Monday, December 31, 2018

The Wrap Up



This has been a year with a considerable amount of bad—the loss of friends and loved ones, ongoing health problems for me and many of those close to me—but also plenty of good, mostly due to the love of friends and family. We hang in there and keep going, and there are good times along the way. And a number of things to report in the areas which this blog addresses most of the time.

WRITING

I reached the million word level again this year for the 14th year in a row. When I started this streak, I just wanted to see if I could actually write a million words in a year. I had come close the year before, somewhere between 800,000 and 900,000, so it seemed at least possible. Then once I accomplished that, and once the years doing it began to pile up, I just kept going. Ten years seemed like a pretty good goal. When I passed that and made it to 13 years, I didn’t want to stop there. (Yes, I’m that superstitious.) So I had to try to make it again this year, and I did, with a little more than a week to spare. (Gone are the days when I’d hit a million words sometime in October!) Next year, who knows, maybe, maybe not, but I’m in the process of cutting back some on my commitments because there are still things I’d like to do besides sit and pound the keyboard. Although I still love writing, don’t get me wrong about that. Most of my work is published under other names, as has been the case for many years, but I was able to do a few short stories as myself that haven’t seen print yet but will next year. I’m still the luckiest guy I know, to be able to do what I really enjoy and make a living at it.

READING

I read 115 books this year, the usual mix of Westerns, mysteries, thrillers, science fiction, horror, graphic novels, and assorted other stuff. Looking back, I read 116 books last year. I was surprised the total was that close. I’m consistent, if nothing else. More than ever, I’ve retreated into the safe havens of pulps, pulp reprints, and vintage paperbacks and hardbacks, the same sort of stuff I’ve been reading and enjoying for nearly 60 years now. Amazingly enough, I hardly ever reread anything. There’s still more good old stuff out there than I’ll ever get around to reading, but I’m going to try. I do still read new books, too, especially those by friends of mine. Below are the ten books I read this year that I liked the best, in the order in which I read them.

THE BLACK ICE SCORE, Richard Stark (Donald E. Westlake)
TERROR INC., Lester Dent
SLEEP WITH THE DEVIL, Day Keene
THE PYTHON PIT, George F. Worts
MR. CALAMITY, Kenneth Robeson (Will Murray)
THE WIDOW, Orrie Hitt
RENEGADE, Ramsey Thorne (Lou Cameron)
THE DOOM LEGION, Will Murray
CASCA: THE ETERNAL MERCENARY, Barry Sadler
ASTOUNDING: JOHN W. CAMPBELL, ISAAC ASIMOV, ROBERT A. HEINLEIN, L. RON HUBBARD, AND THE GOLDEN AGE OF SCIENCE FICTION, Alec Nevala-Lee

You can see what I mean about pulps and vintage paperbacks. There are three new books on that list, the two by Will Murray that feature pulp characters, and the non-fiction volume by Alec Nevala-Lee that’s about a pulp, the man who edited it, and the authors who wrote for it. I believe that all ten books on this list are currently in print. I didn’t check on this, so bear with me if I’m wrong on one or two of them. But you can still find copies pretty easily if you want to check out any of them.

MOVIES

Honestly, it was a struggle to find time to watch many movies this year, which led to me participating only sporadically in the Overlooked Movies/TV posts. More next year, perhaps.

THE STATE OF THE BLOG

I started Rough Edges in the summer of 2004 because my friends Bill Crider and Ed Gorman had blogs, and I wanted to try my hand at one, too. In the early days it was mostly a report of mundane things that I did, but gradually book and movie reviews became more prominent, along with music posts and some posts about my work and writing in general.  As mentioned above, in the past year I haven’t written nearly as much about movies, and many weeks there were only Forgotten Books posts and my weekend series about pulps, along with the occasional and semi-autobiographical Monday Memories posts. (I’m already running out of things to write about in those, so expect them to appear less often.)

The really odd thing about this year is that in late October, literally from one day to the next, the daily traffic to the blog dropped by roughly two-thirds. I have no idea why this happened. I realize that with the rise of Facebook and other social media, blogs aren’t nearly as popular as they were a decade ago, but that sudden drop is both baffling and discouraging.

However, just in the past few months, several people have contacted me out of the proverbial blue to tell me how much they enjoy the blog. One fellow said, “I’ve learned a tremendous amount about pulps and genre fiction from reading Rough Edges and enjoyed every minute of it.” As long as I’m accomplishing that, I consider the time very well spent, and if it ever gets to the point where only a dozen people are reading it, as it was in the beginning, well, that’s okay, too, as long as they’re enjoying it. As I’ve said about the WesternPulps mailing list, which has been through E-Groups, One List, Yahoo Groups, and now Groups.io, “I started this group sending messages to myself, and I’ll keep it up until it reaches that point again.” My mother always said I was the most hard-headed person she had ever seen.

So to all of you still with me, thank you for your friendship and interest, and I’ll see you next year. May it be a good one for all of us!

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Argosy, May 13, 1939


For the last pulp post of the year, we return to an old favorite magazine, ARGOSY. I'm not quite sure what's going on in this cover by Marshall Frantz for the May 13, 1939 issue, but it's intriguing, I'll give it that. And I'm sure the stories inside are pretty good, too, since the authors include Donald Barr Chidsey, Hugh Pentecost (Judson Philips), Philip Ketchum, Fred MacIsaac, Richard Sale, and Bennett Foster. That's a really good lineup.

A Middle of the Night Music Post: I Think It's Going to Rain Today - Randy Newman

I'm in a bit of a melancholy mood these days, for various reasons, and this is a really pretty but also melancholy song. A lot of different singers have performed it, but I don't know of a version better than this one by Randy Newman, who wrote it.


Saturday, December 29, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Texas Rangers, August 1943



To wrap up the year for this series, this is a pulp that I own and read recently. The scan is from the issue I read, ragged cover edges, scribbling, and all. Anybody who’s read this blog for very long knows that TEXAS RANGERS is one of my favorite Western pulps and Jim Hatfield is my favorite Western pulp character. I’ve been reading his adventures (first in the paperback reprints from the Sixties) for a very long time now.

The Hatfield novel in this issue is “Pecos Poison”, written by Tom Curry under the Jackson Cole house-name, and behind that very generic title is an interesting and effective yarn about the conflict between coal miners and ranchers in West Texas. This particular mine is about played out and isn’t valuable, so far as anybody knows, but somebody is conspiring to steal it anyway and is using rustling and the friction between miners and cattlemen as a distraction. Jim Hatfield is sent in to get to the bottom of the trouble and works undercover to begin with, as usual. Also as usual, Curry employs a proxy hero, young miner-turned-cowboy Bert Webb, to carry part of the action while Hatfield is off investigating other angles. There’s plenty of action, and the main villain in this one (there’s no secret about his identity) is particularly dastardly, using a couple of murder methods you don’t often find in pulp Westerns. It all leads up to an explosive and very effective underground climax in the coal mine.

There are also four short stories in this issue. The first, “Widow’s Choice” by William Morrison (who was really Joseph Samachson), concerns the rivalry between two prospecting partners over the affections of a widow who may not be much to look at, but she’s a great cook. Then things are complicated by an Indian attack. This is a pretty lightweight tale that takes a grim turn part of the way through, then eventually swings back to humorous fare. I’m not sure it completely works—it’s a little bit too schizophrenic—but it’s a readable story.

