat, clumsy little pup I named Egbert (I was already a weird kid). We called him Eggy.

I’m a little ashamed to admit that I don’t remember what happened to Lady. We had her for several years, and she and Eggy made a good pair. I think she got sick and died, but she may have gotten hit by a car. I just don’t recall. But then for several more years, Eggy was my only dog.

His problem was that he really liked to wander and would be gone for several days at a time. One time when my mother was driving along the service road beside the highway about half a mile from the street where we lived, she spotted him inside the fenced front yard of one of the houses. There was no doubt about it being Eggy. He had wandered that far and the people who lived there had claimed him as their own.

Now, I have some issues with my mother to this day, but that day she rose to the occasion and marched up there to get Eggy back. Problem is, nobody was home. So my mother called him over to the fence (of course he knew her, she fed him part of the time), reached into the yard, and stole him right back from those people! I was very impressed when I heard about it.

After that, I got my dad to strengthen the fence in our back yard and we started keeping Eggy in there instead of letting him roam free. That worked for a while, but I know from later experience that when a beagle wants to get out, even a part-beagle, most of the time it gets out. And so did Eggy, and a day or two after he disappeared, my dad found his body out on the highway where he’d been hit by a car. He brought Eggy home but had to go on to work, so my mother and I buried him behind the barn down on the back of our place, not far from the creek. I was a freshman in high school by that time and that was the first time I lost a pet that I’d had for a number of years. Eggy must have been seven or eight years old when his luck ran out.

I wanted another dog but didn’t want to have to deal with one getting out and getting killed like that, so I talked my dad into putting up a good chain link fence around the back yard. We put it up ourselves, one of the few projects like that we worked on together when I was a kid. It wasn’t escape-proof, but darned near. Of course, as it turned out, our next dog was content to stay home and had no desire to get out at all.

My dad knew a guy who raised pure-bred border collies and sold them all over the United States. (No matter what you wanted done or what you wanted to buy, my dad “knew a guy”.) This breeder had a female pup who wasn’t worth anything as a show dog because of some minor misconfiguration, crooked teeth or something, so he gave her to my dad. I named her Tippy because her tail was black except for a white tip. I convinced my parents to get her fixed so she wouldn’t want to roam, but I’m not sure she would have, anyway. She was a great dog, loving and loyal and at times my best friend in the world. I sat on the cement steps leading from our back door out onto the back porch, and she would sit right beside me while I poured my heart out to her about whatever angst was going on in my life at the moment.

I finished high school and went off to college and Tippy stayed home, of course. Then Livia and I got married, but we lived in an apartment so we couldn’t take Tippy with us, and honestly, I wouldn’t have uprooted her from what was really the only home she’d ever known. I always enjoyed visiting with her whenever we went over there, though. When she finally died of old age, Livia and I buried her down behind the barn, not far from where Eggy was laid to rest. I could take you right there and point out the spots, but somebody else owns the place now.

While we went through all those dogs, we also had a cat. That’s right, a cat. His name was Tiger, and he started out as a yellow tabby kitten I brought home with me after a visit to my aunt’s house in Blanket. He was a stray who’d been hanging around her place. I was six years old. As you might guess, Tiger never got his shots or went to the vet and he had free run of the neighborhood, but he was a tough son of a gun and survived hundreds of fights over the next ten or twelve years. He would disappear for days and then show up again, battered and chewed but looking pleased with himself, as if he were thinking, “You oughta see the other cat!” Once he was gone for two weeks, and I thought, that’s it, he’s never coming back, but then I looked out the kitchen window one morning and there he was, sitting on the porch, calmly washing himself and waiting for somebody to feed him.

Of course, the time came when Tiger didn’t come back. He was a good cat, and despite his rough life, he always seemed happy.

I’m sorry this post is a bit of a downer, but that’s part of life, too, I suppose. To quote Irving Townsend, “We who chose to surround ourselves with lives even more temporary than our own, live within a fragile circle, easily and often breached. Unable to accept its awful gaps, we still would live no other way. We cherish memory as the only certain immortality, never fully understanding the necessary plan.”

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Hollywood Detective, August 1948

This is a pulp that a friend of mine loaned me to read. The scan is from the FictionMags Index, since the copy I have on hand has a loose and considerably damaged cover.

The reason I’m reading this issue of HOLLYWOOD DETECTIVE is because it contains a story by Frank Morris, “Location for Murder”, which is suspected of being one of the unidentified stories that Mickey Spillane wrote for the pulps before he became the best-selling novelist in the world. One reason Spillane’s name has been connected to this story is because of the by-line: Frank Morrison Spillane was his real name.

However, some investigation seems to weaken that point. There appear to have been two Frank Morrises, one who wrote sporadically for the Western pulps beginning in the mid-Thirties, and another who published exclusively in various Western and detective pulps published by Trojan beginning in 1945. This later Frank Morris is almost certainly a house-name, and if Mickey Spillane wrote some of the stories published under that by-line, the similarity in names is just a coincidence, in my opinion.

But what about the story in this issue? “Location for Murder” is narrated by tough Hollywood talent scout Joe Kane, who is sent to San Francisco by his movie mogul boss ostensibly to find a suitable location for a new theater. In reality, though, Joe is searching for the killer of an old friend of his who worked for a nightclub owner. There’s a rumor that the nightclub owner had Joe’s friend killed because they had clashed over a girl, a dancer who works at the club. Joe is determined to get to the bottom of it, and things get a lot more complicated before he does, including two more murders.

Of course, I can’t say definitely that this is Mickey Spillane’s work, but it sure reads like it. The fast-paced, atmospheric Spillane style is there. It’s raining almost all the way through the story, and the descriptions of the city remind me a lot of Spillane’s vividly depicted New York City in the Mike Hammer novels. The violent action scenes read like him as well, and then you have the thematic similarities—the singleminded search for a friend’s killer, the help of another old friend (a taxi driver in this case, instead of Captain Pat Chambers)—to take into account, too. I believe this is one of the phantom Spillanes, and whether it is or not, it’s a pretty entertaining yarn.

Of course, having the pulp right there in my hot little hands, I was going to read the other stories, too. The issue leads off with the novella “Cinema Corpse” by Robert Leslie Bellem, one of the longest Dan Turner stories I’ve read. This one starts off with a potential client pulling a gun on Dan and handcuffing him to a chair in his own office when he refuses to take the job she offers him. She wants him to break into the home of her daughter’s boyfriend (a mere cameraman) and frame him for theft so he’ll go to jail and the woman’s daughter will go back to her other suitor, a powerful movie producer. Dan doesn’t want any part of a frame job like that, so the woman sets off to accomplish it herself. Of course, Dan gets loose and tries to warn the intended victim, only to run smack-dab into a beautiful young blonde and a murder. It’s not the only killing, either. Bellem never lets the pace slow down, and every time it seems like it might, then bam!, another new character or plot twist comes racing hellity-blip onto the page. The yarn is well-plotted, as Bellem’s stories usually are, and great fun to read. (Bellem’s style is contagious, if you hadn’t noticed. I used to have Longarm “set fire to a gasper” as a tip of the hat to him.)

