Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Wrap Up

This has been an . . . interesting . . . year, dominated by three things: the knee surgeries that had Sammy, our Great Pyrenees, laid up for the first part of the year; storm damage to our roof in March that led to a three-month struggle with the insurance company before we were able to get it replaced; and finally Livia’s cancer diagnosis in July, followed by surgery, radiation treatments, and many, many doctor visits. Yet we’ve come through all of them. Sammy doesn’t get around as well as he once did, but other than that he’s doing fine. We have a really nice new roof. And Livia’s radiation treatments will be wrapping up soon. In the midst of all this, we decided to get in better shape and have been walking, walking, walking, around five miles a day for me and more than that for her. I really miss it now when things interfere with us getting our steps in. So in some ways, it’s been a good year.

I can’t say I’m sad to see it end, though.

Moving on to the usual items in this year-end post:


As I mentioned yesterday, I wrote a million words—barely—again this year, for the 15th consecutive year. That works out to nine-and-a-half novels and one short story. It’s a very nice achievement, and I’m proud of it, but I’ll be fine with it if I actually manage to cut back next year, as I’ve been threatening to for some time now. There are a lot of other things I need to do, and want to do, that I haven’t been able to because writing that much sucks up so much time.


I read 107 books this year, the second-lowest total since I started keeping records of what I read in 1980. But a lot of them were pretty darned good books. Here are the ten I liked the most, in the order in which I read them:

THE OFFICE, Fredric Brown
MADBALL, Fredric Brown
GAMBLING MAN, Clifton Adams

I don’t claim these are “bests”, but they are my favorites from my reading this year.


Readership here still isn’t what it once was . . . but what is? It’s enough for me that most of you seem to be enjoying it, I’m still having fun, and so it goes. Thanks to all of you who drop in. I’ll be here.

Monday, December 30, 2019

A Million Words and Counting

A little while ago, I finished a chapter in the book I'm writing, and that put me over a million words for the year for the 15th straight year. I never set out to do that, but as the years piled up, I kept thinking, well, one more won't hurt anything . . .

15 is a good number to stop on, though, especially since for most of the year I didn't believe I'd be able to do it this time, what with all the real life stuff going on. I honestly thought the streak was going to come to an end at 14 years, which, by the way, wouldn't have been anything to sneeze at. But I had a very productive October, November, and December, and so here we are.

Next year, I have approximately 750,000 words worth of work lined up. That's a pace I maintained for years and years before I ever started this million words nonsense. I'd like to try that again for a year or two and then maybe ease off even more, down to half a million, say. I think I could keep that up for a long time yet. But we'll see. You never know in this business. Some project might come along next year that I can't turn down. I've lived by the creed of the freelancer--"Sure, I can do that"--for too long now to turn my back on it. So I'll be interested to see how things turn out.

And no matter how they do, I'll probably be here yammering about them.

In the meantime, thank you so much to Livia, Shayna, Joanna, and all the editors, agents, and publishers who have helped make this possible.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Love Story, December 31, 1938

This is the way Livia and I will be spending our New Year's Eve, of course, in our swanky penthouse. Actually, we'll probably both be asleep by midnight. This is a nice cover, though. I have no idea who did the art, and all the authors who contributed stories to this issue are totally unknown to me. I like a lot of the Western romance pulps, but I'm just not the target audience for the regular romance titles. I do like the cover, though.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Texas Rangers, September 1952

Art by Sam Cherry

This is a pulp that I own and read recently. The scan is of my copy. TEXAS RANGERS is one of my favorite pulps, and this is a good issue.

It leads off, as all issues of TEXAS RANGERS do, with a full-length novel featuring Texas Ranger Jim Hatfield. “Ranger’s Ransom” finds Hatfield, also known as the Lone Wolf, arriving in a West Texas cowtown to investigate the murder of a rancher who’s an old friend of his, only to find that he’s already been there. Or rather, somebody pretending to be Hatfield has been, and he’s made off with a vital piece of evidence in the case. That doesn’t stop Hatfield from launching his own investigation, which winds up with him being captured by the villains and held for ransom (hence the title). Hatfield, of course, still has some tricks up his sleeve and doesn’t intend to let the bad guys win.

This novel has long been attributed to Walker A. Tompkins, writing under the house-name Jackson Cole. However, now that I’ve read it, I’m not 100% convinced that it’s Tompkins’ work. The writing just doesn’t sound quite like Tompkins to me. It’s definitely not by Peter Germano or Roe Richmond, the other two principal authors on the Hatfield series at this point. Joseph Chadwick also write a few Hatfield novels right around this time, and “Ranger’s Ransom” has a hardboiled tone to it that makes me wonder if Chadwick actually wrote it. It does have the double initials in the title that Tompkins was fond of using, so that’s one point in his favor. But I doubt if I’ll ever know for sure, one way or the other. Anyway, what’s most important is that this is a very entertaining yarn with some good action scenes, and Hatfield’s boss, Ranger Captain “Roaring Bill” McDowell, gets to play a part in the action, which almost never happens in this series.

Thomas Calvert McClary was a prolific pulpster, producing hundreds of stories, mostly Westerns and detective yarns, from the early Thirties on through the end of the pulp era. And after that he contributed numerous stories to the mystery digests in the Fifties and Sixties. His story in this issue, “Long Live the King”, under the name T.C. McClary, is about an outlaw gang on the run and their leader, Tom King, weary of the owlhoot life and wanting to leave it behind. That doesn’t set well with some of the others in the gang and leads to a showdown that also involves a young lawman. This story is predictable and even a little melodramatic, but McClary does a really good job with it, including the epic gun battle that wraps it up.

I’ve mentioned before that I don’t care much for Ben Frank’s long-running Doc Swap series of comedy Westerns, but I read the one in this issue, “Doc Swap’s Reversible Wrangle”, and actually enjoyed it. The series if very formulaic—"Doc Swap is an irascible old geezer who swaps for stuff he wants, and hijinks ensue” is the plot of every one I’ve read—but I guess if you space them out long enough in between, they can be kind of entertaining. Ben Frank, who also wrote under his real name, Frank Bennett, turned out some pretty smooth prose, I’ll give him that.

