Sunday, July 28, 2019

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Detective Tales, November 1936

This issue of DETECTIVE TALES sports a good cover by Tom Lovell and a great line-up of authors: Norbert Davis, Norvell Page, Steve Fisher, Arthur Leo Zagat, Wayne Rogers, and Fred MacIsaac. Those are some fine yarn-spinners!

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: 10 Story Western Magazine, August 1941

I really like the action-packed cover on this issue of 10 STORY WESTERN MAGAZINE. I don't know who the artist is, but he did a fine job of coming up with a dynamic cover. The authors inside are no slouches, either: Harry F. Olmsted, Tom W. Blackburn, Cliff Farrell, Ed Earl Repp, David X. Manners, Dave Sands (a house name) and Rutherford Montgomery (who went on to write a bunch of popular juvenile novels about animals) are the best known names.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Forgotten Books: The Twisted Mistress - Ennis Willie

The telegram finally caught Tagger on a dismal morning-after in a New Orleans brothel.

That’s the opening line in Ennis Willie’s excellent hardboiled mystery novel THE TWISTED MISTRESS, published in 1963 by Merit Books and, to my knowledge, never reprinted. And if you can read that and not feel compelled to keep flipping the pages, you’ve got more self-control than I do.

Tagger is Lash Tagger (Willie’s protagonists always had great names). Years earlier, as a runaway from the orphanage where he was raised, Tagger was taken under the wing of Alex Beaumont, a textile mill owner who had worked his own way up from hardship to riches. Beaumont has a son and daughter of his own, but Tagger almost becomes like a son to him as well, until a falling-out between them causes Tagger to take off on his own when he’s a young man.

Now several years have passed and Tagger is broke, but the telegram changes all that. Beaumont is dead, and Tagger has to return to the town where the mill is located for the reading of the will. When he gets there, he finds that not only has he inherited a third of Beaumont’s fortune, but Beaumont has given him control of the business as well and charged him with preventing the takeover of the mill by a ruthless competitor. Needless to say, Beaumont’s grown children don’t like this arrangement at all. The situation becomes even more complicated and dangerous when Tagger discovers that Beaumont was murdered, and when he starts poking around in that, somebody paints a target on his back, as well.

Oh, and there are three or four beautiful women involved, too, all of whom are attracted to Tagger whether they want to be or not, and some of whom probably can’t be trusted . . . but I probably didn’t have to tell you that.

THE TWISTED MISTRESS is just an enormous amount of fun for a fan of hardboiled, slightly sleazy crime and mystery novels from the early Sixties. Willie’s prose is so smooth and fast-paced that it’s a joy to read and you wind up flying through the pages. There was a time I would have read this in one sitting, I’m sure, and even though I can’t do that now because I don’t have as much time to read, I still got through it quickly. Lash Tagger is plenty tough, not exactly likable but certainly easy to root for. Maybe the women all fall for him a little too quickly and easily, maybe the plot could have used one more twist, but that doesn’t matter because this is a book designed to be gulped down. I wish I could tell you to go out and buy a copy, but like I said above, it’s never been reprinted and like all Ennis Willie books, it’s a little hard to come by and a little pricey if you do. But if you ever see a copy, my advice is to grab it.

By the way, I realize the cover says TWISTED MISTRESS, but the spine and the title page add THE, so that’s the title I went with. And unlike the titles of some of the books of this type from this era, the title actually does have something to do with the story. The cover also says “Adult Reading”, but don’t let that fool you. There’s sex in it, but very tame and mostly off-screen.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Men of Violence: All Review Special - Justin Marriott, ed.

The latest volume in the excellent MEN OF VIOLENCE series is an All Review Special, featuring more than a hundred reviews of men’s adventure novels and series, ranging from classics of the genre to obscure little gems that you’ve probably never heard of. Editor Justin Marriot has assembled a wonderful book to browse and enjoy, and I guarantee you’ll learn a few things, even if you’re an expert on men’s adventure fiction. If you’re a newcomer to the genre, this book is a crash course on it. Not all the reviews are positive, either; some warn potential readers which books to stay away from. Although such things are competely subjective, of course. If a book sounds interesting to you, I always say give it a try and see for yourself. MEN OF VIOLENCE: ALL REVIEW SPECIAL is available as a handsome, very affordable trade paperback. I really enjoyed it and give it a high recommendation.