Up next is “Blood on the Marquee” by Paul Hanna, and since that’s a house-name, it’s almost impossible to say who wrote this short story. But it’s a good one, featuring as its protagonist newspaper columnist and radio broadcaster Nick Harding. One of his radio shows is interrupted by the beautiful wife of a Filipino boxer who’s gotten himself in trouble. She begs for Nick’s help, but before the show is over, she’s jumped out a high window and committed suicide—or was she pushed? Nick, of course, has to get to the bottom of things, in a case involving prizefighters, gangsters, an illegal lottery, and a grisly discovery in a refrigerator. This is a well-written yarn that I liked a lot.

Sam Garson, the author of “L.A. Mix-Up”, is another one-story wonder, as far as I can tell, leading me to believe this is probably a pseudonym, too. The story involves private detective John Park being hired by a beautiful actress to stop someone from blackmailing her with nudie pictures taken when she was young and hungry. Turns out there’s more to it than that, of course, although admittedly not much. This reads like a Dan Turner story at times, and so I suspected that maybe “Sam Garson” was really Bellem, but by the time I finished I had rejected that theory. The plot’s a little too thin and the writing not good enough. But I think there’s a very good chance the writer, whoever he was, had read a bunch of Bellem’s stories and was trying to write something similar, not a bad strategy for breaking into a magazine.
Along in the middle of the magazine comes “Mysto-Magic Murder”, an 8-page Dan Turner comic strip story written by Bellem and drawn by Adolphe Barreaux. I like these, although Barreaux’s version of Dan Turner doesn’t really look like how I visualize him when I read the prose stories. The plot, involving a beautiful stage magician who performs at stag shows, isn’t very complicated but works just fine, and the snappy patter is good as always.

Norman Daniels wrote a lot for the pulps, mostly detective stories but some Westerns and adventure yarns, too, and then went on to a long career as a paperback novelist writing, well, just about every kind of book. I’ve read quite a bit of his work, but I don’t think I’ve ever read a private eye story by him until now. His novella in this issue, “Cradle of Death”, checks most of the classic boxes. Tough, wisecracking first person narrator. Rich client. Rich client’s beautiful nymphomaniac daughter with a gambling problem. Shady nightclub owner. Antagonistic cop. A second beautiful dame, this one a radio actress. Assorted colorful Hollywood characters. Daniels mixes them all up in a plot involving the rich client’s wayward son, who has dropped out of sight but seems to be sneaking back into his father’s house at odd times and then disappearing again. Everything moves along at a nice pace, and there are some good lines here and there. It’s not a great story, but it’s a well-written, entertaining one.

This issue wraps up with the short story “Mediocre Living” by Ralph Sedgwick Douglas, a Trojan Magazines house-name. Any time I see a three-name by-line in one of these pulps, I immediately think it might be Robert Leslie Bellem, but that’s not the case here. I don’t know who wrote this one, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t Bellem. It’s the weakest story in the issue, a twist ending yarn about a con job pulled by a shady Hollywood sanitarium owner that’s not very surprising. A readable story, but that’s about all.

That’s not enough to lower my overall opinion of this issue of HOLLYWOOD DETECTIVE. I think it’s a very good assortment of stories with Bellem’s Dan Turner yarn and the story by Frank Morris, whoever he was, being the best of the bunch. I nearly always enjoy HOLLYWOOD DETECTIVE, and that’s certainly the case here.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Super Western, December 1937

An action-packed Norman Saunders cover graces this issue of SUPER WESTERN, a pulp that lasted only four issues before its name was changed to VARIETY WESTERN (which wasn't that successful, either, running only eight issues before another name change). But SUPER WESTERN had some excellent covers while it lasted, and stories by some good writers, too, including in this issue Tom Roan, S. Omar Barker, George Bruce Marquis, and Kenneth L. Sinclair.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Forgotten Books: Pin a Star on a Girl?--Johnny Nelson

PIN A STAR ON A GIRL? is a retitled reprint of a Western novel originally published in 1965 under the title SIX-GUN LAW. The by-line in both cases is Johnny Nelson, but the actual author was Leonard F. Meares, an Australian Western author best known as “Marshall Grover”, the creator of the long-running Larry and Stretch series, as well as the series Big Jim. Some of the books in both series were published by Bantam in the U.S., under the pseudonym Marshall McCoy, with the characters changed to Larry and Streak and Nevada Jim. Those were my introduction to Meares’ work.

Regular readers of this blog know that I’ve written about Len Meares and his work many times. He’s been a favorite author ever since I read those Bantam editions in the Sixties. Years later I got to know him through correspondence and considered him a good friend. It was a sad day when I heard that he had passed away.

His work remains, though, and I’ll never run out of his books to read. His stand-alone novels, including this one, are just as good as his series entries. For the most part, Meares made use of very traditional Western elements. That’s true in this book. You’ve got the brutal cattle baron with a shady past who controls the town and the surrounding area; the bought-and-paid-for local lawman who grows a spine and decides to stand up for what’s right; the fast-on-the-draw stranger who rides in with a mysterious agenda of his own; and the beautiful blonde of the title who winds up wearing a deputy’s badge.

While the plot and characters may be traditional, Meares utilizes them with such skill and enthusiasm that I couldn’t help but be drawn into the story. There’s plenty of action leading up an excellent and satisfying final showdown. Sometimes I just want to read an old-fashioned Western adventure yarn, and PIN A STAR ON A GIRL? really hit that spot for me. Recommended.

UPDATE: Reliable information has surfaced indicating that Len Meares did NOT write this book, after all. However, everything else I said above remains true. It's a very entertaining Western yarn, whoever the author was.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Detective Yarns, June 1938

This is the first issue of the detective pulp that changed to BLACK HOOD DETECTIVE a few years later. I like that cover, and the line-up of authors inside is pretty darned good, too: Arthur J. Burks with the third and final story in his Harlan Dyce series (the first two ran in CLUES DETECTIVE MAGAZINE in '36 and '37; for what it's worth, I never heard of Harlan Dyce), Norvell Page twice (once as himself, once as N. Wooten Poge), L. Ron Hubbard, Carmony Gove, Cyril Plunkett, and a couple of house-names, Mat Rand and Cliff Campbell. Also, I just like the name DETECTIVE YARNS. Sounds like my kind of pulp.

