Sunday, May 20, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Argosy, July 1, 1939


Another fine, colorful Rudolph Belarski cover on this issue of ARGOSY, one of my favorite pulps. This issue features an installment of the serial "Seven Footprints to Satan" by A. Merritt (reprinted from its original appearance in ARGOSY ALL-STORY WEEKLY in 1927), plus a South Seas novella by Allan Vaughan Elston and stories by Garnett Radcliffe, Walter C. Brown, and more serials by Walter Ripperger and Howard Rigsby. I'd love to have a complete run of ARGOSY from the Twenties and Thirties. So many great serials . . . 

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Thrilling Ranch Stories, Summer 1951


Like RANCH ROMANCES, THRILLING RANCH STORIES may have been aimed at a slightly more female readership, but at least during the Fifties it featured quite a few hardboiled Western action yarns. In this issue, with a good cover by Sam Cherry, there are stories by Walker A. Tompkins, Wayne D. Overholser, Giff Cheshire, Paul Evan Lehman, Cibolo Ford, and Samuel Mines.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Forgotten Books: Hot Lead For Gleaming Rails - Van Cort (Wyatt Blassingame)



I’ve seen the name Van Cort in the table of contents in numerous Western pulps and have read at least one story under that name that I recall. I enjoyed it, too. I found out recently that Van Cort was a pseudonym for Wyatt Blassingame, a prolific and well-respected author of Weird Menace and detective tales for various pulps. (I believe he was also the brother of well-known literary agent Lurton “Count” Blassingame.) I don’t think I’ve read any of Blassingame’s work under his own name, although I have a couple of collections of it, but I did just read his short Western novel “Hot Lead for Gleaming Rails”, published in the August 7, 1937 issue of WESTERN STORY (with the first name of the pseudonym misspelled), and thought it was very good.

The protagonist of this violent yarn is Lee Carey, a young man who works for the railroad obtaining right-of-way for new lines. He returns to the town and the valley where he grew up and still owns an abandoned ranch, with the intention of building a spur line into the area, but he’s also out for revenge on the crooked cattle baron who ran him out years earlier. Along the way he helps out a young newspaper editor and the man’s wife and child, so Lee decides that starting a newspaper and getting his new friend to run it will help him mold public opinion in favor of the railroad. He also meets a beautiful young woman who’s come to the area to search for her missing father, but she winds up throwing in with Lee’s old enemy the cattle baron. One more complication is the presence of the Laredo Kid, an old friend of Lee’s who has turned outlaw. Having the Kid on his side may be more hindrance than help for Lee.

Blassingame does a fine job of weaving these strands together into a fast-paced plot that includes a number of shootouts and bushwhackings, culminating in an epic battle. Even while he’s doing this, however, he manages to work some moral complexity into the story, as not everything turns out to be as black and white as it appears at first. The good guys are not always sympathetic, and all the bad guys aren’t stereotypical villains. Blassingame writes in a smooth, clean style as well, without the overdone dialect and flowery descriptions that sometimes show up in Western pulp stories. This reads more like a novel that would have been published by Gold Medal in the Fifties.

As far as I can tell, Blassingame wrote only a couple of full-length novels as Van Cort, but I’m going to hunt down copies of both of them. “Hot Lead for Gleaming Rails” is available in an e-book collection, which is where I read it, and if you’re in the mood for a good hardboiled Western yarn, I recommend it.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Coming From Stark House: Hostage for a Hood/The Merriweather File - Lionel White


HOSTAGE FOR A HOOD
Cribbins has the heist planned down to the last detail. He and Santino are driving one of the cars, on their way to hold up an armored car to remove its quarter of a million dollars. The only thing Cribbins doesn't plan on is being run into by Joyce Sherwood's Chevy. All they can do after that is quickly take over Joyce's car, including Joyce and her dog, and finish the job. When her husband Brad comes home and finds no Joyce and no dog, he knows something is wrong. He calls the police, but they only put him off, assuming that a missing wife could have run off with somebody. Brad knows different. But can he find her before the cops put so much effort into solving the armored car hold that they lose sight of the missing wife who is now part of the same crime?...before Cribbins decides he doesn't need a hostage anymore....before Santino finally flips out and starts to use his knife....?

THE MERRIWEATHER FILE
Ann Merriweather thinks someone is trying to kill her. She shares her fears with an old friend of the family, her lawyer friend Howard Yates, but though he believes her, there is nothing he can do. Then Ann's husband, Charles, is found by the cops with a flat tire by the side of the road and a murdered body in his trunk. The man had been shot. Charles is held for questioning, then arrested, and Howard agrees to take the case. But nothing is as it seems. The police quickly determine that the murder occurred at the Merriweathers' house. But Charles has an alibi. He was gone from the house all night. And Ann was asleep under the heavy influence of some sleeping pills. But someone killed the man in the trunk, and the more Howard discovers about the case, the less inclined he is to assume the innocence of his client.

I've enjoyed everything I've read by Lionel White. I think I may have read HOSTAGE FOR A HOOD years ago, but I'll be reading it again in this reprint.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

West of Hell - Brett Halsey


Brett Halsey has had a long, successful career as an actor in movies and TV, but he’s also written a number of novels over the years and in fact, according to his website he thinks of himself as a writer who acts, rather than an actor who writes. I tend to agree with him. His latest novel, and his first Western, WEST OF HELL, is a well written and solidly entertaining yarn.

The protagonist is bounty hunter Chris Tracy, who uses his manhunting skills to finance his on-going search for his younger sister, who was carried off by outlaws who raided the family farm years earlier. A veteran of the Civil War, Chris is a decent but highly dangerous man when he needs to be. In this book, he teams up with a friend from the war and an old desert rat in a quest to recover some ancient golden figurines hidden in the New Mexico Territory wilderness. These little statues, known as the Golden Apostles, date back to the days of Spanish rule over the territory.

Naturally, several hardcases are after the valuable statues, too, and along the way Chris and his companions also run into a shady gambler and the man’s wife and stepdaughter. This trio complicates things quite a bit, too, and eventually tragic violence breaks out.

WEST OF HELL is a pretty gritty book, the sort where you never really know who’s going to survive and who isn’t, and Halsey springs a number of unexpected plot twists as well. This one doesn’t play out in some respects as you’d probably expect. Having written and read so many Westerns, I’m generally pretty confident that I have a good idea what’s going to happen. In WEST OF HELL, not so much.

Halsey does a fine job of developing the characters and depicting the landscape. It’s easy to imagine him playing Chris Tracy in a Spaghetti Western version of this tale from the Sixties, when Halsey was in Europe making some of those films. He admits in an afterword that that experience was an influence on the writing of this book.

I enjoyed WEST OF HELL quite a bit. It’s a good hardboiled Western and could easily be the first of a series. I wouldn’t mind a bit if it was. Recommended.