H.A. DeRosso is another favorite of mine, the author of some of the bleakest Westerns you’ll find. His story in this issue, “For Love or Money”, isn’t as dark as some of his work that I’ve read, but it’s still a compelling yarn about a man whose former partner steals his woman, his ranch, and all his money. So naturally, he’s out for revenge. But not everything is as it seems, and while the twist isn’t very surprising, DeRosso handles it fairly well. This is minor DeRosso but worth reading.

Steuart Emery is another author whose career lasted a long time, all the way from 1919 to 1970. Early on, he wrote almost exclusively for the aviation and air war pulps but eventually came to specialize in Westerns about the U.S. Cavalry. His novelette in this issue, “Manhunt in the Sun”, is about a cavalryman serving in the army under a fake name because he’s wanted for murder. His past is about to catch up to him when he finds himself in the middle of a war with the Apaches and has to decide where his true loyalties lie. This is a superb story told in a gritty, fast-moving style, and it includes a scene most definitely inspired by one of my favorite films, GUNGA DIN. Everything I’ve read by Steuart Emery has been top-notch, and this continues that streak.

Giles A. Lutz was a productive, well-respected Western novelist for many years who started out writing for the pulps. His story here, “Best Man”, is about a romantic triangle, a windmill, and a blue norther. It’s slight but likable.

The same is true of “One Man’s Law”, by yet another veteran pulpster who wrote a lot for the aviation pulps, Robert Sidney Bowen. It concerns a lawman whose search for a murderer takes him back to his old hometown, which he left under less than ideal circumstances, so the protagonist has to face his past as well as corral a killer. Bowen was enough of an old pro to make it slick and entertaining.

This issue also includes several features, among them “Sagebrush Savvy”, a question-and-answer column written by S. Omar Barker, which was the only one that interested me. Barker is always worth reading.

Overall, this is a very solid issue of TEXAS RANGERS, with a good Jim Hatfield novel, Steuart Emery’s excellent novelette, and a variety of other stories that range from very good to okay. There’s not really a weak one in the bunch. If you’re a fan of this pulp and have a copy of this one you haven’t read yet, it’s well worth pulling down from the shelf.

Friday, December 27, 2019

The Annual December 27th Post

Regular readers of this blog may recall that December 27 is the anniversary of my first fiction sale, which occurred in 1976, 43 years ago today. I’ve written about that in detail for December 27 posts in previous years. Looking back at that day 43 years ago when I first opened an envelope and saw a check for something I’d written, I’m glad I’ve been able to hang around in this crazy business for so long. I’m very grateful to everyone who’s helped, especially Livia, Shayna, and Joanna, and all the readers who have enjoyed what I’ve written. (And those who hated it but paid me anyway.)

Forgotten Books: Barbary Gold - H. Bedford-Jones

Art by Modest Stein

H. Bedford-Jones is probably best remembered for his historical fiction, but he wrote in a lot of different genres, including contemporary thrillers. This one certainly qualifies. BARBARY GOLD was published originally in the March 25, 1919, issue of PEOPLE’S FAVORITE MAGAZINE and follows the adventures of three World War I veterans—an American (who’s the narrator), an Englishman, and a Spaniard—who meet while recuperating from their wounds in a French convalescent hospital.

They form a fast friendship and discover that two of them share something in common: the Englishman was on a British ship that sunk a German submarine carrying millions of dollars in gold along the coast of Africa, and the Spaniard was the prisoner of Moors along the same coast and knows the waters better than anyone else. They hatch a plan to travel there and recover the gold from the sunken sub and rope their friend the American in on the plan with them. Once the enterprise gets underway, though, they find it threatened by not one but two beautiful, mysterious women who can’t be trusted, and there are also secrets from the past, including murder, that may ruin everything and put them all in deadly danger.

If you’re thinking this sounds like something Jack Higgins or Alistair Maclean would write a few decades later, you’re absolutely correct. It’s exactly that sort of high-stakes adventure novel. Bedford-Jones’ style is more reserved and old-fashioned than those later writers, as you’d expect from a yarn written and published a little more than a hundred years ago, but his prose always had a more modern feel to it, compared to most of the other pulp authors, so it holds up well. I really enjoyed BARBARY GOLD, and if all you’ve read by Bedford-Jones is his historical fiction and you like thrillers, you ought to give it a try.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Merry Christmas

WESTERN STORY, December 31, 1932, art by Sidney Riesenberg
Hope the stagecoach drops off some mighty good presents at your house today, pards.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Overlooked Old Time Radio: The Santa Claus Rustlers (Hopalong Cassidy, April 15, 1952)

Andy Clyde as California Carlson and William Boyd as Hopalong Cassidy, from one of their movies.
I recently came across a Christmas episode of the HOPALONG CASSIDY radio show, "The Santa Claus Rustlers", which seems like a nice thing to write about today on Christmas Eve. Hoppy is a longtime favorite character of mine, both the original version in books by Clarence E. Mulford and the version played in movies, on TV, and in this radio show by William Boyd.

In "The Santa Claus Rustlers", Hoppy and his sidekick California Carlson (played by the great Andy Clyde) are on their way back to the Bar-20 ranch after selling some cattle, but on the way they encounter a ranching family that's being plagued by rustling. Hoppy and California befriend the young couple and their two children, of course, and decide to stick around for Christmas and find out who's behind all the widelooping. Could it be the somewhat sinister and unfriendly ranch hand, Johnny No-Name?

There are a couple of twists in the plot, but nothing you won't see coming. However, being a Christmas episode, the whole thing is rather gentle and heartwarming, and I enjoyed it. William Boyd and Andy Clyde are top-notch as Hoppy and California, as always. One oddity is that the episode originally aired on April 15, 1952, instead of around Christmas. Why that was, I have no idea.

"The Santa Claus Rustlers" is available numerous places on-line for your listening pleasure. It might be a nice way to spend half an hour on Christmas Eve for some of you.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Detective Story Magazine, December 22, 1928

Street & Smith probably had more Christmas-themed covers than any other pulp publisher, such as this one on the December 22, 1928 issue of DETECTIVE STORY MAGAZINE. The art is by John A. Coughlin, who did many covers for DSM during this era, and I think it's pretty good. Of the authors inside, Johnston McCulley is almost certainly the best known today. His story in this issue is the final installment of a serial featuring a crossover between two of his series characters, the Crimson Clown and Thubway Tham. I have to confess, I haven't read anything with either of those characters. Maybe I will, eventually. Other notable authors are Cherry Wilson, a prolific contributor to WESTERN STORY, and Oscar Schisgall, also better known as a Western author who, in fact, wrote the first Masked Rider novel. I hope the Santa on this cover was able to convince the cop he wasn't up to any mischief (unless, of course, he actually was).