Saturday, October 06, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Aces, April 1943

This issue of WESTERN ACES sports an action-packed cover by Allen Anderson, an artist usually more associated with Fiction House pulps, instead of Ace. But it's a good one, and I like it. J. Edward Leithead has only one story in this issue, the lead novelette, which is kind of unusual because he often had two stories in an issue of WESTERN ACES, one of them under his Wilson L. Covert pseudonym. In my experience, Leithead is always worth reading, no matter what the by-line, and I love the title "Trail of the Hoodooed Herd". Also in this issue are stories by another favorite of mine, Gunnison Steele (Bennie Gardner), Lee E. Wells, Joe Austell Small, Stephen Payne, Orlando Rigoni, R.S. Lerch, and none other than Leslie Reasoner, no relation to me but the only Reasoner to get his name in a pulp magazine, as far as I know. (And technically, we are related, I suppose, because all the Reasoners can trace their ancestry back to one guy who came to this country in the early 1700s. But I digress . . .)

Friday, October 05, 2018

Forgotten Books: The Case of the Singing Skirt - Erle Stanley Gardner

I read one of Erle Stanley Gardner’s Doug Selby books a while back, and that put me in the mood to read one of his Perry Mason novels. Now, I’m on record as claiming that the Donald Lam/Bertha Cool books are his best series, but I really enjoy the Perry Mason novels, too. So I picked up THE CASE OF THE SINGING SKIRT, originally published in 1959.

As usual, the plot is incredibly complicated and almost impossible to summarize coherently, so I won’t even try. I’ll just say it involves a beautiful singer/cigarette girl, a small town run by crooked gambling interests (complete with a corrupt chief of police—shades of countless Gold Medals from the Fifties), a runaway yacht, adultery, multiple identical revolvers (one of which is a murder weapon . . . maybe), and several tricky legal points, including one that may wind up with Perry Mason being an accessory after the fact to murder!

The actual murder doesn’t show up until almost halfway through the book, and the entire second half of the novel consists of a series of those courtroom scenes Gardner was so good at. Nobody was ever better at that rapid-fire examination and cross-examination stuff. Does the solution of the crime come out of left field? Well, short left field, just out of the shortstop’s reach, maybe. I had a pretty good idea who the real killer was and had some of the details figured out, but not all of them, by any means.

All the usual suspects are on hand, and Mason, Della Street, and Paul Drake are in fine form, as are Lieutenant Tragg and poor old Hamilton Burger. There’s some nice humor here and there, as well as a few good hardboiled scenes with the gamblers and gangsters involved with the plot.

No doubt the Perry Mason books are just comfort reads for somebody like me who’s been enjoying them for more than fifty years. But THE CASE OF THE SINGING SKIRT strikes me as one of the better ones from the late Fifties era. I had a great time reading it.

(That’s my copy in the scan. The Perry Mason novels have been reprinted many, many times, but my favorites are those small-size Pocket Books editions with the Robert McGinnis covers. Those are the ones I was buying and reading back in the Sixties . . . although the first Masons I read were library books checked out from the bookmobile that came out to our little town every Saturday morning.)

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Overlooked Movies: The Hurricane Heist (2018)

I'd never heard of this one and suspect it went straight to video, but I still found it to be entertaining. The title gives away the whole plot: a crew of thieves takes advantage of an impending hurricane to loot a federal facility where 600 million dollars of old money is due to be shredded. Opposing them are a disgraced Treasury agent seeking redemption (Maggie Grace), a two-fisted meteorologist (Toby Kebbell), and the meteorologist's redneck brother (Ryan Kwanten). The action is ridiculously over the top, of course, and there are a lot of stunts with big trucks, as you'd expect from director Rob Cohen, the guy who created the Fast and the Furious franchise. But silly or not, I had a good time watching it. My editor and I actually talked about doing a book with a similar plot a few years ago but never got around to it.

Monday, October 01, 2018

Monday Memories: The Creek

I’ve mentioned the creek that ran behind my parents’ house several times, so I thought maybe I should write a little more about it. Officially, on the maps, it’s the Paschal Branch of Ash Creek, Ash Creek being one of the major creeks that runs through this area. We always just called it the creek. It’s spring-fed and rises in some rugged hills about two miles west of where I grew up. One time some friends and I followed it all the way to its source in an area we called the cliffs because there were so many steep sandstone bluffs. I’ve used those memories as visual references in many scenes I’ve written over the years, transporting them in my fiction to different locations all over the West. Since it’s spring-fed, I don’t believe the creek has ever run dry in my lifetime. I’ve never seen it when it didn’t have water in it, and sometimes, during floods, it could get pretty big. It merges with the main branch of Ash Creek on the other side of the highway, maybe half a mile from where I lived then, and shortly thereafter flows into Eagle Mountain Lake.

That gives you some geographical background, but we seldom ventured beyond the stretch that ran behind the houses on the street where I lived, and that was just a few hundred yards long. In those days, of course, our parents had no idea where we were most of the time, and there were cliffs, snakes, bobcats, and all kinds of other ways for us to hurt ourselves, but we all survived with no major injuries as far as I know. The worst I ever hurt myself playing along the creek was when I ran into a single strand of barbed wire fence that somebody had strung between two trees for some reason and ripped a good gash in my forehead. I don’t know what my mother thought when I came running in with blood all over my face. I got hurt a lot worse mowing the back yard one day, though, when the mower threw a little piece of metal all the way through my leg like a chunk of shrapnel.

One of my most vivid memories of the creek involves the swimming hole, which I mentioned in a previous post. We built a log, rock, and mud dam across the creek, which didn’t stop it completely but backed it up enough to form the swimming hole. It wasn’t much of one, though: maybe twelve feet across and a foot and a half deep. In other words, you couldn’t actually swim in it, but you could get in and splash around some. I was around fifteen years old at the time.

Now, the rest of the story gets a little racy, so those of you with delicate sensibilities may want to skip to the end.

There were four of us who regularly spent time at the swimming hole: me, a girl my age, and a boy and girl a little younger. We were down there clowning around in the water one day, as usual, when the straps on the one-piece bathing suit one of the girls was wearing suddenly gave out. The front of the suit dropped, and there they were: bare boobs. The first time I’d ever laid eyes on such a wondrous sight in the flesh.

Now, lest you think this is about to turn into some Seventies porn movie (boom-chicka-wow-wow!), we were all just friends, there was never anything the least bit romantic between any of us, and she immediately pulled the suit up, tied the straps together securely, and we all had a good laugh about it. Despite that, the memory remains clear in my mind, fifty years later.