Sunday, May 13, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: All Fiction Stories, July 1931


You don't hear as much about the Dell pulps as you do about some from other publishers, but from what I can tell, they were consistently high quality productions. This issue of ALL FICTION STORIES, Dell's general adventure fiction pulp, sports a good cover by H.W. Reusswig, and inside you'll find a great group of authors: H. Bedford-Jones, Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, Tom Curry, and Seven Anderton, among others. Looks thoroughly enjoyable to me. 

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Giant Western, October 1950


As usual, the poker game gets interrupted by a gunfight. Makes you wonder if they ever finished a hand in the Old West without burning powder. But there are some good authors in this issue of GIANT WESTERN, starting with two of my favorites, Walt Coburn and Leslie Scott (writing as A. Leslie this time around). There are also stories by Robert J. Hogan (probably best remembered for his aviation stories, including G-8 AND HIS BATTLE ACES, but he wrote a lot of Westerns, too), Ben Frank, Francis H. Ames, and house-names Sam Brant and Clay Starr.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Forgotten Books: The Python Pit - George F. Worts



I wouldn’t have guessed that it’s been more than ten years since I read, enjoyed, and blogged about SOUTH OF SULU, the first collection of George F. Worts’ Singapore Sammy stories from Black Dog Books. It seems more recent than that, and the stories are still pretty fresh in my memory, which means they were good ones, I guess. Now I’ve read THE PYTHON PIT, the second Singapore Sammy collection, also published by Black Dog Books, and thoroughly enjoyed it as well.

Singapore Sammy is really Samuel Larkin Shay, red-headed American adventurer in southeast Asia during the 1930s. The character first appeared in 1931 in a series of adventure yarns published in the pulp SHORT STORIES (the ones collected in SOUTH OF SULU). Sammy is searching for his father, a conman named Bill Shay, looking for vengeance because the old man deserted Sammy’s mother, and also because Bill Shay has possession of a will that means Sammy will inherit a fortune if he can get his hands on it.

Later that same year, Worts moved the series over to ARGOSY. The first four stories to appear there are the tales collected in THE PYTHON PIT, starting with “Sapphires and Suckers”, a novella which was serialized in two parts under the title “Singapore Sammy” in the December 12 and December 19, 1931 issues of ARGOSY. It serves as an adequate introduction to the character for anybody who hadn’t read the earlier stories in SHORT STORIES, explaining about Sammy’s quest to find his father. He gets mixed up with a beautiful young woman whose father is a dangerous criminal and who, in partnership with Bill Shay, has sold the young woman’s fiancee a worthless sapphire mine. Or is it worthless? That becomes the question, leading to intrigue, double-dealing, and considerable danger for Sammy. He’s good at staying a couple of steps ahead of everybody else, though . . . except for his father, who always seems to give him the slip.

More than a year passed before Sammy reappeared in the three-part serial “The Python Pit”, in the May 6, 13, and 20, 1933 issues of ARGOSY. At 30,000 words, this is almost a novel. Sammy and his sidekick, Lucifer “Lucky” Jones, reluctantly agree to take a beautiful young woman to the remote island where her father has been mauled by a tiger. The problem is, the island, called Konga, is rumored to be inhabited by a race of gigantic cannibals and haunted by the ghosts of all their victims. They set sail on their schooner, the Blue Goose, anyway. Sammy expects to run into trouble, and that’s what happens, since nothing about the situation is exactly what it appears to be at first. There’s a ton of action in this one, and Sammy comes face to face with Bill Shay again. Worts massages the back-story in this one, revealing that the villainous Shay is actually Sammy’s stepfather (whether that was the intention all along, I don’t know, but I sort of doubt it). He also introduces another recurring character to be a thorn in Sammy’s side, the lovely but treacherous Shanghai Sally. Worts manages to get all this in without ever letting up on the breakneck pace and the vivid writing, which makes “The Python Pit” one of the best pure pulp adventure yarns I’ve read in a long time.

Singapore Sammy next appears in “Isle of the Meteor”, a complete novelette published in the August 19, 1933 issue of ARGOSY. Lucky Jones is off on another adventure when this yarn takes place, so Sammy has to handle all the danger himself when he agrees to help out a dying sea captain and deliver a cargo of supplies to an isolated island where a group of communist-leaning, anti-war Americans established a colony during the Great War (World War I, to us). Of course, when Sammy gets there, surprises are waiting for him, most of them quite perilous, including another encounter with Shanghai Sally. Bill Shay is mentioned in this one but doesn’t appear. It’s a good, fast-moving tale with some particularly brutal scenes near the end.

The final story in this volume is “A Whisker of Buddha”, originally published as “Buddha’s Whisker” in the May 26, 1934 issue of ARGOSY. Sammy is in bad shape when this one opens, having had ownership of the Blue Goose stolen out from under him and Lucky Jones while he was drugged, by none other than Shanghai Sally, of course. He wakes up in Rangoon, in a fog from the mickey Sally slipped him, but then some of the local criminals start approaching him, wanting to hire him for a big job. This tells Sammy something big is up, so he finds Lucky and before you know it, they’re up to their necks in an adventure that involves infiltrating a secret ceremony that can get them killed and stealing a small, jewel-encrusted chest that’s supposed to contain an authentic hair from Buddha’s beard. This is the weakest story in the collection because it takes a while to get going, but once it does it’s pretty darned good, with lots of exciting scenes.

It also lays the groundwork for the next story, the only full-length novel in the series, THE MONSTER OF THE LAGOON, which I also happen to have in reprint. As much as I enjoyed THE PYTHON PIT, I’ll probably get to it fairly soon.


Monday, May 07, 2018

Now Available: Say It Was Murder - Stephen Mertz



McShan is tough and smart, one of the top operatives for the detective agency Honeycutt Personal Services. But he has his hands full when he’s sent to the picturesque desert landscape of southeastern Arizona to check on the well-being of a former Olympic gymnast who’s become involved with a New Age cult. It doesn’t take long for murder to rear its ugly head, and McShan finds himself neck-deep in a case involving vicious bikers, an unassuming barber who may be a criminal mastermind, a wealthy entreprenuer hiding dangerous secrets, and too many beautiful blondes with deadly secrets of their own.

Critically acclaimed thriller author Stephen Mertz returns with a private eye novel in the classic mold, crackling with suspense and plot twists, populated with compelling characters, and told with a sharp, contemporary edge that will leave the reader breathless.

Sunday, May 06, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Double-Action Gang, February 1937


I've never read much from the gang pulps, but this issue of DOUBLE-ACTION GANG looks like a pretty good one, and a bit unusual, too, because most of what's inside it was written by a pair of authors much better known for their Westerns. The featured novel "This Way to Hell", which fills up about two-thirds of the issue, is by Harry Sinclair Drago, who had a long, prolific career as a Western novelist and pulpster under his own name and the pseudonyms Bliss Lomax and Will Ermine. The supposedly true story about the Jesse James gang attributed to Bill Stiles is actually by Ed Earl Repp. And there are two stories by Will F. Jenkins, one under his own name and one under his much more famous pseudonym Murray Leinster. While Jenkins/Leinster isn't really famous as a Western author, he wrote quite a few of them. On top of all that, I like the cover. If I actually owned a copy of this pulp, I'd read it, you can count on that.

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Exciting Western, Spring 1942



This is a pulp that I own and read recently. The picture (not a scan this time) is of my beat up copy, chunk out of the cover and all. I’ve read some other issues of EXCITING WESTERN, mostly for the Tombstone and Speedy stories by W.C. Tuttle, but this one comes before that series debuted in the magazine. It has some other series stories, though, and in fact leads off with one.

“Gold Loot” is the sixth installment of a long-running series about Pony Express rider Alamo Paige. Walker A. Tompkins began the series, writing under the name Reeve Walker, but when he went off to World War II, Charles N. Heckelmann and Chuck Martin took over for him and Reeve Walker became a house-name. (This information courtesy of Will Murray.) I suspect that “Gold Loot” is by Martin, but I don’t know that for sure. Whoever the author is, it’s a pretty good yarn. A former Pony Express rider who’s been fired and turned renegade plans to hold up the Rock Creek, Nebraska, station, which happens to be managed by a young Wild Bill Hickok, who’s good friends with Alamo Paige. Paige is ambushed by the would-be robber and his partner, a beautiful young blonde gets kidnapped, there’s a chase through a Nebraska blizzard, dynamite gets thrown around and stuff blows up real good . . . You get the idea. The plot may not be ground-breaking, but man, the action never lets up and it’s pretty well-written. I really enjoyed this one a lot and am eager to read more Alamo Paige stories.

With a title like “Sad Sam’s Joy Jag”, you’d expect both a humorous story and a series entry from this story by Thomas H. Regan, who published only about a dozen stories in his career. But while it does have its lighter aspects, this tale seems to be the only one about the cowpoke known as Sad Sam. It opens with a nice action scene that finds Sam and his rancher boss holed up in a cabin that’s under attack by numerous gunmen. That develops into a story about a battle over water rights, and Regan does a good job with it. As I’ve mentioned many times before, I’m not a big fan of humorous Westerns, and a few things in this one made me roll my eyes (like Sam’s horse being named Snigglefritz), but overall I found it a pretty entertaining yarn.

It’s no surprise that I’d enjoy the novelette “Hangnoose Hides”, since it’s by one of my favorite Western authors, L.P. Holmes. Down on his luck cowboy Bucky O’Dell gets tangled up with a ring of bad hombres dealing in stolen cowhides, is framed for a crime he didn’t commit, and is locked up in jail with a rampaging lynch mob on the way to string him up. Getting out of this fix and exposing the villains behind the whole thing will be quite a challenge. Holmes was an expert at taking traditional plots and making them seem fresh, and he does so here, mostly because Bucky O’Dell is a really likable protagonist and the writing is just as smooth as can be. A fine, entertaining yarn.

“Ranger, Dig Your Grave” (a good title) is an entry in the Navajo Tom Raine, Arizona Ranger series, written under the house-name Jackson Cole. I’ve read some of these yarns before and enjoyed them, and this one is no exception. Raine is sent to find out who’s been murdering farmers in Mormon Valley. The plot is set up so it appears we’re going to get a cattlemen vs. sodbusters story, but then the author provides some nice twists to go with the well-written action scenes and the result is the best Navajo Tom Raine story I’ve read so far. I don’t know who wrote it, but C. William Harrison’s name has been associated with this series and I suspect it might be his work.

Gunnison Steele, whose real name was Bennie Gardner, wrote a couple of dozen novels for the Thrilling Group’s Western character pulps TEXAS RANGERS, RIO KID WESTERN, MASKED RIDER WESTERN, and RANGE RIDERS WESTERN, but he was much more prolific at shorter lengths, authoring several hundred stories for a wide variety of Western pulps. His story in this issue, “Man-Sized Maverick” is about a fourteen-year-old boy who sets out to solve his grandfather’s murder and catch the killers. As always with Gardner’s work, this yarn is well-plotted and well-written and very enjoyable.

Allen K. Echols was also quite prolific during his thirty year career writing mostly for the Western pulps. His short-short story in this issue, “The Trail Herd”, is about a rustler selling a stolen herd, and it has a nice twist at the end. I haven’t read much by Echols over the years, but maybe I should.

Joseph J. Millard, writing as Joe Millard, is best remembered as a paperbacker, having turned out a number of original novels in various genres, as well as being a dependable scribe of movie novelizations and tie-ins. But he wrote quite a bit for the pulps as well, including the short story “Guns of Revenge” in this issue. It starts out as a fairly standard tale of a man returning to his home town to get vengeance on the man he blames for the death of his parents. But nothing is what it seems at first as Millard provides several good plot twists and some decent action along the way. This is another good story and wraps up a really fine issue of EXCITING WESTERN. I enjoyed every one of the stories and am looking forward to reading more issues of this pulp.

Friday, May 04, 2018

Forgotten Books: Hell in Paradise Valley - Barry Cord (Peter Germano)


As I’ve mentioned numerous times in the past, Peter Germano, who wrote mostly under the pseudonym Barry Cord, was one of the most dependable authors of traditional Westerns. An Ace Double paperback original from 1972, HELL IN PARADISE VALLEY is on the other side of Ray Hogan’s THE NIGHT HELL’S CORNERS DIED, which I wrote about a while back. I’ve read the Germano novel now and found it equally enjoyable.

HELL IN PARADISE VALLEY is a cattlemen vs. sheepherders book, but with a nice twist in that it’s a group of Texas cowboys, led by rugged trail boss Jess Riley, that gets tricked into agreeing to deliver a herd of sheep to Paradise Valley. A plot like this could easily be played for comedy, but in Germano’s hands it’s a tough, hardboiled action yarn. He throws in some other twists, too, such as not all the characters turning out like they appear to be at first, as well as danger from the past for some of them. He doesn’t try to cram too much into the book’s relatively short length, though. The way this book is plotted and structured, right down to the final shoot-outs, reminds me very much of a late Fifties, early Sixties TV Western. It could have been adapted into an episode of RAWHIDE with no trouble at all, although a few things would have had to be changed.

HELL IN PARADISE VALLEY doesn’t break any new ground, but it does a very good job of telling a mostly familiar story. If you’re a fan of traditional Westerns, it’s well worth reading.

