Sunday, January 07, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Spicy-Adventure Stories, November 1937

This is a pulp I own and read recently. The cover is by H.L.V. Parkhurst. The scan at the top of the post is from the Fictionmags Index because my copy has the top few inches of the front cover removed, which means the owner of whatever newsstand it was once on cut it off and returned it for credit, but the otherwise intact magazine found its way into the wild and ultimately to me. For which I’m glad, because I nearly always enjoy the Spicy pulps.

This issue starts off with “The Pope’s Gonfalonier” by Wyreck Brent. That seems to have the author’s real name, but I’m not familiar with his work at all. This swashbuckler is set in 15th Century Rome and concerns the adventures of a young swordsman playing rival clans the Borgias and the Orsinis against each other. Brent gets in some decent swordplay and there are the requisite scenes where pretty girls lose nearly all of their clothes, but for the most part the writing is bland and the formula seems more tired than usual. This is a rare miss for a Spicy pulp, and I’m not sure why the editor ran it as the issue’s lead story.

Next up is “Storm Warning”, a yarn by one of the true stalwarts of the Spicy pulps, Robert Leslie Bellem. Newsreel cameraman Johnnie Piper goes to an isolated Florida key intending to shoot footage of an impending hurricane, only to find an abandoned mansion, a beautiful dame who may or may not be trustworthy, and a bunch of trouble. Great set-up, and Bellem tells the tale in his usual breezy, hard-charging prose, but he seems to not know much about actual hurricanes and the ending is a considerable letdown, as if Bellem realized he had enough words and just kind of stopped. This is another below-average story, especially for Bellem. What the heck is going on with this issue?

Things take a turn for the better with “Kiss of Death” by Hamlin Daly, who was really another prolific contributor to the Spicy pulps (and lots of others!), E. Hoffmann Price. This story is about about an American who owns a mine in Malaya and has to battle bandits, a Chinese tong, corrupt politicians, a ruthless American tycoon out to gobble up all the smaller mines in the country, and beautiful but treacherous women. If that sounds like a lot for a 15 page pulp story, that’s because Price never slows things down. This one is all action, all the way.

The next story is even better. “Clear All Wires” is by veteran pulpster John A. Saxon, writing as Rex Norman. Saxon’s tale concerns an American foreign correspondent getting mixed up with the dangerous politics of a Graustarkian Central European country, and he tells it in a very smooth, polished style. I enjoyed this one quite a bit.

“Phantom Throne” continues the upward trend for this issue. It’s by “Hugh Speer”, who was really Victor Rousseau, an even more veteran pulpster than John A. Saxon. This one finds a British soldier in colonial India caught up in a violent political upheaval as he tries to rescue a beautiful young American woman, while also becoming involved with a beautiful Indian courtesan. The setting is rendered well, there’s plenty of action, and I found this story thoroughly entertaining, a spicier version of the sort of yarn that Talbot Mundy wrote.

Rousseau also contributes the next story, “Lords of Folly”, under his more common pseudonym Lew Merrill. It’s a tale of the upheaval just prior to the French revolution, as the bastard son of an aristocrat returns to France from America with dangerous ideas in his head. Rousseau packs enough plot for a fat historical novel into this short story but doesn’t skimp on the action in the process. This is another very enjoyable yarn.

It’s not often that historical figures show up as the protagonists of pulp stories, but that’s the case in “Hell in Darien” by E. Hoffmann Price, writing under his own name this time. It features soldier and explorer Vasco Nuñez de Balboa in Panama, and like Victor Rousseau in the previous story, Price packs in enough political intrigue, romance, and swordplay into this novelette for a whole novel. It’s an excellent historical adventure yarn with a bit of an unexpected ending. At least I didn’t expect it.

The issue wraps up with another story by Robert Leslie Bellem, this time under his Jerome Severs Perry pseudonym. “Treasure Trail” is about an American aerial photographer in Africa who’s hired by a beautiful British girl for a mysterious job, only to have trying to stop him from taking it, by any means up to and including attempted murder. Naturally the protagonist unravels what’s going on, but not before getting into all sorts of trouble. This is an improvement on the other Bellem yarn in this issue, but it’s still nowhere near as good as most of his Dan Turner stories.

So overall, I guess this issue averages out. A couple of weak stories, a couple of very good ones, and the rest competently written and entertaining, if nothing special. I’m not sure the Spicy formula works as well with adventure stories as it does with detective yarns and Westerns. I still enjoyed this issue and am glad I read it.


Edwin McBride said...

I've only read Bellem's DAN TURNER stories, and although you aren't exactly advocating his other work here I'm still inspired to seek it out. Do you know if his non-Turner stuff is collected anywhere?

James Reasoner said...

There are a number of Bellem collections available in both print and e-book that feature his non-Turner stories. I'd recommend LUST OF THE LAWLESS, which collects all of his stories from SPICY WESTERN (with an intro by yours truly) and LITTLE JACK HORNER, which collects all the stories he wrote about that private eye character, both published by Black Dog Books. The Horner stories were published originally under the Jerome Severs Perry pseudonym. There are Bellem stories in THE SPICY-ADVENTURE MEGAPACK from Wildside Press and in all three volumes of THE BEST OF SPICY-MYSTERY from Altus Press. There are several Kindle collections of his stories from SPICY-ADVENTURE, but I don't know anything about the quality of those or whether they're the same stories that are in the Wildside Press collection. I need to look into that. In addition, you can find PDF copies of a bunch of Bellem's stories, some Turners and some not, on the PulpGen website,

Edwin McBride said...

Thanks for the tips. I picked up LUST OF THE LAWLESS Kindle edition, and found a couple of Spicy Adventures on PulpGen including "Adventure's End" starring Tate Shelvin which I found excellent.

James Reasoner said...

There are a lot of stories on the PulpGen site I need to get around to reading. It's a little-known treasure these days.