The sad part is that of the four of us who were there that day, two are gone for sure, that I know of, and the third one may be, too, because we lost touch many years ago. It’s entirely possible that I may be the only person left alive who remembers what happened at the swimming hole that summer day so long ago. But I’ll cling to the memory for a while yet, just as I will all the other memories of good friends and good days spent roaming up and down the creek.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Fighting Aces, January 1943

I believe those are Dauntless dive bombers featured on the cover of this issue of FIGHTING ACES, but I could be wrong about that. I wrote about a Dauntless pilot in one of my World War II novels and had a great time researching it, but that was more than a decade ago. What I'm sure of is that the author of the lead story in this issue is David Goodis, remembered as the author of a number of bleak crime novels, but before that he was a prolific contributor to the air war pulps. Also in this issue are Western author Orlando Rigoni, house-name Ray P. Shotwell, and several other authors whose names aren't familiar to me. I don't know who did this cover, but I like the action on it.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Fifteen Western Tales, July 1954

This guy's hat is okay, but I'm afraid his cigar is done for. Those hombres shooting at him will pay for that, I'll bet. This issue of FIFTEEN WESTERN TALES has some pretty good writers in its pages: Gordon D. Shirreffs, Norman A. Fox, Frank Castle, George C. Appell, J.L. Bouma, Rolland Lynch, Robert E. Mahaffey, Richard H. Nelson (actually William Hamling, better known as an editor and publisher of SF magazines and softcore paperbacks), Richard Ferber, and house-names David Crewe and Dave Sands. Shirreffs and Fox are reason enough to read an issue of a Western pulp, and I'll bet most of the other stories are pretty good, too.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Forgotten Books: Gene Autry and the Thief River Outlaws - Bob Hamilton

There’s a chance I read this book when I was a kid, although I don’t remember it at all, because I read a lot of the juvenile novels published by the Whitman Publishing Company of Racine, Wisconsin. This one was published in 1944, but that doesn’t matter because they stayed on the kids’ section shelves of public libraries for years. Whitman published hundreds of them, I’d say, some featuring original characters created for the line, but many of them starred popular characters from movies, radio, TV, and comic strips.

GENE AUTRY AND THE THIEF RIVER OUTLAWS is very much like one of the B-Westerns Autry made for Republic Pictures, although toned down somewhat for kids. Gene, a roving troubleshooter, is asked by a friend of a friend to investigate some sabotage plaguing the construction of a railroad bridge over Thief River Canyon. It’s the usual bit where the old-timer who owns the construction company has to complete the bridge by a certain date or else lose the lucrative contract. Gene’s investigation quickly turns up a suspect, but he has a hunch something else is going on, so he continues to dig around and winds up in danger a couple of times before everything is straightened out satisfactorily.

Overall, this is a fairly mild book, as I mentioned above. There’s one murder, but it takes place off-screen. Not much gunplay and only a couple of fistfights. But the pace moves along fairly quickly and the author at least makes an attempt to throw a few twists into the plot. He also does a good job with the colorful sidekick character, a Gabby-like old codger called Tennessee.

Dust Jacket Back
GENE AUTRY AND THE THIEF RIVER OUTLAWS was written by Bob Hamilton, whoever that was. He wrote a couple of other Gene Autry novels for Whitman, or at least they were published under that name, but that’s all I know about him. It could well be a pseudonym or house-name. But this one is competently written and entertaining in a nostalgic way. I’m not sure I’d recommend it to anybody who didn’t read these books as a kid, but if you’re an old codger like me, there’s a good chance you’d enjoy it, too.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Weird Tales, November 1934

That's a Margaret Brundage cover, of course. What else could it be? And this issue is so packed with stories that Robert E. Howard, H.P. Lovecraft, and August Derleth don't even make the cover. E. Hoffmann Price, Paul Ernst, and Kirk Mashburn are still remembered today, but I doubt if S. Gordon Gurwit is exactly a household name. I don't know that I've ever read anything by him. Still, his work was popular during that era, because I've seen his name on numerous pulp covers. Anyway, with issues like this, it's easy to see why WEIRD TALES is such an iconic pulp magazine.

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Big-Book Western Magazine, August 1949

I really like this cover: the lighting, the colors, and of course, it's an Injury to a Hat cover, as well. Harry Olmsted, Eli Colter, Robert Trimnell, and Ray Townsend are the only names I recognize among the authors. The other stories are by Wallace Umphrey (the lead story, "Brand Him Marshal Murder!", a title I really like, too), John C. Ropke, and Mel Holt. Oh, and the house-name Dave Sands. I'll bet it's a good issue.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Forgotten Books: Scarred Faces - Hank Janson (Stephen D. Frances)

SCARRED FACES is the second novella by Stephen D. Frances featuring Hank Janson (which is also the by-line, of course). In this early tale, Hank is still a traveling cosmetics salesman who just happens to wind up in the middle of violent crimes. This time it’s an acid attack on a beautiful young woman that leaves her dead. Shortly after that, two thugs kidnap Hank and try to take him for a ride because they think he may have seen too much. Of course he escapes, and from there it’s not long until he’s mixed up in a dangerous racket that involves several more beautiful young women, at least one of whom wants Hank dead.

This yarn isn’t driven quite as much by coincidence as the first Hank Janson, WHEN DAMES GET TOUGH, which tells me that Frances’s plotting may be getting better. His tough guy prose still doesn’t sound the least bit authentic American, but I don’t really care. He can tell a story and keep the reader racing along, flipping those digital pages. There are three more novellas in this collection I’m reading (I didn't figure you'd mind looking at the cover by Reginald Heade again), and I’m looking forward to them.

Monday, September 17, 2018

Monday Memories: The Volcano

As I’ve probably mentioned before, a creek ran behind the houses on the street where I grew up. It had steep banks that seemed really high when I was a kid. In places, they actually were twenty or thirty feet tall. We’re lucky none of us ever fell off and busted an arm or a leg—or a neck. But as far as I recall, none of us were ever hurt playing along the creek other than the occasional scratch or bruise.

On the other side of the creek was a large pasture that was anywhere from fifty to a couple of hundred yards wide, depending on the course of the creek, and on the other side of it was a small country road. That pasture was part of our stomping grounds, too, of course. I remember one Saturday morning I was with a couple of friends, and after crossing the creek by jumping from rock to rock, we climbed up the trail on the opposite bank and came out into the field bent on some adventure I no longer recall.