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Top-Notch, October 1934


Caveman fiction shows up now and then in the pulps, as in this issue of TOP-NOTCH with a cover by Gayle Hoskins illustrating the lead novel, "Man of the Dawn" by Charles Willard Diffin. Now, I can't tell you much about Diffin except that he wrote quite a bit for the early ASTOUNDING and published sporadically in other pulps including TOP-NOTCH during the first half of the Thirties. I can tell you, however, that this issue contains "Sword of Shahrazar", a Kirby O'Donnell yarn by Robert E. Howard, which is its main claim to fame these days. It also includes stories by Carl Jacobi, William Merriam Rouse, Harold F. Cruickshank (known to me from many Western pulps), and a few authors I'm not familiar with. I don't own a copy of this issue, so the Howard story is the only one I've read, but the Diffin yarn sounds interesting and Jacobi was always worth reading.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: 10 Story Western Magazine, November 1939


Great cover on this issue of 10 STORY WESTERN (I don't know the artist) and a great bunch of writers inside: Harry F. Olmsted, Norman A. Fox, Gunnison Steele (Bennie Gardner), Ed Earl Repp, Leslie Ernenwein, John G. Pearsol, Richard Tooker (better known for his science fiction), George Michener, Jack Bloodhart, and Ted Fox. I'm not familiar with the last two, but the others range from great to dependably good.

UPDATE: The cover art on this issue is by Albin Henning. Thanks to Sheila Ann Vanderbeek for the information!

Friday, April 27, 2018

Forgotten Books: The Yellow Scourge - Curtis Steele (Frederick C. Davis)


You wouldn’t expect a pulp novel from 1934 called THE YELLOW SCOURGE to be very politically correct—and you’d be right. However, this novel, the third to feature Jimmy Christopher, Operator 5 in America’s intelligence service, actually isn’t all that objectionable. Frederick C. Davis, who authored this one under the house-name Curtis Steele, uses “the Yellow Empire” as a stand-in for Japan, but I doubt if that fooled anybody even in 1934. The Japanese characters aren’t caricatures, though, and the main villain, a freelance female spymaster, isn’t even Japanese as far as I can tell.

The plot of this yarn, which appeared in the June 1934 issue of OPERATOR #5, is pretty simple: a faction of the “Yellow Empire” military wants to start a war with the United States and attempts to do so by launching an attack on its own naval fleet with planes made to look like American craft. The fleet is visiting the California coast and Jimmy Christopher happens to be on hand, so of course he figures out right away what’s going on. Then Yellow Empire ships, again disguised as American vessels, attack merchant ships from England, France, and other European countries so they won’t come to America’s aid when the Empire declares war.

There’s some espionage going on—Jimmy Christopher clashes with the female mastermind behind the plan and undertakes a daring mission to obtain proof of the Yellow Empire’s treachery—but for the most part THE YELLOW SCOURGE is a war novel. In an eerie precursor of fears that were actually common seven years later after the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Empire’s fleet bombards the American west coast, their army invades Mexico and advances on the United States from the south, and they try to destroy the Panama Canal. The Americans, led by Jimmy Christopher, of course, strike back with a long-range aerial mission like the one to Tokyo led by Jimmy Doolittle. In a bit that smacks of science fiction considering the era, they also battle the enemy with radio-controlled rockets designed by Operator 5. It all makes for a fast-moving and entertaining, if far-fetched, tale.

Almost all the elements of an Operator 5 novel are here: Jimmy Christopher pretends to be society photographer Carleton Victor and banters with his manservant Crowe; he stops in the middle of the action to demonstrate a magic trick for his pugnacious 14-year-old Irish sidekick Tim Donovan; he worries about his father, a former intelligence operative with bullets lodged near his heart so that too much excitement might kill him. Jimmy Christopher’s twin sister Nan is mentioned but doesn’t appear. This is an important novel in the history of the series, though, because it marks the introduction of feisty gal reporter Diane Elliott, who will serve as Jimmy Christopher’s love interest and the bad guys’ kidnapping target for the remainder of the series.

Don’t mistake my somewhat flippant comments for criticism: I love this series. Frederick C. Davis’s plots always hang together, and he can spin out these apocalyptic scenarios that make the reader believe Jimmy Christopher really does have to save the entire country from destruction every month. As far as I’m concerned, the Operator 5 novels are top-notch pulp adventure yarns, and if you’re a fan of that sort of storytelling and haven’t tried them, you should.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Coming From Stark House: Portrait in Smoke/The Longest Second - Bill S. Ballinger



PORTRAIT IN SMOKE
Danny April is obsessed. He buys out a little collection agency in Chicago, and that s how he first meets Krassy. He’d never seen anyone so beautiful. She was Krassy Almauniski then, when he first runs across her picture in his files. She’s gone through several identities since then. As Danny tries to track her down, each new name presents him with a portrait of a woman on the move. Krassy is climbing up the social ladder, one sucker at a time. There’s the photographer who signs off on a charge account for her, later arrested for larceny. And the ad executive... he gets off lightly. He gets to walk away with his pride. Not all the men who Krassy meet are so lucky. But Danny knows he’ll be different. So he keeps looking... until at last he finds her.

THE LONGEST SECOND
When I awakened, I stared straight above me at the ceiling ... I attempted to turn my head. It was then I realized that my throat had been cut. The pain ran down both sides of my neck ... I gasped, choking for air. The next day I regained consciousness again ... Suddenly it struck me that I didn't know my own name!... They check his fingerprints and find out that his name is Victor Pacific. He has no memories of who he is, what he is, or why someone tried to kill him. He remembers the name Horstman. But he has no idea of how to find him. All he can do is to begin a search for the clues to his former life. Then he meets Bianca but will she be able to help him before they strike again?

I haven't read anything by Bill S. Ballinger in a long time. Both of these novels sound great and I'm looking forward to them.

Monday, April 23, 2018

Damon Runyon's Boys - Michael Scott Cain



We all know Stark House as one of the top reprinters of classic noir, hardboiled, and crime novels, but they also publish some excellent original novels in those genres as well, the latest of which is DAMON RUNYON’S BOYS by Michael Scott Cain.

Set in post-World War II New York City, DAMON RUNYON’S BOYS opens with the leader of a Lindy Hop dance troupe being gunned down by a pair of zoot-suited killers at the Savoy Ballroom. Soon investigating the crime is Damon Taylor, the top writer at a national crime tabloid who was once a protégé of the similarly named Damon Runyon. He has a cop friend who cuts him some leeway but not an unlimited amount, and he also gets help from Walter Winchell and a young reporter on a leftist journal named Truman Capote. Taylor’s probing of the case takes him into the middle of a gang war over the garment district whose players include the famous mobster Frank Costello. Not surprisingly, Taylor’s efforts get him beaten up and threatened. More murders ensue. There are a lot of plot twists to untangle before Taylor discovers the truth.

