A dark room...a warm woman...a cold knife... It begins at the end of the line with a killing. But it had started simply enough when press agent Archie St. George hires private investigator Barney Glines to retrieve some missing jewels stolen from his beautiful client, Kyle Shannon. Glines knows he's being set-up for something but he goes along with the exchange out of curiosity more than anything. That and Kyle Shannon. Turns out that the real jewels are a cache of nude photos of Miss Shannon, who is now being blackmailed. Soon Glines finds himself in a dead woman's room who's been shot with his own gun and the police are jumping to conclusions. It's beginning to look like whoever's behind the blackmail wants to make sure that Glines is the fall guy. Unless Glines can find him first. I've actually reviewed the original edition of this fine private eye novel twice already on the blog, first back in 2006 and then a couple of years ago as a Forgotten Books post. I enjoyed it and am glad to see that Black Gat Books is making it available again. Good cover on the new edition, too.
I keep telling guys, never trust a suit of armor. Nine times out of ten, there's a killer hiding inside it. But do they listen to me? No. But if they did, there wouldn't be a story, would there? Day Keene is the biggest name in this issue of DETECTIVE TALES, at least he is unless you know that one of the other authors, John Lane, was really John D. MacDonald. C. William Harrison has a story in here, too, but I think he was best known as a Western pulpster. The other authors are either house-names or writers I've never heard of, like Philip Weck and Robert Zacks. So I can't guess at the overall quality of the fiction, but I like the cover and I'm sure the stories by MacDonald and Keene are good. (I wish somebody would do a complete collection of JDM's pulp detective yarns.)
I keep posting about issues of LARIAT STORY MAGAZINE because I love the covers, the authors, and the story titles. This cover scan, like most featured here, comes from the Fictionmags Index. The lead story in this issue is by one of the most prominent authors in the Fiction House Western pulps of this era, Les Savage Jr., and the title, "Six-Gun Bride of the Teton Bunch" is pure greatness as far as I'm concerned. It was also the title story in the Barricade Books collection of stories by Savage that was published in the Nineties. Other top authors featured in this issue include L.P. Holmes, D.B. Newton, Dan Cushman (also a Fiction House top-liner), and Ray Gaulden. That's a pretty impressive line-up.
WAYWARD GIRL starts out about as bleak as any Orrie
Hitt novel I’ve read so far. The protagonist, Sandy Greening, is a 16-year-old
prostitute and heroin addict who lives with her drunken, slutty mother and is a
member of the Blue Devils, the local gang of young hoodlums who are at war with
a rival gang, the Black Cats. Sandy was raped by a neighbor when she was 14,
she has to fend off the advances of her mother’s drug-dealing boyfriend, and when
the leader of the Blue Devils kills a guy during a rumble, she’s hauled in by
the cops for questioning in a murder case!
With all that going on, it’s a little surprising that when Sandy does finally
get in trouble with the law, it’s a simple prostitution bust that gets her sent
to a reform school. That reform school is a progressive one that tries to
rehabilitate the girls sent there. At least it is on the surface, but the
school has some criminal secrets of its own . . .
As you’d expect from a novel published by Beacon Books in 1960, WAYWARD GIRL gets
pretty doggone lurid. And after a little bit of a slow start, man, does our old
friend Orrie Hitt keep the pedal to the floor. This book races along and is
hugely entertaining. Brian Greene, who contributes the introduction to the
Stark House volume that reprints this novel and another Hitt tale, THE WIDOW,
compares WAYWARD GIRL to a drive-in movie, and that’s pretty accurate. I can
see it being filmed in gritty black-and-white.
What elevates it from the usual story like this, though, is the theme of
sympathy for the underdog that runs through most of Hitt’s novels. He doesn’t
sugarcoat things, and he doesn’t blame society for the characters’ problems. They
bear the responsibility for their own actions and bad decisions. But there’s
also a sense of understanding what led them to those actions and decisions, and
Hitt seldom comes right out and condemns his protagonists. They usually find
their way back to the possibility of happiness, at least. Hitt’s novels are
like no others in the so-called sleaze genre, and while some are better than
others, I’ve never read one that failed to leave me both entertained and
emotionally moved. If you’ve never read his work, WAYWARD GIRL would make a
decent starting place. If you’re already a Hitt fan, like me, you’ll want to
grab this new reprint right away.
Another fine, colorful Rudolph Belarski cover on this issue of ARGOSY, one of my favorite pulps. This issue features an installment of the serial "Seven Footprints to Satan" by A. Merritt (reprinted from its original appearance in ARGOSY ALL-STORY WEEKLY in 1927), plus a South Seas novella by Allan Vaughan Elston and stories by Garnett Radcliffe, Walter C. Brown, and more serials by Walter Ripperger and Howard Rigsby. I'd love to have a complete run of ARGOSY from the Twenties and Thirties. So many great serials . . .
Like RANCH ROMANCES, THRILLING RANCH STORIES may have been aimed at a slightly more female readership, but at least during the Fifties it featured quite a few hardboiled Western action yarns. In this issue, with a good cover by Sam Cherry, there are stories by Walker A. Tompkins, Wayne D. Overholser, Giff Cheshire, Paul Evan Lehman, Cibolo Ford, and Samuel Mines.
I’ve seen the
name Van Cort in the table of contents in numerous Western pulps and have read
at least one story under that name that I recall. I enjoyed it, too. I found
out recently that Van Cort was a pseudonym for Wyatt Blassingame, a prolific
and well-respected author of Weird Menace and detective tales for various
pulps. (I believe he was also the brother of well-known literary agent Lurton “Count”
Blassingame.) I don’t think I’ve read any of Blassingame’s work under his own
name, although I have a couple of collections of it, but I did just read his
short Western novel “Hot Lead for Gleaming Rails”, published in the August 7,
1937 issue of WESTERN STORY (with the first name of the pseudonym misspelled),
and thought it was very good.
The protagonist of this violent yarn is Lee Carey, a young man who works for
the railroad obtaining right-of-way for new lines. He returns to the town and
the valley where he grew up and still owns an abandoned ranch, with the
intention of building a spur line into the area, but he’s also out for revenge
on the crooked cattle baron who ran him out years earlier. Along the way he
helps out a young newspaper editor and the man’s wife and child, so Lee decides
that starting a newspaper and getting his new friend to run it will help him
mold public opinion in favor of the railroad. He also meets a beautiful young
woman who’s come to the area to search for her missing father, but she winds up
throwing in with Lee’s old enemy the cattle baron. One more complication is the
presence of the Laredo Kid, an old friend of Lee’s who has turned outlaw.
Having the Kid on his side may be more hindrance than help for Lee.
Blassingame does a fine job of weaving these strands together into a fast-paced
plot that includes a number of shootouts and bushwhackings, culminating in an
epic battle. Even while he’s doing this, however, he manages to work some moral
complexity into the story, as not everything turns out to be as black and white
as it appears at first. The good guys are not always sympathetic, and all the
bad guys aren’t stereotypical villains. Blassingame writes in a smooth, clean
style as well, without the overdone dialect and flowery descriptions that
sometimes show up in Western pulp stories. This reads more like a novel that
would have been published by Gold Medal in the Fifties.
As far as I can tell, Blassingame wrote only a couple of full-length novels as
Van Cort, but I’m going to hunt down copies of both of them. “Hot Lead for
Gleaming Rails” is available in an e-book collection, which is where I read it,
and if you’re in the mood for a good hardboiled Western yarn, I recommend it.
HOSTAGE FOR A HOOD Cribbins has the heist planned down to the last detail. He and Santino are driving one of the cars, on their way to hold up an armored car to remove its quarter of a million dollars. The only thing Cribbins doesn't plan on is being run into by Joyce Sherwood's Chevy. All they can do after that is quickly take over Joyce's car, including Joyce and her dog, and finish the job. When her husband Brad comes home and finds no Joyce and no dog, he knows something is wrong. He calls the police, but they only put him off, assuming that a missing wife could have run off with somebody. Brad knows different. But can he find her before the cops put so much effort into solving the armored car hold that they lose sight of the missing wife who is now part of the same crime?...before Cribbins decides he doesn't need a hostage anymore....before Santino finally flips out and starts to use his knife....? THE MERRIWEATHER FILE Ann Merriweather thinks someone is trying to kill her. She shares her fears with an old friend of the family, her lawyer friend Howard Yates, but though he believes her, there is nothing he can do. Then Ann's husband, Charles, is found by the cops with a flat tire by the side of the road and a murdered body in his trunk. The man had been shot. Charles is held for questioning, then arrested, and Howard agrees to take the case. But nothing is as it seems. The police quickly determine that the murder occurred at the Merriweathers' house. But Charles has an alibi. He was gone from the house all night. And Ann was asleep under the heavy influence of some sleeping pills. But someone killed the man in the trunk, and the more Howard discovers about the case, the less inclined he is to assume the innocence of his client. I've enjoyed everything I've read by Lionel White. I think I may have read HOSTAGE FOR A HOOD years ago, but I'll be reading it again in this reprint.
Brett Halsey has had a long, successful career as an actor
in movies and TV, but he’s also written a number of novels over the years and
in fact, according to his website he thinks of himself as a writer who acts,
rather than an actor who writes. I tend to agree with him. His latest novel,
and his first Western, WEST OF HELL, is a well written and solidly entertaining
The protagonist is bounty hunter Chris Tracy, who uses his manhunting skills to
finance his on-going search for his younger sister, who was carried off by
outlaws who raided the family farm years earlier. A veteran of the Civil War,
Chris is a decent but highly dangerous man when he needs to be. In this book,
he teams up with a friend from the war and an old desert rat in a quest to recover
some ancient golden figurines hidden in the New Mexico Territory wilderness.
These little statues, known as the Golden Apostles, date back to the days of
Spanish rule over the territory.
Naturally, several hardcases are after the valuable statues, too, and along the
way Chris and his companions also run into a shady gambler and the man’s wife
and stepdaughter. This trio complicates things quite a bit, too, and eventually
tragic violence breaks out.
WEST OF HELL is a pretty gritty book, the sort where you never really know
who’s going to survive and who isn’t, and Halsey springs a number of unexpected
plot twists as well. This one doesn’t play out in some respects as you’d
probably expect. Having written and read so many Westerns, I’m generally pretty
confident that I have a good idea what’s going to happen. In WEST OF HELL, not
Halsey does a fine job of developing the characters and depicting the
landscape. It’s easy to imagine him playing Chris Tracy in a Spaghetti Western
version of this tale from the Sixties, when Halsey was in Europe making some of
those films. He admits in an afterword that that experience was an influence on
the writing of this book.
I enjoyed WEST OF HELL quite a bit. It’s a good hardboiled Western and could
easily be the first of a series. I wouldn’t mind a bit if it was. Recommended.
You don't hear as much about the Dell pulps as you do about some from other publishers, but from what I can tell, they were consistently high quality productions. This issue of ALL FICTION STORIES, Dell's general adventure fiction pulp, sports a good cover by H.W. Reusswig, and inside you'll find a great group of authors: H. Bedford-Jones, Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, Tom Curry, and Seven Anderton, among others. Looks thoroughly enjoyable to me.
As usual, the poker game gets interrupted by a gunfight. Makes you wonder if they ever finished a hand in the Old West without burning powder. But there are some good authors in this issue of GIANT WESTERN, starting with two of my favorites, Walt Coburn and Leslie Scott (writing as A. Leslie this time around). There are also stories by Robert J. Hogan (probably best remembered for his aviation stories, including G-8 AND HIS BATTLE ACES, but he wrote a lot of Westerns, too), Ben Frank, Francis H. Ames, and house-names Sam Brant and Clay Starr.
I wouldn’t have guessed that it’s been more than ten years
since I read, enjoyed, and blogged about SOUTH OF SULU, the first collection of
George F. Worts’ Singapore Sammy stories from Black Dog Books. It seems more
recent than that, and the stories are still pretty fresh in my memory, which
means they were good ones, I guess. Now I’ve read THE PYTHON PIT, the second
Singapore Sammy collection, also published by Black Dog Books, and thoroughly
enjoyed it as well.