Sunday, July 21, 2019

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Argosy, June 17, 1933

Nothing says "pulp" to me quite as much as ARGOSY. If it weren't for all those dang serials, it would be just about the perfect adventure pulp magazine! Take this issue, for example. You've got a colorful, dramatic cover by Paul Stahr, and inside are stories by Erle Stanley Gardner (a Whispering Sands yarn), Talbot Mundy, Theodore Roscoe, Donald Barr Chidsey (with his series character Nick Fisher), George F. Worts (part of a Peter the Brazen serial as by Loring Brent), Fred MacIsaac, Ralph Milne Farley, Cliff Farrell, and Armand Brigaud. To say that's an impressive line-up is quite an understatement! And ARGOSY did that week after week. Truly an iconic pulp. 

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Thrilling Ranch Stories, July 1948

One of the things I really like about Western pulp covers is that while there are plenty of "damsel in distress" type covers, there are also a lot that feature women who are just as tough and competent as the men. This cover by Sam Cherry from the July 1948 issue of THRILLING RANCH STORIES is a good example. There's not even a guy in sight, other than the hand of the one holding the gun, and that blonde is about to make him wish their trails had never crossed. Inside this issue are stories by some fine writers: L.P. Holmes, Giles A. Lutz, Stephen Payne, Samuel Mines, Joe Archibald, Cliff Walters, and Gladwell Richardson. The so-called Western romance pulps had plenty to like for traditional Western readers.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Forgotten Books: John Severin's Billy the Kid, Western Outlaw, Volume 1 - Joe Gill and John Severin

I never read too many comics published by Charlton when I was a kid. I started reading mostly Dell comics, discovered DC and then Marvel, so the smaller publishers didn’t get much of my allowance money, plus they weren’t distributed very well around here. However, I do remember reading some issues of BILLY THE KID, WESTERN OUTLAW when I was very young. Too young to know anything about artists, for sure.

But in later years, John Severin became one of my favorite comic book artists during his long run on SGT. FURY AND HIS HOWLING COMMANDOS, a title I read faithfully and always enjoyed. Severin’s art was a big part of that, and when I came across his work in other places, I continued to enjoy it. He did quite a bit for Charlton in the early Sixties, including the Billy the Kid stories in this volume, which reprints ten stories from BILLY THE KID, WESTERN OUTLAW #20-23.

These are very short stories, running six or seven pages each, and journeyman writer Joe Gill’s scripts are pretty simplistic, as you’d expect at that length. There’s no attempt to make the Billy the Kid anything like his actual historical counterpart. He’s only vaguely regarded as an outlaw. Mostly he’s just a drifting do-gooder seemingly loved by common people and lawmen alike, whose only real goal in life is to fight rustlers, bank robbers, and bullies. The writing is serviceable, but no more than that.

Severin’s art makes these stories worth reading, though. It’s not overly detailed but always has a gritty air of Old West authenticity about it. He does a good job with guns, horses, Western landscape, etc., and his action scenes are dynamic. He’s just a good comic book artist in the classic style, with a strong storytelling sense. I thoroughly enjoyed this collection.

You can read these stories for free on-line, but I thought this inexpensive collection, which also includes some photos and biographical material on Severin, was worthwhile. I plan to seek out more of his Billy the Kid stories.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Overlooked Movies: Stan & Ollie (2018)

I’ve been a Laurel & Hardy fan about as far back as I can remember. I didn’t like them as much as the Three Stooges or Abbott & Costello, but I watched many of their movies on TV and always enjoyed them. So I was a pretty good target audience for STAN & OLLIE, a biopic from last year that focuses on the final year of their performing career.

This movie actually combines a couple of different European tours made by Laurel & Hardy into one storyline, but it works and is fairly accurate in other respects, as far as I know. (I’m a fan but not an expert on the duo, by any means.) Steve Coogan plays Stan Laurel and John C. Reilly is Oliver “Babe” Hardy. Reilly is an odd bit of casting, but again it works well. It’s kind of a sad film, as both men are aging, nowhere near the stars they once were, and Hardy is plagued by health problems. All of that is portrayed well, and the production values are high.

Ah, but when they start doing classic Laurel & