Sunday, May 19, 2019

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Thrilling Wonder Stories, February 1942

I've seen other science fiction pulp covers featuring some giant figure menacing fleeing crowds. Without reading the stories, I never know if they're meant to be taken literally or symbolically. And I don't suppose it makes a difference, if they're eye-catching and prompt a potential reader to fork over a dime (or a dime and a nickel, in this case) as this painting by Rudolph Belarski does. There's a good line-up of pulp SF writers inside this issue of THRILLING WONDER STORIES, too: Nelson S. Bond, Ray Cummings, Eando Binder (Earl and Otto Binder), Oscar J. Friend, and Alexander Samalman. 

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Real Western, April 1937

I feel like I ought to know who did the artwork on the cover of this issue of REAL WESTERN, but I don't. The artist's style is familiar, though. Inside are stories by well-known Western pulpsters Frank C. Robertson, Oscar Schisgall, Clem Yore, and Will F. Jenkins (a reprint of a story originally published in BLACK MASK under Jenkins' pseudonym Murray Leinster). There's also a story by Fred Fincerer, a name that's totally unknown to me, probably because this may well be the only story he ever published.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Forgotten Books: The Land of Mist (The Gladiator #2) - Andrew Quiller (Kenneth Bulmer)

The Gladiator series continues with Kenneth Bulmer penning this entry. Laurence James wrote the first one, which I read and posted about a while back. As THE LAND OF MIST opens, our protagonist, half-Roman, half-Briton Marcus Julius Britannicus, has become a charioteer as well as a gladiator, and after an opening chapter in which he participates in an action-packed chariot race at the Circus Maximus, the story flashes back to Marcus’s days as a soldier in the Roman legions.

He’s sent to Britain, his mother’s homeland, to help subdue a rebellion there, and at the same time, he’s on a quest of his own to locate and kill several Roman officers responsible for an atrocity that touched Marcus personally. This storyline plays out on a rather episodic basis, although not as much as the first book did. There are bloody battles galore, a little romance, and a touch of angst here and there, as Bulmer spins his usual fast-paced yarn packed with historical detail.

In fact, I’ve read enough of Bulmer’s novels by now to realize that can be a bit of a shortcoming in his work. He uses a lot of jargon and obscure details without ever explaining them, so that the reader runs the risk of becoming mired down in all that. Also, there are a ton of characters in a Bulmer novel, and they tend to run together, especially when they have long Roman names such as in this book.

Despite all that, however, the pace and action and well-done protagonists always make me get caught up in a Bulmer novel, and THE LAND OF MIST is no exception. The second half is especially good and really had me turning the pages toward the end to find out what was going to happen. I don’t think this one is quite as good as Laurence James’s opening volume in the series, but I still enjoyed it quite a bit. Some things in the on-going plotline are left unresolved, and I wonder if they’ll be picked up in the next book, which was written by Angus Wells under the Andrew Quiller house-name. I suspect I’ll find out soon.

One side note: This series was published originally in England under the overall title The Eagles, which is really much more fitting than The Gladiator, since (so far, at least) the stories have been much more concerned with Marcus’s experiences as a soldier, rather than a gladiator. But I guess when the books were reprinted in the U.S. by Pinnacle, someone there decided that American readers wouldn’t know what The Eagles referred to and changed the title to something more recognizable. Under either title, so far it’s a pretty entertaining series.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Overlooked Movies: Small Town Crime (2017)

I remember some of my friends liking this movie when it came out a couple of years ago, but I never heard much else about it and didn’t get around to watching it until now. I’m glad I didn’t let it slip past me completely, because it’s a pretty good little film.

Set in some unnamed small city in the Southwest, SMALL TOWN CRIME opens with sad-sack former cop Mike Kendall (John Hawkes) trying to find a job. We quickly find out that Kendall is an alcoholic and was kicked off the force because of a tragic shooting with which he was involved. (I immediately thought of Lawrence Block’s Matt Scudder and Donald Westlake’s Mitch Tobin . . . which are not bad influences at all, mind you.) Kendall finds the body of a badly injured young woman who’s suffered a beating or been hit by a car or something similar, and when she dies in the hospital after he rushes her there, he decides he’s going to find out what happened to her. Having seen countless private eye movies and read countless private eye novels, we know what’s going to happen, of course. The more digging Kendall does, the more complicated the case becomes, and the more dangerous his efforts become for him. He even gets hit over the head and knocked out at one point, admittedly a PI cliché but one that I love and am always happy to see. The twists and turns eventually lead to a very satisfying ending.

The cast is excellent in this movie, with Hawkes, usually a supporting actor, doing a great job in the lead for a change. The always dependable Robert Forster shows up, Anthony Anderson and Clifton Collins Jr. are on hand, and the beautiful Caity Lotz is always worth watching. The photography captures the southwestern setting very well, and the script and direction by brothers Eshom and Ian Nelms blend together almost perfectly. There are a couple of lapses in logic, but nothing to quibble about too much. I never heard of the Nelms Brothers before, but based on this movie, I might have to seek out more of their work.

Overall, SMALL TOWN CRIME is one of the best films I’ve seen recently. If you like hardboiled private eye movies (and who doesn’t?) and haven’t seen it yet, it’s very much worth watching.

Sunday, May 12, 2019

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Short Stories, October 25, 1932

I always wanted a pith helmet when I was a kid, probably because of all the jungle adventure movies I'd watched on TV. I never got one, which was almost certainly a good thing, as I'm not sure how well it would have gone over in the small Texas town where I was already something of a weirdo. And there's no way I would have looked as tough and dashing as the guy on the cover of this issue of SHORT STORIES. The art is by William Reusswig. The lead novel by Eustace L. Adams sounds like a good one, and Adams was a reliably entertaining author of adventure fiction. Also on hand were Karl Detzer, Conrad Richter, Bill Adams, Jacland Marmur, Charles Green, Cliff Farrell, and Garnett Radcliffe. Those names don't mean much now, with the possible exception of Conrad Richter, but they were top-notch pulp authors. (You know, you can buy pith helmets on Amazon . . . I'm just sayin' . . . Nah, I probably shouldn't.)

