Saturday, June 30, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Ace-High Western Stories, August 1946

With its red, white, and blue color scheme and prominently featured star, the cover of this issue of ACE-HIGH WESTERN STORIES seemed appropriate to post today, since the Fourth of July is coming up next week. Not only is the cover striking visually, the contents inside include stories by Walker A. Tompkins, Wayne D. Overholser, Thomas Thompson, Lee E. Well, Brett Austin (who was really Lee Floren), and Bob Obets. A good solid line-up of Western pulpsters, in other words.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Forgotten Books: Tigress of T'Wanbi - John Peter Drummond

I’m moving on to the third volume in Altus Press’s complete reprinting of the Ki-Gor novels from the pulp JUNGLE STORIES. The first story in this volume is “Tigress of T’Wanbi” from the Winter 1941-42 issue. That scene on the cover actually happens in the novel, except for maybe the belt the ape is wearing, I don’t recall any mention of it. But there’s Helene in the background (oh, man, Helene! Be still my heart!) and the babe in the blue bikini is Queen Julebba, also know as the Tigress of T’Wanbi (she refers to herself that way exactly once and the name is never explained or has anything to do with the plot, which makes me suspect the cover was done first and handed to the author).

Speaking of the author, although we don’t know who he is, I’m convinced he’s the same guy who wrote the previous few entries in the series. The clean, fast-moving prose is the same, and the colorful Hindu physician and Ki-Gor’s reluctant ally, Hurree Das, make a return to the series after last being seen in “Lair of the Beast” from the Spring 1941 issue. Ngeeso the pygmy puts in an appearance, as does Marmo the elephant, but Tembu George is only mentioned.

As for the plot, a mysterious army is making bloody, no-quarter raids on border villages belonging to a tribe friendly to Ki-Gor, so he and Helene go along when the chief sends an expeditionary force against the invaders. This doesn’t go well. Ki-Gor and Helene are both captured (at different times), Ki-Gor is badly wounded, and Queen Julebba, who claims to be descended from the Carthaginians in northern Africa, comes up with a daring plan that, if it succeeds, will make her the ruler of a vast swath of Africa. Oh, and she wants Ki-Gor to marry her, too, and doesn’t mind at all getting rid of Helene to make that possible.

There’s not an abundance of action, but the battle scenes that do take place are really good and the author creates some genuine suspense more than once, even though we know Ki-Gor and Helene are going to survive. Hurree Das is a great character, shady and conniving and no better than he has to be, but he usually winds up on the right side, anyway. In his introduction to this volume, Howard Andrew Jones has good things to say about “Tigress of T’Wanbi”, and I agree with him. It’s one of the best Ki-Gor novels I’ve read so far, and the series has hit its stride.

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The Robert E. Howard Guide - Patrice Louinet

I picked up a copy of the signed, limited hardback edition of this book on Friday morning at Howard Days this year, and I’m glad I did because that edition was completely sold out by the end of the day. Now that I’ve read it, I’m even more pleased to have a copy, because it’s an excellent book.

The author, Patrice Louinet, is one of the top scholars on Robert E. Howard’s life and work, and he wrote this book as an introduction of sorts for people who are not that familiar with those subjects. It includes a biographical chapter, a section debunking common myths and misperceptions about Howard and his work, discussions (in varying depths) about fifty of Howard’s stories, some talk about adaptations of Howard’s work in other media, coverage of Howard’s poetry and correspondence, and some background on Howard publishing, including a section on the late Glenn Lord, a man it was my honor to know and be friends with for several years.

Louinet has stated that there’s not much in this book that will be new to veteran Howard fans. That may be (although there’s some of the publishing stuff I don’t think I’d come across before), but that doesn’t matter. I still really enjoyed it, especially the discussions of the various stories. What Howard fan doesn’t like seeing what another Howard fan thinks of this story or that story? I’m always interested in what someone has to say about old favorites such as “Wild Water”, “The Vultures of Wahpeton”, and “Beyond the Black River”, as well as Howard stories that I haven’t read multiple times.

The hardcover edition of THE ROBERT E. HOWARD GUIDE may be sold out, but the trade paperback edition is very much available and I give it my highest recommendation.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Overlooked Movies: Murder is My Business (1946)

After seven Michael Shayne movies starring Lloyd Nolan were made by Twentieth Century Fox during the first half of the Forties, in the second half of that decade the series moved over to the much lower budger Producers Releasing Corporation and Hugh Beaumont replaced Nolan as the big redheaded private detective from Miami. I saw one of the movies with Beaumont many years ago and remembered liking it, but recently Steve Mertz recommended them to me and I wound up buying all of them on DVD. Now I’ve watched the first one, MURDER IS MY BUSINESS (1946) and liked it quite a bit.