Singapore Sammy is really Samuel Larkin Shay, red-headed American adventurer in
southeast Asia during the 1930s. The character first appeared in 1931 in a
series of adventure yarns published in the pulp SHORT STORIES (the ones
collected in SOUTH OF SULU). Sammy is searching for his father, a conman named
Bill Shay, looking for vengeance because the old man deserted Sammy’s mother,
and also because Bill Shay has possession of a will that means Sammy will
inherit a fortune if he can get his hands on it.
Later that same year, Worts moved the series over to ARGOSY. The first four
stories to appear there are the tales collected in THE PYTHON PIT, starting
with “Sapphires and Suckers”, a novella which was serialized in two parts under
the title “Singapore Sammy” in the December 12 and December 19, 1931 issues of
ARGOSY. It serves as an adequate introduction to the character for anybody who
hadn’t read the earlier stories in SHORT STORIES, explaining about Sammy’s
quest to find his father. He gets mixed up with a beautiful young woman whose
father is a dangerous criminal and who, in partnership with Bill Shay, has sold
the young woman’s fiancee a worthless sapphire mine. Or is it worthless? That
becomes the question, leading to intrigue, double-dealing, and considerable
danger for Sammy. He’s good at staying a couple of steps ahead of everybody
else, though . . . except for his father, who always seems to give him the
More than a year passed before Sammy reappeared in the three-part serial “The
Python Pit”, in the May 6, 13, and 20, 1933 issues of ARGOSY. At 30,000 words,
this is almost a novel. Sammy and his sidekick, Lucifer “Lucky” Jones,
reluctantly agree to take a beautiful young woman to the remote island where
her father has been mauled by a tiger. The problem is, the island, called
Konga, is rumored to be inhabited by a race of gigantic cannibals and haunted
by the ghosts of all their victims. They set sail on their schooner, the Blue Goose, anyway. Sammy expects to run
into trouble, and that’s what happens, since nothing about the situation is
exactly what it appears to be at first. There’s a ton of action in this one,
and Sammy comes face to face with Bill Shay again. Worts massages the
back-story in this one, revealing that the villainous Shay is actually Sammy’s
stepfather (whether that was the intention all along, I don’t know, but I sort
of doubt it). He also introduces another recurring character to be a thorn in
Sammy’s side, the lovely but treacherous Shanghai Sally. Worts manages to get
all this in without ever letting up on the breakneck pace and the vivid
writing, which makes “The Python Pit” one of the best pure pulp adventure yarns
I’ve read in a long time.
Singapore Sammy next appears in “Isle of the Meteor”, a complete novelette
published in the August 19, 1933 issue of ARGOSY. Lucky Jones is off on another
adventure when this yarn takes place, so Sammy has to handle all the danger
himself when he agrees to help out a dying sea captain and deliver a cargo of
supplies to an isolated island where a group of communist-leaning, anti-war
Americans established a colony during the Great War (World War I, to us). Of
course, when Sammy gets there, surprises are waiting for him, most of them
quite perilous, including another encounter with Shanghai Sally. Bill Shay is
mentioned in this one but doesn’t appear. It’s a good, fast-moving tale with
some particularly brutal scenes near the end.
The final story in this volume is “A Whisker of Buddha”, originally published
as “Buddha’s Whisker” in the May 26, 1934 issue of ARGOSY. Sammy is in bad
shape when this one opens, having had ownership of the Blue Goose stolen out from under him and Lucky Jones while he was
drugged, by none other than Shanghai Sally, of course. He wakes up in Rangoon,
in a fog from the mickey Sally slipped him, but then some of the local
criminals start approaching him, wanting to hire him for a big job. This tells
Sammy something big is up, so he finds Lucky and before you know it, they’re up
to their necks in an adventure that involves infiltrating a secret ceremony
that can get them killed and stealing a small, jewel-encrusted chest that’s
supposed to contain an authentic hair from Buddha’s beard. This is the weakest
story in the collection because it takes a while to get going, but once it does
it’s pretty darned good, with lots of exciting scenes.