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Story, August 16, 1941

I don't think I've ever run across a Western pulp cover depicting a gunfight in the middle of a stampede . . . until now. Because that's what you've got on this issue of WESTERN STORY, in a cover by the prolific H.W. Scott. Inside are stories by some of the best Western writers from that era: Walt Coburn, Harry Sinclair Drago, Philip Ketchum, Frank Richardson Pierce, Bennett Foster, and Lee Floren. There are plenty of good reasons why WESTERN STORY was one of the best Western pulps, and there's a handful of 'em right there.

Friday, May 10, 2019

Forgotten Books: Ki-Gor: The Cannibal Horde - John Peter Drummond

It had been a while since I read a Ki-Gor novel, so I figured it was time I got back to the series. “The Cannibal Horde”, originally published in the Fall 1942 issue of JUNGLE STORIES, is a bit of a letdown from the excellent yarn in the previous issue, “Blood Priestess of Vig N’Ga”. In this one, Ki-Gor and Helene are traveling with their friend Hurree Das, the Hindu doctor who appears occasionally as reluctant villain/comedy relief, when they find themselves in the middle of a war instigated by an old enemy of Ki-Gor’s from an earlier adventure. This would-be potentate has assembled an army of cannibals, aided by warriors from some other tribes, and is out to conquer a neighboring kingdom. Ki-Gor, of course, sets out to stop this.

That’s all there is to it, which results in kind of a thinly plotted tale. There are a few battles, a lot of running around, and a nicely suspenseful sequence toward the end when Helene is captured and seems destined to wind up in the cannibals’ stew pot. Ki-Gor is off-screen quite a bit. All in all, “The Cannibal Horde” is a little bit lackluster, but still a readable yarn.

As usual, we don’t know who was behind the John Peter Drummond house-name, but I got the feeling this story was by either an author who was new to the series or at least one who hadn’t contributed much to it. Hurree Das is the only member of the regular supporting cast to appear, and his characterization seems a little off to me. There’s no mention of Tembu George, N’Geeso, or Marmo the elephant.

This is the last story in the third and at least for the moment final collection of Ki-Gor stories from Altus Press. I don’t know if more collections are in the works, but I hope so. In the meantime, I have quite a few other novels from the series in various reprint editions, so I’ll be moving on with them and probably skipping around some instead of reading them in order. But I’ve really enjoyed reading the first fifteen stories like this and look forward to the rest of the series.

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Space Crusaders #1 - Christopher Mills, Peter Grau, and Nik Poliwko

Several years ago, I read the graphic novel GRAVEDIGGER: HOT WOMEN, COLD CASH, written by Christopher Mills, and enjoyed it a lot. These days, Mills is putting together an entire line of comics called Atomic Action, which takes public domain superheroes and puts them in new stories written and drawn in the classic style of the Sixties and Seventies (which means they’re right in my wheelhouse). The first issue of these new comics, SPACE CRUSADERS #1, came out recently, and it’s great fun.

The lead feature is REX DEXTER OF MARS. Created by Dick Briefer, Rex appeared in a couple of dozen stories in 1939 and 1940. He’s the son of an Earth scientist and his wife whose spaceship crashlanded on Mars, so they were stuck there, where Rex was born. His parents never made it back to Earth, but eventually he did and became a swashbuckling hero battling assorted menaces from space and getting romantically involved with a beautiful girl he rescues from some space pirates. Then, in a tragic turn of circumstances, he’s blamed for the destruction carried out by a monster he’d captured and is exiled from Earth. Cynde, his beautiful girlfriend, takes to the spacelanes with him, of course, and Rex winds up as sort of a cross between Flash Gordon and Adam Strange. And that’s where Mills picks up his story in “Menace of the Saurian Sphere”.

Despite the fact that he’s been kicked off Earth, that doesn’t stop Rex from agreeing to help when a giant metallic asteroid is spotted on a collision course with the planet. Rex and Cynde intercept the sphere and find an unexpected secret inside it. You can probably guess from the cover what it is. Mills’ fast-paced script is very entertaining and includes several nods to some legendary comics creators, and the art by Peter Grau is top-notch, with great storytelling ability. I really enjoyed this yarn.

The back-up story is the first installment of a continued story called “Lance Lewis, Space Detective”, a hardboiled detective tale set on a space station, with art by Nik Poliwko. I liked this one a lot, too, and look forward to reading the upcoming stories in the series.

Mills has some ambitious plans for this comics universe, and based on SPACE CRUSADERS #1, he and the artists working with him are more than capable of carrying them out. This 40-page, full color issue is available (with three variant covers) at IndyPlanet, a site that specializes in independently published comic books, and if you’re a long-time comics fan like me, I give it a high recommendation. (I bought some of Mills’ other comics, too, and will be posting about them later on.)

Sunday, May 05, 2019

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: War Birds, April 1933

I was in the mood for an aviation pulp cover this morning, and I picked this one by George Rozen from WAR BIRDS because I don't recall seeing many observation balloons on pulp covers. Also there are some good writers in this issue, including William E. Barrett, Robert J. Hogan, Robert H. Leitfred, and one better remembered for his excellent Westerns, Allan R. Bosworth.

Saturday, May 04, 2019

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Big-Book Western Magazine, March 1949

I love the expression on this cowboy's face. Somebody's gonna pay for that spilled drink! There are also some excellent authors in this issue of BIG-BOOK WESTERN MAGAZINE, starting with a couple of my favorites, Walt Coburn and Harry F. Olmsted. Also on hand are top-notch Western writers Thomas Thompson, Tom W. Blackburn, Tom Roan, and Bryce Walton. This looks like a fine issue.

Friday, May 03, 2019

Forgotten Books: Madball - Fredric Brown

I have a fondness for novels and stories set in carnivals, circuses, and such traveling shows. Fredric Brown’s novel MADBALL, published originally in 1953 when his career was going along very well, fits quite nicely in this tradition. But as you’d expect, Brown throws a lot of curves into his tale, so you really don’t know what to expect.