The screenwriter, Fred Myton, makes some interesting choices in the script. Shayne’s secretary is Phyllis Hamilton, combining his girlfriend/wife in the early books, Phyllis Brighton, with his secretary/love interest in the later books, Lucy Hamilton. Police detective/nemesis Peter Painter becomes Pete Rafferty. There’s no sign of Shayne’s friend Chief Will Gentry, but reporter Tim Rourke is still there and doesn’t have his name changed. Although there’s a Shayne novel entitled MURDER IS MY BUSINESS, the plot of this one doesn’t have anything to do with it, as far as I can tell. However, the story, which involves the murder of a wealthy woman whose stepchildren are angling for her money, seems familiar to me, so I think maybe it was based on yet another Shayne novel, although I can’t say which one.

PRC was notorious for its low production values, but this movie actually looks pretty good most of the time. Director Sam Newfield knew how to keep a movie perking along, if nothing else. The real revelation, though, is just how good Hugh Beaumont is as Mike Shayne. We all know him as Ward Cleaver on LEAVE IT TO BEAVER, of course, but before that he made quite a few low-budget hardboiled movies and could handle both the rough stuff and the wisecracks. The tone in this movie is a little lighter than the Shayne novels but not as light as the Lloyd Nolan films, and with his physique, his slightly craggy features, and a fedora thumbed back on his head, Beaumont really looks like the portrait of Shayne on all those Dell paperback editions of the novels. (Thanks again to Steve for pointing this out and piquing my interest.) Based on this movie, at least, he comes closer to capturing the character of the books than either Lloyd Nolan or Richard Denning (the star of the one-season NBC TV show in the Sixties) ever did.

MURDER IS MY BUSINESS isn’t a great film, by any means, but I enjoyed it and look forward to watching the other movies in the series. I’ll be reporting on them here when I do.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Western Weirdness and Voodoo Vengeance: An Informal Guide to Robert E. Howard's American Horrors - Fred Blosser

Fred Blosser has been writing excellent articles, essays, and books about Robert E. Howard for decades now, and he adds to that distinguished body of work with his latest volume, WESTERN WEIRDNESS AND VOODOO VENGEANCE: AN INFORMAL GUIDE TO ROBERT E. HOWARD’S AMERICAN HORRORS. This book takes a detailed look at Howard’s Weird Westerns (prehistoric, historical, and modern) and his contemporary Westerns such as the great “Wild Water” (one of my personal favorite Howard yarns) and the stories in which detective Steve Harrison’s cases bring him to Texas; as well as horror and Weird Menace stories set in the swamplands and the backwoods. Blosser provides plot summaries for more than two dozen Howard stories and discusses each of them, relating them to Howard’s own life, the region where he lived and worked, and other influences.

One of Blosser’s greatest strengths, along with his deep knowledge of Howard and his work, has always been his clear, concise prose, and that’s demonstrated again in this book. Blosser makes his points without ever getting bogged down in the sort of over-analysis you sometimes find in critical studies. As a result, WESTERN WEIRDNESS AND VOODOO VENGEANCE is always fast-paced and entertaining to read, as well as being packed with information and some connections that casual readers of Howard’s work might not be aware of.

Fred Blosser is in the top rank of Howard scholars, and that reputation is well-deserved. Some of my favorite Howard stories, the ones that I’ve read over and over, are discussed in this book and I thoroughly enjoyed learning more about them. In the case of the ones I haven’t read multiple times, this volume made me want to read many of them again. I may have to do that. In the meantime, if you’re a Howard fan new or old, I give WESTERN WEIRDNESS AND VOODOO VENGEANCE my highest recommendation.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Marvel Science Stories, August 1938

You couldn't ask for much more out of this debut issue of MARVEL SCIENCE STORIES. You've got a cover by Norman Saunders, and inside are three stories by Henry Kuttner (two under pseudonyms), plus yarns by Arthur J. Burks and Stanton A. Coblentz. I don't have this issue (the scan comes from the Fictionmags Index), but I'll bet it's great. I love this era of science fiction.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: West, October 1945