But then we stopped in our tracks and stared at something new that had appeared seemingly overnight. From our point of view, it was a huge, steep, circular bank of dirt that sloped in. As we stood there gazing at it in awe, one of my friends asked what it was.

I said, “I think it’s a volcano.”

Now, I knew good and well it wasn’t a volcano, and my friends quickly figured out that it wasn’t, but for a minute or so I had them going. And it was certainly an intriguing thought, that a volcano could pop up in the pasture behind our houses. That would have been pretty cool.

We climbed up to the top, and as those of you who have lived in the country have probably figured out already, it was just a stock tank, a big ring of dirt shoved up with a tractor to catch rain and provide water for the cows who grazed in that pasture. (That's not the actual tank in the picture above, that's just a photo I found on the Internet, but the one we saw looked a lot like that.) The ground sloped down toward the creek so the bank was a lot lower on one side and the cows could get to the water without any trouble. When the pond it created was full, it was probably fifty feet wide and maybe two feet deep. Certainly not deep enough for anybody to use it as a swimming hole. (We did have a swimming hole in the creek for a while, after some of us dammed it up . . . but that’s another story.)

Anyway, the volcano name stuck, and that’s what we called it from then on. We played some around that tank over the years. Any mound of dirt, if little boys were around, was going to get war played around it sooner or later in those days. One time I was running along the top of it when I tripped and fell and put out a hand to catch myself . . . right into a clump of cactus. That was not fun, and I still remember my mother using tweezers to pick at least a hundred cactus needles out of my palm. I’d like to think that I bore the ordeal in stony, heroic silence, but that’s probably not what actually happened.

Eventually somebody put a mobile home in that pasture, and years after that I think there was a gas well in it. But the volcano remained right where it was, although the banks wore down quite a bit over time. A year or so back, they started putting in an RV park on that property, and I thought, well, that’s it, they were finally going to bulldoze it down and fill it in. But no, even though there are dozens of RVs parked around it, the volcano is still there, or at least it was the last time I drove by. And I hope it stays. Not every kid had a volcano practically in his backyard when he was growing up.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Famous Detective Stories, February 1951

Man, do I love that cover! Not only do we have a sexy redheaded nurse, we've got a gun hidden in a cast (a dang cannon, from the looks of that muzzle blast), and stories with titles like "Trigger-Happy Honey" and "The Chortling Corpse". As the old saying goes, this stuff is right up my alley! Inside are stories by old pros T.W. Ford, Dale Clark, and Richard Brister, prolific house-names Mat Rand and Cliff Campbell, and a story by none other than science fiction great Cyril Kornbluth. I would have bought this one for the cover, but I'll bet I would have enjoyed the stories, too.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Ranch Romances, First January Number, 1957

This is a pulp that I own and read recently. It’s in really good shape, too. The scan is from my copy, and that nice cover is by Sam Cherry, who painted nearly all of the RANCH ROMANCES covers from the Fifties.

The issue gets underway with the featured novella “Woman at Wagonwheel” (despite what the cover says, there’s no “The” in the title on the actual story) by Ray Gaulden, a fairly prolific Western pulpster and novelist who had at least one book made into a movie (FIVE CARD STUD). This is a pretty good hardboiled yarn with a standard save-the-ranch plot that’s elevated by Gaulden’s smooth prose, some interesting characters, and a well-handled romantic rectangle. I’ve read and enjoyed several of Gaulden’s pulp stories, but I don’t think I’ve ever read one of his novels. I really ought to.

Todhunter Ballard is best remembered today as mystery writer W.T. Ballard, but he was a very prolific and well-regarded Western writer, too. His short story in this issue, “To Know the Truth”, is a mining boomtown yarn involving an attempted swindle, a two-fisted miner, and the beautiful female editor of the local newspaper. It’s minor Ballard but still well-written and entertaining.

Seven Anderton was a fairly prolific pulp author for three decades, from the late Twenties until his death in 1958. He wrote in nearly every genre but was probably best known for his Westerns and detective stories. As far as I know, he never published a novel or published outside of the pulps. He’s mostly forgotten today, but there are still fans of his work around, including me. His novelette in this issue, “Queen of Jacob’s Kingdom”, appears to have been his last Western story. It’s a good one. The protagonist is a young man who has gone west to make his fortune in the ranching business, but he runs afoul of the local cattle baron and makes things worse for himself by falling for the man’s beautiful daughter. There’s actually more romance than action in this one, something of a rarity during the Fifties despite the magazine’s name, but the writing is top-notch and the story works well.

J.L. Bouma wrote quite a few Western novels, but during the late Forties and on through the Fifties, he was busy writing dozens of pulp stories, first in the detective pulps and then the Westerns, becoming a regular contributor to RANCH ROMANCES. His story in this issue, “Canyon Crossing”, is also heavy on the romance angle, as a young woman who’s about to get married has to deal with the return of an old beau who deserted her. There’s also some horse rustling and a twist ending that very predictable, leaving us with a story that’s readable but maybe a little too much on the mild side.

T.V. Olsen had a long, successful career as a Western novelist and is still highly regarded by many Western readers. He was never very prolific as a short story writer, turning out only a couple dozen of them, and most of those appeared in RANCH ROMANCES. “Stampede!” is, not surprisingly, a trail drive story with some good action and characters that are more complex than you usually find in a story of this length. I’ve read a few of Olsen’s novels and am not much of a fan of them, but I liked this story quite a bit.

The least well-known author in this issue is probably Robert E. Trevathan, and long-time Western readers might even recognize that one, since he wrote a number of novels for Avalon Books, the library market publisher. I’ve even read a few of ’em, but I don’t remember anything about them. He wrote a few stories for the Western pulps during the Fifties, including “Prairie Wind” in this issue. It’s about a young wife who has a hard time coping with the hardships of life on the frontier, and having the local cattle baron causing trouble for the homesteaders in the area just makes things worse. Trevathan writes fairly well, but the ending of this story is a little abrupt and not really believable.

There’s also a serial installment by Joseph Wayne (probably Wayne D. Overholser) that I didn’t read since I don’t have the whole thing, and the usual assortment of features like Western movie news, horoscope stuff, and requests for pen pals. Overall, this is probably the mildest issue of RANCH ROMANCES from the Fifties that I’ve read. All the stories are well-written and reasonably entertaining, with the stories by Gaulden, Olsen, and Anderton taking top honors, but several of them are really lacking in action and drama. It’s worth reading if you have it close to hand, but I wouldn’t go digging for it in your collection.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Forgotten Books: Pulpwood Days, Volume 2: Lives of the Pulp Writers - John Locke, ed.

