There's a lot happening on this cover of G-MEN DETECTIVE, and it definitely makes me want to read the issue. I don't know who did the art. I'm a little less enthusiastic about what's inside, since the Dan Fowler lead novel is by Charles S. Strong. I haven't read much by Strong, only a couple of his Western novels under his Chuck Stanley pseudonym, but I found them to be pretty bland. However, he might be a lot better with a Dan Fowler yarn. Maybe I'll find out someday. Meanwhile, there are some dependably good authors on hand, too, including the great John K. Butler, Norman A. Daniels, and Robert Sidney Bowen.
Well, that's got to be kind of a shock, when you're just riding along and this big ol' bird swoops down and attacks you. I don't really care much for this cover, but it's bizarre and eye-catching, I'll give it that. And as usual with ALL WESTERN, the authors inside are good ones, including Murray Leinster, T.W. Ford, W. Wirt, J.E. Grinstead, Anthony Rud, and William E. Barrett.
Being in the mood to read something by Ernest Haycox, I
looked around to see if I have any more of the collections that reprint his
pulp novellas. I’ve read several of those in the past and really enjoyed them.
Sure enough, there on my shelf was BRAND FIRES ON THE RIDGE, a Pinnacle Books
edition from 1990 that contains two novellas: “Brand Fires on the Ridge”,
originally published in the August 21, 1929 issue of the pulp WEST, and “The
Killers”, from the July 10, 1930 issue of SHORT STORIES.
The protagonist of “Brand Fires on the Ridge” is King Merrick, a young cowboy
who’s gone off adventuring for the winter but now comes back in the spring to
the ranch where he worked before as the foreman. He finds that job still
available, but he’s lost the young woman he planned to propose to. Worse still,
he’s lost her to his best friend.
But King doesn’t have time to mope about that very much, because the ranchers
in the valley band together and hire him to put a stop to a plague of rustling
that threatens to wipe them out. At one end of the valley, see, lives an outlaw
family called the Brierlys. Their crimes have been tolerated because they never
stole much from any one ranch, spreading out their larceny over all the outfits
in the area. But now they’ve gone in for rustling in a big way, and they have
an inside man working for them, too. It’s part of King’s job to find this
So King has plenty on his plate, including a beautiful redheaded café owner, a
couple of overlapping romantic triangles, and a mysterious old-timer. Even so,
as with much of Haycox’s work, there’s not a lot of action in this yarn,
although when it finally starts, it’s well done. Instead, you get emotionally
complex characters, a lot of suspense, and some really fine, vivid writing.
This story was reprinted by Tower and Belmont/Tower under the title WIPE OUT
THE BRIERLYS, and it must have been successful for them since it went through
three separate editions with different covers.
“The Killers” is another entry in Haycox’s series featuring drifting cowpokes
Joe Breedlove and Indigo Bowers. Joe is big and dumb-looking, but he actually
has a keen brain. Indigo is a scrawny little galoot who’s really a very
dangerous gunman. In this one, they’re getting ready to spend the winter in an isolated cabin when a stranger shows up
and gets himself shot down on their doorstep by a bushwhacker. The killer gets
away, but Joe and Indigo aren’t going to stand for that and set out on his
trail. Their quest leads them to a hidden valley, two feuding clans, and a lot
This one proves that while Haycox often preferred introspection over action,
when he wanted to burn powder he could do so with the best of ’em. “The Killers”
is more action-packed than any Haycox story I’ve ever read, with gun battle
after gun battle. The pace is great, but there are still nice moments of
characterization here and there, especially the ones that focus on the slightly
world-weary Joe Breedlove. I don’t know how many of these Breedlove and Bowers
stories there are, but I still have at least three of them on hand and look
forward to reading them.
One other note about “The Killers”: it was reprinted in the 1960s Ace Books
edition of SIXGUN DUO, a collection of two Haycox novellas. When Pinnacle
released their edition of SIXGUN DUO in 1990, “The Killers” was replaced by
another Breedlove and Bowers yarn, “Night Raid”. Why Pinnacle juggled things
around in their editions, I have no idea, but now I’ve gotten to read “The
Killers”, so I’m satisfied.
