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.

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Overlooked Movies: State and Main (2000)

I don’t recall ever hearing about this movie when it came out back in 2000, but a friend recommended it recently on Facebook and it’s written and directed by David Mamet, and I generally enjoy Mamet’s work, so I figured we might as well go ahead and watch it.

STATE AND MAIN is a movie about movies, the sort that Hollywood likes to make from time to time. A group of filmmakers descends on a small town in Vermont, and hijinks ensue. The locals are, for the most part, colorful and eccentric. The movie people are sleazy and self-centered. Alec Baldwin and Sarah Jessica Parker are the morally challenged stars, David Paymer the producer, William H. Macy the director, Philip Seymour Hoffman the scriptwriter. Among the locals, Charles Durning is the mayor, Ricky Jay owns the diner, Julia Stiles is his daughter, Rebecca Pidgeon runs a bookstore and the local little theater group. It’s a good cast. Macy is one of my favorite character actors, and he’s very good as the director who’s either a decent human being at heart or completely amoral, I never could decide which.

The problem with STATE AND MAIN is that it ambles along, never develops much of a sense of urgency, and just is never as funny as I felt it ought to be. I kept thinking the basic plot would have worked great for a movie in the Forties directed by Preston Sturges or Frank Capra, with Barbara Stanwyck as the bookstore owner, Jean Arthur as the actress (or, let’s face it, the other way around would have worked just fine, too), Jimmy Stewart as the befuddled scriptwriter, and Cary Grant as the director. But that movie never got made, and STATE AND MAIN did, so I can give this one a mild recommendation. It’s never terrible, it’s amusing at times (the biggest laughs for us were in the closing credits, which tells you something), and I’m glad we watched it. And I stayed awake all the way through it, for whatever that’s worth.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Blue Book, March 1939

This issue of BLUE BOOK is from my favorite era for that magazine, the Thirties, especially the second half of the Thirties. The usual great cover by Herbert Morton Stoops, and a line-up of authors that's hard to beat: H. Bedford-Jones (twice, once with his imaginary collaborator, Captain L.B. Williams), Max Brand, Will Jenkins (better known by his pseudonym Murray Leinster), Robert Mill, Fulton Grant, William Byron Mowery, and Captain Dingle, all BLUE BOOK stalwarts during this period. It's the closest thing to a cross between a pulp and a slick.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Thrilling Ranch Stories, April 1945

That's a pretty racy cover for a Western pulp that's not SPICY WESTERN or LARIAT STORY. THRILLING RANCH STORIES was the Thrilling Group's counterpart to RANCH ROMANCES, of course (before RANCH ROMANCES became part of the Thrilling Group itself), with the same blend of "woman interest" and Western action. The authors in this issue are ones you'd expect to find in just about any Western pulp: Gunnison Steele, Stephen Payne, Chuck Martin, Joe Archibald . . . But what about Monica Morton, author of the featured story? Well, "Monica" was really Johnston McCulley, another example of a savvy pro hitting a market. McCulley published more than a dozen stories under that name in various Western romance and love pulps.

Friday, March 15, 2019

Forgotten Novellas: Blitzkrieg in the Past - John York Cabot (David Wright O'Brien)

In a comment on a post a few weeks ago, Todd Mason mentioned the science fiction writer David Wright O'Brien, who published more than 50 stories in just a few years during the early Forties, most of them in the Ziff-Davis pulps AMAZING STORIES and FANTASTIC ADVENTURES. I'd never read anything by O'Brien, so I decided to change that and found an e-book edition of this novella on-line. It's from the July 1942 issue of AMAZING STORIES and was written under O'Brien's pseudonym John York Cabot. He published under his own name and several pen-names, of which Cabot was the most common.

I'll tell you right off the bat that "Blitzkrieg in the Past" is great fun and a Front Porch Book of high order. The protagonists of this yarn are three GIs in a tank crew who are training in their tank in Georgia prior to being sent overseas. They're also testing some experimental radio equipment, and when a thunderstorm blows up unexpectedly and the tank is hit by lightning, our heroes are tossed, tank and all, hundreds of millions of years into the past where they find themselves battling dinosaurs, cavemen, and a more advanced gorgeous blonde who doesn't have their best interests at heart.

Science? You want science? Go read a textbook! But if you want GIs in an M-3 tank fighting cavemen and dinosaurs and tangling with a beautiful but treacherous babe, then this is the yarn for you. I have no way of knowing whether Robert Kanigher ever read this story before he created the War That Time Forgot series in the comic book STAR-SPANGLED WAR STORIES about twenty years later, but just look at that cover! He must have! (Speaking of The War That Time Forgot, I'm slowly reading my way through the Showcase collection of that series and will have a post about it one of these days.)

But to get back to "Blitzkrieg in the Past", goofy premise or not, it's very well-written. I really enjoyed O'Brien's fast-paced, breezy, "sure this is silly but I'm going to give it my best anyway" style. My only complaint is that the story ends rather abruptly. O'Brien had enough plot set up that this could have been a full-length novel. Maybe he would have expanded it into one and sold it as an Ace Double, if he had lived long enough.

Because, you see, for those of you who don't know, after those few years of furious production, including many stories written in collaboration with William P. McGivern, with whom he shared an office in Chicago, David Wright O'Brien enlisted in the Army, became a gunner in a B-17 Flying Fortress, and was killed in a bombing raid over Berlin in 1944. He left behind a lot of science fiction stories, though, and I intend to read more of them.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Overlooked Movies: Fort Dobbs (1958)

I was surprised to come across a Clint Walker Western I hadn’t seen before, since he’s been a favorite of mine for many years. I was a big fan of his TV show CHEYENNE when I was a kid, and I remember watching YELLOWSTONE KELLY and other movies starring him at the Eagle Drive-In. FORT DOBBS was the first film in which he starred, and you could almost imagine it as being a longer episode of CHEYENNE.