Original Dell Edition
In a way, MADBALL is also a caper novel, since the plot revolves around a bank robbery, but unlike most caper novels, the job has already taken place when the book opens. In fact, it occurred weeks earlier, when two guys from a traveling carnival rob a bank in one of the towns on the show’s circuit. They hide the loot somewhere among the various attractions, then promptly get involved in a car wreck that kills one of the thieves and causes the other one to be laid up for six weeks. But as soon as the survivor gets out of the hospital, he heads for the carnival to retrieve the stolen money. Unfortunately for him, he’s murdered almost as soon as he gets there (not a spoiler, this happens very early on), and the rest of the book consists of various parties searching for the loot, as well as the murderer (who is known to the reader almost from the start) trying to cover his tracks.

Gold Medal Reprint Edition
As usual with a Fredric Brown novel, the plot is suitably twisty, but the real appeal is in the fine writing and the compelling characters he creates. Brown was a carny himself at one time, and he knew this world very well, so we get a lot of carnival lore as well a shrewd fortune teller, an insanely jealous knife-thrower and his beautiful wife, assorted women of dubious virtue, a mentally challenged young man and various people who take advantage of him and try to use him for their own benefit, and a murderer who’s maybe not as clever as he thinks he is. Brown generates plenty of suspense as we read on to find out who’s going to get away their crimes and who’s going to wind up with the loot. But of course he has a few twists he waits until the end to spring . . .

Madball is another name for the crystal ball used by the fortune teller, and maybe it actually does predict the future. I can predict that a lot of you would enjoy the novel MADBALL. It’s about to be reprinted by Stark House in its Black Gat line, and I give it a high recommendation.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Spicy Detective Stories, June 1934

Egad! Is this a Weird Menace pulp or a detective mag? Either way, that's a mighty eye-catching cover. This is the second issue of SPICY DETECTIVE STORIES and features the first Dan Turner yarn by Robert Leslie Bellem, who also has a story in here under his pseudonym Jerome Severs Perry. There are also two stories by Norman A. Daniels, one under his own name and the other as by Robert Marks. And since all the other authors in this issue are credited with five stories or less, it's likely that most or all of those are house-names and that Bellem and/or Daniels wrote most of those stories as well.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Six-Gun Western, August 1950

Another Old West poker game gone bad! SIX-GUN WESTERN being a Trojan Magazines, Inc. pulp, you'd expect a racy cover (check!) and a veritable plethora of house-names (not so much). In fact, Ralph Sedgewick Douglas is the only verified house-name in this issue, although two other authors listed in the Table of Contents, Tom Morant and Henry K. Dallett, are very little known today and published only a few stories, so who knows about them. Otherwise, though, it's a line-up of prolific pulpsters: E. Hoffmann Price, Clee Woods, Clark Gray, and Ben Frank (whose real name was Frank Bennett, a name under which he also published).

Friday, April 26, 2019

Forgotten Books: The Lone Ranger: Snake of Iron - Chuck Dixon

A comic book mini-series about The Lone Ranger (one of my all-time favorite characters), written by Chuck Dixon (one of the best comic book scripters of the past thirty years), and somehow I missed it when it came out back in 2012? How is that possible? Well, thankfully I’ve remedied that oversight and have now read THE LONE RANGER: SNAKE OF IRON.

This isn’t a Weird Western or a Revisionist Western (although it does feature the current, more politically correct version of Tonto rather than the Jay Silverheels version, which I suspect is the way the license holder wants it based on my own experience writing a Lone Ranger story). It’s pure Traditional Western, with the Kiowa going on the warpath and trying to join forces with the Comanche, a train derailed and stranded in a snowy winter Texas landscape, a plucky female newspaper reporter, a little kid in danger, a cavalry patrol, and a touch of Indian mysticism (but not enough to make it a Weird Western). In a bit of a twist, The Lone Ranger and Tonto are apart for most of the series, although it’s inevitable that their storylines will come together in the end, which they do with quite satisfactory results.

Dixon’s script is top-notch, with plenty of action, good characters, the occasional poignant moment, and bits of humor here and there. His Lone Ranger absolutely rings true to the character, and his Tonto lacks the pretentiousness that shows up in some other authors’ versions. I also like the fact that the story takes place in the winter, with snow on the ground, instead of the hot summer like most Westerns set in Texas. The art by Esteve Polls, an artist I’m not familiar with, is good as well, with strong storytelling so I was always able to keep up with what was going on. That’s not always true with modern comics artists. I could quibble a little with some things. There are no towering, snow-capped peaks in the part of Texas where this story takes place, and frontier forts didn’t look like how Fort Griffin is depicted. But that’s just part of the mythology of the Western, and overall I was quite pleased with the art. (Hey, West Texas doesn’t look like Monument Valley, Utah, either, but that doesn’t make THE SEARCHERS any less of a classic film, does it?)

I’ll admit I’m a bit of a curmudgeon and a purist where The Lone Ranger is concerned, so I haven’t liked some of the modern tales featuring the character. But I really enjoyed SNAKE OF IRON and don’t hesitate to recommend it to any Lone Ranger fan. It’s a good yarn.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Happy Easter

No pulp cover this morning, but I'll wish you all a Happy Easter with this installment of Stan Lynde's great comic strip RICK O'SHAY, which I read every Sunday morning with my dad when I was a kid. The ones featuring the gunfighter Hipshot Percussion were always my favorites. (Click on the image to read it.)

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Two-Gun Western, November 1953

This issue of TWO-GUN WESTERN features another appearance of the trio who turn up on so many Western pulp covers: the Stalwart Cowboy, the Wounded Geezer, and the Gun-Toting Girl. True, there's a little variation on this one. The Geezer isn't quite as old as some, but he's still got the blood-stained bandage on his head. And the Girl is a brunette instead of the usual redhead and is also showing a little more cleavage than most. But as always, their presence makes for a good cover. What's puzzling is why stories by Philip Morgan (who?) and John Lumsden (again, who?) are featured on that cover, when inside there are also yarns by Noel M. Loomis, Bennie Gardner (once as Gunnison Steele and once as house-name Johnny Lawson), Jonathan Glidden (as Peter Dawson), L.L. Foreman, Stephen Payne, and Lee Floren. There are also stories by house-names Brent North and Ken Jason, who was also at various times Bennie Gardner or Jon Glidden, so the story in this issue may be by one of them. Or it might be by editor Robert O. Erisman, who was known to use the name as well and sell stories to himself. Hard to say. All I really know is that this looks like a pretty good issue.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Forgotten Books: Captain Shark #2: Jaws of Death - Richard Silver (Kenneth Bulmer)

The second Captain Shark novel, JAWS OF DEATH, begins mere seconds after the previous novel, BY PIRATE’S BLOOD . . ., ends. (See last week’s Forgotten Books post for the story on that one.) This makes me even more convinced that author Kenneth Bulmer, who wrote these books under the pseudonym Richard Silver, intended for the story to be told in one long novel.

The cliffhanger from the previous book is resolved quickly, and then Captain Shark sets out on a new adventure, a quest for Morgan’s Gold, the treasure that famous pirate Henry Morgan was after when he sacked Panama, but then the loot mysteriously disappeared. What’s a pirate yarn without a treasure map, and to get his hands on it, Shark has to resort to disguise as he penetrates into the very heart of his mortal enemy’s stronghold.

It’s all very dashing and swashbuckling and romantic (of course there’s a beautiful countess at said stronghold), and just as you’d expect, the action winds up on the deserted island where the treasure is buried, with Shark and his crew in a desperate race against the Spanish to reach the treasure and recover it first. There’s no cliffhanger this time, but once the action is over, one of the buccaneers declares, “Cap’n Shark will return!” Alas, he doesn’t. That’s the end of this short-lived series.

However, the two books taken together make for an exciting, if somewhat rambling, tale. Bulmer has a sure hand with the action scenes, Captain Shark is a likable protagonist (and for a bunch of bloody-handed pirates, his crew is pretty sympathetic, too), the villains are properly despicable, and some welcome touches of humor crop up here and there. These novels are also as violent and lurid as you’d expect from books written for the men’s adventure market in the mid-Seventies, which, of course, doesn’t bother me a bit. I have quite a few historical novels by Kenneth Bulmer on hand and look forward to reading them.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Overlooked Movies: Colorado Territory (1949)

I didn’t mean to write about two Raoul Walsh movies in a row, but that’s the way it’s worked out after last week’s post on DESPERATE JOURNEY. COLORADO TERRITORY is a Western remake from 1949 of the Humphrey Bogart classic HIGH SIERRA, also directed by Walsh eight years earlier in 1941. Both are based on the novel HIGH SIERRA by W.R. Burnett. In COLORADO TERRITORY, Joel McCrea plays outlaw Wes McQueen, in prison for robbing banks and trains, who is broken out so he can take part in a payroll heist from a train in Colorado. Along the way there, following the same general outlines as the story in the first film, he encounters a farmer (Henry Hull) and his daughter (Dorothy Malone), who are heading west to make a new start. McQueen falls for the girl, of course, and starts to think about going straight and making a new start for himself . . . after this one last job, of course.

COLORADO TERRITORY, despite its Western setting, is pure film noir. The other members of the gang, once McQueen meets them, can’t be trusted, and they have a beautiful dance hall girl (a perfectly cast Virginia Mayo) with them who stirs up even more trouble among thieves. Double-crosses and plot twists abound, and McQueen’s goal of giving up the outlaw life seems more and more out of reach. Will fate catch up to him, or will he manage somehow to avoid it?

This is a wonderful film, very well-acted by a good cast and directed with great skill by Walsh, who balances the action and characterization about as well as I’ve ever seen. The train robbery sequence is excellent and had me grinning all the way through it. The stunt work is top-notch. The gritty black and white photography is very effective, too.

I remember watching this movie on TV with my dad when I was seven or eight years old. All the more adult stuff went over my head, but I’ve never forgotten the closing scenes set in an abandoned Indian cliff dwelling known as the City of the Moon. No spoilers here, but that was the first time I had encountered such an ending, and it’s stuck with me for nearly six decades since then. You don’t hear much about COLORADO TERRITORY anymore, but it’s a classic Western and gets a high recommendation from me.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: 10-Story Detective Magazine, January 1943

This issue of 10-STORY DETECTIVE MAGAZINE features another great Norman Saunders cover, with stories inside by some top-notch authors: Norman A. Daniels (with a second story under his pseudonym David M. Norman), Harold Q. Masur, Walt Sheldon, J. Lane Linklater, and even Walker A. Tompkins, best known for his Westerns, of course. Plus some I haven't heard of, such as Tagre Detbar, Byron Dalrymple, and Thomas Lamar.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Saturday Morning Bonus Pulp: Popular Western, January 1944

The cover of this issue of POPULAR WESTERN is further proof, as if we needed it, that every poker game in the Old West ended in a shootout or a brawl. I'm sure there are plenty of fisticuffs and gunplay in the stories inside, which are by Tom Gunn (actually Syl McDowell, in this case, with another Painted Post yarn featuring Sheriff Blue Steele), Gunnison Steele (Bennie Gardner), Laurence Donovan, Oscar J. Friend, and house-name Scott Carleton with a Buffalo Billy Bates story. I've always found POPULAR WESTERN to be a pretty good Western pulp, and I'm sure this issue is no exception.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Forgotten Books: Captain Shark #1: By Pirate's Blood . . ., Richard Silver (Kenneth Bulmer)

British author Kenneth Bulmer is best remembered for his scores of fantasy and science fiction novels, but like a good freelancer, he wrote a little bit of everything and was especially good at historical and nautical fiction. Those two genres are combined in the Captain Shark novels, a two-book series of paperback originals Bulmer wrote for Pinnacle Books in 1975. Both books are available as e-books from Thunderchild Publishing.

It seems unlikely that the protagonist of these books, Captain Sebastian Shark, was born with that name, but that’s the only way he’s ever referred to in BY PIRATE’S BLOOD . . ., the first volume. Shark is the captain of the sloop Draco, and he’s not so much a pirate as he is the mortal enemy of the Spanish, out for revenge on them more than loot. He does, however, have the usual motley, colorful crew of buccaneers sailing with him.