Like some other Western authors from that era—T.T. Flynn and L.P. Holmes come
to mind—Ernest Haycox used very standard Western plots in his stories. There’s
nothing in “Brand Fires on the Ridge” and “The Killers” that you haven’t seen
in scores of other pulp Western yarns. What elevates his work, as with Flynn
and Holmes, is the pure writing talent that shines through. These two stories
are well worth reading and get a high recommendation from me.
I recall my dad liking Rod Cameron Westerns. Rod was no John Wayne, Randolph Scott, or Audie Murphy, mind you, but if one of his movies was on TV, my dad would usually find the time to watch it. I hadn't seen one in quite a few years, but the other day I watched a 1952 release called FORT OSAGE, a movie that to the best of my memory I'd never seen before. Cameron plays a wagonmaster in this one, but it's not a wagon train movie. Almost all the action is set in Fort Osage, a Missouri town used as a jumping-off point for groups of immigrants heading west. Cameron has to deal with a couple of crooks (Morris Ankrum and Douglas Kennedy), a government agent (John Ridgley, playing a good guy for once), a beautiful girl (Jane Nigh, an actress I never heard of), and some hostile Indians including the great Iron Eyes Cody. It's all a little talky, but the occasional action scenes are good, as you'd expect from an old pro director like Lesley Selander. Dan Ullman's script leaves few cliches unturned, but there is a really nice twist toward the end that turns one of the B-Western tropes on its head. So how was ol' Rod? Not bad, as it turns out. He wasn't a great actor, by any means, but he looks great in this movie and definitely has an impressive screen presence. Watching it makes me want to watch some other Rod Cameron movies where he has better directors and scripts. Even with its shortcomings, though, FORT OSAGE is a fairly pleasant way to spend an hour and a half if you're a fan of old Western movies, like me.
I wrote about dogs and cats in a previous installment of
this series, but those weren’t the only animals we had when I was a kid. Both
of my parents came from a rural background, growing up in the country or in
very small farming communities during the Depression, so having livestock
around just came natural to them. Our large backyard was divided into three
sections: the half right behind the house, which was the actual backyard part
and had a wire fence running all the way across it; and the back part, divided
into unequal sections by another fence running at right angles to the first
one, all the way back to the creek. There was also a barbed wire fence all
across the back of the property, along the creek. The larger back section on
the left (looking at it from the house) was the cow pen; the smaller area to
the right was the chicken pen.
Now, honestly, I don’t know if the property was divided that way when my
parents bought it, or if my dad put up those fences to create those two pens.
But it was that way as far back as I can remember. We didn’t always have a cow
(more about that later), but we always had chickens.
This was the mid-Fifties, and the street where we lived wasn’t actually in the
city limits at this time, so there were no restrictions or ordinances to worry
about. If you wanted to have a flock of chickens, nobody was going to stop you.
We had a pair of roosters and probably eight or ten hens. I named the roosters:
Pete and Joe. (I had not yet entered my “oddly named pets” phase.) If any of the
hens had names, I’ve forgotten them.
In the back corner of the chicken pen was the chicken house, where the hens had
nests where they slept and laid their eggs. It was my job, at least part of the
time, to gather those eggs. I didn’t mind all that much, although I was a
little squeamish about all the droppings. But I don’t recall ever having any
real trouble gathering eggs.
It did bother me, however, when my parents decided they didn’t actually need
two roosters. I’ll never forget following my dad down to the pen where he
grabbed either Pete or Joe, whichever one of the poor creatures he was able to
catch, and promptly wrung his neck. Head popped right off. I was horrified. And
then I had to help pluck the carcass. Maybe that’s why, for a long time, I didn’t
care much for fried chicken. (Spoiler alert: I got over it.)
I also fed the chickens some and enjoyed scattering the chicken feed. In those
days it didn’t take much to entertain us.
My other memory involving the chickens has to do with the chicken house. One
time when we were down in Blanket visiting relatives, a huge windstorm came
through Azle, knocked a big tree branch down on top of the little room on the
other side of our garage my father used for his TV repair shop, and turned the
chicken house over. It sat on a concrete slab but didn’t have a floor and
wasn’t fastened down in any way. It was just four walls and a roof. But the
storm didn’t damage it, just tipped it over, so my dad, my older brother, and
some of my brother’s friends got behind it and just pushed it back upright. I’d
never seen an actual building you could do that to.