Another good cover by Sam Cherry starts off this issue of the long-running Western pulp WEST, which started out at Doubleday but by this time was part of the Thrilling Group. The lead story is "The California Ranger" by A. Leslie, who was really A. Leslie Scott, who wrote about Texas Rangers and Arizona Rangers, so why not California Rangers, too? Also in this issue is one of the late Zorro stories by Johnston McCulley, plus stories by Harold Cruickshank, Cliff Walters, and Tom Parsons, a Thrilling Group house-name.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Forgotten Books: The Melting Death - Curtis Steele (Frederick C. Davis)

Jimmy Christopher, Operator 5 in the American Intelligence Service, is back to save the country from complete and utter destruction, rescue his kidnapped girlfriend/plucky girl reporter Diane Elliott, and demonstrate a magic trick to his ward, scrappy Irish lad Tim Donovan. And if there’s any time left over, he’ll worry about his dad, former intelligence operative John Christopher, who has a bullet lodged near his heart that might kill him any time if he exerts himself too much. The devastating menace this time around is a super-corrosive agent that melts almost everything with which it comes in contact, making the title of this novel, THE MELTING DEATH, particularly apt. It’s the fourth yarn in the Operator 5 series, originally published in the July 1934 issue of OPERATOR #5 MAGAZINE. (Why does Jimmy Christopher refer to himself as Operator 5, when the title of the magazine is Operator #5? I have no idea, but I’ve wondered about that sometimes.)

This one starts with the dedication ceremony for a magnificent new bridge spanning the Mississippi River. If you can’t guess right away that the bridge is going down, causing massive death and destruction, you haven’t read any of the other Operator 5 novels. Or any pulp hero novels, for that matter. I mean, the title of the novel is THE MELTING DEATH, for cripe’s sake. Jimmy Christopher is on hand for the dedication and manages to rescue as many people as he can. Then he’s immediately ordered by his superiors, all the way up to the President, to find out who’s responsible for this atrocity. A group of European warmongers known as the Purple Shirts are believed to be connected with the attack. One of their spymasters is somewhere in the country, so Jimmy Christopher quickly gets on his trail.

The melting death attacks continue, with military installations and skyscrapers being destroyed. Jimmy Christopher races from place to place, trying to thwart the plans of the evil plotters who are trying to scuttle the disarmament movement and not so coincidentally take over the American steel industry and become filthy rich at the same time.

Eventually Jimmy Christopher emerges triumphant and the hidden mastermind is exposed, just in time to prevent the destruction of the United States Capitol. Now he can catch his breath, enjoy spending time with Diane, and maybe show Tim another magic trick. But this respite won’t last long, because the very next month there’ll be some other horrible threat to the country that only Operator 5 can deal with.

As I’ve said before, don’t get me wrong. This series lends itself to a little gentle ribbing, but man, is it fun. Frederick C. Davis, who wrote these early entries under the house-name Curtis Steele, really knew how to spin a yarn. Jimmy Christopher and his supporting cast are very likable, and the action seldom lets up for more than a page or two. I’ve read enough of the later ones to know that in some ways they get even better as they go along. I’m going to continue reading the series in order, including the ones I first read in paperback reprints decades ago, and I fully expect to continue having a great time. Operator 5 is one of my all time favorite pulp hero series.

A Middle of the Night Music Post: A Shot in the Dark - Jimmy Haskell

I used to have the CD this is from and played it a lot while I was writing.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Now Available: Death in Dark Places

Six full length detective novels with a mix of longtime bestselling mystery authors and some new to the genre.

This set includes James Reasoner’s legendary debut novel TEXAS WIND. Originally published in 1980, TEXAS WIND has been acclaimed as one of the finest private eye novels ever written.

DEVIL IN A CAGE is a classic private eye novel by renowned action/adventure author W.L. Fieldhouse. Featuring a compelling protagonist in John Weller, a complex plot, sheer storytelling energy, insightful social commentary, and a vivid portrait of Las Vegas that could only be provided by an insider like Fieldhouse. A powerful novel of crime and detection.

Multi award winning novel WILD NIGHT is a historical detective novel. In the 1920's Lucas Hallam was something of a legend: a Texas Ranger turned Pinkerton agent turned Hollywood P.I. And when the occasion arose, Hallam mounted up again and rode with Tom Mix, William S. Hart, and the other famous movie cowboys of the silent era. He didn't think of his past often, and it was the furthest thing from his mind when he went into Chuckwalla, California, hoping to turn the ghost town into a movie set . . . even when the two men started shooting at him.

SOME DIE HARD is legendary mystery and thriller author Stephen Mertz's first novel, originally published in paperback nearly forty years ago and long out of print. Part hardboiled private eye yarn, part classic novel of detection (with a locked-room mystery unlike any other), SOME DIE HARD is pure entertainment.