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Wild West Weekly, December 27, 1941

You can't really tell this is a Christmas issue by looking at the cover art on this WILD WEST WEEKLY, but it says so right there: "A Thrilling Sonny Tabor Novel of Christmas by Ward M. Stevens". The story is actually called "Six-Gun Santa". Paul S. Powers, who wrote the Sonny Tabor series under the Stevens pseudonym, has a second Christmas story in this issue under his own name, called "Vigilante Christmas". Also on hand are stories by Norman A. Fox (writing as Clint McLeod), William R. Cox, Chuck Martin, Archie Joscelyn (writing as Andrew A. Griffin), R.S. Lerch, and a poem by S. Omar Barker. All that probably would be enough to get me in the Christmas spirit. 

Friday, December 20, 2019

Forgotten Books: Burned With the Coyote Brand - Dan Cushman

Dan Cushman is slowly but surely becoming one of my favorite Western pulp writers. After many years of thinking his work was just okay, I’ve developed an appreciation for his pacing, his sometimes over-the-top plots, and his hardboiled tone. BURNED WITH THE COYOTE BRAND reprints three of his novellas from the pulps, and they’re good ones.

“She-Wolf of the Rio Grande” had me at the title and that great LARIAT STORY MAGAZINE cover from March 1949. There’s this beautiful masked Mexican girl called The Angel who leads a gang of bandidos as they wage war against a cattle baron whose ranch is just north of the Rio Grande, and there’s a rival bandit leader, a big hulking brute known as El Gallo, and there’s a stalwart Texas Ranger and a couple of cold-eyed gunfighters and . . . and . . . you get the idea. This is my meat. It’s a great yarn, long enough to have been published as an Ace Double Western novel, and I’m surprised Cushman didn’t try to sell it there, the same way he recycled some of his other pulp stories. Or maybe he did, I don’t know. But I had a wonderful time reading this tale, which I found very well-written except for a couple of action scenes that were a little hard to follow (something that crops up now and then in Cushman’s work).

“Two Queens for Skidway Empire” may have been published in STAR WESTERN (the July 1950 issue), but it’s a Northern all the way, set in the British Columbia timber country in 1908. It’s a logging yarn, in which Buzz Leary returns to the Caribou country to rebuild his family’s failed timber empire. But to do so, he’ll have to throw in with a beautiful, feisty redhead who’s the last member of the family that destroyed Buzz’s family’s business. The other “queen” of the title is a sultry saloon singer, and it’s a toss-up which of the two will betray and/or shoot Buzz first. This is a great yarn with plenty of action. It would have made a top-notch late period Republic Pictures movie with John Wayne as the hero (although I have a little trouble imagining John Wayne playing somebody named “Buzz”).

“Burned With the Coyote Brand” (LARIAT STORY MAGAZINE, July 1947) reminds me of the type of story that Ernest Haycox wrote. It’s a tale of two men clashing over a woman and two half-brothers settling their differences. It’s not as over-the-top as the other two novellas and has a grittier, more realistic tone. There are some good shootouts and fistfights to go with the domestic drama, though, and Cushman does a great job with this slightly more restrained storytelling. The ending is very satisfying.

All three of these novellas are different but they’re also top-notch. Excellent traditional Western tales. And the collection is a late but strong contender for my list of favorite books of the year that’ll be coming up in a few weeks. If you’re a Western fan, BURNED WITH THE COYOTE BRAND gets a very high recommendation from me.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Overlooked Movies: What We Did on Our Holiday (2014)

I’d never heard of WHAT WE DID ON OUR HOLIDAY, a British comedy from 2014, but it has the great Scottish comic Billy Connolly in it, plus David Tennant and Rosamund Pike, and I like both of them, so why not? Turns out it’s a pretty good film, and the three child actors playing their kids steal the movie with some fine performances.

The premise is that Tennant, Pike, and their kids travel to Scotland to celebrate the 75th birthday of Tennant’s father (played by Connolly, of course). Tennant and Pike are getting a divorce, but they’ve instructed the kids not to say anything about that because Connolly’s character is dying of cancer and they don’t want to ruin what will be his last birthday. Other family members have personal problems of their own. Doesn’t sound like a setup for a comedy, but it kind of is, thanks to some sharp dialogue and those child actors I mentioned. It’s also sad and touching without being mawkish, has some great scenery, and the ending works very well. This isn’t the sort of movie I watch very often, but I’m glad we took a chance on it.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Startling Stories, March 1949

That's an Earle Bergey cover on this issue of STARTLING STORIES, of course, and I can see why Bergey's work moved copies off the newsstands while annoying some of the more serious-minded SF fans at the same time. However, I don't see how anybody can argue with the line-up of authors in this issue: Ray Bradbury, Jack Vance, Clifford D. Simak, Murray Leinster, Noel Loomis, L. Ron Hubbard (writing as Rene Lafayette), and Robert Moore Williams. I'm sure it was a very entertaining issue.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Exciting Western, May 1953

This is a pulp I own and read recently. That’s supposed to be a Sam Cherry cover, but it’s not one of his better ones, in my opinion. The scan is of my copy.

Roe Richmond is an author whose work I’ve sort of avoided over the years, because I really don’t care for the Jim Hatfield novels he wrote for TEXAS RANGERS under the Jackson Cole house-name. Those stories are well-written, but Richmond made (to me) a fatal mistake in the way he approached the character, giving a character known as the Lone Wolf a whole crew of annoying sidekicks. However, I may have been too quick to brush aside the rest of his output. He wrote the lead novella in this issue of EXCITING WESTERN, and I thought it was excellent. “Six Guns—Six Graves” is the story of an outlaw gang seeking to hide out in a desolate section of northern Arizona between the Grand Canyon and the Utah border. I’ve been in this area, and desolate doesn’t even begin to describe it. The gang consists of six owlhoots and the beautiful woman who’s with one of them. Well, you know with a setup like that, a lot of tension is going to develop. Richmond adds a nice twist, making the protagonist of the story a man who has struggled with alcohol and wound up on the outlaw trail only because of his fondness for booze. This is a dark, hardboiled yarn that succeeds in making several of the characters sympathetic despite their deep flaws, and it has a very effective ending after a number of brutal action scenes. “Six Guns—Six Graves” is a top-notch tale that has me wanting to read more of Roe Richmond’s work. By the way, the same thing happened with Joseph Chadwick. I didn’t like his Jim Hatfield novels, but the stand-alones by him that I’ve read have been consistently good. I guess some authors just aren’t at their best with series work.