Bulmer barely touches on a fairly extensive back-story in which Shark is captured by Barbary Corsairs as a young man and learns swordplay from another captive, a Spaniard (the only Spaniard Shark likes) and medicine from an Arab. (Wasn't Captain Blood actually a medical doctor? It’s been close to fifty years since I read Sabatini’s novel.) Eventually escaping from the Corsairs, Shark winds up in the Caribbean, throws in with Henry Morgan, takes part in the sacking of Panama, and finally becomes the captain of his own ship and crew. Because many of his friends have suffered at the hands of the Spanish Inquisition, Shark declares an unofficial war on them.

And that’s where BY PIRATE’S BLOOD . . . begins. It’s a rather episodic tale in which Shark and his men clash with other pirates, capture a Spanish ship, and take a beautiful young Spanish noblewoman prisoner. Shark and the girl even wind up marooned on a deserted island, but things don’t play out the way you might expect. And before you know it, he’s a prisoner in a castle on a Spanish-held island, and then who should show up but the beautiful Captain Elizabeth Wren, a female pirate who is Shark’s former lover, sometimes ally, and sometimes enemy. The action hardly ever slows down, and Bulmer really packs this yarn full of twists and turns and then . . . it’s over.

Yep, BY PIRATE’S BLOOD . . . ends in a semi-cliffhanger, and this really leads me to believe that Bulmer wrote this story as one long novel that Pinnacle split in two for publication. In those days, short books were in fashion, and Pinnacle published a lot of ’em in the men’s adventure genre, which includes swashbucklers like this.

I really enjoyed this book. Bulmer had a good touch with his characters and wrote some really good action scenes. I’m a landlubber, through and through, but I was able to follow the sea battles just fine. I would have been really annoyed, though, when I got to the end and found that the story just stops . . . if I didn’t have the second and final book, JAWS OF DEATH, queued up on my Kindle ready to read.

And that’s what I’ll be posting about next Friday.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Caz, Vigilante Hunter #1: Slaughter at Buzzard's Gulch - Scott Harris

Scott Harris has become a very popular Western author in the past couple of years, best known for his series featuring Brock Clemons and the non-fiction volumes he’s edited about Western novels, movies, and TV shows. But he’s also writing a series of Western action novels about a character known only as Caz, Vigilante Hunter. (Just to be clear, he is a vigilante, he doesn’t hunt vigilantes.) In the best tradition of Western TV shows such as CHEYENNE, he’s a drifter who helps people out and hunts down bad guys who need hunting down simply because it’s the right thing to do. And he doesn’t show any mercy to those bad guys, either.

I’ve just read the first book in this series, SLAUGHTER AT BUZZARD’S GULCH, and it certainly doesn’t stint on the action. Caz takes pity on a mistreated soiled dove and winds up being targeted for death by the owner of the whorehouse and his brutal minions. Much shooting, fighting, and stabbing ensues. Harris never lets the pace slow down for very long, but when it does, it’s to put in some nice bit of characterization. Caz is enough of an anti-hero to give this book a little of the same feeling as the Edge books and other British Western series written by the Piccadilly Cowboys. In his dispensing of his own brand of justice, he also comes across like a Western Mack Bolan at times, although there’s no organization he’s fighting like Bolan took on the Mafia. He’s certainly a compelling character, and creating characters like that seems to be Harris’s strong suit.

Most traditional Western readers ought to enjoy SLAUGHTER AT BUZZARD’S GULCH. You can get it for a great price in a boxed set including the first four books in the series.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Overlooked Movies: Desperate Journey (1942)

DESPERATE JOURNEY is a World War II movie that I somehow missed seeing on TV when I was growing up. In fact, I’m not sure I’d even heard of it until recently. It was made in 1942, long before the war was over, and stars Errol Flynn, Ronald Reagan, Arthur Kennedy, Alan Hale, and Ronald Sinclair as the survivors of a crash landing when the B-17 they’re in is shot down in Germany after a successful bombing run. It’s not enough for them to avoid capture by the Nazis and escape into Holland. They decide to turn themselves into a five-man invasion force and wreak as much havoc with the German war effort as they can along the way.

As helmed by veteran action director Raoul Walsh, this movie hardly ever slows down. Our intrepid heroes are in and out of one jam after another, blowing stuff up real good and confounding the German officer leading the effort to capture them, played by Raymond Massey. Along the way they even meet a pretty girl who’s a member of the German resistance, although there’s no time for any romance before the guys are dashing off to carry out another act of sabotage. Despite the serious subject matter—and the fact that not everybody makes it out alive—DESPERATE JOURNEY is almost breezy at times with its over-the-top adventure and wisecracking heroes.

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie. It’s old-fashioned entertainment. Flynn and Reagan are very good in their roles. Reagan has the best scene, when he’s being interrogated by Massey and pressured to give up Allied secrets. The script sort of glosses over the fact that out of the five protagonists, only one (Sinclair’s character) is actually British, although they’re all in the RAF. But that international flavor is at least acknowledged, even if nothing much is made of it. There’s some good miniature work, maybe not up to the same level as the Lydecker brothers over at Republic (but when it comes to miniature work, what was?) and an excellent car chase late in the picture. I’m glad I came across this movie and watched it, and if you haven’t seen it, it’s definitely worthwhile.

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Thrilling Adventures, February 1938

It's been a while since there's been a Mountie cover in this series, so here's one from the February 1938 issue of THRILLING ADVENTURES. Not only does this issue feature a cover with a two-gun Mountie on it, there are stories inside by E. Hoffmann Price, Edmond Hamilton, Philip Ketchum, Arthur J. Burks, and S. Gordon Gurwit. That's a pretty strong line-up for any pulp with the word "Adventure" in the title.

Saturday, April 06, 2019

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: .44 Western, October 1947

.44 WESTERN MAGAZINE was another solidly dependable Western pulp from Popular Publications, and this issue has a nice action-packed cover. The lead novella is by Max Kesler. I don't know anything about him, but I've seen several oil field stories by him and this appears to be another one, judging by its title. Other authors in this issue are Walker A. Tompkins (one of my favorite Western writers), Will C. Brown (actually C.S. Boyles, Jr., the other writer from Cross Plains, Texas, who was a few years older than Robert E. Howard), Lee E. Wells, Harold F. Cruickshank, and Harrison Colt, a name that's always struck me as a pseudonym or house-name, but I don't have any confirmation of that. This looks like a pretty good issue.