It also lays the groundwork for the next story, the only full-length novel in
the series, THE MONSTER OF THE LAGOON, which I also happen to have in reprint.
As much as I enjoyed THE PYTHON PIT, I’ll probably get to it fairly soon.
McShan is tough and smart, one of the top operatives
for the detective agency Honeycutt Personal Services. But he has his hands full
when he’s sent to the picturesque desert landscape of southeastern Arizona to
check on the well-being of a former Olympic gymnast who’s become involved with a
New Age cult. It doesn’t take long for murder to rear its ugly head, and McShan
finds himself neck-deep in a case involving vicious bikers, an unassuming
barber who may be a criminal mastermind, a wealthy entreprenuer hiding
dangerous secrets, and too many beautiful blondes with deadly secrets of their
Critically acclaimed thriller author Stephen Mertz
returns with a private eye novel in the classic mold, crackling with suspense
and plot twists, populated with compelling characters, and told with a sharp,
contemporary edge that will leave the reader breathless.
I've never read much from the gang pulps, but this issue of DOUBLE-ACTION GANG looks like a pretty good one, and a bit unusual, too, because most of what's inside it was written by a pair of authors much better known for their Westerns. The featured novel "This Way to Hell", which fills up about two-thirds of the issue, is by Harry Sinclair Drago, who had a long, prolific career as a Western novelist and pulpster under his own name and the pseudonyms Bliss Lomax and Will Ermine. The supposedly true story about the Jesse James gang attributed to Bill Stiles is actually by Ed Earl Repp. And there are two stories by Will F. Jenkins, one under his own name and one under his much more famous pseudonym Murray Leinster. While Jenkins/Leinster isn't really famous as a Western author, he wrote quite a few of them. On top of all that, I like the cover. If I actually owned a copy of this pulp, I'd read it, you can count on that.
This is a pulp that I own and read recently. The
picture (not a scan this time) is of my beat up copy, chunk out of the cover
and all. I’ve read some other issues of EXCITING WESTERN, mostly for the
Tombstone and Speedy stories by W.C. Tuttle, but this one comes before that
series debuted in the magazine. It has some other series stories, though, and
in fact leads off with one.
“Gold Loot” is the sixth installment of a long-running series about Pony
Express rider Alamo Paige. Walker A. Tompkins began the series, writing under
the name Reeve Walker, but when he went off to World War II, Charles N.
Heckelmann and Chuck Martin took over for him and Reeve Walker became a
house-name. (This information courtesy of Will Murray.) I suspect that “Gold
Loot” is by Martin, but I don’t know that for sure. Whoever the author is, it’s
a pretty good yarn. A former Pony Express rider who’s been fired and turned
renegade plans to hold up the Rock Creek, Nebraska, station, which happens to
be managed by a young Wild Bill Hickok, who’s good friends with Alamo Paige.
Paige is ambushed by the would-be robber and his partner, a beautiful young
blonde gets kidnapped, there’s a chase through a Nebraska blizzard, dynamite
gets thrown around and stuff blows up real good . . . You get the idea. The
plot may not be ground-breaking, but man, the action never lets up and it’s
pretty well-written. I really enjoyed this one a lot and am eager to read more
Alamo Paige stories.
With a title like “Sad Sam’s Joy Jag”, you’d expect both a humorous story and a
series entry from this story by Thomas H. Regan, who published only about a
dozen stories in his career. But while it does have its lighter aspects, this
tale seems to be the only one about the cowpoke known as Sad Sam. It opens with
a nice action scene that finds Sam and his rancher boss holed up in a cabin
that’s under attack by numerous gunmen. That develops into a story about a
battle over water rights, and Regan does a good job with it. As I’ve mentioned
many times before, I’m not a big fan of humorous Westerns, and a few things in
this one made me roll my eyes (like Sam’s horse being named Snigglefritz), but
overall I found it a pretty entertaining yarn.