George H. Roulston is a name I don’t recall encountering, which isn’t a surprise since he only published half a dozen stories in the mid-Fifties. His short story in this issue, “Mission for a Stranger”, is an okay yarn about a stranger who shows up on a ranch where something mysterious and possibly sinister is going on. Not bad, but it kind of limps to an ending.

I’ve always thought Cy Kees had to be a pseudonym, but if it is, I’ve never seen that confirmed. He was fairly prolific all through the Fifties, publishing 70 or 80 stories in various Western pulps during that decade. His story “Trouble Range” is a mildly humorous tale about a grub line rider who ties a knot in a cow’s tail and the resulting ruckus with the cow’s owner. This is a very slight story, entertaining but forgettable.

Tom Roan was a prolific Western pulp author from the mid-Twenties on through the Thirties and Forties, with his stories often featured on the cover of various pulp magazines, most of them from Popular Publications. By the Fifties, his sales were dwindling and most of his work was appearing in Thrilling Group pulps. His novelette in this issue, “The Man From Calico Creek”, reflects that, as it seems like a bit of a throwback to Western pulp yarns of an earlier day with its characters such as the good-guy outlaw, the Durango Kid; hard-fighting sheriff Trigger Dan Ringo; and despicable villain Two-Gun Doc Dalton. It’s the story of an outlaw gang on the run (similar to Roe Richmond’s novella that leads off the issue), but is told in a much more old-fashioned style. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, since I love the Western pulps from the Twenties, Thirties, and Forties, too. I’ve never been a big fan of Roan’s work but I generally enjoy it. That’s true here, as “The Man From Calico Creek” is fun to read, but like the Cy Kees story that immediately precedes it, quite forgettable.

“The Holy Freeze” is a short-short by Bob and Jan Young, a husband-and-wife writing team (I assume) who contributed fairly often to the Western pulps from the late Forties on through the Fifties, although I don’t recall encountering their work before now. This story is a Northern, a tale about the clash between a surly miner and a preacher in the Klondike. I don’t know if the gimmick around which the plot resolution centers is actually feasible, but it makes for a nice little story anyway.

Floyd Day is another author I hadn’t encountered before, not surprising since there are only three stories listed under that name in the Fictionmags Index. “Sodbuster’s Gold” in this issue is a novelette about a prospector with dreams of gold finding another sort of treasure instead. It’s a gentle, poignant story that wouldn’t have been out of place in RANCH ROMANCES. No action to speak of, but it’s very well-written and I enjoyed it.

Seth Ranger was the most common pseudonym of Frank Richardson Pierce, who usually wrote under his own name. I’ve found his work under both names to be consistently good, but “Red Trail”, published as by Ranger in this issue, is an animal story, this time about a bull moose. I didn’t mind animal stories when I was a kid—I read a lot of dog books by Jim Kjelgaard and horse books by Walter Farley—but I have a hard time with them now. The writing is fine in this one, as you’d expect from Pierce, but I couldn’t work up much interest in it and didn’t finish it.

This issue of EXCITING WESTERN wraps up with the novelette “Renegades’ Rendezvous” by Al Storm, who was really Alvin N. Scism. He wrote mostly Westerns but did a few detective and jungle yarns as well, his work appearing in a number of different pulps during the Forties and Fifties. This one is a pretty good yarn about an amoral hired gun who shows up in the town of Broken Spur thinking that he’s going to sign on as a gun-wolf for the guy who’s trying to take over the town. When he gets there, though, he discovers that he has a good reason to oppose the man he thought would be his boss, instead. As it turns out, the protagonist’s brother is the local lawman, and there’s a good-looking girl involved, too. This is a smooth, competent story, pretty hardboiled in places, and while it’s predictable I definitely found it entertaining.

Overall, “exciting” may be stretching it as a description of this pulp. The Roe Richmond novella is excellent and will prompt me to seek out more stories by Richmond. The novelettes by Floyd Day and Al Storm are good, most of the other stories okay but utterly unmemorable. Still, as with every Western pulp, I’m glad I read it, because there’s always a gem or two.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Forgotten Books: My Old Man's Badge - Ferguson Findley (Charles Frey)

Somehow I never came across this vintage paperback with its great cover by Sam Cherry, and I never heard of the author, Ferguson Findley (whose real name was Charles Frey). But Stark House will soon be reprinting it as part of the excellent Black Gat line, and I’m glad because MY OLD MAN’S BADGE turns out to be a very good novel.

Johnny Malone is a young cop in New York City whose father was also a cop. Fifteen years before this book opens, the elder Malone was murdered, and the killer was never caught. That failure of justice has eaten away at Johnny ever since. Now, after all those years, a new clue to the murderer has turned up, and Johnny, newly promoted to detective, goes undercover to infiltrate a drug smuggling and peddling ring that has some connection to the man who killed his father.

The plot in this novel is pretty straightforward, which makes it work more as a procedural and a suspense novel than an actual mystery. What elevates it is Findley’s writing, which is sharp and tough and observant. He does a great job of depicting the sleazy lower rungs of New York City society and vividly captures the squalidness of the dope ring Johnny Malone becomes part of, as well as its customers. The pace never slows down much, and Findley pulls off the neat trick of using other points of view in a book that’s primarily written in first person. He really had me flipping the pages when he got toward the end.

This was Findley/Frey’s first novel, and he wrote only a handful more after it was published in 1950 before becoming an executive with Standard Oil and evidently never writing another word. It kind of baffles me how somebody with his obvious skill could just turn his back on writing like that, but it happens from time to time. MY OLD MAN’S BADGE was published originally in hardback by Duell Sloan & Pearce, reprinted in paperback by Popular Library, and then reprinted again with a different title by Monarch. The Black Gat edition will be out soon, if it’s not already, and I highly recommend it.