I always like reading about authors, especially pulp authors, so PULPWOOD DAYS, VOLUME 2: LIVES OF THE PULP WRITERS is targeted right at me. Edited by John Locke and published by Off-Trail Publications in 2013, I’m just now catching up with it.

This is a collection of twenty articles by pulp authors published in various writer’s magazines such as WRITER’S DIGEST and THE AUTHOR AND JOURNALIST, from the Twenties to the Fifties. Included are articles by a number of Western pulpsters whose work I’m very familiar with: Chuck Martin, Hapsburg Liebe, Tom W. Blackburn, Frank H. Bennett (who wrote Westerns as Ben Frank), and Tom Curry, whose 12,000+ word memoir is the centerpiece of the volume as far as I’m concerned. There are other big names as well: Arthur J. Burks, Steve Fisher, Eustace L. Adams, Thomas Thursday, Harold Q. Masur, and Jean Francis Webb. Then there are the writers I know little or nothing at all about, such as Walter J. Norton, Ludwig S. Landmichl, and Paul E. Triem. All of them have interesting things to say, though.

I’m fascinated by how writers work and the stories behind the stories, so to speak, and there’s plenty of that here. As you’d expect since they’re all by yarnspinners, even articles like these are well-written and entertaining. I really enjoyed this book. There’s a companion volume, PULPWOOD DAYS, VOLUME 1: EDITORS YOU WANT TO KNOW, as well as an earlier collection of writer’s magazine articles by assorted pulpsters, PULP FICTIONEERS. I’ve already ordered copies of both of them. In the meantime, if you’re a fan of the pulps or writing in general, I give this one a high recommendation.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Flip Side - Richard Prosch

Dan Spalding, record store owner and retired cop, takes on a private security job in FLIP SIDE, the latest thriller from Richard Prosch. Dan's client is a college professor who's been getting some mysterious and frightening threats on his life. Between working as a bodyguard for the professor and trying to find out who's responsible for the threats, he makes the acquaintance of a beautiful redhead and runs afoul of some frat boys who have formed a white supremacist group. Not surprisingly, a couple of murders wind up figuring in the plot, too, along with some local gangsters, and Dan's life is in danger more than once before he untangles everything.

I'm really enjoying this series. Dan Spalding is one of the most likeable protagonists in mystery fiction these days, and Richard Prosch's lean, fast-moving prose is a pure pleasure to read. If you're a mystery fan, you really need to check out the Dan Spalding novels. (Excellent cover on this one, as well.)

Sunday, September 09, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Star Detective, March 1937

Nice cover on this issue of STAR DETECTIVE. I don't know who the artist is. But inside are stories by three very dependable authors--Richard Sale, Roger Torrey, and Eugene Cunningham--plus others by authors I'm not familiar with. N.V. Romero, who contributed the featured story "The X-Man", has only that one credit in the Fictionmags Index, which leads me to think it may well have been a pseudonym. John Mallory and Richard Werner are totally unknown to me, and James Hall was a house-name. Still, this looks like a pretty good issue.

Saturday, September 08, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Masked Rider Western, September 1942

This is the pulp in which "Ghost Mine Gold", the Masked Rider novel featured in yesterday's Forgotten Books post, first appeared. It has a decent cover, and that's actually pretty close to how I visualize the Masked Rider when I read the books. Other authors featured in this issue are Tom Curry (who wrote a few Masked Riders himself), the prolific and well-regarded Stephen Payne, Wilton West (an author I know nothing about), and the house-name Jackson Cole.

Friday, September 07, 2018

Forgotten Books: Ghost Mine Gold - Walker A. Tompkins

This short pulp novel was published originally in the September 1942 issue of MASKED RIDER WESTERN, then reprinted in paperback in 1969 by Curtis Books (the edition shown in the scan, which I got from the Internet), and in 2011 as a large print hardback from Thorndike (the edition I read).

The Masked Rider, for those of you who haven't encountered the character before, is actually drifting cowboy Wayne Morgan . . . except he's probably not, and Wayne Morgan is just a pose that the so-called Robin Hood Outlaw uses, much like The Shadow pretended to be Lamont Cranston. Only there actually was a Lamont Cranston and The Shadow just used his identity, and the various authors of the Masked Rider's adventures never make it clear whether someone named Wayne Morgan really exists or if the Masked Rider just made him up. In fact, during the course of the long-running series, we never find out much about the Masked Rider except that he battles for justice and has a faithful Indian companion, the Yaqui warrior Blue Hawk. (Any resemblance to a certain other masked rider of the plains and his faithful Indian companion is strictly not coincidental.)

Anyway, before I go too far astray (too late!), this particular exploit is by Walker A. Tompkins, one of my favorite Western authors. The story gets underway with a pretty suspenseful scene in which a stagecoach is carrying a bomb, but the driver and the lone passenger, an old prospector who has just filed a claim on a fabulously valuable lost gold mine he's found, aren't aware of their danger. Will the bomb go off, or will it be discovered in time?

It's not too much of a spoiler to say that the bomb does go off, and that it was planted by the crooked assayer who wants the mine for himself, since Tompkins reveals both of those things very quickly. The Masked Rider, in his Wayne Morgan guise, is framed for the killing and arrested, but Blue Hawk helps him escape, and then they're off after the real bad guys, the crooked assayer and his minions. The old prospector who was blown up has a twin brother, and the twin brother has a beautiful daughter, and the daughter has a beau who's a Pony Express rider, and all of them get mixed up in the adventure, too, along with the marshal and his posse who are after the Masked Rider and Blue Hawk. Everybody winds up in the crater of an extinct volcano (trust me, it makes perfect sense in the context of the story) and much action ensues.

Tompkins always brought a lot of professionalism to his pulp work. He wrote many excellent Jim Hatfield novels for TEXAS RANGERS and also contributed good yarns featuring the Rio Kid (in RIO KID WESTERN) and Steve Reese, Hank Ball, and Dusty Trail, the trio of range detectives who starred in RANGE RIDERS WESTERNS. The guys from RANGE RIDERS never made it to paperback reprint in the Sixties and Seventies, but some of Tompkins' novels from the other three series did.

GHOST MINE GOLD doesn't ascend to the upper levels of that work because the plot is a little on the thin side, but it is an entertaining yarn with plenty of good action in it. Tompkins had a knack for coming up with inventive ways to put his characters in danger, and that quality is on display in this novel. I think the ending could have been a little more over-the-top, but it's satisfying enough, and the fade-out is really reminiscent of that other masked rider of the plains. Maybe it's not a classic, but I found GHOST MINE GOLD to be a perfectly pleasant way to spend a couple of hours.