“Ranger’s Ruse” by Charles N. Heckelmann is a murder mystery, as a miserly moneylender is shot in the back and a Texas Ranger has to figure out which of three suspects is the killer. It’s not much of a whodunit, since Heckelmann keeps information from the reader that would make it possible to solve the mystery, but it’s another one that reads okay.

“Range Waif” by W.E. Carleton is a contemporary Western comedy about rival dude ranches competing for customers. It didn’t work for me at all and I didn’t finish it.

This issue wraps up with “Sodbuster’s Showdown”, a short story by Frank Morris. In a post earlier this year about an issue of HOLLYWOOD DETECTIVE, I wrote about how there seem to be two Frank Morrises, one who wrote for a variety of Western pulps from the mid-Thirties to the mid-Forties, and another who was a house-name for the Trojan pulps. The author of “Sodbuster’s Showdown” is almost certainly not the same person who wrote “Location for Murder” in that HOLLYWOOD DETECTIVE. But it’s a good story anyway, about a small rancher (not really a sodbuster, despite the title) who clashes with a brutal cattle baron over water rights. There’s quite a bit of well-written action, and while overall the story is nothing out of the ordinary, I enjoyed it. It’s the best of the short stories in this issue.

So while this is maybe a slightly below average issue of TEXAS RANGERS because of the back-up stories, the Hatfield novel is a good one, and that’s the main appeal of TEXAS RANGERS to start with, so I enjoyed this one and think it was well worth taking down from the shelves.

Friday, December 28, 2018

Forgotten Books: Blood Priestess of Vig N'Ga - John Peter Drummond



For the final Forgotten Books post of the year, we return to a series I’ve really enjoyed: the fourteenth Ki-Gor novel, BLOOD PRIESTESS OF VIG N’GA, from the Summer 1942 issue of JUNGLE STORIES.

This is generally regarded as one of the best yarns of the entire series, and I can see why. It begins with Ki-Gor and Helene searching for an anthropologist friend of theirs, David Gray, who has gone missing. (Gray previously appeared in the novel KI-GOR—AND THE PARADISE THAT TIME FORGOT.) They have received word of Gray’s disappearance through the secret society to which Ki-Gor belongs, the Brotherhood of the Dog (a reference to KI-GOR—AND THE TEMPLE OF THE MOON GOD). After a dangerous encounter with a gorilla, they run into a native who tries to kill them, a fracas that alerts them to a possible uprising led by a fanatic known as El Hakim. This is going to complicate their search for David Gray, and so will their discovery of the remains of a 900-year-old Viking ship in a dry riverbed.

It won’t come as a surprise to anyone that from that point, BLOOD PRIESTESS OF VIG N’GA turns into a Lost Race novel, and of course we all know from reading Edgar Rice Burroughs that Africa is just teeming with lost races and civilizations. With a plot like this, a story’s appeal depends almost entirely on the author’s skill in executing it, and the unknown pulpster responsible for BLOOD PRIESTESS OF VIG N’GA does a great job with it, keeping the action moving at a very satisfying pace and providing some epic action scenes along the way, especially when Ki-Gor battles his enemies using one particular weapon retrieved from that old Viking ship . . .

I have no idea who wrote this story. The references to those earlier entries in the series might indicate that the same author did all three, or it might not. Whoever wrote this one might have just read those earlier stories. There’s no mention of any of the regular supporting cast, only Ki-Gor and Helene. But the author does a very good job of capturing their characters. Helene’s no dummy in this one; for the most part, she’s smart and competent, although she does wind up getting captured and having to be rescued. That was just standard pulp plotting, though. My only real complaint is that the ending seemed a little rushed, as if the author realized that the story was getting too long. I also have a hunch that the cover was done before the story was written, because while the fight with the gorilla depicted on the cover does take place in the story, it’s a throwaway scene that doesn’t really have anything to do with the rest of the novel.

Although I missed Tembu George, the writing in this story is good enough that I have to say it’s the best Ki-Gor yarn I’ve read so far. I’m looking forward to continuing with the series.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

The Annual December 27th Post



Regular readers of this blog know that December 27th is the anniversary of my first fiction sale. (I had been paid for my writing before that, a small sum for movie reviews in the local weekly newspaper, but I’m a fictioneer and so December 27 is the anniversary that I count.) This year marks 42 years in the business for me. Starting out, I hoped my career would last a long time, but I had no idea if it would, of course. That first sale might have been the only sale. Nothing is guaranteed in this business, or any other. But somehow, I’m closing in on 30 million words written and sold in my career, and I’m incredibly thankful for the opportunity to have done so. It never would have been possible without Livia, Shayna, and Joanna, as well as all the editors who have put their faith in my abilities and the readers, God love each and every one of ‘em, who have plunked down their hard-earned cash for my books. So thanks to all of you, and while I may slow down a mite, I’ll still be here at the keyboard for a good while yet, I hope.

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Harbinger - Frank Zafiro and Jim Wilsky


Set on the sunny Gulf Coast of Florida, Harbinger centers around two lifelong friends and fishing charter boat partners, Boyd Tomlin and Hicks Ledoux. Boyd is the serious one who always makes sure things get done, and Hicks is the carefree one who always makes sure everyone has a good time. 

But times aren’t so good. They are struggling to get charters, and bills are coming due. In desperate need of money, they consider smuggling drugs to make ends meet. By chance or fate, they meet two beautiful sisters who will change everything—a young Ania and her kid sister Karolyn. Hicks is immediately attached to the brash, confident Ania while Boyd gravitates toward Karolyn. 

As romance blossoms, Boyd and Hicks quickly find themselves embroiled in the world of illegal drug trade, romance, danger and violence lurking around every corner.

This is some serious Florida noir here, reminiscent of John D. McDonald, Day Keene, Gil Brewer, and Charles Williams. It's the latest book in the popular Ania series by Frank Zafiro and Jim Wilsky, but if you haven't read any of the others (and they're all good), that doesn't matter because chronologically this is the first book in the series. Told in alternating first person chapters by the two protagonists, Boyd and Hicks, HARBINGER is very well written, a little humorous in places but mostly poignant and tragic, with an excellent twist late in the game that I didn't see coming. Ania is a fascinating, unusual character, and this bit of back-story on her is very welcome. I liked HARBINGER a lot and think it's a fine example of contemporary crime fiction.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Merry Christmas


Merry Christmas to all of you, and may Santa bring you plenty of good books to read.

Monday, December 24, 2018

Monday Memories: A Christmas Memory


Remember what I said a couple of days ago about the kid on that RANCH ROMANCES cover reminding me of me? Well, now you can see why. Yes, that's me, wearing my Bat Masterson outfit. I know this picture was taken on Christmas Day, and I'm pretty sure the year was 1959, which would make me six years old. I'm also certain it was taken in the living room of my Aunt Annie's house in Blanket, Texas. I'd gotten the outfit as a Christmas present that morning and insisted on wearing it when we went to Blanket. I was a big fan of the TV show starring Gene Barry. I also had a Kit Carson outfit and numerous toy guns based on guns used in various Western TV shows. So it's not the least bit surprising that I turned out like I did.