Now, about that cover . . . Sam Cherry did scores of covers for pulps in the Thrilling Group, which was owned by Ned Pines, who also owned Popular Library. As a result, a lot of those pulp covers were reused as paperback covers, but Cherry also did some as originals for Popular Library. This one looks like it could have been on one of the detective pulps, but if that’s the case, I haven’t been able to find it. As always, any information on that is more than welcome. But I think it’s an original, since it does match one of the scenes in the book. And it’s a good one, that’s for sure.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Now Available: Hunting Buffalo With Bent Nails - Lawrence Block

While he is probably best known as a novelist and short-story writer, Lawrence Block has produced a rich trove of nonfiction over the course of a sixty-year career. His instructional books for writers are leaders in the field, and his self-described pedestrian  memoir, Step By Step, has found a loyal audience in the running and racewalking community.

Over the years, Block has written extensively for magazines and periodicals. Generally Speaking collects his philatelic columns from Linn’s Stamp News, while his extensive observations of crime fiction, along with personal glimpses of some of its foremost practitioners, have won wide acclaim in book form as The Crime of Our Lives.

Hunting Buffalo With Bent Nails is what he’s got left over.

The title piece, originally published in American Heritage, recounts the ongoing adventure Block and his wife undertook, criss-crossing  the United States and parts of Canada in their quixotic and exotic quest to find every “village, hamlet, and wide place in the road named Buffalo.” Other travel tales share space with a remembrance of his mother, odes to New York, a disquisition on pen names and book tours, and, well, no end of bent nails not worth straightening. Where else will you find “Raymond Chandler and the Brasher Doubloon,” an assessment of that compelling writer from a numismatic standpoint? Where else can you read about Block’s collection of old subway cars?

(I'll be reading and reviewing this one soon, but really, how can you go wrong with anything by Lawrence Block? There'll be a limited edition from Subterranean Press later on, but the e-book and regular print editions are out now.)

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Overlooked Movies: The Maverick Queen (1956)

THE MAVERICK QUEEN is one of those Western movies that played on TV over and over again when I was growing up, but for some reason I never watched it until now, quite possibly because when I was a kid the pairing of Barbara Stanwyck and Barry Sullivan as the leads wouldn’t have appealed to me. (More about that later.) But it’s based on a novel by Zane Grey and I like Grey’s work when I’m in the right mood, so I figured why not give it a try?

Stanwyck plays Kit Banion (good character name), who owns a saloon but is also part of the Wild Bunch, the outlaw band headed up by Butch Cassidy. Jeff Younger (Sullivan), a cousin to the notorious Younger Brothers who’s recently been released from prison, drifts into town, falls for Kit, who has just broken up with the brutal Sundance (Scott Brady), and works his way into the gang, eventually taking part in a train robbery with them. But there’s a twist (not a particularly surprising one) that threatens to keep Kit and Jeff apart as well as maybe winding up with both of them dead.

I can only give THE MAVERICK QUEEN a qualified recommendation as it’s more of a series of missed opportunities than it is a movie. (Minor spoilers ahead.) Since it was produced by Republic Pictures and the opening credits say the special effects are by Howard and Theodore Lydecker, as soon as I saw that I thought, “Hey, at least there’ll be some spectacular minature work.” Well, no. When the outlaws set out to rob the train, I thought, “That train’s going over a cliff.” Nope. There’s a little bit of stunt work (you know me, I like the bit where guys run along the top of trains), but that’s it. Why bring the Lydecker brothers onto a production if you’re not going to give them anything to do? The stunt work is pretty good, with whoever’s doubling Stanwyck and Brady doing a nice tackle from horseback, followed by a rolling fight down a hill.

What ultimately brings THE MAVERICK QUEEN undone, though, is the casting. The supporting cast is good, with Emile Meyer, Wallace Ford, Walter Sande, John Doucette, and Jim Davis on hand, and Scott Brady is top-notch in his interpretation of the Sundance Kid that’s miles and miles away from Robert Redford’s. (This movie bears no resemblance to either BUTCH CASSIDAY AND THE SUNDANCE KID or the actual history behind the story.) The leads are the problem. I like Barbara Stanwyck, but it seemed like they did everything they could in this picture to make her unattractive. Still, she tries hard and it’s almost impossible not to like her. But whoever decided to cast Barry Sullivan as the stalwart hero was really off the mark. Sullivan’s a fine villain/character actor and he might work as a leading man in some movies, but not this one. I realize I’m supposed to be talking about the movie that is, not the movie I wish it was, but dang, I kept thinking how much more entertaining this film would have been with, say, Virginia Mayo and Randolph Scott as the leads.

But that’s just me, and misgivings aside, I’m glad I finally watched THE MAVERICK QUEEN.

Monday, December 09, 2019

Two Shades of Crazy - Christine Matthews

The private eye novel is my favorite type of mystery yarn and has been ever since I discovered Michael Shayne, Donald Lam, and Bertha Cool at the bookmobile, followed fairly soon after by the Continental Op, Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, Lew Archer, and Shell Scott. Thankfully, there are still quite a few writers who love private eye novels, too, and continue to write them.

Case in point, a brand new novel from Christine Matthews, who has garnered a lot of readers and critical acclaim for her mysteries, thrillers, horror, and Western tales. TWO SHADES OF CRAZY is set in the Southwest, in Laughlin and Las Vegas, Nevada, and Flagstaff, Arizona, and Matthews does a fine job of capturing the setting.

Gloria Watson is a PI from Chicago who has relocated to Laughlin and works out of an office in her apartment, strictly a one-woman outfit with no secretary or assistants. She does mostly background checks and security work, but a more high-profile case comes her way when a potential client hires her to clear the name of a woman who has just been convicted of murdering her lover. It seems that Gloria’s client was obsessed with the woman, although he had no romantic relationship with her, and was outside the house where the murder took place, watching her. He didn’t see the murderer himself, but he knows she didn’t fire the fatal shots.

Sensing that something is off about her client, Gloria investigates him as much as she does the murder, and she uncovers surprising information about him that makes her debate whether she even wants to take the case. But then he dies under suspicious circumstances as well, and she feels duty-bound to get to the truth about a case that turns quite complex for one where a defendant has already been tried and convicted. Not too surprisingly, Gloria herself soon becomes the target of a killer . . .

TWO SHADES OF CRAZY is a top-notch tale of deception and tangled emotions. Instead of making Gloria Watson a first-person narrator, Matthews decides to tell her story in third person, giving Gloria a slight sense of coolness and separation from the reader that works very well while still allowing her to be a sympathetic and likable protagonist. At times the twists and turns of the plot reminded me of something that Perry Mason or Cool and Lam would try to untangle, and that’s a good thing. All in all, TWO SHADES OF CRAZY is an excellent debut in what I hope will be a continuing series. I really enjoyed it.