In TRIPL3 CROSS, veteran author John Hegenberger spins a yarn that is both an exciting thriller and a compelling piece of "noirstalgia", expertly recreating a sense of late-Eighties paranoia and double-dealing and painting a vivid picture of Washington and Cuba during that era, as well as saving a shocking twist for the very end.

Acclaimed, bestselling historical novelist James J. Griffin makes a stunning debut as an author of contemporary thrillers with MURDER AMONG THE CLOUDS. Fast-paced, populated with compelling, intriguing characters, and filled with fascinating police procedure and breathtaking suspense.

A Middle of the Night Music Post: Will You Be Staying After Sunday? - Peppermint Rainbow

Yeah, they look a little silly all these years later, but I still like the song and miss those days.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Ten Detective Aces, January 1940

What a great bizarre cover by Norman Saunders on this issue of TEN DETECTIVE ACES. I wonder if the story by G.T. Fleming-Roberts lives up to it. He was a pretty good writer most of the time. Other good writers in this issue are Lawrence Treat and John A. Saxon, plus a number of other authors I haven't heard of.

A Middle of the Night Music Post: No Shade of Green - Flatland Cavalry

I saw this group perform live recently. They put on a mighty good show.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Novels and Short Stories, September 1951

That's a colorful, eye-catching cover on this issue of the long-running WESTERN NOVELS AND SHORT STORIES. Once you get past that action-packed scene, there are stories by Walker A. Tompkins, Joseph Chadwick, Dean Owen, Ray Townsend, and a few other lesser-known writers. WESTERN NOVELS AND SHORT STORIES was considered a third-string Western pulp, at best, but most of the time it had pretty good writers in its pages.

A Middle of the Night Music Post: I Will Follow You Into the Dark - Death Cab for Cutie

One of the saddest songs I've ever heard, but it sure is pretty.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Forgotten Books: The Widow - Orrie Hitt

This guy Orrie Hitt can really write, see? This book here called THE WIDOW, it’s about a tough guy named Jerry who gets fired from his job building a highway, so he goes to work washing dishes and sweeping out at this crappy café that’s got some crappy tourist cabins with it. It’s a lousy job, but Jerry’s okay with it because there’s this girl named Linda who’s married to the son of the old lady who owns the place, and she’s a real babe. Then there’s this other girl named Norma, and she used to work as a nude model, so you know she’s gorgeous, but she’s also really nice and would just as soon put all that behind her. So Jerry likes both of ’em and figures, well, why the hell not, he’ll just make a play for both of them and see what happens. But then Linda’s husband, who’s a hotrodder, wrecks his jalopy and kills himself, which means Linda’s a widow now, and you know how widows are, and at the same time Jerry finds out that the land where the café and the cabins are is actually worth a bundle, and if something was to happen to the old lady, hey, Jerry might be able to get his hands on some of that dough and get one or both of the girls to boot . . .

Well, you gotta read it to find out what happens, but this guy Hitt is good, I tell you, pal. You should pick up a copy.

A Middle of the Night Music Post: Only Time - Enya

Yeah, not sleeping well these days, but I enjoy hunting around for music I like in the middle of the night.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: The Phantom Detective, September 1935

Do some people collect noose covers? Surely they do. No matter what sort of cover is on a pulp, somebody somewhere collects that kind. I don't collect noose covers, but I do have a real fondness for THE PHANTOM DETECTIVE and have never read a novel featuring the character that I didn't enjoy. The Phantom novel in this issue, "Master of the World", is by Norman A. Daniels writing under the Robert Wallace house-name, and there are also stories by long-time pulp author/editor Anthony M. Rud and two authors better known for their Westerns, Allan K. Echols and A. Leslie Scott, writing as A. Leslie this time around. Quite a few Phantom Detective novels have been reprinted, and I need to round up some more of them.

Saturday, June 09, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: .44 Western Magazine, August 1949

Like all the other Popular Publications Western pulps, .44 WESTERN had good covers, evocative story titles, and top-notch authors. The biggest names in this issue are Giff Cheshire and Tom Roan, but Max Kesler, Harold F. Cruickshank, and Rolland Lynch were all prolific, well-regarded pulpsters. Kesler wrote quite a few oil field stories, which I nearly always like. This looks like a good solid issue.