Sunday, December 23, 2018

A Million Words and Counting


A little while ago, I reached the million word level for this year, which makes fourteen consecutive years I've written that much fiction. Every year I think I'm not going to make it, and then I do. Every year I say that I probably won't write that much next year. Well, I do need to write that much next year, or at least pretty darned close, and you know if I get close I'm going to go for it. But year after next, now . . . Yeah, that's my story. Year after next.

Thank you to everyone who makes this possible, especially Livia, Shayna, and Joanna. I couldn't do it without you.

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: 10-Story Detective Magazine, February 1946


Even though this issue of 10-STORY DETECTIVE MAGAZINE is cover-dated February 1946, that's the off-sale date, and since it was a bi-monthly, that means this issue actually hit the stands early in December 1945. And the cover by Ernest Chiriacka makes it clear this is a Christmas issue. The biggest names among the authors are Talmage Powell and Joe Archibald. Victor White is also on hand, writing under his Ralph Berard pseudonym, and Glenn Low has two stories in this issue, one under his name and one as Davisson Lough ("A Slay for Santa Claus", judging by the titles, the only Christmas story in the issue). Larry Sternig, who is best remembered as a literary agent, wrote a number of stories for the pulps as well, and one of them is in this issue. The other authors are all folks I've never heard of. Not that impressive sounding an issue, but that's the thing about the pulps: you never know. It might have been great.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Ranch Romances, 2nd December Number, 1948



This is a pulp that I own and read recently. Since it’s a Christmas issue, it’s appropriate to the season, and anyway, the little kid on the cover reminds me very much of, well, me. I frequently asked Santa to bring me toy guns and cowboy outfits for Christmas. The scan is from the copy I read.

The featured novella is “Cowtown Cavalier” by Paul Evan Lehman. The protagonist, Ken Mason, is searching for the crooked banker who ruined his father when he winds up involved in a range war between a beautiful young woman and a greedy cattle baron, an express company robbery, and several murders. I’ve always thought of Lehman as one of those competent, reasonably entertaining writers whose work doesn’t leave much of an impression. This novella is a little above that level, because it’s actually a well-structured mystery in addition to being a good action Western yarn. There are a number of suspects, the hero does some decent detective work, and it winds up being a pretty satisfying mix. This may be the best thing I’ve ever read by Lehman.

Frank C. Robertson had a long, very successful career as a Western writer, both as a pulpster and a novelist. His short story, “Taming of Cat McCoy”, is a slight yarn about a bitter, ex-con bronco buster who finds love and redemption. But it’s very well-written and goes down easy. I just wish there had been a little more to it. I need to read more by Robertson.

Elsa Barker has an actual Christmas story in this issue, “Sheriff for Christmas”, which is about a schoolteacher who turns down a marriage proposal from the local sheriff because her father was a lawman and she’s afraid she’ll worry herself to death like her mother did. And sure enough, before the story is over, the sheriff who proposes to her does wind up in danger. I don’t recall if I’ve ever read anything else by her. She was a prolific contributor to RANCH ROMANCES, and her career goes all the way back to THE SMART SET in 1901! This is a pretty good yarn, predictable but well-written, and it has some nice Christmas spirit to it.

I haven’t been impressed by the science fiction and fantasy I’ve read by Robert Moore Williams (the genres for which he’s best known), but his short story in this issue, “The Trail Home”, isn’t bad. It uses the old plot of the outlaw who has gone straight and is trying to cover up his past, only to be forced by circumstances to buckle on his guns again, but Williams does a pretty good job with it and produced an enjoyable yarn.

“Duchess of the Salty Dog” is by an author I hadn’t heard of, Pat Johns. That’s probably because Johns (don’t know if that name is male or female) published only a few stories in RANCH ROMANCES and nowhere else. This one has an intriguing protagonist, a former saloon singer who gets involved in rustling and a dangerous ambush, but in the end I didn’t think it amounted to much.

There are two serial installments in this issue. I normally don’t read serials unless I know I have all the parts, so I skipped the first installment of “Desert Quest” by Dorothy L. Bonar. However, if it’s the final part, I’ll sometimes go ahead and read it, and since “Roll, Bright Wagons” by Isabel Stewart Way is a story about a traveling circus in the Old West (a subject that interests me) and wraps up in this issue, I started to read it. However, the character names got the best of me: Blaise Aregood (the hero), Twonnet Juvenal (the heroine), Gus Snavely (the villain—I guess Snidely Whiplash was out of town). Plus the circus is traveling through sheep country, and I don’t read Western pulps to read about a bunch o’ dang sheepherders! And the writing didn’t seem that good to me (despite Way having a long, prolific career as a contributor to RANCH ROMANCES and the other Western romance pulps, as well as an author of nurse novels), so I didn’t finish this one.

Rounding out the issue are the usual features and departments, which I skimmed except for a two-page poem by S. Omar Barker, “Cowboy’s Christmas Bride”, which like all of Barker’s work is humorous and well-written.

Most of the RANCH ROMANCES I’ve read are from the Fifties, when the magazine was part of the Thrilling Group, but in 1948 it was still published by Warner and edited by long-time editor Fanny Ellsworth, so the tone is slightly different, a little more emphasis on the romance part of the title than there would be later. However, the lead story, Lehman’s “Cowtown Cavalier”, could have appeared in any of the regular Western pulps of the era. It’s the best story in this issue, but the ones by Robertson, Barker, and Williams are well worth reading, too. All in all, I enjoyed this issue of RANCH ROMANCES quite a bit and am glad I read it.

Friday, December 21, 2018

Forgotten Books: Longarm and the Coldest Town in Hell - Tabor Evans (Peter Brandvold)


I was looking for a Western set around Christmas time when I came across this entry in the long-running series featuring Deputy U.S. Marshal Custis Long. LONGARM AND THE COLDEST TOWN IN HELL finds ol' Custis knocked out and thrown off a train traveling across the snowy landscape of Dakota Territory on Christmas Eve. He narrowly survives without freezing to death because he's rescued by a Russian homesteader and the man's beautiful daughter. He was heading for a small town to investigate the murders of several lawmen, and when he finally reaches his destination after that almost-deadly delay, he finds that a gang of outlaws has treed the town. And of course, to make things even more difficult, there's a blizzard going on . . .

A number of different authors wrote as "Tabor Evans", the house-name under which all the Longarm novels were published. (Heck, I wrote nearly 50 of 'em myself.) The author of this book is none other than the Scourge of the North Country, Mean Pete Brandvold his own self.

You know what to expect when you read a Brandvold novel: interesting characters, a vividly described setting, and lots and lots of great action. LONGARM AND THE COLDEST TOWN IN HELL delivers all of that and more. I don't think anybody is better than Brandvold at depicting extreme winter weather and making it a vital part of a book. The fact that it's Christmas doesn't play a large part in the plot, but it's definitely there.

The biggest thing this book has going for it is Longarm himself. He's a great character, tough and smart and funny and able to carry a series for several decades and more than 400 books. I always enjoyed writing about him, and before that, I enjoyed reading about him. (I was a fan of the series from its beginning in the late Seventies.) I had a great time reading this one, too.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

More Than a Vintage Death - Dennis R. Miller



The murder of a respected book collector sends Alec Knight and former FBI agent Ravi Khan on a quest to find clues to a buried treasure in an upstate New York town. They soon find they are in a deadly race against a secret Neo-Nazi organization and the mysterious, all-powerful Dr. V. Alec discovers throughout his quest that nothing is as it seems. Ripped from today's headlines, More Than a Vintage Death is full of twists, turns, action, suspense and humor.