Historical mysteries like this are great fun, but they’re also tricky to write. It’s easy to weigh them down with too much period detail, and sometimes the historical characters act in unbelievable ways. I’m happy to report that Cain doesn’t fall into either of those traps. The setting and the time period ring true without being overdone, and although I’m far from an expert on either one, I believed both Winchell and Capote might have been involved with this case. Damon Taylor is a flawed but likable protagonist, and Cain keeps the action moving along at a very nice pace indeed. DAMON RUNYON’S BOYS is exactly the sort of complex, hardboiled, vividly written novel that I really enjoy, and I had a great time reading it. Highly recommended.

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Short Stories, February 10, 1933


A classic "red sun" SHORT STORIES cover by Frank Spradling, and inside can be found stories by H. Bedford-Jones, Gordon MacCreagh, James B. Hendryx, Cliff Farrell, Jackson Gregory, Bertrand W. Sinclair, Bob du Soe, and more. Classic is nearly always the right word to describe an issue of SHORT STORIES. 

Saturday, April 21, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Cowboy Stories, February 1934


I like this cover by E.M. Stevenson. This issue of COWBOY STORIES is one of those rare Western pulps that features an airplane on the cover, and Stevenson's done a good job with it. I'm really intrigued about what's going on here. Inside are stories by J. Allan Dunn (a reprint of a Bud Jones story from an issue of WILD WEST WEEKLY that came out a year or so earlier), Forbes Parkhill, Robert Enders Allen (who was really Chandler Whipple), Ray Humphreys, Raymond W. Porter, and some lesser-known authors. Maybe not a top issue, based on that line-up, but I'll bet it was pretty entertaining anyway. And I'd have probably bought it just based on the cover if I had an extra dime in my pocket.

Friday, April 20, 2018

Forgotten Books: Lands of the Earthquake - Henry Kuttner



I’ve read quite a bit of Henry Kuttner’s work and always enjoyed it. He’s one of my favorite science fiction and fantasy authors from the pulp era and can always be counted on for well-written, fast-moving yarns. That’s certainly true of LANDS OF THE EARTHQUAKE, a short novel originally published in the May 1947 issue of STARTLING STORIES (under the editorship of my old mentor Sam Merwin Jr., I might add).

LANDS OF THE EARTHQUAKE finds an apparently normal New Yorker, William Boyce, having a black-out that loses a whole year for him. He doesn’t have amnesia, he knows who he is, but that missing year is just gone except for the occasional memory, the most haunting of which is of a beautiful young woman. He also remembers a man’s face, and when he spots the guy on the street, Boyce follows him to an old brownstone and winds up going through some sort of mystical gateway to another dimension where time stands still but space moves in rippling waves that cause entire cities to shift around like ships on an ocean. Two such places seem to be anchored to each other, though: a massive castle called Kerak that’s inhabited by a group of Crusading knights who wandered in there from our world six hundred years ago, and the City, which is ruled by a king who’s made an unholy alliance with a group of evil, otherworldly sorcerers.

Got all that? Because that’s mostly back-story. Kuttner knew how to pack a plot with a lot of good stuff.

Boyce falls in with the Crusaders and helps them in their war with the City. He meets a wizard and sees a living marble statue of a beautiful young woman called the Oracle. He clashes with the mysterious Huntsman, who manipulates events in this strange land according to his own enigmatic agenda. He becomes acquainted with one of his own ancestors, the arrogant Crusader Guillaime du Bois. Eventually he assumes Guillaime’s identity and penetrates the City as a spy, where he finally encounters the young woman he remembers from his black-out and discovers the truth of everything that’s going on. Epic stuff ensues.

There’s a little semi-science here and there, but mostly this novel falls on the sword-and-sorcery side of things, and a mighty good one it is, too. Kuttner frequently collaborated with his wife C.L. Moore, and although the details are lost to the mists of pulp history, it seems very likely to me that she contributed some to LANDS OF THE EARTHQUAKE, mostly in the vivid descriptions that crop up from time to time. The straight-ahead action/adventure elements strike me more as Kuttner’s work, though, and those scenes race along very nicely. The theme of the duality of human nature, some good and some bad in everybody, is also worked into the story subtly and effectively, giving the tale some added depth.

Overall, I think this is one of my favorite Kuttner novels so far. It’s available in an e-book version and also as half of a double novel print volume with UNDER A DIM BLUE SUN by Howie K. Bentley. I enjoyed it and give it a high recommendation.

Monday, April 16, 2018

Mr. Calamity - Kenneth Robeson (Will Murray)


This latest entry in The Wild Adventures of Doc Savage is a sequel to one of the original pulp novels by Lester Dent. I won't say which one because that would be a spoiler of sorts, but anyone who's read it will recognize it right away. I recall reading that particular novel at my aunt's house in Blanket, Texas more than 50 years ago, and I'm sure the thought that I'd be reading a sequel to it half a century later never occurred to me.

That said, I'm really glad I did, because I thoroughly enjoyed MR. CALAMITY. It's one of the rare Doc Savage novels that's also a Western of sorts, being set in Wyoming and featuring cowboys and rustlers galloping around on horseback and firing six-shooters. Of course, there's plenty of the usual Doc Savage superscience, too, in this tale of something that makes gravity go wild so that objects--including human beings--go flying in the air, sometimes all the way to the stratosphere.

This one starts when Pat Savage, Doc's gorgeous, trouble-hunting cousin, is prospecting in the badlands near a ranch that Doc's associate Long Tom Roberts (the electronics genius) inherited from an uncle. Pat spies a man swimming in mid-air, hundreds of feet high. When the effect wears off, he plunges to his death. He won't be the last such victim of this mystery.

Doc, Renny, and Johnny show up eventually. (You know who Renny and Johnny are, right? Colonel John Renwick and William Harper Littlejohn?) Much action ensues. People die, including some you wouldn't expect. Murray does a fine job with the Western setting and elements. I've been to some of the places he writes about in this novel, and he captures them perfectly. There's a big twist that every Doc Savage fan will see coming a mile away, and as far as I'm concerned, that's part of the charm of the series and the way it ought to be. Man, did I have fun reading this book. If you're a Doc fan, you will, too. I guarantee it. Highly recommended.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Clues Detective Stories, July 1935


The cover on this issue of CLUES DETECTIVE STORIES makes it look more like an adventure pulp than a mystery magazine, at least to me. And the presence of E. Hoffmann Price with the lead novel makes it just seem even more like that. But that's okay with me, since I always like Price's work. Also in this issue are stories by Cleve F. Adams, Paul Ernst, William Merriam Rouse, Arden X. Pangborn, and others.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Aces, January 1948