Monday, September 03, 2018

Monday Memories: The Circle

The street where I grew up is a circle. There were fifteen houses on it in those days (the two down at the corner with the service road were moved out during an expansion of the highway some years ago). All the houses are on the right as you follow the road up and around and back to rejoin with itself. My parents’ house was the seventh one. It sits just before the point where the road starts to curve around to the left to form the circle. The area in the center of the circle, maybe two acres, was a communal space and everybody who lived on the street had the right to use it. Sometimes we called it the park, but mostly we just called it the circle. And it was the scene of some epic sporting contests.

The fellow who lived next door to us sunk some heavy posts in the ground and put up fencing between them to serve as a baseball backstop. It was good for those of us who loved to play ball all spring and summer, and it also protected his cars, which he sometimes parked along that side of the street, from foul tips. A backstop also eliminated the need for a catcher, which was good because we sometimes had trouble coming up with enough kids to field two teams. Any ball the batter swung at and missed or let go by because it was ’way off the mark, he’d just pick it up himself after it hit the backstop and throw it back to the pitcher. First base was a tree, second base was a telephone pole on the other side of the circle, and third base was another tree. A ball hit on the fly across the street and into the front yards of the Guthrie house (later the Sanchez house), the Whatley house, the Woodard house, or the Brooks house was a home run. That happened very, very seldom. We were not a neighborhood of power hitters.

When there weren’t enough kids to play baseball, we’d play Flies and Skinners instead. One guy would hit fungo while the rest of us ranged out in the circle. Catch one fly ball or cleanly field three grounders (“skinners”), and you got to go up and hit. It was a simpler time, and we could spend hours doing that.

At some point, another neighbor put up a basketball goal on the other side of the circle, and it wasn’t long before we had a fairly flat area trampled down in front of it. We usually played two-on-two, occasionally three-on-three, and since we had only one goal, we had to play half-court style, taking the ball to the back part of the trampled-down area any time you got a rebound and then starting from there. Fouls were not completely unheard of, but they were rare. We’d usually play first team to fifty points won. Usually, the final score would be 50-48. We weren’t defensive wizards, either.

When there were only two or three of us, we played Horse or Around-the-World or just shot around. The goal and hoop in the circle were regulation, but there was also a backboard made out of planks nailed to a tree in my backyard, with a hoop attached to it. No net. It was lower than regulation, somewhere between eight and nine feet off the ground. I could dunk in that hoop when I was in high school and college, the only times I’ve ever experienced that particular sensation.

My senior year in high school, I was able to skip last period and get out an hour earlier than any other kid who lived around the circle, so a lot of days I’d get my basketball and go shoot free throws. I got to where I could hit a hundred in a row sometimes. I remember those times quite fondly.

There was also a good open space in the circle stretching from the road in front of my parents’ house to the road in front of the Whatley house that served as our football field. Out of bounds on one side lined up with the post the basketball goal was on, and on the other side the tree that served as first base in the baseball games marked out of bounds. The road at each end was the end zone, of course. We played two-below, all pass, no rushing the passer, three completes is a first down. No goal posts, so no extra points or field goals, only touchdowns. We usually played first team to 48 wins, and unlike basketball, there were some lopsided scores in those games. Usually it was pretty close, though. I played quarterback most of the time and sometimes threw so many passes my right elbow ached until I went to bed that night.

I was playing receiver, though, the evening I planted my foot wrong, rolled my ankle, and broke a bone in my foot. I broke a different bone in the same foot playing football with some of my friends in college, and the ring finger on my right hand is crooked to this day because I was trying to tag Bill Weidman while playing defense in a game in my parents’ back yard and that finger got caught in one of the belt loops on his jeans and twisted so that it broke at the first knuckle. It swelled up pretty bad but I didn’t realize it was broken until a few weeks later when I went to the doctor and had it x-rayed. The bone had already started to heal, and they would have had to do surgery and rebreak it to straighten it up. No thanks. It doesn’t stop me from typing, now does it?

All these stories are probably making those of you who have only known me as an adult think that I’ve never really seemed like the athletic type. And that’s true. I’ve always been overweight, and my feet stick out funny. But I understood the mechanics and the strategies of the various games, and when I was young I had good hand-eye coordination and, while I was never fast by any stretch of the imagination, from time to time I could manage to be sneaky-quick. Also, opponents often underestimated me. When I’d play pick-up basketball games in college, none of the other team would bother guarding me, so I could stand out on the perimeter and pop long range shots all day. One of my friends who’d been an all-city guard during high school realized this and would feed me the ball, so I knocked down eight or ten shots a game . . . and the other team still wouldn’t cover me. Hey, you take what they give you.

Don’t regard any of this as bragging. I could manage “not terrible” at times, but I was really not a good athlete and have never been part of an actual, organized team except for a couple of summers during college when I played on our church’s softball team. But I enjoyed playing. Sports was never the focus of my life that reading and later writing have been, but it was always good to be outside moving around and sharing those good times with my friends.

Sunday, September 02, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Spicy-Adventure Stories, February 1935

Yeah, I'd read a pulp with a cover like that. Excellent work by H.L. Parkhurst on this issue of SPICY-ADVENTURE STORIES. I think reading it would be quite enjoyable, too, considering there are four stories by Robert Leslie Bellem (one under his own name and one each as by Frank Roberts, Jerome Severs Perry, and Ellery Watson Calder), two by E. Hoffmann Price (one under his name and one as by Hamlin Daly), Norman A. Daniels (writing as Kirk Rand), and C.C. Spruce and Atwater Culpepper, who seem to have been real guys and not house-names or pseudonyms. But don't quote me on that, because I don't really know.

Saturday, September 01, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Novel and Short Stories, October 1938

There's a lot of red on this cover by J.W. Scott, but I think it works. It's pretty eye-catching, which was the whole idea. The author of the featured novella, Ken Jason, was actually a house-name, so there's not much telling who really wrote it. Other authors in this issue of WESTERN NOVEL AND SHORT STORIES are Ed Earl Repp (twice, once as himself and once as Brad Buckner--and of course, one or both stories may have been farmed out), Rolland Lynch, and Carmony Gove.

Friday, August 31, 2018

Forgotten Books: The River Bend Feud - William MacLeod Raine

While I wouldn’t say that William MacLeod Raine is one of my favorite Western authors, I’ve read a number of his books and enjoyed all of them. THE RIVER BEND FEUD, published in 1939, is one of the later books in his career, and I liked it, too.

It has a particularly strong opening, with protagonist Jeff Hunter waiting in a Mexican prison to be executed by Pancho Banderas, a brutal bandit who calls himself a revolutionary. The character of Banderas is obviously inspired by Pancho Villa, but he’s even more out for himself and doesn’t really care about rising to power in Mexico. Hunter, the former manager of an American-owned mine in the Mexican mountains, and Banderas are long-time enemies.