Instead of Cheyenne Bodie, though, Walker plays Gar Davis, who finds himself on the run from the law after killing a no-good hombre who had it coming. Caught between a posse and a Comanche war party, he finds himself on an isolated ranch inhabited by a woman (the gorgeous but somewhat miscast Virginia Mayo) and her young son. With the Comanches raiding, he decides he needs to get the two of them to the safety of Fort Dobbs, several days’ journey away. They set out but run into trouble not only from the Indians but also a gun-runner (played with smirky charm by Brian Keith), who knows Walker’s character from before. Reaching the fort doesn’t mean they’re out of the woods, though, because there’s more trouble waiting for them there.

FORT DOBBS has plenty of action and is well directed by Gordon Douglas, who always had a sure hand with such tough-minded fare. The script was co-written by Burt Kennedy, and that’s easy to see because Keith’s roguish, charming, but ultimately evil character is right out of the Budd Boetticher-directed Randolph Scott Westerns that Kennedy also wrote. With those things going for it, plus Walker’s formidable presence, it’s no surprise that I found this to be a very entertaining movie. If you’re a Western fan and haven’t seen it, it’s worth seeking out.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Dime Mystery Magazine, March 1947

DIME MYSTERY was long past its Weird Menace phase by the time this issue came out in 1947, but that cover almost looks like it could have been from that earlier era, especially if it had been a little more lurid. And "Death Dance of the Broken Dolls" certainly sounds like a Weird Menace title. It's even by Arthur Leo Zagat, one of the masters of the genre. I believe I have a copy of that story somewhere. I'll have to read it. The rest of this issue's contents appear to be typical late Forties semi-hardboiled detective pulp, although by authors who were good at that: Talmage Powell, Robert Turner, Dale Clark, Cyril Plunkett, and Wilbur S. Peacock.

Saturday, March 09, 2019

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: All Western Magazine, August 1936

This is a pulp I own and read recently. The scan is from the copy I read. Arthur Mitchell, who was a pretty prolific pulp cover artist, mostly in the Thirties, painted the cover. ALL WESTERN MAGAZINE, from what I’ve read of it, was a pretty good Western pulp.

It opens with the novella “Deuce of Diamonds” by Charles M. Martin, who also wrote a great deal for the pulps under the name Chuck Martin. This one features drifting cowpoke and gunman “Roaming” Reynolds, as well as his sidekick, young Texas Joe. There are three stories in this short-lived series, all appearing in ALL WESTERN, and this is the middle one. Reynolds and Texas Joe find themselves helping out a couple of old ranchers (one of whom has a beautiful daughter, of course) who are being plagued by rustlers. Reynolds suspects that local cattle baron Griff Tyson, owner of the Deuce of Diamonds spread, is behind the trouble. Tyson is quite a gunfighter himself and likes to shoot playing cards out of the air, his favorite being the two of diamonds, hence the name.

This story is very heavy on the “yuh mangy polecat” dialect, and there’s nothing in the plot or characters you haven’t seen many, many times in Western pulps, but Martin, like Walt Coburn, was an actual cowboy and the background details of his stories always ring true now matter how standard the plots are. Also, he writes in a very terse, clipped style that I like quite a bit. Martin was something of an eccentric and had a “cemetery” in his back yard where he planted miniature tombstones bearing the names of the villains he killed in his stories. And also like Coburn, he came to a bad end, committing suicide when he had played out his string as a writer. I enjoy his work because of his distinctive style, but I wouldn’t put him in the top rank of Western pulpsters. I never hesitate to read one of this stories, though.

Sam H. Nickels was the author of the Hungry and Rusty series that ran in WILD WEST WEEKLY. I haven’t read any of those, but I suspect, based on the characters’ names, that they’re humorous yarns. The protagonist of Nickels’ story in this issue of ALL WESTERN, “Mud in Mooney’s Eye” is Mournful Mooney, and while it’s not full-fledged slapstick and has some decent action, it’s definitely on the lighter side. Mooney is a sad-sack character who always attracts bullies, but actually he’s a dangerous gunman and a whirlwind with his fists, as he proves in this story when he’s hired to pin on a lawman’s star and clean up the border town of Vacaton. This story is okay, readable but nothing special.

“Empty Shells” by Harry F. Olmsted is definitely a cut above that. This is a tense, well-written yarn that finds a killer known as the Montana Kid searching for a young man who has left the owlhoot trail behind him and returned home to try to reclaim his late father’s ranch. There’s an air of brooding vengeance about this one that shows why Olmsted is one of my favorite Western pulp authors.

I enjoy S. Omar Barker’s cowboy poetry and Western non-fiction, but his short stories usually don’t appeal to me. I’ve mentioned many times that with few exceptions, I’m not a fan of comedy Westerns, and the blurb on the Table of Contents for “All Ears”, Barker’s story in this issue is “A Boosty Peckleberry Laugh Riot”. (I think the editor misspelled “Laff”.) This is one of a series of tall tales spun by the old cowpoke Boosty Peckleberry to entertain the other cowboys in the bunkhouse. It concerns a mule that created the Grand Canyon. I didn’t care for it.