Speaking of my brother, he was in high school at the time, took ag classes, and
was a member of the Future Farmers of America. As one of his FFA projects, he
raised a cow in our cow pen, which had a shed in it as well as an enclosed,
attached room where we stored feed. The cow eventually had a calf, and we had
fresh milk as well as a cute little calf to raise, which we did, until the time
when (yes, you saw this coming, didn’t you?) they slaughtered and ate it! At
least they took it somewhere else to have all that done, so I didn’t have to
watch it. But again, not one of my favorite childhood memories.
Later on, we had a young bull we kept in that pen. I don’t recall why. This was
late enough my brother would have been out of high school, so it wasn’t an FFA
project. Since he was in college, or maybe even married by then, it became my
job to feed the bull. I hated that bull. I hardly ever went in that pen without
him chasing me. He never knocked me down and trampled me, but he butted me
numerous times. He’d been dehorned so I didn’t get gored, but I still didn’t
like it. Eventually, he wound up in the freezer, too. That bothered me a little
(I’m soft-hearted, I guess), but not as much as the other livestock we ate.
In addition to all this, our next door neighbor was the ag teacher at the high
school and the FFA sponsor, and his son raised hogs and sheep in the rear part
of their backyard, which was fenced off like ours. For some reason, I loved
those hogs and would go over there every chance I got to help slop them. I
know, that doesn’t sound like me, but I really enjoyed working with them. Some
of the huge boars were a little scary, but overall I never had any trouble with
the hogs. The sheep, on the other hand, did not like me and I didn’t like them.
One of the rams really had it in for me and came up behind me and butted me
many times. I don’t think anybody else around the circle cared for having a hog
and sheep farm in the neighborhood, but I liked it.
By the time I was in high school, all the chickens had died and we had no
cattle. My dad decided to take down all the fences and make the whole thing a
huge backyard. He tore down the cow shed and had a metal storage barn built. I
think he sold or gave the chicken house to somebody who hauled it off to use it
for the same purpose. I could still show you where the fences ran and where the
shed and the chicken house were (I think the metal storage barn is still
there), but as I’ve said before, somebody else lives there now. I doubt if
anybody on the street has chickens now, since the city probably frowns on such
things. When my dad was still alive, he did have a garden for a while in what
had been the cow pen, but that was the extent of his agricultural activities. I was
never really a country kid, but I got a taste of that life, anyway, both the
good and the bad, and I’m grateful for that.
There's really a lot happening on the cover of this issue of DETECTIVE TALES. Action galore, which I like. And I'll bet there's plenty of action in the stories by Wyatt Blassingame (one under his own name and one as by William B. Rainey), Bruno Fischer (writing as Russell Gray), G.T. Fleming-Roberts, D.L. Champion, Robert Sidney Bowen, and John G. Pearsol (better known for his Westerns).
You could always count on LARIAT STORY covers for an eye-catching mix of powder-burning action, stalwart heroes, and beautiful gals. This issue is no exception. I don't know who did the art, but I like it. Inside this issue are stories by some fine writers, as well: Walt Coburn, Norbert Davis, W.F. Bragg, Eli Colter, J.E. Grinstead, and house-name Bart Cassiday, who was sometimes Harry F. Olmsted and might be here, I don't know. But I know LARIAT STORY covers usually make me want to write a story to fit the scenes on them. I'll bet I could work this into a book somewhere . . .
A number of years ago, I posted about the Mike Shayne comic
book series published by Dell in 1961 and ’62. Dell was publishing the Mike
Shayne novels in paperback, very successfully, and I suppose someone there
decided a comic book version of the character might work, too. That didn’t
really pan out, since there were only three issues. I’d heard about them for
years but never came across any copies. However, they’ve recently been
reprinted in a nice trade paperback edition by some outfit called Gwandanaland
Comics, so I picked up a copy and finally read them after all these years.