Friday, April 05, 2019

Forgotten Books: Hearts of the West - Jean Marie Stine, ed.

As I’ve mentioned here before, I recall seeing new issues of RANCH ROMANCES on the magazine racks in various drugstores during the late Sixties and early Seventies. It was the last true pulp, although by then it was slightly smaller than regular pulp size and had trimmed page edges. I never bought any of those issues, though, because it had “romance” right there in the title, and I didn’t read romances. That’s what my mother read, for gosh sake!

However, over the past fifteen years or so, I’ve read numerous issues of RANCH ROMANCES and have developed a real appreciation of the Western romance. Far from being sappy, many of them have their fair share of gritty action. Romance is a pretty primal emotion, after all, and a talented storyteller can spin a good yarn from it.

HEARTS OF THE WEST is a collection of Western romances gathered from a variety of pulps and a few slick magazines. None of them are from RANCH ROMANCES, and indeed, only one story is from a pulp recognized as a Western romance title, THRILLING RANCH STORIES. But that doesn’t make them any less well-written and entertaining.

The book opens with “Guardian Angel” by Gene Austin, originally published in THRILLING WESTERN, November 1952 as “The Beautiful Guardian”. When I started reading this one, I immediately realized it was familiar, and when I looked it up, I discovered that it appeared in an issue of THRILLING WESTERN I had read and blogged about fairly recently, so I’ll just repeat what I said about it there: “The Beautiful Guardian” by Gene Austin, an author who wrote several dozen stories for assorted Western pulps, none of which I recall reading until this one. It’s a pleasant enough yarn about a young cowboy, a trio of trouble-making brothers he’s feuding with, and two beautiful young women, one of whom he wants to marry and the other who wants to marry him. This seems like it should have appeared in RANCH ROMANCES in an earlier era, but it’s probably not hardboiled enough for the Fifties version of that magazine.

“Frontier Spirit” by Ann P. Hurt appeared in DOUBLE-ACTION WESTERN, February 1956, as “The Resourceful Week of Little Silly” by A.P. Hurt. It’s a wagon train story about the pampered daughter of a rich man who has to take care of herself and deal with the dangers of the frontier. The plot’s fairly predictable, but I thought it was handled well and I enjoyed the story.

John and Ward Hawkins were brothers from Canada who started writing for the pulps in the Thirties, mostly detective and adventure stories, but by the Forties they were writing serials for THE SATURDAY EVENING POST and COLLIER’S and eventually wound up in Hollywood where they wrote a lot of TV episodes for such series as VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA, BONANZA, and LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE. Their story “Pioneer Woman”, published in the August 31, 1940 issue of LIBERTY as “Pioneer Lady”, is another wagon train tale, although it’s set for the most part in St. Joseph, Missouri, as a wagon train is forming to head for Oregon. The protagonist is a young woman with two children whose abusive gambler husband has abandoned her, but he shows up to make her life miserable just as she’s trying to make a new start by joining the wagon train. Some nice twists, as well as a murder, give this story a fairly hard edge, and it works quite well.

Charles H. Snow, the author of “Blue Eyes and Blue Steel”, from the March 1934 issue of THRILLING RANCH STORIES, is best remembered for one thing these days: a novella called “One ‘Hopped-up’ Cowboy” which appeared in the July 1936 issue of WILD WEST STORIES AND COMPLETE NOVEL MAGAZINE. I’ve never read it, but I seem to recall reading that the hero of that one is known as The Marijuana Kid. Snow is an interesting author over and above that one story, though. A former miner, he was blinded in an accident in 1914 and decided to become a writer in an attempt to support his family. He dictated his stories to his daughter, who then typed and submitted them. He sold a good number of stories to the pulps in the Twenties and Thirties but found his best market in England, where he sold more than 400 novels under several different pseudonyms. He was also elected to the position of justice of the peace in Napa, California, during the Twenties and served as a mentor to Western writer L.P. Holmes, who always referred to him as Judge Snow. I had never read any of his work before “Blue Eyes and Blue Steel”, but I really enjoyed this tale about a rancher’s daughter pursuing a dangerous outlaw. I saw the big twist coming but thought the story was well-written enough to be very entertaining, anyway. Snow skimps a little on the action at the end, but I was still impressed enough that I want to read more by him.

Zachary Strong was a house-name, so there’s really no telling who wrote “Cup of Happiness”, which appeared in the April 1940 issue of COMPLETE NORTHWEST. It’s a Northern, as you’d expect from the magazine where it was published, and takes place in Canada. A schoolteacher who loses her job when the boomtown where she’s been teaching is abandoned for a new strike elsewhere decides to become a prospector herself. Things don’t go well. The resolution of this one seems really far-fetched to me, but I’m not a miner, so what do I know?

“The Marquis and Miss Sally”, EVERYBODY’S MAGAZINE, June 1903, under the name Oliver Henry, is set in a roundup camp on the Texas range and features the trademark twist ending of an O. Henry story. I didn’t see the twist coming until very late in the game. This is an excellent story. I put O. Henry in a book once as a supporting character, before he was a writer and was just a bank clerk named William Sydney Porter.

“End of the Trail” by editor Jean Marie Stine is the only tale original to this collection. It’s a “stranger rides into town and takes on the local bully” story with a couple of nice twists. Well-written and shows that Stine knows Westerns.

Frank Bennett, writing under the pseudonym Ben Frank, had stories in many issues of TEXAS RANGERS during the Fifties, most of them featuring his series character Doc Swap, and to be honest, I’m not a fan of them. His stand-alone story “The Bar-Girl, the Battle, and the Bar-D” (TEXAS RANGERS, July 1957, as “A Woman for the Bar-D”) is pretty good, though. A widowed rancher looking for someone to care for his young daughter hires a woman who’s new in town and winds up with more trouble than he bargained for. This one is a lot grittier than the author’s Doc Swap stories, which probably explains why I liked it quite a bit.