There have been a lot of biblio-mysteries over the years, but I don't recall many that center around vintage paperbacks. Dennis R. Miller's new novel MORE THAN A VINTAGE DEATH concerns that very subject, and it's not just a gimmick or a Macguffin, either, but rather a vital part of the political thriller/conspiracy plot, which is excellent on its own. However, all the talk about different publishers and lines, how collectors look for books, store books, read books . . . well, it's great stuff for a guy like me. I may not have ever solved murders or searched for hidden treasure, but I've scoured bookstores for Gold Medals and Dell Mapbacks! If you have, too, this novel gets a high recommendation from me.

UPDATE: The paperback edition of this novel is available here.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Overlooked Movies: It Happened on Fifth Avenue (1947)


I came across this Christmas movie I'd never even heard of before, let alone seen, and it was a fortuitous discovery. The plot involves a homeless man (Victor Moore) who sneaks into a closed-up mansion belonging to a tycoon (Charlie Ruggles) every winter while the right guy is off at his other estate. A down-on-his-luck former GI (Don Defore) discovers this and winds up sharing the mansion, and so do some of his GI buddies and their families, all of whom are having trouble finding a place to live due to the post-war housing shortage. Then there's the beautiful young woman (Gale Storm, one of my early crushes) they catch sneaking into the mansion. They believe she's in a bad spot like the rest of them, but she's actually the tycoon's daughter. It's not long before her father finds out what's going on, but at his daughter's urging, he pretends to be a hobo so he can be a squatter in his own mansion and get to know the people who have moved in there. There's also a pending business deal that figures in the plot.

This is such a good-natured movie it didn't matter to me that I knew pretty much everything that was going to happen. The cast is full of great character actors, including Alan Hale Jr. and Charles Lane. It suffers a little from having Don Defore as the leading man (I'm much more used to him playing the smarmy neighbor in countless movie and TV comedies), but I even liked him before the picture was over. In fact, my thorny old heart was actually warmed. The Christmas angle is actually pretty small in it, but that's all right. It's still a good movie to watch at this time of year, and I'm glad to have seen it.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Astounding Science Fiction, January 1941


I like the covers Hubert Rogers did for ASTOUNDING SCIENCE FICTION. This one is certainly eye-catching and effective. The lead story is the first part of a three-part serial, "Sixth Column" by Anson MacDonald, better known, of course, as Robert A. Heinlein. I haven't reread anything by Heinlein in years. I ought to. Other authors in this issue are Nelson S. Bond, Eric Frank Russell, Manly Wade Wellman, and L. Ron Hubbard writing as Kurt von Rachen.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Ace-High Western Stories, September 1941


I don't think the art is great on this issue of ACE-HIGH WESTERN STORIES, but the scene has a really dynamic feel to it that I like. And since this is a Popular Publications pulp, you know there'll be some good authors inside and some memorable story titles (most of them come up with by the editor, no doubt). The authors in this issue include Ed Earl Repp, Barry Cord (Peter Germano), Gunnison Steele (Bennie Gardner), Jim Kjelgaard (of juvenile dog novel fame; one of my favorite writers when I was a kid), Rolland Lynch, Dabney Otis Collins, Ralph Berard (Victor White), and Jack Bloodhart. As for titles, you've got "Steel Tracks Through Hell", "The Gun-Cub's Turn to Howl", and "That Die-Hard Texan!", among others. I'd read those.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Forgotten Books: Lead With Your Left - Ed Lacy (Leonard Zinberg)



Ed Lacy, whose real name was Leonard Zinberg, was one of the top hardboiled writers of the Fifties and Sixties. His novel LEAD WITH YOUR LEFT was published first in hardback in 1957 by Harper and reprinted in paperback by Pocket Books. It’s being reprinted, along with another Lacy novel called THE BEST THAT EVER DID IT, in a new double volume from the always excellent Stark House.


The protagonist/narrator of LEAD WITH YOUR LEFT is Dave Wintino, former boxer and army vet and, as the book opens, the youngest detective in the NYPD. He looks even younger than he really is, which leads people to underestimate him, but despite his relative lack of experience, Dave is a dogged investigator. He has problems at home, though, with an ambitious wife who doesn’t like him being a cop and wants him to take a job with her uncle, who runs a freight business.



Dave is part of the team investigating the murder of a retired cop who worked as a messenger for a brokerage house. The case goes nowhere, and Dave gets somewhat distracted working on a complaint from an attractive young female writer who’s being harassed. Then the former partner of the retired cop who was killed winds up being murdered, too, and Dave is sure that the case is even bigger than it appears to be. So sure that he starts working on it despite being ordered to drop it, risking his career, his marriage, and ultimately his life.

Lacy really keeps things zipping along in this one, which, with its Italian protagonist (Italian/Jewish, actually) and abundance of police procedure, reminded me at times of Steve Carella and the 87th Precinct. Dave Wintino has more domestic drama to deal with, though, than usually crops up in the 87th Precinct novels. Lacy does a good job of tying all the strands of the plot together and the solution to the murders is a satisfying one.

LEAD WITH YOUR LEFT is a very good hardboiled novel from an era that specialized in them. I enjoyed it a great deal and if you’re a fan of the genre, this new Stark House edition is well worth picking up.


Monday, December 10, 2018

Monday Memories: Radio


I was too young for the Golden Age of radio drama (although I’ve heard plenty of great Old Time Radio as an adult), but I was right on time for the Golden Age of Top 40 radio. I don’t know exactly when FM radio became popular, mostly in the late Sixties and early Seventies, I think, but in the late Fifties and early Sixties, we were all about AM radio, baby. That was the only band on our car radios and the little transistor radios we carried around in our hip pockets. The sound quality may not have been great, but we listened to them all the time anyway.

My favorite station was KXOL, 1360 on your radio dial in Fort Worth. There were two popular Top 40 stations in Fort Worth, the other one being KFJZ, 1270 AM. You had your KXOL guys, and you had your KFJZ guys. I was a KXOL guy, through and through. There was also a Top 40 station in Dallas, KLIF, but to be honest, I didn’t know anybody who listened to it. Maybe their signal didn’t get over into our part of the country very well.

KXOL had some history to it. George Carlin and Jack Burns worked there as DJs. Bob Schieffer was part of the news department. A couple of national number one hit songs, “Hey Baby” by Bruce Channel and “Hey, Paula” by Paul & Paula, were recorded at a nearby sound studio and had their debuts on KXOL. Paul & Paul were actually named Ray Hildebrand and Jill Jackson and became Christian music artists later on. I saw them perform live at the church I attended, and I’m pretty sure they still sang “Hey, Paula”.

I didn’t always get to listen to what I wanted, though. My dad was a TV repairman, and sometimes I’d go with him when he made his service calls. He listened to a country music station, KBOX (I don’t recall the frequency), and of course the announcers pronounced it just as you’d expect, kaybox, except when doing official station IDs. I didn’t really mind, though. I’ve always been able to listen to just about any kind of music.