Each issue is based on one of the novels by Davis Dresser writing as Brett
Halliday: THE PRIVATE PRACTICE OF MICHAEL SHAYNE, BODIES ARE WHERE YOU FIND
THEM, and HEADS—YOU LOSE (originally published as BLOOD ON THE BLACK MARKET).
By the way, nowhere in this reprint or the original comics is there any mention
of Dresser or Halliday, and the copyright is by Dell Publishing Company. Any
kid coming across these back in the Sixties who wasn’t familiar with the books
would have thought Shayne had been created for the comics.
Each of the source novels has a pretty complicated plot, as was common in the
Shayne series, and the comic book versions actually do a pretty solid, faithful
job of adapting them. They’re toned down a little, but not much. You’ve still
got murder, blackmail, adultery, and more murder. I can imagine a kid reading
these and getting lost in all the twists and turns of the plots. Nor does the
third issue pull any punches about Shayne’s wife Phyllis dying in childbirth,
along with the baby, and leaving Shayne pretty much a broken man until a murder
case pulls him out of that despair. Twelve-year-olds just aren’t the target
audience for these yarns. (Well, unless you’re a weird twelve-year-old like I was, since I started reading the
Shayne novels about that age . . .)
From what I’ve been able to find on-line, the first two issues were written by
Ken Fitch, and the third one probably was, as well. The art in all three issues
is by Ed Ashe. Both of those guys were journeyman comics pros with less than a
hundred credits each, hardly top talent, but they did pretty good jobs, anyway.
Fitch condenses the action down well, and there’s even a newspaper headline in
the second issue that includes his name as an in-joke. Ashe’s Mike Shayne
resembles the one on the Dell paperback covers, which also appears on the first
two comic book covers. The worst glitch is the coloring in the first issue,
which finds Mike Shayne with bright blond hair instead of red, while his
reporter buddy Tim Rourke is the one with red hair. That’s switched around in
the other two issues and looks a lot better. Each issue also includes a
one-page text story and a four-page backup comics story, all of them minor stand-alone
There’s a reason these comic books are obscure. They probably sold poorly and
not a lot of copies are still out there to be found. And while I certainly
enjoyed them, there aren’t enough people interested in them to make them really
collectable. Throw in the fact that Fitch and Ashe were no Lee and Kirby, and
you can see why they haven’t been reprinted until now. (And now I’m visualizing
a Kirby version of Mike Shayne. You know, that could have worked. Just think
about how he drew Reed Richards and Johnny Storm in suits and hats in early
issues of FANTASTIC FOUR . . .)
Livia and I were talking about the Leopold and Loeb case the
other day, because there was a reference to it on a TV show we were watching,
and when I mentioned this movie to her, she said she thought she’d never seen
it. So I said we ought to remedy that. But when we started watching it, I
realized that I had described a completely different movie to her! I had gotten
ROPE mixed up with COMPULSION, a 1959 movie about the same case that focuses on
the trial of the two infamous killers. COMPULSION is somewhat fictionalized,
but ROPE is even more so, taking just the basic concept of the Leopold and Loeb
case and using it for a nearly real-time tale of how two young intellectuals
murder a friend of theirs simply because they want to prove they’re smart
enough to get away with it.
As directed by Alfred Hitchcock, ROPE is deliberately stage-bound and gimmicky.
The whole thing takes place in the apartment where the two young killers,
played by John Dall and Farley Granger, live, and Hitchcock filmed the movie in
a series of eight ten-minute takes, playing tricks with the camera so that
there’s only one obvious cut in the entire film. Other than that it plays like
one continuous shot. Well, not really, because it’s pretty obvious where most
of the actual cuts are, but give Hitchcock credit for trying something different,
enough though it doesn’t succeed all the time.
It’s a pretty suspenseful movie, with stuff going on in the background that you
have to watch closely, and there’s some good dialogue, but ROPE really only
comes alive for me when James Stewart enters the story as the former teacher of
Dall and Granger, whose philosophical discussions with them gave them the idea
of committing murder in the first place. Stewart is one of my absolute,
all-time favorite actors, and I enjoyed his work in this one. ROPE isn’t in the
top rank for either him or Hitchcock, but it’s an interesting oddity and I
enjoyed watching it again for the first time in almost fifty years.
And for the record, Livia hadn’t seen it, so that turned out okay. Maybe we’ll
watch COMPULSION someday. But not too soon. A little of Leopold and Loeb goes a
Cigars . . . cigarettes . . . bullets! (You know, that wouldn't be a bad title for a pulp detective yarn, and it would fit this cover.) I don't know who did this cover, but I like it quite a bit. Inside this issue of POPULAR DETECTIVE are stories by J. Lane Linklater, Joe Archibald, and three house-names, John L. Benton, Frank Johnson, and Michael O'Brian. Norman Daniels wrote under all three of those names, so he could have authored one or more of these stories, but there's really no way to know at this point. It looks like an entertaining issue no matter who wrote the stories.
Another good cover on this issue of the iconic WESTERN STORY, and two of the best Western writers ever, T.T. Flynn and Peter Dawson (Jonathan Glidden) have stories inside. The Dawson is an installment of his serial "Trail Boss", the novel version of which was reprinted by Bantam, an edition I remember reading in junior high. Also on hand are several other enjoyable authors such as Archie Joscelyn, Victor H. White (writing as Ralph Berard), and M. Howard Lane.
In 1966, Belmont Books brought out a paperback reprint of
two of E.B. Mann’s short novels that first appeared in the Western pulps, THE
AVENGER ( originally published in ADVENTURE NOVELS AND SHORT STORIES, April
1939) and COLT CRUSADE. The origin of that second novel is a bit of a mystery.
As you can see from the cover copy on the paperback (that’s my copy, by the
way, complete with price sticker, clipped corner, and bookstore stamp from the
Used Book Warehouse in Rockport, Texas), the protagonist of COLT CRUSADE is
known as the Smilin’ Kid. A little investigation turns up the fact that a story
entitled “The Smilin’ Kid” was published in the Second August Number, 1929
issue of RANCH ROMANCES under the name J.A. Adams, who, at least according to
the Fictionmags Index, never published anything else. E.B. Mann’s first stories
were published in RANCH ROMANCES in 1928, which leads me to believe that he was
actually “J.A. Adams” and “The Smilin’ Kid” is the story reprinted in paperback
as COLT CRUSADE. Why Mann would have used a pseudonym like that, I have no
idea, but that’s my hunch.
Bibliographic speculation aside, I recently read COLT CRUSADE and thoroughly
enjoyed it. The Smilin’ Kid, whose real name is Kenneth Lamb, shows up in the
town of Pinto and asks the local ranchers and businessmen to give him the job
of sheriff, because he wants to clean up the area and put a stop to the
rustling ring led by Pete Martin, a crooked rancher, and Manuel Sanchez, a
Mexican bandit with a headquarters below the border. What motivates the Kid to
take on this challenge? We never find out, which is the novel’s only real flaw.
The Smilin’ Kid is a very entertaining character, but ultimately he’s a cipher.
Maybe it’s just a love of adventure, in which case adventure has some
competition from the beautiful daughter of one of the ranchers, since the Kid
soon falls in love with her, too.
It’s a very standard plot, but Mann livens it up with a few minor plot twists
and a lot of well-written action scenes leading up to an epic final battle that’s
just great and reminded me very much of the Homeric final battle in Clarence E.
Mulford’s HOPALONG CASSIDY. I haven’t read much by Mann, but this is easily the
best of his yarns I’ve encountered so far. It might be too old-fashioned for
modern Western readers, but I loved it.
By the way, there’s no scene in the novel that matches the scene on that RANCH
ROMANCES cover. So maybe I’m wrong, or maybe the artist on the pulp just took a
little dramatic license.
I didn’t read the other novel in the Belmont paperback, THE AVENGER, although I
started it. But I realized right away that it was the source novel for the
Johnny Mack Brown B-Western GUNS IN THE DARK, which I watched recently enough
that the plot is still clear in my mind. From what I read, the movie is a very
faithful adaptation of the story, too. So maybe I’ll let that memory fade and
read the novel sometime later on, or maybe I’ll never get to it, but either
way, I thoroughly enjoyed COLT CRUSADE and recommend it to anybody who enjoys a
good old-fashioned Western.