With the help of some friends, Hunter manages to escape and make it across the Rio Grande into Texas, where he finds himself on the vast River Bend Ranch, clearly modeled after the King Ranch in that it encompasses a couple of counties and several towns. The ranch is owned by the powerful Raleigh family, one of whom, Joan Raleigh, is a beautiful young woman recently back in Texas from college in the east. Wouldn’t you know it, she’s the first member of the family Hunter encounters. And also wouldn’t you know it, the Raleighs are also under attack by the smaller ranchers on the outskirts of their ranch, as well as an evil black sheep member of the family who wants everything for himself.

Well, of course Hunter throws in with the Raleighs, and he has even more reason to do so when the Mexican government finally succeeds in chasing Pancho Banderas into Texas, where he becomes an ally of the forces that are plotting to bring down the River Bend Ranch.

The plot may be a little familiar to those of us who have read a lot of Westerns and seen plenty of Western movies, but that doesn’t stop Raine from doing a good job of making it interesting and entertaining. THE RIVER BEND FEUD is a contemporary Western, set in the same late Thirties era during which it was written and published. People not only ride horses, but cars, trucks, and airplanes play parts in the plot as well. People talk about similar movies starring Roy Rogers and Gene Autry and claim such settings are fantasylands, but in reality there were such places in the West where the blending of the modern era and the Old West was common. And Raine, born in England but raised in the West, knew that to be true.

I thought THE RIVER BEND FEUD maybe could have used a bit more action. It’s a little slow and talky in places, and Raine’s style can be old-fashioned, if that bothers you. I don’t mind it, as long as I don’t read a steady diet of it. And when he does cut loose, the suspense is high and the action scenes approach blood and thunder level. I really enjoyed this book, and if you enjoy the older Westerns, you probably would, too.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

The Doom Legion - Will Murray

Back in 1969, there was a drugstore in Stephenville, Texas, where I always asked my parents to stop when we were traveling through there on our way to visit relatives in Brownwood and Blanket. I’ll bet some of you can guess why I wanted to stop. That’s right, the store had a paperback spinner rack, a comics spinner rack, and a magazine rack. That’s where I was one day, turning that paperback rack, when I spied an odd thing: two books with a paper band around them, advertising two for the price of one. They were the first couple of books in a series called THE SPIDER, by somebody I’d never heard of named R.T.M. Scott. I couldn’t look at them that well because of that paper band holding them together, but from what I could see of the first book, it looked pretty lurid, so I thought, sure, for 60 cents I’ll give this a try.

Well, I read both of those books—THE SPIDER STRIKES and THE WHEEL OF DEATH—pretty quickly, and I remember that I enjoyed them but couldn’t tell you anything else about them, and I’ve never reread them. By then I knew about pulps—I was a big fan of Doc Savage and The Shadow—and I realized these were reprints from a pulp magazine. Berkley Medallion published the paperbacks, and they did two more in the series, both under the name Grant Stockbridge. Paperback distribution being what it was in those days, though, I never came across those books, and I guess I must not have liked the first two well enough to try to hunt them down. And so I forgot about The Spider for a few years.

But then I began reading more about the character in various pulp fanzines, and more about “Grant Stockbridge”, who was usually a writer whose real name was Norvell Page, and then I picked up some reprints from an outfit called Dimedia, which also did a few Operator 5 reprints, and before you knew it, I was a fan. Over the years there have been lots of Spider reprints from various companies, and I’ve bought most of them. Wild plots, non-stop action, and a level of heroic angst not many pulp yarns ever matched. It’s great stuff.

Which brings us to THE DOOM LEGION, the latest novel from the modern-day King of the Pulps, Will Murray, which teams up The Spider with two more iconic pulp heroes, Operator 5 (mentioned above, and often in other posts on this blog) and G-8, the Flying Spy, who battled various bizarre enemies during World War I in the pages of his own long-running pulp written by Robert J. Hogan. Needless to say, with heroes like that, you need some good villains to oppose them, and Murray brings back two, one from G-8’s past (just look at that gorgeous cover by Joe DeVito, and if you ever read any of the G-8 series you can probably guess which) and one of The Spider’s old foes as well (one that I hadn’t encountered yet in the original pulp novels, many of which I still haven’t read—but I’m getting to them!).

THE DOOM LEGION begins with a Halloween party at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. In attendance are socialite Richard Wentworth (long suspected of being the vigilante known as The Spider) and his girlfriend Nita van Sloan. A mysterious green meteorite crashes into nearby Central Park with tragic results that over the next 24 hours fills New York with death and destruction. I don’t really need to go too much into the plot, but it’s a whirlwind of action and danger that never lets up, and Murray captures Norvell Page’s breathless style very well.

If you’re a fan of The Spider, you really can’t afford to miss this one. I’ve said this before, but Will Murray is one of the few writers who can make me feel like I’m back in junior high or high school, eagerly devouring a paperback I bought off a spinner rack for 50 or 60 cents, and I tell you, with the world the way it is today . . . those respites, those visits to the past, are sweeter than ever. I had a great time reading THE DOOM LEGION. I was already reading or rereading Spider and Operator 5 novels fairly regularly, and dang it, now I want to read some G-8, too. Meanwhile, for pulp fans, THE DOOM LEGION gets my highest recommendation.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Coming From Stark House: The Action Man/Terror Tournament - Jay Flynn

Denton Farr has everything he needs, money, and a fine woman. So why plan the perfect, impossible heist? Why do something that would bring the federals and the syndicate howling after him; why try a stunt that could easily get him killed and certainly send him up for the rest of his life? The action. There's something special about the way his body feels, something different about the air it breathes when he has action. That it is unnecessary doesn't matter. It is action. And why the hell does he want to climb that mountain? Because it is there. Yes, this is the heist will provide all the action that Farr will ever need...

Ex-cop Burl Stannard has been hired as security to protect the take at a 3-day pro-amateur golf tournament. All he has to do is ride shotgun with the money to the bank. But something goes wrong. Three men pull up in a golf cart and crash their car. Shots are exchanged. A fellow ex-cop and one of the thieves are killed. When Stannard comes to, the $400,00 is gone, and no clues in sight, not even the body of the dead criminal. Who could have pulled off such a perfect heist? The more Stannard digs, the more it begins to look like an inside job but everyone involved has an airtight alibi!

I've read several novels by Jay Flynn and enjoyed them, but these two I haven't read, so I'm looking forward to them. And the introduction by Bill Pronzini is great. I can recommend this volume on that basis alone.