During the summers, I spent a lot of time at my aunt’s house in Blanket, Texas, and while I was there I listened to KBWD out of Brownwood. It still exists, but it’s a country station now instead of Top 40 like it was in those days. I remember sitting on the porch of her house with a transistor playing “Light My Fire” or “If You’re Going to San Francisco” while I was reading paperbacks or going through my aunt’s old copies of THE SATURDAY EVENING POST and reading all the fiction.

Another summer, I pretty much lived at my sister’s house, and that was the year I started listening to “Music ‘Til Dawn”, the all-night Easy Listening/Adult Contemporary program I did a blog post about several years ago. Like I said, I enjoyed many different kinds of music and loved what I heard on that program on KRLD out of Dallas.

One thing I liked to do during that era was to turn down the sound late at night, press the radio to my ear, and slowly go through the dial, trying to see how many stations I could hear, and from how far away. When I caught the signal skip just right at night, I was able to hear St. Louis and Chicago pretty regularly, and of course XERF came blasting in from across the border in Mexico. It was all English-language programming, mostly religious, but it didn’t have to abide by FCC regulations.

Along about the same time, I became a fan of WFAA, a Dallas station that was Adult Contemporary during the day and talk radio at night. It was a sister station of WBAP, a country station in Fort Worth, and they had an odd frequency-sharing arrangement. Part of the day, WFAA was at 570 and WBAP was at 820. Then, after a certain number of hours, they would switch frequencies. I never knew why they did this. I’m sure there was some sort of business or regulatory reason. But it made keeping up with them a little difficult. Eventually, WFAA settled into the 570 frequency, and WBAP took over the 820 frequency permanently, where it still is, I believe. WFAA radio is long gone. But I was a regular listener, especially during college, when I seldom missed the late night talk show hosted by Ed Busch.

Radio lost a lot of its charm once I got older and the FM band dominated the industry, although I was a fan of KOAI (“the Oasis”), a smooth jazz station that was in Dallas for a while. And when our daughters were young and I was driving them to school and various activities during the Nineties, I listened to a lot of Top 40 again, only it was their Top 40, not mine. I liked quite a few of the songs, though. These days, we have satellite radio in the car, and I listen to smooth jazz, New Age, classic rock, metal, whatever I’m in the mood for at the moment. Music doesn’t play nearly as big a part in my life as it once did, but still, when the right song comes on the radio, I turn it up. And now and then . . . if I’m by myself . . . and if I hear the opening chords of Three Dog Night’s “Joy to the World” . . . yeah, that’s me bellowing out “Jeremiah was a bullfrog!” at the top of his lungs like an idiot. A happy idiot.

Sunday, December 09, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Exciting Mystery, Spring 1943


EXCITING MYSTERY lasted only three issues (this is the third and final issue), but it looks pretty darned good. I like this cover, and with stories inside by Norman A. Daniels, Sam Merwin Jr., and some Thrilling Group house-names, I'll bet it was pretty entertaining.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Spicy Western Stories, November 1942


I've seen some goofy covers on SPICY WESTERN STORIES, but this is one of the goofiest. It's eye-catching and I like it, though. Inside are stories by Laurence Donovan, Edwin Truett Long (as Edwin Truett and as Dale Boyd), Allan K. Echols (as T.V. Faulkner, a reprint of "Brother's Keeper", a story from ROMANTIC WESTERN, January 1938, published under Echols' real name), Victor Rousseau (as Paul Hanna, a reprint from ROMANTIC WESTERN, November 1938, of "Woman in Yellow" as by Lew Merrill), William Decatur, and Max Neilson (both house-names). The reprint info comes from the Fictionmags Index, as does the scan, and was provided originally by the legendary Glenn Lord, who knew more about the Spicies than just about anybody else, in addition to all his great work with Robert E. Howard's stories.

Friday, December 07, 2018

Forgotten Books: A Date Which Will Live in Infamy - Brian M. Thomsen and Martin H. Greenberg, eds.


Since today is Pearl Harbor Day, it seems appropriate to write about this anthology of alternate history stories that came out in 2001. Its full title is A DATE WHICH WILL LIVE IN INFAMY: AN ANTHOLOGY OF PEARL HARBOR STORIES THAT MIGHT HAVE BEEN. I was a regular in Marty Greenberg's anthologies then, since I was writing a couple of novel series for his Tekno-Books, including the World War II series THE LAST GOOD WAR. So I was a natural to be included in this book. For my story, "The East Wind Caper", I brought back Nicholas Lake, a private detective character I'd used one time in a story for MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE many years earlier. In this one, I had him doing business in Honolulu and gave him an assistant/sidekick, a Hawaiian nightclub comic, and played the whole thing pretty much fast and lightweight. I haven't read the story in years, but I recall that one of Lake's cases somehow allowed him to prevent the attack on Pearl Harbor. I hope it holds up, but like I said, it's been a long time since I read it . . .

As for the other stories, it's been even longer since I read them, but I remember I thought it was a really good bunch of yarns. You'd expect that with authors such as Ed Gorman, Brendan DuBois, William C. Dietz, Barrett Tillman, and William H. Keith Jr. There are also several essays about Pearl Harbor by Brian M. Thomsen (who edited the book along with Greenberg), William R. Forstchen, Paul M. Thomsen, and Allen Kupfer. If you're interested in alternate history and/or World War II, it's a book well worth hunting up.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Super-Detective, November 1942


I've never read any of the Jim Anthony stories, not the early ones by Victor Rousseau writing under the house-name John Grange, or these later ones by Robert Leslie Bellem and W.T. Ballard where he's more of a standard hardboiled detective. But knowing Bellem and Ballard's work, I'll bet the stories are at least entertaining. The cover of this issue of SUPER-DETECTIVE is certainly eye-catching. There are three short stories in this issue as well, all of them under Trojan Publishing Corporation house-names, so there's no telling who actually wrote them.

Saturday, December 01, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: 5 Western Novels Magazine, January 1950


See, that's why I don't like to shave. It gives them dern bushwhackers a chance to sneak up on yuh! But I do like this cover painted by Joseph Dreany. 5 WESTERN NOVELS MAGAZINE was mostly a reprint pulp. All five of the lead novelettes in this issue were publishing originally in THRILLING WESTERN and THRILLING RANCH STORIES during the Thirties. But with a line-up of authors like Ray Nafziger, Lee Bond, T.W. Ford, Larry Harris, and whoever wrote the story as Jackson Cole, I wouldn't mind the reprints. There are also three short stories, evidently new, by Noel Loomis, Dupree Poe, and John C. Ropke.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Forgotten Books: No Business of Mine - James Hadley Chase



The main weakness in the American-set thrillers by British author James Hadley Chase is that occasionally the settings and especially the dialogue don’t quite ring true. The very popular Chase, whose real name was Rene Raymond, comes up with a smart way to avoid this minor pitfall in NO BUSINESS OF MINE, a novel originally published in 1947 under the pseudonym Raymond Marshall. Even though the novel features an American narrator/protagonist, two-fisted reporter Steve Harmas, it’s set in post-war England and so Chase can write more about people and places he knows. And for that matter, Steve Harmas is a pretty believable American, too.