It’s no surprise that I’d enjoy the novelette “Hangnoose Hides”, since it’s by
one of my favorite Western authors, L.P. Holmes. Down on his luck cowboy Bucky
O’Dell gets tangled up with a ring of bad hombres dealing in stolen cowhides,
is framed for a crime he didn’t commit, and is locked up in jail with a
rampaging lynch mob on the way to string him up. Getting out of this fix and
exposing the villains behind the whole thing will be quite a challenge. Holmes
was an expert at taking traditional plots and making them seem fresh, and he
does so here, mostly because Bucky O’Dell is a really likable protagonist and
the writing is just as smooth as can be. A fine, entertaining yarn.
“Ranger, Dig Your Grave” (a good title) is an entry in the Navajo Tom Raine,
Arizona Ranger series, written under the house-name Jackson Cole. I’ve read
some of these yarns before and enjoyed them, and this one is no exception.
Raine is sent to find out who’s been murdering farmers in Mormon Valley. The
plot is set up so it appears we’re going to get a cattlemen vs. sodbusters
story, but then the author provides some nice twists to go with the
well-written action scenes and the result is the best Navajo Tom Raine story I’ve
read so far. I don’t know who wrote it, but C. William Harrison’s name has been
associated with this series and I suspect it might be his work.
Gunnison Steele, whose real name was Bennie Gardner, wrote a couple of dozen
novels for the Thrilling Group’s Western character pulps TEXAS RANGERS, RIO KID
WESTERN, MASKED RIDER WESTERN, and RANGE RIDERS WESTERN, but he was much more
prolific at shorter lengths, authoring several hundred stories for a wide
variety of Western pulps. His story in this issue, “Man-Sized Maverick” is
about a fourteen-year-old boy who sets out to solve his grandfather’s murder
and catch the killers. As always with Gardner’s work, this yarn is well-plotted
and well-written and very enjoyable.
Allen K. Echols was also quite prolific during his thirty year career writing
mostly for the Western pulps. His short-short story in this issue, “The Trail
Herd”, is about a rustler selling a stolen herd, and it has a nice twist at the
end. I haven’t read much by Echols over the years, but maybe I should.
Joseph J. Millard, writing as Joe Millard, is best remembered as a paperbacker,
having turned out a number of original novels in various genres, as well as
being a dependable scribe of movie novelizations and tie-ins. But he wrote
quite a bit for the pulps as well, including the short story “Guns of Revenge”
in this issue. It starts out as a fairly standard tale of a man returning to
his home town to get vengeance on the man he blames for the death of his
parents. But nothing is what it seems at first as Millard provides several good
plot twists and some decent action along the way. This is another good story
and wraps up a really fine issue of EXCITING WESTERN. I enjoyed every one of
the stories and am looking forward to reading more issues of this pulp.
As I’ve mentioned numerous times in the past, Peter Germano,
who wrote mostly under the pseudonym Barry Cord, was one of the most dependable
authors of traditional Westerns. An Ace Double paperback original from 1972,
HELL IN PARADISE VALLEY is on the other side of Ray Hogan’s THE NIGHT HELL’S
CORNERS DIED, which I wrote about a while back. I’ve read the Germano novel now
and found it equally enjoyable.
HELL IN PARADISE VALLEY is a cattlemen vs. sheepherders book, but with a nice
twist in that it’s a group of Texas cowboys, led by rugged trail boss Jess
Riley, that gets tricked into agreeing to deliver a herd of sheep to Paradise
Valley. A plot like this could easily be played for comedy, but in Germano’s
hands it’s a tough, hardboiled action yarn. He throws in some other twists,
too, such as not all the characters turning out like they appear to be at
first, as well as danger from the past for some of them. He doesn’t try to cram
too much into the book’s relatively short length, though. The way this book is
plotted and structured, right down to the final shoot-outs, reminds me very
much of a late Fifties, early Sixties TV Western. It could have been adapted
into an episode of RAWHIDE with no trouble at all, although a few things would
have had to be changed.
HELL IN PARADISE VALLEY doesn’t break any new ground, but it does a very good
job of telling a mostly familiar story. If you’re a fan of traditional
Westerns, it’s well worth reading.