Another fine Norman Saunders cover (is there any other kind?) on this issue of WESTERN ACES, and a pretty solid line-up of authors inside, as well. There are the usual two stories by J. Edward Leithead, one under his name and one as by Wilson L. Covert, plus stories by two more of my favorites, Walker A. Tompkins and Gunnison Steele, real name Bennie Gardner. The cover-featured story is by Glenn Low, who published quite a few stories in the Western pulps during the Forties, then went on to write soft-core novels for Beacon Books and Novel Books, the only one of which I've read, THE BARN, was pretty good.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Forgotten Stories: Dead Man's Rancho - T.W. Ford


T.W. Ford was a very prolific pulp writer, authoring several hundred Western, detective, and sports yarns over a long career. He also worked as a pulp editor but is almost completely forgotten today. The fact that he wrote only a few novels probably has something to do with that, as well as the wildly inconsistent quality of his fiction. His work was popular, though, and was often featured on the covers of the pulps in which it appeared. His most successful series starred a drifting, heroic gunfighter named Solo Strant (an odd name for a pulp hero), who was also known by the more conventional nickname The Silver Kid because of the silver buttons on his black shirt, the silver conchos on his chaps and the band of his black hat, his silver-butted Colts, and the small silver skull that adorns his hat’s neck strap. Ford wrote more than sixty Silver Kid stories between 1935 and 1950. At first they appeared regularly in WILD WEST WEEKLY and then eventually migrated over to the Columbia pulps REAL WESTERN, DOUBLE ACTION WESTERN, WESTERN ACTION, and COMPLETE COWBOY. Most of them were either novelette or novella length, sometimes billed as full-length novels even though they actually weren’t.

Several years ago I started one of the later Silver Kid stories and didn’t care for it, didn’t even finish it. But recently I read one of the earlier ones from WILD WEST WEEKLY, “Dead Man’s Rancho” (from the September 3, 1938 issue), and thought it was much better. In this one, the Kid helps a posse capture an escaped convict, only to discover that the man is actually innocent and in such poor health that he’ll die in prison. The proof that will clear the man’s name and save him from an unjust fate is in the hands of an outlaw who’s headed for a place called Dead Man’s Rancho, a notorious outlaw hideout in the desert where only the lowest, most desperate owlhoots go because the place is supposed to be cursed. The man who built it went insane and disappeared into the desert, but there are rumors that he’s still alive, somewhere out there . . .

Well, of course Solo doesn’t let any of this stop him from going after the proof he needs to save the unjustly imprisoned man, and along the way Ford adds some extra complications in the form of a murderous gambler and a fortune in missing bank loot. There’s plenty of action, and a few genuinely creepy scenes work very well.

I mentioned the inconsistency of Ford’s work. He’s one of the few authors I’ve encountered whose prose can be really good and really bad not just in the same story but sometimes on the same page. There are a few clunkers in this yarn. But there are also some great lines of dialogue and paragraphs that just sing. I really enjoyed “Dead Man’s Rancho” and think I’m going to have to hunt up more Silver Kid stories. This one is available in an e-book collection called THE PULP WESTERN ANTHOLOGY VOLUME 1, and if you’re a Western pulp fan, I think it’s well worth reading.


Thursday, April 12, 2018

The League of Dead Patriots - Andrew Salmon


I've read quite a few of the original Dan Fowler novels from the pulp G-MEN and always enjoyed them. THE LEAGUE OF DEAD PATRIOTS is a new Fowler novella written by Andrew Salmon, one of the stalwarts of the New Pulp movement. I haven't read much New Pulp, but I really enjoyed this one.

FBI agents Dan Fowler, Larry Kendal, and Sally Vane are in California trying to break up a black marketeering ring when they come across a connection to a Japanese internment camp in the area. The case is also complicated by the involvement of the beautiful crimefighter known as the Domino Lady, another pulp character who's actually had more stories about her written and published in this era than during her original run. Another, much more well-known pulp hero makes a cameo appearance as well.

Salmon keeps the pace perking along nicely and has a good grasp of the characters. I found the Domino Lady to be pretty interesting and actually bought an e-book collection of the original pulp stories about her. Once I've read that I might give some of the other New Pulp volumes a try.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Coming From Stark House: Wayward Girl/The Widow - Orrie Hitt


WAYWARD GIRL

Sandy Greening loses her virginity at fourteen to a drunken neighbor. Her mother doesn't care. She's drunk herself all the time on cheap wine. So Sandy starts running with a gang, The Blue Devils, and that's where she first turns on to marijuana, and not long after, heroin. That's when she starts to sell herself to anyone with the bucks to pay for her highs. But the night Tommy asks her to hold his knife before they rumble with The Black Cats is the night that changes Sandy's life forever. A kid gets killed, and the cops put the finger on Sandy for information. And when she won't give it up the easy way, they set her up and go after it the hard way, all the way to reform school. And that's where Sandy starts to learn the real lessons of life.



THE WIDOW

When Jerry Rebner starts working for Mrs. Sprague as her cook at the Dells, he figures he knows what he wants Linda. Lush and ripe, Linda has everything Jerry likes in a woman, and more. Linda is married to Frank, Mrs. Sprague's shiftless hot rodding son, who widows her when he plows into a tree one drunken evening. Then Jerry meets Norma, sweet, virginal Norma, who used to pose as a nude model! Torn between the two women, and by the memory of his first wife, Jerry begins to drink. Then Linda comes to him with a plan. Mrs. Sprague's property is worth $50,000 to a development company, but she won't sell. Linda is all she has left, her sole heir. And those steps leading down to the cellar are awfully steep......




Orrie Hitt has become one of my favorite authors in recent years, and I take a little pride in helping to rekindle interest in his work through guest posts on my blog by Frank Loose and Brian Ritt examining his career. This upcoming double volume from Stark House looks great! I haven't read either of these novels yet, but Hitt's work for Beacon Books was some of his best. The Stark House volume is available for pre-order.

Monday, April 09, 2018

Now Available for Pre-Order: Say It Was Murder - Stephen Mertz



McShan is tough and smart, one of the top operatives for the detective agency Honeycutt Personal Services. But he has his hands full when he’s sent to the picturesque desert landscape of southeastern Arizona to check on the well-being of a former Olympic gymnast who’s become involved with a New Age cult. It doesn’t take long for murder to rear its ugly head, and McShan finds himself neck-deep in a case involving vicious bikers, an unassuming barber who may be a criminal mastermind, a wealthy entreprenuer hiding dangerous secrets, and too many beautiful blondes with deadly secrets of their own.

Critically acclaimed thriller author Stephen Mertz returns with a private eye novel in the classic mold, crackling with suspense and plot twists, populated with compelling characters, and told with a sharp, contemporary edge that will leave the reader breathless.