Sunday, December 08, 2019

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Blue Book, September 1935

I had to look at this BLUE BOOK cover by the great Herbert Morton Stoops for a while before I figured out what was going on, because at first I thought the guy in the center at the bottom of the picture, in the middle of all these knights in armor, was firing a flintlock rifle. Well, that could make for an interesting story, I figured. But then I realized it's actually a crossbow he's shooting. Still a fine cover. And inside is the usual outstanding line-up of authors, including BLUE BOOK stalwarts H. Bedford-Jones (with a story in his Arms and Men series . . . and hey, it's called "The Conquering Crossbow" . . . well, that explains everything), William J. Makin with a Red Wolf of Arabia story, and Robert R. Mill with the first story in his Shock Troops of Justice series (I have the reprints of both those series published by Black Dog Books but haven't read them yet). Also on hand are the classic Western author Willliam MacLeod Raine, Leland Jamieson, William J. Makin again with his other series featuring gypsy sleuth Isaac Heron, Sidney Herschell Small, and William L. Chester with an installment of a Kioga of the Wilderness serial. That's a really impressive issue. 

Saturday, December 07, 2019

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Top Western Fiction Annual, 1953

This is a reprint pulp, but what a fine bunch of authors behind that Sam Cherry cover: Leslie Scott writing as A. Leslie, Louis L'Amour writing as Jim Mayo, William L. Hopson, Joseph Chadwick, Larry A. Harris, Gladwell Richardson, and Ben Frank. Even if I'd read some of the stories before, I would have picked up this one if I had a spare quarter in my pocket.

Friday, December 06, 2019

Forgotten Books: Return from Cormoral - Kenneth Robeson (Lester Dent)

The Spring 1949 issue of DOC SAVAGE MAGAZINE was the second to feature a classic-style Doc novel in the old familiar pulp size that had been restored with the previous issue. “Return From Cormoral” features an excellent George Rozen cover that’s really evocative of Walter Baumhofer’s great covers during the series’ supersaga era. This tale starts out in intriguing fashion, as well: four scientists return to civilization in Miami after having been marooned for six months on a really remote island (the Cormoral of the title) when the scientific foundation that was sponsoring their expedition went belly-up and couldn’t retrieve them. As if that’s not intriguing enough, one of the scientists is the heir to a half-billion dollar fortune . . . and he’s returned with the ability to predict the future.

However, this ability isn’t one that the scientist particularly wants—in fact, it scares him to death—so he decides to contact Doc Savage to get to the bottom of it. This leads to a couple of attempts on Doc’s life in New York, which just makes him more curious and determined to get to the bottom of things (the crooks never seem to learn not to do that), and before you know it Doc is off to Miami to investigate while his aids, the ever-lovable Monk and Ham, try to track down some leads in New York.

There are more attempts on Doc’s life, some colorful chasing around Miami, and then some globetrotting adventure as Doc, the scientist with the dilemma, and the guy’s spunky girlfriend take off for the Great White North. (Some of you are probably humming an old Rush song right now. I know I am.)

In the end, the secret behind the whole thing is a little on the mundane side, as often happens not only in other Doc Savage novels, but in yarns featuring The Shadow and other pulp heroes as well. But usually, the fun is in the getting there, and with Lester Dent’s taut, fast-paced prose sprinkled with action and humor, “Return From Cormoral” is quite a bit of fun indeed. By 1949, too much time had probably passed for the series to ever quite recapture its former glories, but this one makes a valiant try and I really enjoyed it.

Which leaves me with just one more Doc Savage novel from the original series before I’ve read them all. I’ll be getting to it soon.

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

Overlooked Movies: Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets (2017)

Any time a movie gets a critical drubbing and is a failure at the box office, it makes me at least a little interested in watching it. Much of the time, my taste runs counter to both the critics and the movie-going public at large, so I always figure there’s a chance I might like such movies.

Which brings us to VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS, a science fiction movie based on a French comic book. Now, the last science fiction movie based on a French comic book that I watched may well have been BARBARELLA. But this one was written and directed by Luc Besson, whose work I usually enjoy, so that was another reason to be guardedly optimistic.

The movie quickly establishes that over the new few centuries, the international space station continues growing and becomes the hub of an intergalatic civilization until it’s too big to remain in Earth orbit. So rockets push it out into space and set it on a course where it encounters even more alien civilizations and becomes the center of a huge space empire, with beings from a thousand planets living on it and sharing their cultures (hence the title).

Valerian and his girlfriend Laureline work for this space empire as some sort of intergalactic secret agents. (There’s a lot of handwavium and glossing over of details in this movie.) Their current job is to recover a creature who’s the last survivor from a planet that was destroyed thirty years earlier, or in the early part of the movie, from our perspective. This assignment leads them to uncover a sinister conspiracy and a threat to the very existence of the City of a Thousand Planets. There’s a lot of running, jumping, fighting, shooting ray guns, and speeding around in various space ships. Oh, and a shape-shifting alien played by Rihanna.

It’ll probably come as no surprise that I liked this movie. With a lot of spectacular CGI, it’s beautiful to look at, it moves really fast, and it held my interest all the way through. Some of the SF concepts are interesting, if a little goofy and over the top. Most of the reviewers who hate it complained about the acting, and I’ll admit, the two leads are miscast. Dane DeHaan as Valerian and Cara Delevigne as Laureline both look like high school kids and don’t have much range. Delevigne is really good-looking but seems to have only two facial expressions, annoyed and really annoyed. This isn’t an acting showcase, though. It’s a movie based on fast action and mind-blowing concepts, and it delivers on those at least part of the time. And let’s face it, other than a young Jane Fonda stripping out of a spacesuit and the fact that the whole movie reeks of the Sixties, BARBARELLA doesn’t have a whole lot going for it, either. I’d say that VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS is actually a better film.

Whether you’d think so or not is up to you, of course, but if you’ve been avoiding this movie because of the terrible reviews and because it bombed at the box office, you might want to give it a chance some evening when you don’t have anything else to do. I enjoyed it, and if it had spawned a series (fat chance now!), I’d have watched the sequels, too.