J.E. Grinstead wasn’t a cowboy himself, but he came from pioneer stock and was a newspaperman in Oklahoma and Texas not long after those places were still the frontier. After retiring from newspaper work, he became a prolific Western author, and his fiction has the same air of authenticity as that of Coburn and Martin. His story in this issue, “Six-Gun Music”, is about a tramp who comes stumbling from the desert into the wild border town of San Tomas and finds himself in the middle of some sinister goings-on. It’s a tough, well-written yarn and I really enjoyed it. I think I need to read some of Grinstead’s novels. I read one, WHEN TEXANS RIDE, many years ago but none since, although I’ve read some of his pulp stories.

The final story in the issue is “Death Takes the Trail” by Galen C. Colin, a vengeance tale in which a young cowboy tries to track down the men responsible for killing his foster father. It has some nice action and moves right along, but the plot is pretty thin and seemed to need at least one more twist.

Overall, this is a good but not great issue of ALL WESTERN. The stories by Olmsted and Grinstead are excellent, with the novella by Martin worth reading if not quite up to the level of those other stories. None of the others really impressed me. But still, good enough that I won’t hesitate to read another issue sometime.

Friday, March 08, 2019

Forgotten Books: The Derelict of Skull Shoal - Kenneth Robeson (Lester Dent)

During a recent discussion on Facebook, I mentioned that I’d never read the final Doc Savage novel by Lester Dent, UP FROM EARTH’S CENTER. Well, that got me looking at my copy of DOC SAVAGE OMNIBUS #13, the Bantam paperback that includes that novel, and I realized I hadn’t read any of the five novels in that collection. So I decided it was time to do that, and when I’m finished with them, I’m going to read the Doc Savage novels by Will Murray that I haven’t read yet (there are still a few of them), and then maybe I’ll go back and reread some of my favorites from Dent’s first few years on the series, from 1933 to 1937 or ’38, the era I consider the high point of the series. This will take a year or more, because I usually don’t read books from the same series back to back. So you can expect to see quite a few Doc Savage posts for a while.

To start out with, I read one of the most infamous of all of Dent’s Doc Savages: THE DERELICT OF SKULL SHOAL, originally published in the March 1944 issue of the magazine, which was being published as a digest by this time. A couple of things set this one apart. First of all, it’s the only one in the series that was published in its original appearance under Lester Dent’s real name instead of the Kenneth Robeson house-name, because someone at Street & Smith made a mistake and forgot to put the right by-line on the story. Let me digress for a moment and mention that the very first Doc Savage novel, THE MAN OF BRONZE, appeared in the pulp under the pseudonym Kenneth Roberts, but someone at S&S quickly realized there was a currently popular historical novelist actually named Kenneth Roberts, the fellow who wrote NORTHWEST PASSAGE, ARUNDEL, and many other historical sagas. After that S&S always used the Kenneth Robeson name on the Doc Savages, except for THE DERELICT OF SKULL SHOAL. And when that novel was reprinted, the Bantam paperback collection had the Robeson name on it, too.

To get to the actual novel, the other thing that makes this one notorious is that it’s the story where Doc Savage suffers a serious head injury early on in the action, resulting in a concussion or perhaps even a fractured skull. Fans of the series have noted that Doc’s personality changes somewhat after this story and have theorized that the change was a result of the head injury. That makes sense to me. Whether Lester Dent intended it that way or not, we’ll probably never know for sure.

As Dent often does, he drops us down right in the middle of the action to start the book. Doc and his aides Monk, Ham, and Renny are in disguise, serving as crewmen on the ocean liner Farland, which has been taken over by the U.S. Navy and pressed into service as a military vessel during World War II. The Farland is steaming across the South Atlantic when it’s torpedoed and the order to abandon ship is given. Doc was warned that something was going to happen, and that’s why he and his aides are there, but he doesn’t know what sort of villainy is in the works.

It’s during this chaos that something strikes Doc in the head and renders him unconscious. When he comes to, he finds that he and his friends are still aboard the abandoned ship, but not everything is as it seems, and they’re not alone, either. There’s also a beautiful blonde on hand, Theresa Ruth “Trigger” Riggert, a tough, hardboiled dame of the same sort who often figures in these Doc Savage yarns. (Dent’s female characters always remind me of the female characters in movies directed by Howard Hawks.) If that’s not enough, there are also some guys who want to kill them, of course, and then Ham and Renny disappear under mysterious circumstances, and a submarine shows up, as well as a sinister yacht, and we’re off and galloping again.

This adventure takes Doc and his friends farther south in the Atlantic and winds up at Skull Shoal, a truly eerie setting where the action-packed and satisfying conclusion takes place. While the overall plot struck me as being a little too small in scale (I prefer the early, so-called “supersagas”), Lester Dent’s writing is really top-notch in this novel, with plenty of good dialogue, vivid descriptions, and hardboiled action. The early scenes aboard the Farland, after the attack, reminded me of some of Alistair Maclean’s nautical adventures such as H.M.S. ULYSSES and made me think it’s a shame Dent never wrote an actual war novel. It would have been a good one.

Overall, I really enjoyed this yarn, and reading it makes me look forward to this Doc Savage project on which I’m embarking.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

The Odds Are Against Us - Oren Litwin, ed.