Sunday, April 08, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Detective Short Stories, October 1947


This issue of DETECTIVE SHORT STORIES features a number of authors better known for other types of fiction instead of mystery and detective yarns. Lee E. Wells and Rod Patterson wrote mostly Westerns in their careers. Bryce Walton was a triple threat but more highly regarded for his science fiction tales, along with being a prolific contributor to the Western pulps. Eric Howard and Ralph Berard (who was really Victor H. White) wrote a lot of Westerns. Ken Jason was a house-name used on all sorts of stories. The only authors in this issue I think of first and foremost as mystery writers are William Campbell Gault and Herbert Brean, and to be fair, Gault wrote a lot of other stuff, too. However, this sort of versatility is one of the things I admire the most about the pulpsters, so I'm sure this is a pretty good issue.

Saturday, April 07, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Texas Rangers, June 1952



This is a pulp I own and read recently. The scan is of my copy, complete with newsstand stamp on the cover. I pulled this issue of TEXAS RANGERS off the shelf because there was a story by Clark Gray in the issue I read a few weeks ago that I enjoyed, and the Jim Hatfield novel in this issue, “Warpath”, is also by Gray, one of only two Hatfield yarns he wrote for the magazine. The other was “Lobo Colonel”, from the January 1952 issue, which I read in a paperback reprint many years ago. I don’t remember anything about that one except that I didn’t like it and didn’t think Gray had a good handle on the Hatfield character. I wanted to give him another chance, though.

Well, as it turns out, while I didn’t completely dislike “Warpath”, I didn’t much like it, either. It’s the old plot about somebody selling whiskey to the Indians (in this case, the Comanches) and stirring them up. Hatfield’s out to find the culprit and put a stop to the plan. He winds up with a sidekick of sorts, a young white man who was raised by the Comanches and now finds himself unwelcome in both worlds, red and white. There’s a beautiful blonde who plays guitar and sings in a medicine show, as well, along with an older Ranger and a Comanche chief who wants peace. Those are enough ingredients for an entertaining, if stereotypical, story.

And Gray’s writing is okay for the most part, although some of his action scenes are pretty awkward and hard to follow. The thing that bothered me is that this just didn’t really seem like a Jim Hatfield story, like Gray’s other entry in the series. The character was off in ways that are hard to explain. He could have been almost any Texas Ranger protagonist, and he brooded ’way too much. I did like the crazed Comanche warrior Bitterfoot, though. He made a good villain. But overall I wouldn’t recommend “Warpath” to anyone who hasn’t read a Hatfield novel before. It’s not a good representation of the character and the series.

That only takes up about half the issue, though. The first short story is “That Packsaddle Affair” by Jim Mayo, none other than Louis L’Amour his own self, of course. L’Amour was just starting to get established as a Western novelist in 1952 and was still selling regularly to the Western pulps in the Thrilling Group. I’ve long felt that he was a better short story writer than he was a novelist, and this tale is a good one about a Texas outlaw who stops at a New Mexico stage station and finds himself in the middle of a deadly attempt by plotters to steal a rich gold claim from a young woman. The writing is smooth as it can be and the action scenes and dialogue are top-notch, although I thought there was one really good plot twist waiting to be employed that L’Amour never sprang on the reader.

The next story, “Good Country for Prairie Dogs”, is also set at a stage station and is by an author I’m not familiar with, Robert Aldrich. (I assume this isn’t the same person as the movie director Robert Aldrich.) In this one, the station manager and his pregnant wife are waiting for the local doctor to show up on a regular visit, when a seemingly friendly stranger with a dangerous agenda of his own stops at the station. This is nothing ground-breaking but still a nice, tense story.

“Trail Without End” is a novelette by Wayne D. Overholser writing as Joseph Wayne. The protagonist is the sheriff of a dying former boomtown who wants to move on to the gold fields of Colorado, but he’s held there by his love for the daughter of the local storekeeper, whose other daughter is married to a ne’er-do-well young gambler whose father is a horse thief and whose brother is a hired gunman. Got all that? Overholser provides plenty of domestic drama in this one, but there’s some action, too, along with some minor plot twists. I enjoyed it quite a bit because it’s very well written and Overholser does a good job with the characters.

Ralph Perry wrote one of the best Western novels I’ve read in recent years, NIGHTRIDER DEPUTY, and he has a story in this issue, “One Killing Deserves Another”. I like that title, and the story is a fine one about a shooting in a tiny crossroads settlement and the violent aftermath that follows it. Perry has a slightly off-kilter style, but it’s very effective and I thought this was an excellent story, my favorite in the issue.

This one wraps up with “Inside Straight” by Jim O’Mara, whose real name was Vernon Fluharty. It’s the old plot of the outlaw who has gone straight but whose lawless past comes back to haunt him. That familiarity hurts it a little, but O’Mara was a pretty good hardboiled Western writer and does a fine job with it.

This is an odd issue of TEXAS RANGERS. It’s the only one I ever recall reading where the Jim Hatfield novel is actually the weakest story in the bunch. All the others are very good to excellent. So it’s well worth reading, but I’d recommend the lead novel only to Hatfield completists.

Friday, April 06, 2018

Forgotten Books: Sleep With the Devil - Day Keene


Les Ferron is one of those noir novel protagonists who has a double life. In one of them he’s a pure heel, a strongarm enforcer for a loan shark in New York City who accidentally kills one of the poor losers he’s supposed to be leaning on. That gives Ferron’s boss something he can hold over his head from then on, and Ferron doesn’t like that. So he creates a new identity and launches a plan to get rich and start a new life.


Actually, he reclaims his old life, using his real name Paul Parrish and some of his background as a schoolteacher and the son of an itinerant preacher to set himself up part-time as a traveling Bible salesman in the Catskills. He even meets a beautiful, innocent young farmer’s daughter and falls for her, although not so hard that he won’t swindle her father out of his farm and take off with the loot he can get from the deal. In order to do that, he’ll have to marry the girl and then abandon her when the time is right. The only potential hitch is that he has a girlfriend as Les Ferron in New York, and she’s the hard-nosed jealous type who won’t take kindly to being left behind.

But when Ferron is satisfied his plan will work, he puts it in motion—and that means killing his loan shark boss and making sure “Les Ferron” disappears forever.



Too bad for Ferron, because not only is this a noir novel, it’s a noir novel written by one of the best plotters in the business, Day Keene. SLEEP WITH THE DEVIL takes its time setting everything up, but once the first big plot twist steps through a hotel room doorway, it’s just one damned thing after another for Ferron, right up until the gut punch ending.


This novel was published originally by Lion Books in 1954 and later reprinted by Berkley, Macfadden-Bartell, and ultimately Stark House as part of a triple volume with two other Day Keene novels, WAKE UP TO MURDER and JOY HOUSE. I’ve really enjoyed everything I’ve read by Day Keene, and SLEEP WITH THE DEVIL is no exception. Harry Whittington was probably the only one of the iconic Fifties hardboiled/noir writers who could out-plot Keene, and if his prose never rises to the level of John D. MacDonald and Charles Williams, it’s still pretty darned good. Day Keene has become one of my favorite writers, and this book is a fine example of his work. Highly recommended.
 