Sunday, December 01, 2019

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: South Sea Stories, February 1940

It's been cold and dank here, so what better antidote to that than a cover depicting a nice warm beach and a beautiful island babe? That guy over there in the bushes with a gun? Oh, don't pay any attention to him. I'm sure he doesn't mean any harm. And while you're lying there on the beach, you could read an issue of SOUTH SEA STORIES like this one, which features stories by David Wright O'Brien, S. Gordon Gurwit, Orlin Tremaine, L. Ron Hubbard, and Ziff-Davis house-names Alexander Blade and Peter Horn. That sounds to me like a pretty good way to spend an afternoon.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Trails, July 1943

"Ranny on the Rampage" describes my state of mind fairly often, but in this case it's the title of a story by one of my favorite Western authors, J. Edward Leithead. As usual, Leithead has a second story in this issue of WESTERN TRAILS under his most-used pseudonym, Wilson L. Covert. Several other good authors are on hand, too: Gunnison Steele (Bennie Gardner), C. William Harrison, Orlando Rigoni, and Glenn Shirley. I don't know who did the action-packed cover art, but I like it. Appears to be another good issue of this underrated Western pulp.

Friday, November 29, 2019

Forgotten Books: Lone Rider - Ernest Haycox

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve come around to being a fan of Ernest Haycox’s work, especially the numerous novellas he published in various Western pulps during the late Twenties and early Thirties. LONE RIDER, published by Popular Library in 1959, reprints two of those novellas, “The Black Clan” from the June 10, 1931 issue of SHORT STORIES and “Lin of Pistol Gap” from the May 14, 1930 issue of WEST (which was published by Doubleday at the time, although later on it was one of the Thrilling Group pulps published by Better/Standard).

“The Black Clan”, which is retitled “Lone Rider” in this paperback reprint, finds drifting hardcase Jeff Rawlins taking a job on the right side of the law for a change: protecting an isolated horse ranch from a family of outlaws who have their own town high in the hills. Rawlins finds himself saddled with untrustworthy allies, plagued by crooked lawmen, and ultimately bushwhacked, only to be helped out by a mysterious young woman. It’ll come as a surprise to absolutely no one that the young woman is connected to the outlaw clan Rawlins is trying to bust up. There’s also an enigmatic gunman who comes in and out of the story, sometimes befriending Rawlins, other times opposing him, and I’ll admit, even with several decades of experience in plotting these things myself, I didn’t know what to make of this character or how Haycox was going to resolve the conflict between him and Rawlins. That sort of uncertainty is a nice change of pace, and overall this novella is a top-notch yarn with plenty of action and good writing.

“Lin of Pistol Gap” is a feud story. The war between the Merchant family and the Quarles family has been in an uneasy truce for four years, but the election of a sheriff sympathetic to the Quarles side brings the hotheaded fugitive Rainy Quarles back to the valley, ready to resume the bloodshed. Lin Merchant, the leader of his faction, wants to maintain the peace, but that won’t be easy to do, especially once he finds himself falling for his arch-enemy’s sister. There’s also a mysterious stranger in this one, like in “The Black Clan”, and the reader doesn’t know where he’s going to land. This is the weaker of the two stories, with a lot of scenes that are all talk and seem to go on and on (something that’s quite common in Haycox’s work), but when the action finally breaks out near the end, it’s well done and the climax is quite satisfying.

Overall, LONE RIDER is a nice little reprint package and a vintage paperback worth picking up if you’re a Western fan and come across a copy. I’ll continue reading these Haycox pulp novellas when I find them.

Thursday, November 28, 2019

Happy Thanksgiving

I promise you, I won't be riding out in the snow this morning to bag a turkey, but that doesn't mean I can't wish all of you who celebrate it a very Happy Thanksgiving. That's the November 25, 1922 issue of WESTERN STORY MAGAZINE, by the way, with the usual big, clean stories of outdoor life. This issue has part of the serial "Wild Freedom" by Frederick Faust writing as George Owen Baxter (later published as a novel by Max Brand), plus a story by Frank Richardson Pierce and some other yarns by authors you've never heard of and most of them I haven't, either. My plans for the day include some work, plenty of good food, probably watching the dog show on TV, and some rest and relaxation. Best wishes to you all.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Overlooked Movies: Montana (1950)

I’ve always found it a bit odd that Errol Flynn made so many Western movies, but I have to admit, he generally works pretty well in them. The Old West was a little more cosmopolitan place that it’s usually given credit for.

MONTANA is one of Flynn’s Westerns that I hadn’t seen until recently. It’s also one of the two movies where he plays an Australian, his true nationality. DESPERATE JOURNEY, which I watched and reviewed a while back, is the other.

Flynn’s character, Morgan Lane, is a sheepman whose father was run out of Montana at the point of a gun years earlier by the cattle barons who rule the range. He’s determined to return and establish a sheep ranch there, gaining a measure of revenge for what happened to his father. The cattle barons, led by beautiful Alexis Smith and her smarmy fiance Douglas Kennedy, threaten to wipe out Flynn and his sheep before they’ll let them ruin the cattle range. There’s also a colorful peddler/medicine wagon owner, played by S.Z. “Cuddles” Sakall, who gets involved in the clash, plus various sheepherders working for Flynn and cowboys/gunmen working for Smith and Kennedy.

Naturally, Flynn and Smith fall for each other, despite being on opposite of this war. There are fistfights, cattle stampedes, sheep stampedes, and the occasional gunfight. Plus lots of talk. Since the script is based on a story by Ernest Haycox, you could expect that. (Not a pulp story but rather an original story written for Hollywood, from what I gather.)

There’s nothing here you haven’t seen many times before. But the movie looks pretty good most of the time, Flynn is his usual charming self, and director Ray Enright (with an uncredited assist from Raoul Walsh) keeps things moving along at a decent pace. MONTANA is about as generic a Western as you’ll ever see, but sometimes that’s exactly what I want and I enjoyed it.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Spicy-Adventure Stories, August 1941

"Tropic Hell" by Henry Kuttner? I'm ready to read that right now, and I might if I actually owned this issue of SPICY-ADVENTURE STORIES, which also sports a nice cover by Allen Anderson. The rest of the issue looks pretty promising, too, with two stories by Victor Rousseau (one as by Lew Merrill and one as by Stan Warner, the latter of which is a reprint of a story originally published as by Clive Trent), two by E. Hoffmann Price (one as by Clark Nelson and one as by Arthur Cutler, both reprints of yarns originally published under Price's real name; the Cutler is one of his Don Cragston yarns), and other assorted house-names and one-shot or little-known authors. With their habit of reprinting stories under different titles and by-lines, all the Spicy pulps are a bit of a maze, but there's a lot of good reading to be found in them.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Thrilling Western, March 1945

Here's an issue of THRILLING WESTERN with an action-packed cover. I don't know the artist. But the table of contents is full of Thrilling Group stalwarts: Leslie Scott with a Walt Slade novella, Syl MacDowell with a Swap and Whopper yarn, Donald Bayne Hobart, Ben Frank, Cliff Walters, and Mel Pitzer, all familiar names if you read the Western pulps published by Standard Publications. I'm not that fond of some of 'em, mind you, but I've found Scott and Hobart to always be worth reading.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Forgotten Books: Casca #2: God of Death - Barry Sadler

Almost a year ago, I read the first book in the Casca series by Barry Sadler and really enjoyed it. I didn’t mean for so much time to go by before I got back to the series, but that’s the way it happened. I’ve finally read the second book, GOD OF DEATH, which picks up the story of Casca Rufio Longinus, former Roman soldier who was present at the Crucifixion and was cursed with immortality because of it. Wounds or illness that would kill a normal man can’t claim him, and he’s doomed to wander the world, always making his way as a mercenary soldier.

As in the first book, this one opens with a framing sequence in which Casca talks to the sympathetic doctor who discovered his secret. The story begins some 250 years after Casca is cursed. He falls in with a group of Vikings and becomes their leader (because nobody is a better fighter than Casca, of course), but eventually he tires of this and decides to sail off with some of his Viking friends and seek adventure. Where do they wind up? In what’s now Mexico, where he’s taken prisoner by Teotec warriors and brought to their capital city. Casca is surprised to find such a huge civilization in this land that was previously unknown to him, and even more surprised when he figures out that they intend to sacrifice him, to rip his still beating heart out of his chest on an altar atop one of their mighty pyramids. Casca doesn’t care for this idea, naturally, so he decides the best way to stop it is to convince his captors that he’s the living embodiment of their god of death.

From what I gather, long-time fans of the series have a mixed reaction to this book. Some consider it a favorite while others didn’t care for it. While I think it’s worth reading, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I did the first book. Especially in its first half, GOD OF DEATH is slower paced and the plot just sort of meanders around. Sadler summarizes the action more than describes it, tossing away in a few paragraphs storylines that might have made compelling novels in their own right. The series just seems a little tired already.

However, the second half is much stronger, once the action shifts to the Teotec empire. The action is still rather skimpy until the last forty pages or so, but once things start to pop, it’s great. Sadler provides some big battle scenes that are excellent. The whole thing is over the top, but in a good way, and then to wrap things up, he hits some of the same melancholy notes that were so effective in the first book.

So while GOD OF DEATH may be a bit of a sophomore slump for the Casca series, it’s still not bad if you stick with it, and I’m glad I did. With any luck, it won’t be another year before I get around to reading the third book.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Thrilling Detective, April 1941

Now I understand why I never liked going to the barber shop. You never know when there might be some mug with a gat lurking there, ready to bump you off. However, if I'd ever seen a redhead like that in my local barber shop, I might have risked it anyway. The best known author is this issue of THRILLING DETECTIVE is probably Frederick C. Painton, who wrote a lot of serials for most of the major adventure pulps. Also in this issue are stories by author and literary agent Oscar J. Friend (writing as Owen Fox Jerome), pulp editors Charles S. Strong and Joseph Samachson (writing as William Morrison; Samachson's other claim to fame is creating the Martian Manhunter for DC Comics), Marvin Ryerson (not a pseudonym for Ryerson Johnson but an actual guy), Benton Braden (who appears to have been fairly prolific), and Cornelius Reece (who never published another story except this one, as far as the FMI knows). Not a stellar line-up, but I'll bet it's a fairly entertaining issue.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: .44 Western, January 1944

That feller’s gonna read ’em from the book, shore enuff. He looks like he’s got almost as much bark on him as the varmint who was on last week’s cover. And speaking of reading . . . inside this issue of .44 WESTERN are stories by Fred Gipson (who was a prolific pulpster before becoming forever known as the author of OLD YELLER), John G. Pearsol, Lee Floren, John H. Latham, C.K. Shaw, and Harry Van Demark, all familiar names to readers of Western pulps.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Forgotten Books: High Lonesome - Jack Slade (Peter McCurtin)

My copy, complete with price sticker from the Used Book Warehouse in Rockport, Texas.

LASSITER by “Jack Slade” is the first true Adult Western series in the sense that we use the term now, meaning a Western with sex scenes in it. HIGH LONESOME is an early entry in that series, the sixth, and is also the first to be written by the man who was also editing it, Peter McCurtin. McCurtin is one of those writers whose prose is almost unmistakable. He has a distinctive style that is crude, profane, and violent, but it’s also very effective in moving the story along. There are few, if any, wasted words in a Peter McCurtin novel.

Lassiter (we’re never told his first name, as I recall) is very much an anti-hero, sometimes a bank or train robber, sometimes a hired killer, but a man who does operate according to his own standards and code. In HIGH LONESOME, he’s hired to kill a man. Simple enough, but by the time Lassiter tracks his quarry to the town of Socorro, New Mexico Territory, the gent is already dead. Since he can’t complete that job, Lassiter looks around for another way to make some money. He doesn’t have to look far. There’s a war going on around Socorro between a greedy rancher who wants to own everything in sight and a crooked businessman in town who has the same goal. Both sides are hiring gunmen. It seems simple enough for Lassiter to play them against each other and clean up . . .

As usual in these books, not everything goes according to Lassiter’s plan. He gets double-crossed more than once, and most of the book is a long, bloody series of shootouts, bushwhackings, and betrayals. The plot isn’t complex, but McCurtin isn’t trying to make the reader think. He’s more interested in achieving a visceral reaction, and he succeeds admirably in that. Lassiter is almost a force of nature, and in the midst of all the carnage, you can’t help but root for him, even though he’s not exactly likable.

As I mentioned above, HIGH LONESOME is McCurtin’s first Lassiter novel, and I think some of his later entries have better, more fully developed plots. But for hardboiled, amoral Western action, it’s hard to beat his work, and I enjoyed this novel. For fans of grittier Westerns, it’s well worth reading.