When victory seems impossible……Heroism is the only option. To survive on the battlefield, you must go far beyond what you ever imagined possible. From a Marine in Vietnam trying to get back home, to Roman soldiers facing an Iceni rebellion; from cynical mercenaries in the harsh Chadian desert, to a Yazidi girl fighting for her freedom; from Soviet conscripts trying to survive war in Afghanistan, to American bomber pilots lost at sea. Experience the triumph of the human spirit even in the face of death. Includes eight short stories of military fiction from from skilled authors, some of whom are veterans themselves.

I backed the Kickstarter for this anthology, and now that it's been published and I've read it, I'm glad I did. It's an excellent collection of military fiction, some with contemporary settings, some historical. I've always liked war stories, and these are very well done. My favorites are "A Place More Kind Than Home" by Ron Farina, a tale of a Marine coming home from Vietnam that does a perfect job of capturing the mid-Sixties era; "Titus, My Brother" by Frank Scalise, about Roman soldiers of the IXth Legion in Britain; and Jim Wilsky's "Dead Reckoning", which alternates between the present day and a flight of American bombers on a training mission shortly after World War II. You may guess the twist in Wilsky's story, but it's so well written and poignant that doesn't matter. All the other stories are very good, too, and one of them might by your favorite if you read THE ODDS ARE AGAINST US, which I recommend if you enjoy military fiction.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Overlooked Movies: Bad Times at the El Royale (2018)

Most of you have probably already seen this wonderfully weird movie written and directed by Drew Goddard, but I’m just now catching up with it. BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE is about the sinister goings-on during one night in the early Seventies at a somewhat seedy resort hotel near Lake Tahoe, smack-dab on the border between California and Nevada. A priest, a singer, a vacuum cleaner salesman, and a mysterious young woman are the only guests, and the clerk who appears to be the only employee is definitely on the shady side. We know that some sort of crime is going to be involved because of a violent prologue set ten years earlier, but what it’s going to be takes a lot of unraveling and filling in of back-stories among these characters.

I love a yarn where nothing is what it seems to be, and that’s the case with BAD TIMES AT THE EL ROYALE, which means I can’t talk too much about the plot without ruining things. Well-written, with a great soundtrack and a cast that includes Jeff Bridges, Jon Hamm, Chris Hemsworth, and Nick Offerman (him again, but blink and you’ll miss him), this is the best movie I’ve seen in quite a while. Highly recommended.

Monday, March 04, 2019

Now Available: Faraday: The Iron Horse - James Reasoner

The race is on to span the continent with steel rails—and someone is willing to do anything to stop it, even if it means spilling rivers of innocent blood!

Matthew Faraday is president of the Faraday Security Service, a detective agency specializing in work for the ever-expanding railroad empires. Hired to find out who is stirring up the Sioux and sabotaging the Kansas Pacific line as it builds westward, Faraday sends tough young agent Daniel Britten to the railhead, where he finds himself embroiled with surveyors, track layers, buffalo hunters, and a pair of beautiful young women. But there’s a killer stalking the railhead as well, and not only the fate of the railroad but also Britten’s very life depends on him uncovering the truth.

The original version of this epic Western adventure by legendary author James Reasoner has been out of print for decades. Newly revised and expanded, it’s now available again with all the historical sweep and gun-blazing action readers have come to expect from James Reasoner.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Mystery Novels and Short Stories, December 1939

I don't know who did the cover for this issue of MYSTERY NOVELS AND SHORT STORIES, but that's some inspired lunacy right there, right down to the tattoos on the whip-wielding dwarf's arms. And the fact that you can use the term "whip-wielding dwarf" in describing this cover tells you a lot about the magazine. Despite being called MYSTERY NOVELS AND SHORT STORIES, this is clearly a Weird Menace pulp. The authors, however, aren't really known for that genre although some of them are fairly big names. Arthur J. Burks, of course, wrote almost everything, so he doesn't really count, but I think of Frank Belknap Long more as a Weird Fiction author (and that's not the same thing as Weird Menace) and G.T. Fleming-Roberts is an actual mystery and action writer. And wait, who's this I see on the Table of Contents? None other than Norman A. Fox, one of the stalwarts of the Western pulps. That's one thing I love about the pulp era: if there was a paycheck to be had, guys chased it. I've always been the same way.

Saturday, March 02, 2019

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Big-Book Western Magazine, January 1940

I'm used to the stories in Popular Publications' Western pulps having great titles, but "When It's Roundup Time in Hell" is particularly awesome, although the author, Rolle R. Rand, is unfamiliar to me. The FictionMags index lists thirteen stories by him, all in various Popular Publications Western pulps, in a period of a little more than a year in 1939 and early 1940. He has one more story in an Armed Services edition anthology in 1944, then a gap of more than forty years before his by-line appears on a single story in MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE in 1985, followed by one story in ESPIONAGE in 1986, then one final story in something called WHISPERING WILLOW MYSTERIES (evidently a small press publication) in 1997. That's an odd career, and I can't find anything about him on-line. Elsewhere in this issue of BIG-BOOK WESTERN are some much more familiar names, such as Harry F. Olmsted, Ed Earl Repp, and John G. Pearsol. There's even an appearance on the cover by the Angry Gun-Totin' Redhead, although the guy with her is a lawman, not the Stalwart Cowboy, and there's no sign of the Old Geezer with the Bandaged Head.