“Big Nose Kate’s Man”, by Marie Antoinette Parks, originally published in REAL WESTERN STORIES, June 1956, as “They Ain’t Going to Lynch My Man” by Will Watson, is a short, mostly historical piece about Doc Holliday and his lover Big Nose Kate set in Fort Griffin, Texas, when Doc is arrested for murder. It’s okay but there’s not much to it, making it the weakest story in the collection.

Overall, I found HEARTS OF THE WEST very entertaining, with several excellent stories (the ones by the Hawkins brothers, Charles H. Snow, and O. Henry were my favorites) and all of them quite readable. I’d love to see more such collections of Western romance stories from the pulps and think this one is well worth reading.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Larry Kent News From Piccadilly Publishing

Private Eye Larry Kent started his life as the hero of a half-hour radio show on Australia’s Macquarie Network, and was inspired chiefly by the success of the hardboiled mysteries of Carter Brown. As the popularity of the radio show grew, the Cleveland Publishing Pty. Ltd decided to publish a series of Larry Kent novels. Two authors, Don Haring (an American who lived in Australia) and Des R Dunn (a Queenslander) are primarily associated with the series. Between 1954 and 1983, Larry appeared in well over 400 adventures.

Kent is a typical hard boiled private eye. He smokes Camels, drinks whiskey and within the first dozen pages or so, has usually met a dame and is fighting for his life. His mean streets are pure New York (although the radio series was set in Australia) and include Harlem nightclubs and Jersey roadhouses.

Generally the body counts are high: about six deaths per novel.
But there’s another side to Larry Kent. He’s a Vietnam war veteran, he used to work for the CIA and still does, usually reluctantly, on occasion. And once, when an attempt was made on his life, the Agency paid for him to have plastic surgery that altered his appearance ... something he never quite managed to get used to.

Larry Kent is fast and fun, and Piccadilly Publishing is proud to be bringing his cases to a whole new generation of fans, complete with their original ‘good girl’ artwork.
The first FOUR books will be available on APRIL 4th!
A Thompson machine gun erupted its violence as soon as the door began to move. A guy stood in the opening, his big gun smoking in his hand. I took one shot and sent a shell into his stomach. The guy went back on his heels for two very deliberate paces, then folded onto his knees. His gun slipped out of his hands and came into the doorway.

There was another guy with my dying friend—a guy with the most surprised face in New York. He wore a hat over his eyes, but I could see a crooked nose and thin lips and a fat-jowled jaw.

I said, “Sleep tight, punk.”

I let him have it.

There’s something about me makes me ornery when guys pump lead into my doorway late at night.

(I had two or three of the original Australian editions of Larry Kent novels but never got around to reading them before they were lost in the fire of '08. I've always been curious about the series and hoped someone would reprint some of the books. Now Piccadilly Publishing has brought the series back, and I just bought the first four books, which are already available. I'm looking forward to reading them!)

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Overlooked Movies: Wild Card (2014)

I’m not sure how I completely missed this 2014 movie starring Jason Statham, based on a novel (HEAT) by William Goldman, with a screenplay by Goldman. Even odder, there was already a movie based on that novel, also with a Goldman screenplay, made in 1986 starring Burt Reynolds. I’m sure we watched it—we watched just about everything Burt was in, back then—but I don’t remember it. So, taking WILD CARD on its own merits (I haven’t read the book, either), it turns out to be a decent little action film.

Statham plays Nick Wild (a name change to justify the title, I suppose), who works as a bodyguard/“chaperone” in Las Vegas. A very wealthy but innocent young man hires Nick to show him around town and protect him while he’s gambling. Meanwhile, a hooker friend of Nick’s gets raped and badly beaten up by the vicious son of a mobster, and when Nick finds out about that, he sets out to get revenge for her. He’s also trying to get his hands on enough money to retire to Corsica and sail around on the Mediterranean.

Those plot strands weave in and out in a rather meandering fashion, and that aimlessness hurts the movie. On the other hand, the dialogue is good, as you’d expect from a movie written by William Goldman, and the cast, which also includes Jason Alexander and Stanley Tucci, does a good job. Statham is always likable. There’s enough action to keep things interesting, and also as you’d expect, it’s handled well. WILD CARD is a pleasant enough way to spend some time and I enjoyed it. It’s just not very memorable.

Sunday, March 31, 2019

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Detective and Murder Mysteries, March 1939

This is the first issue of a pretty obscure pulp that lasted only a handful of issues. That's a decent cover, and there are some good writers inside: Wayne D. Overholser (best known for his Westerns, of course), Stewart Sterling, Cyril Plunkett, John Wilstach, and Louis Trimble. Then there are authors I've never heard of: Wilcey Earle, Grantly Wallington (who sounds more like a foppish British playboy and whose story in this issue is the luridly titled "The Devil Peddles Reefers!"), and Kenny Kenmare (a house-name). I don't know if DETECTIVE AND MURDER MYSTERIES was any good, but it seems oddball enough to be worth picking up a copy if you ever come across one, which I never have.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Famous Western, October 1949

That's a bright, eye-catching cover on this issue of FAMOUS WESTERN. Inside there's an interesting mix of authors, too, and a story title I really like, "The Buzzard Cheaters", by Allan K. Echols. Other authors with stories in this issue include A.A. Baker and Rex Whitechurch, house-names Mat Rand and Cliff Campbell, John Van Praag (who was really Scott Meredith, later famous as a literary agent), and John Lackland (who was really editor Robert W. Lowndes). Not exactly the first string when it comes to Western pulpsters, but I'll bet there are some entertaining stories in there.

Friday, March 29, 2019

Forgotten Books: The Gladiator #1: Hill of the Dead - Andrew Quiller (Laurence James)

HILL OF THE DEAD is the first novel in a series I’ve recently completed collecting. The Gladiator is the overall title of these books, which were originally published in England as a series called The Eagles. The first four novels were reprinted in the United States by Pinnacle. The fifth and final book appeared only in England. The scan of this one is from the copy I read. The cover art is by Marcus Boas, an artist whose work I’m normally not fond of. This one is not too bad, very Steve Reeves-like, but not at all the way I pictured the character as I read the book.