Friday, June 08, 2018

Forgotten Books: Richard Bolitho, Midshipman - Alexander Kent (Douglas Reeman)

I like to read a good sea-going adventure novel now and then, even though I’m about as much of a landlubber as you’ll ever find. Boats and I do not mix. Similarly, I like aviation fiction, too, even though I’ve been in a plane twice in my life, hated it, and will never go up again if I can avoid it. But to get back to the sea, I recently read RICHARD BOLITHO, MIDSHIPMAN, the first novel (chronologically, not publication order) in a long-running series that was written by Douglas Reeman under the pseudonym Alexander Kent. I’ve seen these books around for years but have never tried one until now. Based on my enjoyment of this one, I’ll be reading more.

This novel is set in 1772, as sixteen-year-old Richard Bolitho is about to set sail as a midshipman (not exactly an officer, but a higher rank than common sailor) on His Majesty’s ship Gorgon, a huge vessel that carries 74 cannon. Despite his young age, Bolitho is an experienced midshipman, having gone off to sea when he was twelve because that’s what the males in his family do. His grandfather was an admiral and his father was a ship’s captain, and great things are expected of him as well. The Gorgon is going to patrol off the east coast of Africa and search for pirates who have been plaguing shipping in the area.

It comes as no surprise that Bolitho and the Gorgon encounter those pirates, but before they do, Reeman provides a vivid and interesting look at life aboard ship during this era. Bolitho makes both friends and enemies and proves to be a likable protagonist. I enjoyed this part of the book, but the pace gets a welcome kick in the pants when the Gorgon comes across an abandoned ship that’s been looted by the pirates they’re after. This leads them on the corsairs’ stronghold, an old castle on the African coast.

There are good action scenes on both land and sea with plenty of hacking and slashing, and you know I always like a good swordfight. Reeman leaves the door open at the end for a sequel, and I’m eager to read it. Best of all for my tastes, RICHARD BOLITHO, MIDSHIPMAN is no bloated, overlong historical epic. It’s a nice, brisk action yarn that’s probably not much more than 50,000 words. If the other books hold to this pattern, I’ll definitely continue with the series.

Sunday, June 03, 2018

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Mystery Book Magazine, Summer 1950

"The Best in New Detective Fiction", this cover from MYSTERY BOOK MAGAZINE proclaims, and I think they could make a persuasive argument. Inside this issue are "The Case of the Dancing Sandwiches" by Fredric Brown, also known as one of the famous Dell 10 Cent Books (see below), as well as stories by John D. MacDonald, Philip Ketchum, D.L. Champion (creator of the long-running Phantom Detective series), the house-name John L. Benton, and a couple of authors I've never heard of, Jonathan Joseph and Bryant Ford. I don't know if that's actually the best, but it's pretty darned good.

Saturday, June 02, 2018

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Two Western-Action Books, Spring 1952

Two pretty good covers and two pretty good authors in William Hopson and William Heuman. I think it's a pretty good bet that this is a pretty good issue. I'd read it, that's for sure.

Friday, June 01, 2018

Forgotten Books: Portrait in Smoke - Bill S. Ballinger

Bill S. Ballinger is one of those mystery authors I’ve been aware of for decades without ever reading much by him. I recall reading a couple of his espionage novels featuring secret agent Joaquin Hawks back in the Sixties, but I couldn’t tell you anything about them. However, I just read his early suspense novel PORTRAIT IN SMOKE, which Stark House is reprinting in a double volume along with the novel THE LONGEST SECOND, and I can see why it has a reputation as an excellent novel.

To start with, Ballinger uses a technique that I hardly ever like, alternating between first and third person, but makes it work really well. The first person sections are narrated by Danny April (great name), who runs a low-rent collections agency in Chicago. In an old file from long before he bought the agency, he finds a photograph of a beautiful young girl named Krassy Almauniski. And to put it simply, he becomes infatuated with her, all because she reminds him of a girl he saw once when he was a young man but never talked to. Love at first sight? Maybe, but certainly obsession at first sight. Danny starts trying to find her, or at least find out what happened to her, and these parts of the novel form a top-notch procedural yarn as Danny traces out the details of Krassy’s life, step by step.

At the same time, in the third person sections, Ballinger gives the truth about Krassy’s life, as opposed to Danny’s somewhat skewed view. This part of the book reads more like a naturalistic novel about a young woman’s determined climb out of the poverty and squalor of Chicago’s stockyards district all the way to the heights of wealth and power, no matter what it takes. It’s inevitable that these two storylines will intersect eventually, and when they do, that’s when PORTRAIT IN SMOKE becomes a noirish crime novel with a very nice twist ending.

Ballinger’s writing is smooth and polished, and his control over the complex plot really had me turning the pages. This one hits the mark all the way around for me with the writing, the pace, the plot, and the compelling characters. Highly recommended.