Friday, March 01, 2019

News From the Lowestoft Chronicle

Latest Issue #37: The Spring edition of Lowestoft Chronicle features stories by Christie B. Cochrell, Rob Dinsmoor and Don Noel, poetry by Cat Dixon, Valerie Nieman, James Sale and Lee Clark Zumpe, and creative nonfiction by Lori Barrett, Scott Dominic Carpenter, Mary Donaldson-Evans and Olga Pavlinova Olenich.
Read it at

Steadfast Trekkers
A Lowestoft Chronicle Anthology: The latest anthology, published in September, includes a foreword by author Rob Dinsmoor and interviews with Dietrich Kalteis and Sheldon Russell. Get your copy while stocks last. One place to order it is here.

What's in Season @ Lowestoft Chronicle?

Check out the latest issue of Lowestoft Chronicle, the free online magazine featuring fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, and interviews.

This Spring at Lowestoft Chronicle:
Romance blossoms and a marriage withers as globetrotting friends outstay their welcome in Italy, and on a sightseeing trip in Norway, a gregarious American helps thaw frosty relations between a quarrelsome British couple. In France, an American professor grapples with the local's love of facts and figures and historical minutia, and a pair of expats in Belgium try to ignore embarrassing nightly noises.

We proudly present the work of Lori Barrett, Scott Dominic Carpenter, Christie B. Cochrell, Rob Dinsmoor, Cat Dixon, Mary Donaldson-Evans, Valerie Nieman, Don Noel, Olga Pavlinova Olenich, James Sale, and Lee Clark Zumpe.

Our thanks to all contributors, as well as everyone who submitted work to us. We are currently accepting submissions for Issue #38 (due on June 1st). Preference is given to humorous submissions with an emphasis on travel. See our submissions page for guidelines.

The Latest News...
Lowestoft Chronicle Editor's Syndicated Book Reviews
A regular writer for the Colorado Review and the UK media group Johnston Press, the LC editor's book reviews are published weekly on the websites of 25 newspapers across the UK. You can read his various recent articles at the venues below:
Colorado Review, Lancashire Post, St. Helens Reporter, Burnley Express, Blackpool Gazette, Wigan Observer, Lancaster Guardian, The Garstang Courier, Fleetwood Weekly News, and elsewhere.

Book News by Lowestoft Chronicle Friends and Contributors
Borrow the Night / The Fifth Caller by Helen Nielsen (Introduction by Nicholas Litchfield)

Stories in the Key of Me by Michael C. Keith

When Hell Struck Twelve (A Billy Boyle WWII Mystery) by James R. Benn

To the Bones by Valerie Nieman

Cocktails with a Dead Man by Joe Albanese

Drone Strike by Joe Giordano

Kind regards,
Lowestoft Chronicle

Forgotten Books: The Corpse in the Corner Saloon - Hampton Stone (Aaron Marc Stein)

When I was younger I read a lot of traditional mysteries, and a series I always enjoyed was the one featuring Inspector Schmidt, written by Aaron Marc Stein under the pseudonym George Bagby. The gimmick of the series was that George Bagby was also a character, a writer who accompanied Schmitty (as he was called) on his cases and wrote them up into books where he served as the narrator.

Well, Stein wrote another long-running mystery series under the name Hampton Stone, this one featuring former cop and currently New York City assistant district attorney Jeremiah X. Gibson as the detective. In these books, Gibby (as he’s called) is accompanied on his cases by another ADA, referred to in this book only as Mac, who narrates the story and then writes it up as a novel. I guess Stein figured if it worked in one series, it would work in another. (He wrote yet another series about two-fisted, globe-trotting engineer/adventure Matt Erridge, but as I recall from the few of those I read, there’s no narrator/sidekick in them.)

I don't believe I had read any of the Gibby and Mac books until now. I picked up a few of them recently and read the first one in the series, THE CORPSE IN THE CORNER SALOON, published originally in 1948 by Simon & Shuster. It was reprinted in 1950 as a Dell Mapback and then in 1971 by Paperback Library as part of a numbered series of Hampton Stone books, with cover art that makes Gibby look like Steve McQueen, much like Milo March looked just like James Coburn in the reprints of those books by M.E. Chaber (Kendell Foster Crossen) being published at approximately the same time. The Paperback Library edition is the one I read, and that’s my copy in the scan at the top of this post. By the way, the numbers on the Paperback Library reprints make no sense at all. Like I said, this is the first book in the series, not the tenth.

So is THE CORPSE IN THE CORNER SALOON any good? Well, I enjoyed it, even though I can’t say I was tremendously impressed by it. The mystery involves a woman of rather dubious reputation found choked to death in her apartment with the word “Bitch” written in lipstick on her bare back. Her lover, who would have been the main suspect in her murder, is discovered a short time later sitting in the corner saloon of the title. Problem is, he’s dead from cyanide poisoning, and since numerous witnesses saw him entering and leaving the dead woman’s apartment building around the time of her murder, the whole thing comes very close to being written off by the authorities as a murder/suicide.

But Gibby doesn’t buy that and starts investigating, accompanied by the faithful Mac, of course, and soon discovers that the identifications of the suspect hinge on the distinctive coat he was wearing, and since there are half a dozen or more other people who might have had a reason for wanting the woman dead, Gibby has to get to the bottom of things.

As you might suspect from that set-up, this is a very talky book. There’s no action to speak of. Gibby and Mac go here and talk to one person, then go there and talk to another person, around and around until Gibby has all the clues he needs to have a gathering of the suspects and reveal the killer. The thing that saves this book from being deadly dull is that Stein was a pretty slick writer and there are some good lines of dialogue and welcome bits of dry humor. Gibby and Mac are very likable main characters, too, Gibby especially being willing to cut some legal corners to get to the truth despite his profession, much like Perry Mason, and the working out of the killer’s identity is fairly interesting. It’s also pretty racy in places for 1948, too.