As HILL OF THE DEAD begins, the title character is already an experienced, much-feared gladiator who has won many battles in the arena. Marcus Julius Brittanicus, known as Vulpus (the Fox) because he’s an intelligent fighter and often wins by out-thinking his opponents, finds himself facing a worthy opponent in a Jew named Samuel ben Ezra. The problem is, Marcus and Samuel are old friends who haven’t seen each other in years, and now one of them is going to have to kill the other.

At that point, the novel becomes a series of flashbacks filling in the background on Marcus’s life and his friendship with Samuel. Marcus used to be a centurion and actually chose to become a gladiator, but before that, Samuel saved his life during an encounter with some would-be thives. Later, Marcus is there when the Roman army lays siege to the Jewish stronghold of Masada, where Samuel is one of the defenders. You’d think the friendship between them might end there, but from the first chapter, we know that’s not the case. There’s more of the story to come.

With this flashback structure, the plot of HILL OF THE DEAD meanders around a little, at times seeming like nothing more than a framework on which to hang scenes of violence and sex. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, since author Laurence James, writing under the house-name Andrew Quiller, has a lot of sheer storytelling power in his prose and the book moves swiftly, even though it’s episodic.

Laurence James wrote a lot for the British paperback market, mostly Westerns but also some historicals like the Eagles/Gladiator series, for which he also wrote #4 in addition to this debut novel. (#2 and #5 are by Kenneth Bulmer, #3 by Angus Wells. I’ll be getting to them.) His work is so brutal at times that I have trouble reading it (he wrote one Western series where I’ve never been able to get past the first chapter in the first book), but it can also be very effective. I found that to be the case in HILL OF THE DEAD. He does a good job of using the historical setting, as well, and Marcus Julius Brittanicus is an interesting character. I’m looking forward to reading the other books in this series.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Mental State - M. Todd Henderson

When conservative law professor Alex Johnson is found dead from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot wound at his house in Chicago, everyone thinks it is suicide. Everyone except his brother, Royce, an FBI agent.

Without jurisdiction or leads, Agent Johnson leaves his cases and family to find out who killed his brother. There are many suspects: the ex-wife, an ambitious doctor with expensive tastes and reasons to hate her ex; academic rivals on a faculty divided along political lines; an African-American student who failed the professor’s course.

As Agent Johnson peels back layers of mystery in his rogue investigation, the brother he never really knew emerges. Clues lead from the ivy-covered elite university and the halls of power in Washington to the gritty streets of Chicago and Lahore, Pakistan. Ultimately, Agent Johnson must face the question of how far he is willing to go to catch his brother’s killer.

Mental State is about two brothers learning about each other in death, and about the things people will do when convinced they are in the right.

This debut thriller has generated some controversy, supposedly because of the conservative stance it takes, but I'm here to tell you, while the plot certainly centers around politics and the clash between left and right, MENTAL STATE is basically a hard-nosed, straight-ahead procedural with a dogged protagonist and the occasional burst of well-done action. It's not a polemic of any sort. I'm not sure the words "Republican" and "Democrat" even appear in the text.

Instead author M. Todd Henderson, himself a law professor, concentrates more on the relationship between the two brothers (even though one of them is dead for the entire course of the book, appearing only in flashbacks) and sprinkles in a lot of interesting historical nuggets, as well as detailing the twists and turns of how power works in Washington. I've read a number of political thrillers by Vince Flynn and Brad Thor (who are perceived to be on the right) and Brad Meltzer (who's perceived to be on the left), and MENTAL STATE strikes me as exactly the same sort of mainstream thriller. It's also fast-paced, well-written, and I enjoyed it enough that I look forward to seeing what Henderson comes up with next.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Detective Action Stories, December 1930

There's an eye-catching cover for you. I don't know who the artist is. But the authors in this issue of DETECTIVE ACTION STORIES include Erle Stanley Gardner, F.V.W. Mason, J. Lane Linklater, Howard Morgan, and Earl and Marion Scott. Those last three, I don't know anything about, but any issue with Gardner and Mason is probably well worth reading.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Dime Western, October 1933

Now that's a sock on the jaw! In addition to a dynamic cover, this issue of DIME WESTERN also features some great Western pulp authors: Harry F. Olmsted (with a novella and a poem, and he's also possibly the author of the Tensleep Maxon story under the pseudonym Bart Cassidy), Walt Coburn, Ray Nafziger (twice, once as himself and once under the name Grant Taylor), J.E. Grinstead, and Dabney Otis Collins. Definitely an issue worth reading!

Friday, March 22, 2019

Forgotten Books: The Office - Fredric Brown

Fredric Brown is best known for his science fiction and mysteries, of course, but he also wrote one mainstream novel, and it’s now available in a 60th anniversary edition that came out late last year. THE OFFICE, published originally by Dutton in 1958, has some autobiographical overtones—the office boy narrator is named Fred Brown—but as Jack Seabrook points in his afterword to this edition, the novel is almost completely fictional. It’s the story of the eight people who work in the office of an industrial jobber in Cincinnati, a company that sells supplies to machine tool manufacturers. That’s it as far as the plot goes, just the stories of these everyday people and what happens to them over the course of two years in the 1920s.

THE OFFICE is a very old-fashioned novel and reads at times like it was written in the Twenties instead of taking place then. The narrator is very omniscient, taking part in some scenes but knowing everything there is to know about others that take place when he’s nowhere around. The pace is very slow, the plotting mundane (except where it takes a couple of lurid turns late in the book), and Brown doesn’t just break the rule about showing and not telling, he demolishes it. This book is all about telling and revels in it.

The thing is . . . man, he had me turning the pages. After the leisurely build-up, I raced through the second half of this book, compelled to find out what was going to happen. I credit Brown’s skill in creating these characters for that. Yes, there’s not much that’s out of the ordinary about them, but he does a masterful job of showing that every ordinary life is filled with its own drama and suspense. And in showing that, he creates some very poignant scenes.

You know me, I love action. What little there is in THE OFFICE takes place off-screen. Doesn’t matter. I thoroughly enjoyed this book anyway. It was a labor of love for Brown, who worked on it for years in between writing other things. It was also, not surprisingly, his least successful book as far as sales. But as far as I’m concerned, it’s the best book I’ve read in a while, and I give a very high recommendation.