Harmas spent most of the war in London as a war correspondent, and he’s back now, a couple of years later, to write a series of articles for a New York newspaper about conditions in post-war England. While he’s there, he intends to look up an old girlfriend of his named Netta Scott. When he does, though, he discovers to his shock that she committed suicide just the day before by gassing herself in her flat. Harmas doesn’t believe she would do such a thing, so he starts poking into her life since he saw her last. Naturally, things do not go well.

The first few pages of this novel are kind of slow as Chase sets things up, but once Harmas discovers Netta’s death and starts his investigation, boy, things really rocket along after that! Almost right away, Netta’s sister winds up dead, too. Hearses are hijacked and bodies disappear! The morgue goes up in flames! Gangsters beat the crap out of Harmas! The cops warn him to stay out of their investigations or go to jail! A fortune in jewels is missing! Throats are cut, skulls are bashed in with fireplace pokers, and everywhere Harmas turns, somebody’s either lying to him or trying to kill him! Thank goodness there are a few beautiful blondes and redheads to comfort him along the way.

It seems that Chase went into this book with the goal of springing a major surprise on the reader every thirty or forty pages. He succeeds in doing that, too. I certainly wasn’t expecting some of the twists. That makes for an incredibly complicated plot, but as far as I can tell, it all holds together pretty well, although Harmas has to take the last fifteen pages of the book to explain everything. He’s a hard-nosed but likable protagonist, quick with his fists and with witty banter, too, and the book has a lot of other vividly depicted characters (mostly villainous) as well.

NO BUSINESS OF MINE is one of the most entertaining James Hadley Chase books I’ve read so far. It’s just been reprinted by Stark House in a double volume with another early Chase novel, MISS SHUMWAY WAVES A WAND, and if you’re looking for a tough, fast-paced, hardboiled action novel, I give it a high recommendation. I really enjoyed it.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Monday Memories: The Ski Jump


You can get a pretty good idea how long somebody has been around Azle by how they react if you mention the Ski Jump. If they have no idea what you’re talking about, they probably haven’t been in town long, since everybody hears about the Ski Jump sooner or later. But only those of us who have been around here since the early Sixties know why it’s called that.

First of all, despite the fact that the town is just west of Eagle Mountain Lake, there are no actual mountains anywhere around Azle, and certainly not any where anybody would be skiing. People do water ski on the lake, and for all I know there might be some ramps somewhere that they use for jumping. But that has nothing to do with the Ski Jump.

As far back as I remember, the street where I lived turned off the service road of State Highway 199, which was a four-lane, divided highway with a grass median between the eastbound and westbound lanes and also a two-lane, two-way service road on each side, also separated from the highway by grass medians. It was a nice highway for the time, but I recall, early on in my life, it ran for less than half a mile past the street where I lived and then abruptly ended at a crossover, except for the service road on our side of the highway, which curved to the left and continued on through downtown Azle. The state had built the divided highway that far and then stopped, I guess because they had to wait for more funds to become available.

Sometime around 1959 or ’60, construction began to extend the divided highway around downtown. Main Street, which had been Highway 199, would be designated Loop 344 (which it is to this day). However, some engineer came up with an interesting idea for the exit ramp to that loop. Instead of an exit to the right from the westbound lanes, after which traffic for the downtown loop would continue along that service road to an overpass or underpass, the two westbound lanes of the highway climbed an embankment, at the top of which they split. The right-hand lane continued on, while the left-hand lane made a very sharp turn to the left, onto a bridge that crossed over the eastbound lanes and then descended to merge with Main Street. Got that?

I have a hunch you can figure out what happened after this oddly designed left-hand exit opened around 1961. It was new, so people weren’t really familiar with it, and some of them were driving too fast, and there may have been alcohol involved at times (Highway 199, also known as the Jacksboro Highway, was infamous for the beer joints that lined it on both sides from downtown Fort Worth all the way to Azle) . . .

Yep, you’re right. Several times over the next couple of years, for whatever reasons, drivers suddenly found themselves at the top of that rise and couldn’t make the sharp turn to the left. Instead they crashed through the guard rail and their cars sailed through the air—like skiers coming off a ski jump—and landed either in the median or in the eastbound lanes of the highway, resulting in fatalities, many injuries, and much destruction. It was a mess.

So, realizing their mistake, the highway department closed down that exit, leveled off the embankment leading up to it, and laid down two regular lanes of highway on that side. They built a standard right-hand exit to the westbound service road a couple of hundred yards back. And since the bridge over the eastbound lanes was still there, they just extended it over the westbound lanes as well, over to the service road, where people who wanted to go to downtown Azle could turn onto it, follow it over the highway, and then swoop down to Main Street on the remaining part of what had already become known far and wide as the Ski Jump.

And even though the deadly design responsible for that name has been gone for almost sixty years, people around here still call that bridge the Ski Jump, although I suspect fewer and fewer of them do so, and many of the ones who do don’t really know why it’s called that. I’m sure there’ll come a time when nobody knows, and after that a time when nobody even calls it that anymore. But a lot of us will remember as long as we’re around, and now you know the rest of the story, too, as Paul Harvey used to say.

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Startling Stories, July 1952



This is a pulp that I own and read recently, and the scan is of my copy. I probably own and have read fewer of the SF pulps than any of the other major genres (and I’m betraying some bias there by not considering aviation, sports, and love pulps to be major genres, although they certainly were, sales-wise). Not sure why it’s worked out that way, since I certainly enjoy a good SF pulp, and by and large, that’s what STARTLING STORIES was. But is that true for this particular issue? We’ll see.

The cover art on this issue is by Alex Schomburg, an artist whose work I generally like. This painting isn’t a particular favorite of mine, but I have to admit, that’s a pretty impressive rocket ship. Nice fins.

The lead novella is “Passport to Pax” by Kendall Foster Crossen. I’ve read a number of Crossen’s hardboiled novels featuring insurance investigator Milo March, published under the name M.E. Chaber, and enjoyed all of them. I tried to read his Green Lama pulp series but never was able to get into the stories. He wrote a considerable amount of SF, both novels and stories, under his own name and as Richard Foster, but as far as I recall, this is the first SF yarn I’ve read by him. It starts out as a hardboiled detective tale with SF trappings, as Personal Observer (get it?) Jair Holding is hired by the Association of Galactic Industries to find out who’s been sabotaging their business interests across the galaxy. The chief suspect is the planet Nike, in the Regulus System. There’s another planet in the system, the mysterious Pax, that’s been cut off from outside contact for millennia. Things get a lot more complicated from there, with Holding getting captured by bad guys and escaping several times. It’s all moderately entertaining but never seemed to develop any sense of real urgency in me. I ought to try one of Crossen’s full-length SF novels, but this novella didn’t impress me. It does have a couple of really good Virgil Finlay illustrations, though.

Next up is an early story by Arthur C. Clarke, “All the Time in the World”. It’s about a shady lawyer hired by a mysterious client to steal some specific books from the British Museum and given the means to do so: a gadget that stops time except for a small bubble around the user. Of course, things don’t turn out as planned. It’s a gimmick that’s been used many times, and especially considering the author, this is a minor story, but it’s well written and entertaining anyway.

William Morrison, the author of the short story “New Universe”, was really Joseph Samachson, who wrote quite a bit of science fiction under the Morrison name and then became a prolific scripter for DC Comics. (He co-created the characters Martian Manhunter and Tomahawk.) “New Universe” is a fairly clever little yarn about what happens with the supreme, all-powerful conqueror of the universe gets bored. The illustration for this one is by Ed Emshwiller, under the pretty blatant pseudonym Ed Emsler.

“The Best Policy”, by Phyllis Sterling Smith, is a short story about a group of Martian intelligence agents who come to Earth and possess the corpses of recently deceased humans, or in one case, a dog. It’s supposed to be a humorous tale but never amounts to much. I’m not familiar with Smith at all and can only tell you that she wrote just a handful of stories. The illustration is by some unknown artist trying to imitate Virgil Finlay.

A good Schomburg illo graces the novelette “Collision” by Raymond F. Jones. Jones wrote the novel THE YEAR THAT STARDUST FELL, which I read several years ago and really enjoyed. This novelette is the sort of blue-collar SF I like, as a space yacht belonging to a famous actress collides with a communications relay station between Earth and Mars and causes great destruction and loss of life. The manager of the station has to try to figure out what happened and defend himself against the station’s vengeful owners, in a set-up that reminded me a little of Hammond Innes’ classic adventure novel THE WRECK OF THE Mary Deare. This is an excellent story, very well-written and ultimately more about humanity than nuts and bolts. I really need to read more by Jones. Luckily, I own several of his novels.

I’m familiar with Miriam Allen deFord as a mystery author whose stories I recall reading in EQMM and THE SAINT, but she wrote fantasy, too, such as her short story in this issue, “Mr. Circe”. It’s about a guy who spends his life plagued by a certain mysterious power. The problem is that the big twist at the end of the story doesn’t work at all. Well-written, wryly humorous, but ultimately a big misfire.

The final story is “Courtesy Call” by Ross Rocklynne, a long-time SF author. This one is about a diplomat from another planet where everybody is always agreeable, but when he arrives on Earth, he’s taken prisoner and subjected to interrogation and psychological torture. The motive for the whole thing is really murky, the characters are unlikable, and it’s just not a very good story.

In addition to the fiction, there’s a column by Jerome Bixby listing all the SF fanzines currently available, and the lengthy letters column, “The Ether Vibrates”. In this issue, the readers are debating the controversial covers by Earle Bergey that graced issues of STARTLING STORIES and THRILLING WONDER STORIES, as well as the question of whether sex should ever be mentioned in science fiction stories. Man, those readers had some really strong opinions and didn’t mind expressing them emphatically and at length. Sort of like SF readers today, I guess. But I’m afraid that, as with most Facebook arguments of the same sort, I just kind of skimmed through “The Ether Vibrates”.

So overall, I found this to be a below average issue of STARTLING STORIES, with only two really good stories, the ones by Clarke and Jones, with the others being readable but not much more than that. If you own a copy of this issue, I wouldn’t get in a hurry to pull it down from the shelves.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Trails, January 1942


This issue of WESTERN TRAILS sports a Norman Saunders cover, and it's great as usual, packed with dynamic action. There are some fine authors inside, too, with J. Edward Leithead leading off with the evocatively titled novella "Haunted by a Pistol Past". As I've mentioned many times before, Leithead is one of my favorite Western pulp authors. Scores of his stories appeared in WESTERN TRAILS and its sister publication WESTERN ACES, as well as in numerous other Western pulps. Also on hand are Wyatt Blassingame writing as Van Cort, Gunnison Steele (Bennie Gardner), and Tom J. Hopkins, as well as some lesser-known pulpsters such as Hyatt Manderson and Raymond W. Porter.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Forgotten Books: Casca #1 The Eternal Mercenary - Barry Sadler



The Casca series debuted in 1979, and for years I saw the paperbacks all over the place and even owned a few now and then, but I never got around to reading any of them. In my continuing effort to at least sample some of the series I’ve overlooked, I recently read the first Casca novel, THE ETERNAL MERCENARY.

Despite never having read any of the books, I was familiar with the concept of the series: one of the Roman centurions present at Jesus’ crucifixion, Casca Rufio Longinus, is cursed with immortality and spends the thousands of years since then as an undying soldier, fighting in many wars in many places, always as a mercenary. The first book opens with him in Vietnam, badly wounded but already recovering from injuries that would have killed anybody else. While he’s recovering, he tells a sympathetic doctor about his life history, focusing mostly on the first couple of hundred years after he was cursed, when he fell out of favor with his superiors in the Roman army, was sent to work in the mines as a slave, was an oarsman chained to his oar in a Roman galley, and fought as a gladiator in the arena. Interspersed with these harrowing sequences are more peaceful times, such as when he meets a wanderer from the mysterious East and learns martial arts from him and even settles down for a while as a farmer and has a wife.

The story meanders around through all these elements and maybe goes on just a tiny bit too long, but Sadler’s style is so infectious and full of life—good and bad—that it kept me turning the pages quite happily. He does a great job of capturing Casca’s personality and makes him a very likable protagonist, despite the violence that seems to haunt the character’s life.

I have to wonder about Sadler’s influences: Casca is very similar in many ways to Wolverine, who made his debut in THE INCREDIBLE HULK five years before this novel came out; and the dialogue and relationship between Casca and his Chinese mentor Shiu is very reminiscent of Remo Williams and Chiun from the Destroyer series, which was hugely popular in the decade before the Casca series began. However, I have no way of knowing if Sadler was familiar with any of that, and all writers are influenced by all sorts of things anyway, so it doesn’t really matter. What’s important is that Sadler makes it all work in this book and comes up with something very entertaining and satisfying. I really liked this one, and I’ll be reading more of the Casca novels.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Flying Sparks - Jon Del Arroz


As a long-time comic book fan (but you knew that), I don’t find much to interest me in what’s coming out from Marvel and DC these days. So recently I’ve taken a chance on several crowdfunded comics projects, and the first one to actually show up is FLYING SPARKS, a three-part superhero yarn from Jon Del Arroz in a nice-looking and well-produced trade paperback.

No origin stories here. Del Arroz drops us down in the middle of the action with his protagonist Meta-Girl battling a villain. She’s pretty new at the superhero game, learning as she goes, and not surprisingly taking some lumps in the process. She doesn’t seem to have any real powers. Her abilities come from the various gadgets she uses, such as anti-gravity boots and a stun stick. These gadgets were invented by her mentor, Professor Fitch, who teaches at the university where Meta-Girl is a student in her real identity as Chloe Anderson. Chloe also has a best friend, Hannah, and a boyfriend, Johnny Benvinuti, who owns a coffee shop.

But there’s where the twist comes in. Johnny isn’t just a coffee shop owner. He’s also a criminal, a high-level fence who deals mostly in stolen art, although he seems like a fairly decent guy at heart. And unlike Chloe, he does have a superpower that gives him the ability to deliver potent electric blasts. So what we have here, in some respects, is a romantic comedy with superheroes. But there are some dark undercurrents as well, as mysterious connections exist between Johnny’s criminal activities and Chloe’s crime-fighting as Meta-Girl. Then there’s Meta-Man, an actual superhero who’s been around for a while, and a mystery concerning his connection with Chloe.