I enjoyed THE CORPSE IN THE CORNER SALOON enough to recommend it if you’re a fan of vintage traditional mysteries. I don’t read a steady diet of them, but I probably will read some more of the Hampton Stone novels.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

The Bill Crider Prize for Short Fiction/Bouchercon Anthology

Bill Crider and James Reasoner, Jackson, Wyoming, 1992
As most if not all of you know, Bill Crider was one of my best friends for many, many years, and Bouchercon is honoring his memory with the Bill Crider Prize for Short Fiction. You can find all the details on this page, but here are some highlights.


  • First Prize: $1000
  • Second Prize: $750
  • Third Prize: $500
  • Bill Crider Memorial Scholarship: Registration to Bouchercon 2020


  • Open to all writers regardless of Bouchercon registration or residency
  • Stories must be an original work, not previously published, submitted anonymously (as provided in these rules), and without identifiable series characters
  • Theme: Deep in the Heart (relating to Texas, whether locale, characters, history, etc.) with an element of mystery or crime
Lots more info on the Bouchercon page.

Also this from Rick Ollerman regarding the convention anthology:

Attention Writers and Attendees of the 50th Anniversary Bouchercon, 2019:

YES, there will be an anthology this year! And yes, you can submit a story for consideration as long as you’re a registered conference attendee! Here’s all you need to know:

– One of Bouchercon 50’s goals is to make the largest charitable contribution in the history of the conference. All proceeds from the sale of the books will go toward that effort! LIFT, Literary Instruction For Texas, works to enhance and strengthen communities by teaching adults to read. And Bouchercon gets to help in that mission this year!

– For a theme, think no further than the conference slogan: Denim, Diamonds, and Death!

–  Original stories are vastly preferred. Absolutely no reprints, please.

– Stories should be less than five thousand words. Approximately. Sort of. But you know writers.

–  The book itself will once again be published by the fine folks at Down & Out Books.

–  The deadline for all stories will be June 1st.

If you think you’ve got the story for the anthology, not just a story, please send it to We’ll have the book for sale in the book room with some signings and hopefully we’ll be able to make a meaningful contribution to LIFT as well as showcase some of the amazing talent in the Bouchercon writing community.

I plan to be in attendance at this Bouchercon, only the second one I've ever been to, and it would be great to meet some of you there.

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Overlooked Movies: Hearts Beat Loud (2018)

I watched this movie because I’m a fan of Nick Offerman’s droll sense of humor and delivery. He’s one of those guys who’s just funny no matter what he’s saying. And he’s a decent actor on top of it, so I was hoping HEARTS BEAT LOUD would be worth watching, although I’m always a little leery of indie comedy/dramas. They always have the potential to a) not be funny, and b) get too pretentious.

I’m happy to report that HEARTS BEAT LOUD is at least mildly amusing at times, has likable characters, and moves right along with the story. Offerman plays the owner of a vintage record store, a single, widowed dad whose teenage daughter is about to move across the country to go to college. They’re both heavily into music, Offerman having been in a band with his late wife when they were younger, and he doesn’t really want his daughter to leave so he tries to get her to stay and form a band with him. He uploads a song they wrote together and it becomes popular, so he has some leverage to persuade her to abandon her college plans.

That’s pretty much the whole plot, since this movie is mostly about the music and the characters, but it’s done well and comes to a satisfactory conclusion. It’s about music, not writing, but the stuff about being creative resonated with me. I thought a few of the scenes went on a little too long, but that’s a minor complaint. Mostly, HEARTS BEAT LOUD is just a pleasant little film with its heart in the right place. If that’s what you’re looking for, there’s a good chance you’ll enjoy it.

Monday, February 25, 2019

The Honky Tonk Big Hoss Boogie - Robert J. Randisi

A new mystery novel by Bob Randisi is always good news, and it's even better when it's the first book in what promises to be a fine series. The protagonist and narrator of THE HONKY TONK BIG HOSS BOOGIE is Auggie Velez, a session musician and part-time private eye in Nashville. Auggie is hired by a couple of record company executives to deliver a mysterious briefcase to an equally mysterious stranger in a nighttime meeting at the end of a bridge over the Cumberland River.

Well, you don't have to have read many private eye novels to suspect that not everything is going to go as planned, and sure enough, the mysterious stranger winds up dead, the briefcase goes missing, and Auggie finds himself up to his guitar in trouble with the cops and with whoever is masterminding this twisty scheme. At the same time he has to deal with the life-threatening illness of an older private detective who is his best friend and mentor, which gives the novel a poignant added dimension.

As usual with a Randisi novel, this one features a lightning-fast pace and a dialogue-driven plot. The Macguffin turns out to be a particularly good one, too. Randisi also provides a vivid portrait of Nashville, not only the town but also the music scene there.

I'm glad this is the first book in a series, because I enjoyed it and am looking forward to the next case for Auggie Velez. Meanwhile, if you're a fan of private eye fiction you need to check out THE HONKY TONK BIG HOSS BOOGIE. It's available in both trade paperback and e-book editions.

(This post originally appeared in somewhat different form on September 4, 2013. THE HONKY TONK BIG HOSS BOOGIE has been reprinted in new paperback and e-book editions from a different publisher and deserves your support if you missed it the first time around. It's one of my favorite books by Bob Randisi and I'm very happy to hear that the series is going to continue.)