Sunday, April 01, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Thrilling Wonder Stories, April 1941


And the people who ride the subway in New York think they've got it bad! At least they don't have an alien coming through a wormhole and shooting a ray gun at them. Or maybe they do, I don't know, I've been on a New York City subway car. I do know, however, that there's a mighty good line-up of authors in this issue of THRILLING WONDER STORIES: Henry Kuttner, Clifford D. Simak, Eando Binder (probably just Otto Binder on this one), Robert Arthur, Robert Moore Williams, and Maurice Renard, translated by a much more familiar name to me, Georges Surdez. I really like the SF pulps from this era. That's an Earle Bergey cover, by the way, although it doesn't really resemble the "space babes" covers he's more famous for.

Saturday, March 31, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Real Western, November 1937


Did any stagecoaches in the Western pulps ever get where they were going without being attacked by bad guys? Judging by the covers, the answer is no. Here's more evidence on the cover of the November 1937 issue of REAL WESTERN. The art looks like the work of H.W. Scott to me, but I could be 'way off about that. Inside are stories by Eugene Cunningham, William Patterson White, Jack Bertin, and someone named Frank Cox, who published only a handful of stories in the late Thirties. Jack Bertin has an interesting background. According to the Fictionmags Index, his real name was Giovanni Bertignono. He published several dozen Westerns and a few detective and science fiction stories in the decade between 1928 and 1938. I seem to remember that he was also the uncle of the much more prolific Peter Germano, best remembered under the pseudonym Barry Cord, but I could be wrong about that. There's some connection, though, because Germano is credited with writing two science fiction novels in 1970 that were published under the name Jack Bertin, possibly based on outlines written by Bertignono. I have a copy of at least one of those and ought to read it.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Forgotten Books: Terror, Inc. - Lester Dent


I’ve been a fan of Lester Dent’s work for more than 50 years, ever since I picked up the Bantam Books reprint of his Doc Savage novel METEOR MENACE from the paperback spinner rack in Tompkins’ Drugstore and plunked down my 45 cents for it. Since then I’ve read nearly all of the Doc Savages (I’m still saving a few for the proverbial rainy day) and a lot of Dent’s other work.

This collection, from the always excellent Black Dog Books, features six non-series novellas by Dent that were published in the pulps DETECTIVE-DRAGNET and TEN DETECTIVE ACES (a retitling of the same magazine) in 1932 and ’33, just before and after he started writing the Doc Savage series. Weird Menace stories were just becoming a sub-genre about that time, so these aren’t quite Weird Menace, but they’re in the same neighborhood. One of the main differences, as Will Murray points out in his introduction, is that the protagonists are two-fisted professional detectives, rather than the civilians who take the lead in Weird Menace stories. But the atmosphere in these yarns often borders on the sinister and creepy.

Such as the opening of the title story, “Terror, Inc.”, from the May 1932 issue of DETECTIVE-DRAGNET, in which Kerrigan, a private eye from New York who has been summoned to Los Angeles for a job, opens the door of a car where he’s supposed to meet his mysterious client, and a skeleton topples out, with a lightning bolt mark on the skull that’s the trademark of the killer who calls himself The Spark. Now, if you can read an opening like that and not want to keep going, you’re definitely made of different stuff than me.

The second story, “The Devil’s Cargo” (DETECTIVE-DRAGNET, July 1932), doesn’t have any of the macabre stuff, but it’s still a good detective action yarn, with private eye Steve Harden negotiating his way through a maze of violence involving three rival groups who are after some sort of secret. Each of the groups believes that Harden is working for one of the others, and Harden has no idea what’s going on and just wants to find out the truth and stay alive. This one moves like a rocket until the end, which admittedly isn’t quite as compelling as I hoped it would be.

“The Invisible Horde” (DETECTIVE-DRAGNET, September 1932) seems like a dry run of sorts for THE SPOOK LEGION, a Doc Savage novel Dent wrote a few years later. The plots aren’t really similar, but both involve a gang of crooks who discover the secret of invisibility. The protagonist of this one is a scientist who happens to be a former Secret Service agent. Not the most believable of characters, maybe, but there’s plenty of wild action, as you’d expect, so in this case I don’t really care.

 “The Whistling Death”, from the March 1933 issue of TEN DETECTIVE ACES, like so many of Dent’s Doc Savage novels, revolves around a mysterious, grisly murder method that causes its victims to sweat blood. New York private eye Cleve Dane is summoned to Tampa for a case involving a shady financier who disappeared with five million dollars worth of gold certificates. The case turns into a wild chase through a rainy night after an embalmed corpse that keeps getting stolen. Dent really packs both action and plot into this one; it’s like a condensed novel. And maybe it’s the Florida setting and the fact that Dane seems to be two or three steps ahead of everybody else, but this story really reminded me of a Mike Shayne yarn. Which is a good thing indeed.

“The Cavern of Heads” (TEN DETECTIVE ACES, April 1933) has a great title and a headlong plot that kicks off with a box containing what appears to be a human head to the detective agency where Dave Lacy works. It’s not actually a head (not really a spoiler, since that’s established almost right away), but rest assured, heads will roll before this yarn is over. Lacy is described more like Monk Mayfair, almost as wide as he is tall, and at one point he takes off his shoes and climbs a wall using fingers and toes like Doc Savage. Dent was writing these stories at the same time as he was getting Doc’s series off the ground, and it’s fun to spot these cross-pollinations. There’s a beautiful platinum blonde, a beautiful redhead, a mysterious anthropologist who collects, yes, human heads, and a seemingly impossible murder method. The thing that’s behind it all has a Doc Savage connection, but I’ll remain mum on that since it might give too much away. This story is atmospheric and creepy as well as action-packed, and it’s just a whole lot of fun.

The book wraps up with “Murder Street”, from the May/June 1933 issue of TEN DETECTIVE ACES, and Dent’s love of both gadgets and bizarre murder methods shows up strong in this one. Detective Wes Kaine needs the gadgets to do his job and survive, because he’s undersized (although he can handle himself in a fight). He reminded me a little of Donald Lam as he investigates a case of bodies buried under recently repaired streets. Of course, there’s a connection between the murder victims which leads Kaine into a case where he finds himself in deadly danger more than once.

All six of these stories are great fun, with “The Cavern of Heads” being my favorite of the bunch. Nobody did headlong action better than Dent. This would be a decent introduction to his work if you haven’t read it before, although there are probably other things that would be better for that. But if you’re already a Dent fan, I guarantee you’ll have a good time with TERROR, INC.