Del Arroz’s fast-paced script is excellent, funny and dramatic by turns, and he certainly sets up plenty of intriguing questions and potential plot twists. My only real concern about the story stems from the format. Since the sequel will be crowdfunded, too (I assume), we don’t know how long it’s going to be until it’s published, which makes me wish we’d gotten just a tad more resolution in this first part. I liked FLYING SPARKS well enough, though, that I won’t hesitate to support the next volume. I want to find out what’s going to happen.

I haven’t mentioned the art, which is by Jethro Morales. Well, it’s not entirely to my old-fashioned taste (I grew up on Kirby, Kubert, Infantino, Ditko, Neal Adams, etc., after all), but Morales’ storytelling ability is pretty good and some panels are very dynamic.

Overall, I enjoyed FLYING SPARKS quite a bit. It has an old-school comic book tone while still being contemporary in its dialogue and characters. I hope it’s not too long before the next volume, because I’m ready to read more about these characters and their world.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Overlooked Movies: Dear Eleanor (2016)


I had never heard of this 2016 movie, but it turned out to be a pretty good coming of age/road trip yarn set in 1962. Two 15-year-old girls, played by Liana Liberato and Isabelle Fuhrmann (never heard of them, either) take off across the country from California to New York on a quest to meet Eleanor Roosevelt. A year or so earlier, the mother of Liberato’s character was supposed to introduce Roosevelt at some talk but was killed in a car wreck on the way there. The daughter decides the only way to deal with her grief is to find Roosevelt and deliver the introduction her mother never got to. Her oddball best friend is more than willing to go along for the ride.

Of course, this being a road trip movie, funny things happen along the way and they run into eccentric characters, including a surprisingly sympathetic escaped convict (Josh Lucas) and a washed-up showgirl (Jessica Alba). Meanwhile, Liberato’s father (Luke Wilson), who’s had trouble dealing with grief himself, has discovered that the girls have run off and is on their trail. And when the girls finally wind up at Eleanor Roosevelt’s home in New York, they don’t find what they’re expecting.

DEAR ELEANOR is a pretty predictable movie, but that doesn’t lessen its charm. The acting is pretty good all around, the script is funny at times and poignant at others, and the filmmakers do a good job of capturing the early Sixties era, touching on the death of Marilyn Monroe, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and other assorted stuff that I remember from when it really happened. There may be some anachronisms in the film, but I didn’t spot them. Of course, I wasn’t really looking for them, either.

This isn’t the sort of movie we normally watch, but I enjoyed it quite a bit anyway. It’s clean enough, and has such an innocence to it, that it almost could have been made in 1962, with, say, Hayley Mills in the lead role, Patty Duke as the friend, and Dean Jones as the dad. Those of you of a certain age ought to get what I’m talking about. It’s a nice little bit of Americana, and I’m glad we watched it.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: G-Men Detective, September 1941


There's a lot happening on this cover of G-MEN DETECTIVE, and it definitely makes me want to read the issue. I don't know who did the art. I'm a little less enthusiastic about what's inside, since the Dan Fowler lead novel is by Charles S. Strong. I haven't read much by Strong, only a couple of his Western novels under his Chuck Stanley pseudonym, but I found them to be pretty bland. However, he might be a lot better with a Dan Fowler yarn. Maybe I'll find out someday. Meanwhile, there are some dependably good authors on hand, too, including the great John K. Butler, Norman A. Daniels, and Robert Sidney Bowen.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: All Western Magazine, May 1933


Well, that's got to be kind of a shock, when you're just riding along and this big ol' bird swoops down and attacks you. I don't really care much for this cover, but it's bizarre and eye-catching, I'll give it that. And as usual with ALL WESTERN, the authors inside are good ones, including Murray Leinster, T.W. Ford, W. Wirt, J.E. Grinstead, Anthony Rud, and William E. Barrett.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Forgotten Books: Brand Fires on the Ridge - Ernest Haycox





Being in the mood to read something by Ernest Haycox, I looked around to see if I have any more of the collections that reprint his pulp novellas. I’ve read several of those in the past and really enjoyed them. Sure enough, there on my shelf was BRAND FIRES ON THE RIDGE, a Pinnacle Books edition from 1990 that contains two novellas: “Brand Fires on the Ridge”, originally published in the August 21, 1929 issue of the pulp WEST, and “The Killers”, from the July 10, 1930 issue of SHORT STORIES.


The protagonist of “Brand Fires on the Ridge” is King Merrick, a young cowboy who’s gone off adventuring for the winter but now comes back in the spring to the ranch where he worked before as the foreman. He finds that job still available, but he’s lost the young woman he planned to propose to. Worse still, he’s lost her to his best friend.

But King doesn’t have time to mope about that very much, because the ranchers in the valley band together and hire him to put a stop to a plague of rustling that threatens to wipe them out. At one end of the valley, see, lives an outlaw family called the Brierlys. Their crimes have been tolerated because they never stole much from any one ranch, spreading out their larceny over all the outfits in the area. But now they’ve gone in for rustling in a big way, and they have an inside man working for them, too. It’s part of King’s job to find this traitor.

So King has plenty on his plate, including a beautiful redheaded café owner, a couple of overlapping romantic triangles, and a mysterious old-timer. Even so, as with much of Haycox’s work, there’s not a lot of action in this yarn, although when it finally starts, it’s well done. Instead, you get emotionally complex characters, a lot of suspense, and some really fine, vivid writing.

This story was reprinted by Tower and Belmont/Tower under the title WIPE OUT THE BRIERLYS, and it must have been successful for them since it went through three separate editions with different covers.


“The Killers” is another entry in Haycox’s series featuring drifting cowpokes Joe Breedlove and Indigo Bowers. Joe is big and dumb-looking, but he actually has a keen brain. Indigo is a scrawny little galoot who’s really a very dangerous gunman. In this one, they’re getting ready to spend the winter in an isolated cabin when a stranger shows up and gets himself shot down on their doorstep by a bushwhacker. The killer gets away, but Joe and Indigo aren’t going to stand for that and set out on his trail. Their quest leads them to a hidden valley, two feuding clans, and a lot of trouble.

This one proves that while Haycox often preferred introspection over action, when he wanted to burn powder he could do so with the best of ’em. “The Killers” is more action-packed than any Haycox story I’ve ever read, with gun battle after gun battle. The pace is great, but there are still nice moments of characterization here and there, especially the ones that focus on the slightly world-weary Joe Breedlove. I don’t know how many of these Breedlove and Bowers stories there are, but I still have at least three of them on hand and look forward to reading them.

One other note about “The Killers”: it was reprinted in the 1960s Ace Books edition of SIXGUN DUO, a collection of two Haycox novellas. When Pinnacle released their edition of SIXGUN DUO in 1990, “The Killers” was replaced by another Breedlove and Bowers yarn, “Night Raid”. Why Pinnacle juggled things around in their editions, I have no idea, but now I’ve gotten to read “The Killers”, so I’m satisfied.

Like some other Western authors from that era—T.T. Flynn and L.P. Holmes come to mind—Ernest Haycox used very standard Western plots in his stories. There’s nothing in “Brand Fires on the Ridge” and “The Killers” that you haven’t seen in scores of other pulp Western yarns. What elevates his work, as with Flynn and Holmes, is the pure writing talent that shines through. These two stories are well worth reading and get a high recommendation from me.