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Popular Detective, April 1945

Never trust a guy in a powdered wig, that's my motto. I'm not too sure about the guy in the captain's hat, either, and I'm really curious what the heck is going on here. So I guess the cover on this issue of POPULAR DETECTIVE did what it was supposed to. I would've had to pick it up off the newsstand rack and take a gander at the contents . . . where I would have found stories by T.W. Ford (best known for his Westerns and sports stories), Joe Archibald (one of his Willie Klump series), long-time pulpster Thomson Burtis, and Thrilling Group house-names J.S. Endicott and Frank Johnson.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Now Available for Pre-Order: Faraday: The Iron Horse - James Reasoner

The race is on to span the continent with steel rails—and someone is willing to do anything to stop it, even if it means spilling rivers of innocent blood!

Matthew Faraday is president of the Faraday Security Service, a detective agency specializing in work for the ever-expanding railroad empires. Hired to find out who is stirring up the Sioux and sabotaging the Kansas Pacific line as it builds westward, Faraday sends tough young agent Daniel Britten to the railhead, where he finds himself embroiled with surveyors, track layers, buffalo hunters, and a pair of beautiful young women. But there’s a killer stalking the railhead as well, and not only the fate of the railroad but also Britten’s very life depends on him uncovering the truth.

The original version of this epic Western adventure by legendary author James Reasoner has been out of print for decades. Newly revised and expanded, it’s now available again with all the historical sweep and gun-blazing action readers have come to expect from James Reasoner.

(This is the first book in the Faraday series, originally published by Lynx Books in the late Eighties under the name William Grant. Other authors who contributed to the series were Paul Block, Robert Vaughan, and Bill Crider. Robert Vaughan's entries in the series are also being reprinted, and they're excellent books. I recommend them.)

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Aces, August 1946

The cover by Grant Hargis on this issue of WESTERN ACES makes me want to write a story based on it, but I feel that way about a lot of Western pulp covers. The featured story is by J. Edward Leithead, as it usually was during this era of WESTERN ACES, and also as usual, he had a second story in this issue under his Wilson L. Covert pseudonym. Other authors include Wayne D. Overholser, Giff Cheshire, and Glenn Low.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Forgotten Books: The Galaxy Raiders - William P. McGivern

This short novel was published originally in the February 1950 issue of the pulp AMAZING STORIES and reprinted a few years ago as half of one of the Armchair Fiction science fiction doubles. Author William P. McGivern eventually became a very well-regarded author of mystery and suspense novels, with bestselling books and movie adaptations to his credit. He started out, though, as one of the mainstays of the Ziff-Davis pulp line, contributing many stories to their science fiction and fantasy magazines, AMAZING STORIES and FANTASTIC ADVENTURES.

The protagonist of this one is Commander John Storm, a hard-nosed spaceman who was part of a disastrous expedition to Jupiter ten years earlier. Disgraced and drummed out of the service because of his part in that, Storm is brought back because the Earth Federation finds itself facing a dangerous threat that he’s uniquely qualified to deal with. The leaders of the Federation believe that Earth is facing an imminent invasion from the mysterious Galaxy X, and Storm is sent back to Jupiter to establish a base there that will serve as an early warning station and first line of defense.

Things don’t go well, of course. Storm has to deal with a beautiful female stowaway, a mutiny, a threat from his past, and, sure enough, an alien invasion. There’s enough plot here for a modern-day SF doorstopper or maybe even a trilogy, but McGivern never lets things slow down long enough for that. It’s action and conflict nearly all the way.

The science in this yarn is shaky to non-existent. For example, McGivern never even addresses how come Jupiter has a breathable atmosphere. But 12-year-old boys in 1950 didn’t read stories like this for the science, and neither do old geezers like me in 2019. We read them to feel 12 years old again, and in that respect, THE GALAXY RAIDERS succeeds admirably. The cover painting by Robert Gibson Jones does a great job of depicting the Empress of Jupiter and her robot army. In fact, that phrase right there—“the Empress of Jupiter and her robot army”—ought to go a long way toward telling you whether or not you’d enjoy this story. If you think that’s the silliest, stupidest thing you’ve ever heard, this is probably not the yarn for you, and that's fine.

Me, I’ll be over there with my 12-year-old self, sitting on my parents’ front porch and having a great time reading it.

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Overlooked Old Time Radio: Here Comes McBride

I enjoy old time radio programs and have ever since I started listening to syndicated reruns of THE LONE RANGER, THE SHADOW, THE GREEN HORNET and GANGBUSTERS in the early Sixties. There are a lot of shows available on-line, and I wish I had more time to listen to them. I may have to start making some time.

The most recent program I've listened to is HERE COMES McBRIDE, which my friend Brian Ritt told me about. From May of 1949, it stars Frank Lovejoy as private eye Rex McBride, who appeared in pulp stories and novels by Cleve F. Adams. I've read and enjoyed some of them but had no idea there had ever been a radio show based on the character. I don't know how many episodes there were, but only one, the first one, appears to have survived.

McBride is actually an insurance investigator based in Los Angeles in the radio version. But as the episode opens, he's in San Francisco on a case, trying to track down a valuable stolen necklace. Unfortunately, he finds a corpse in his hotel room and winds up having to solve that murder, and another that follows it, while navigating the usual troubled waters of nightclubs, crooked gamblers, suspicious cops, beautiful but maybe not trustworthy dames, etc. It's standard private eye stuff but done pretty well, and Frank Lovejoy, an actor I've always liked, is good as McBride. If they had ever made any Rex McBride movies, he would have played the character quite well, I think.

One nice thing about this program is that Cleve Adams is mentioned in the opening credits "above the title", as it were. I always like to see the guy who created something acknowledged. The episode itself was written by someone named Robert Ryf, who wrote some early cops-and-robbers TV in addition to his radio work.

This single episode of HERE COMES McBRIDE is available in several places on-line. I downloaded it here, and you can also just listen to it there if you don't want to download it. Also, SABOTAGE, the first of Adams' novels about Rex McBride is in print from Altus Press, if you want to check out the original version of the character.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Ten Detective Aces, August 1937

It's hard to go wrong with a Norman Saunders cover, but this one is particularly eye-catching, if you know what I mean and I think you do. But of course there's more to any pulp than a beautiful blonde on the cover, and in this issue of TEN DETECTIVE ACES are stories by the dependably entertaining G.T. Fleming-Roberts, Joe Archibald, John H. Knox, and Maitland Scott, better known as R.T.M. Scott, the author of the first two Spider novels. The other authors I've only vaguely heard of. I don't know if the cover alone would have prompted me to buy it if I'd been around in 1937 and had an extra dime in my pocket . . . but I would have had to think about it, at least.

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Star Western, April 1954

This issue of STAR WESTERN from April 1954 is one of the latest appearances I've seen of that trio who appear on so many Western pulp covers: the stalwart cowboy, the redheaded gal, and the old geezer. Often the girl is toting a gun and sporting a fierce expression on her face. Not so much this time, but the way the figures are arranged, she could have a gun in her hand and we just can't see it. Anyway, this is far past the glory days for STAR WESTERN, but there are still some pretty good authors in its pages: Joseph Chadwick, Will Cook, William Vance, Paul W. Fairman, T.C. McClary, Richard Ferber, and Robert L. Trimnell. A pulp still worth reading, I suspect.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Forgotten Books: Blonde Verdict - Carter Brown (Alan G. Yates)

The original edition

BLONDE VERDICT (the title of the original Australian edition) is the second book in the Lt. Al Wheeler series by Carter Brown, who, as you all know, was really English ex-pat Alan G. Yates. A revised version was published in the U.S. by Signet under the title THE BRAZEN, but the real deal is available in Stark House’s great series of omnibus reprints of the Al Wheeler series, from the start in chronological order.

This is still not quite the Al Wheeler those of us who grew up reading the Signet editions know and love, but he’s pretty darned close. Or rather, Al is the same guy, but his supporting cast is slightly different. He works for Captain Parker, and the police commissioner is named Lavers. In the Signet editions, Al is a sheriff’s department investigator working for Sheriff Lavers. There’s a Sergeant Mcnamara mentioned, but no Sergeant Polnick.

A later, retitled Australian edition

Doesn’t matter. Al is still the same wise-cracking hotshot with an eye for beautiful babes, of whom there are plenty in this book, starting with the blonde Al is with in a nightclub when one of the other patrons drops dead at his feet. Turns out the guy is a lawyer with a beautiful wife who hates him, a beautiful mistress who’s really in love with somebody else, and a partner with a good reason to want him dead. Oh, and there’s the gangster who was being represented by the dead man in a murder trial, and the even bigger gangster that guy works for, and . . . But you get the idea. Lots of suspects for Al to interrogate and cheerfully insult, and plenty of babes to come back to his bachelor pad and listen to his hi-fi with him, as well as giving him an alibi when he’s accused of one of the many murders that take place.

An early Signet edition

It’s hard to believe any book could race by faster than this one. It’s like an early Sixties Warner Brothers private eye TV show several years before there even was such a thing. Great pace, funny lines, a very likable protagonist, and a workable plot. I’ve been reading Carter Brown books for more than fifty years now and still really enjoy them. Thanks to Stark House for reprinting these original editions, and I hope there are many more to come. (A second collection is already out, and a third one is coming soon.)
Later Signet edition with Robert McGinnis cover

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Overlooked Movies: Fort Worth (1951)

I remember it was kind of a big deal when the movie FORT WORTH played on TV when I was a kid, because it took place in, well, Fort Worth, 15 miles down the road from where I lived. Not that it was filmed there, of course, although the California locations don't look too unreasonable for the setting. I hadn't seen it in more than 50 years, so I decided it was time to watch it again.

And, of course, it stars Randolph Scott, and I'm always ready to watch Randolph Scott. (At least once in every movie he's in, I hear the line from BLAZING SADDLES in the back of my head: "You'd do it for Randolph Scott.")

Anyway, in this one he plays a former gunfighter turned newspaper publisher who comes back to his hometown of Fort Worth with his partner just in time to get in the middle of a romantic triangle with his old buddy David Brian and the girl they both love, Phyllis Thaxter, as well as efforts to get the railroad to come to Fort Worth and a gang of cattle drivers who don't want the railroad to come in because it'll ruin their business. It makes for a movie that's a little on the talky side, but some nice action scenes crop up along the way. There's also a good supporting cast, with Ray Teal, Bob Steele, and Paul Picerni among the bad guys.

The problem with this one is that the script by veteran screenwriter John Twist has numerous holes in it, and the direction by journeyman Edwin L. Marin keeps things pretty bland. (This was the last movie Marin directed.) Several scenes that could have been pretty good are set up but then nothing really happens.

Despite that, FORT WORTH is a watchable Western because, well, Randolph Scott. He's perfectly cast as the noble, dignified, crusading newspaperman who can still buckle on his guns and be a tough hombre when he needs to. It's a minor entry in his career, but I enjoyed it anyway.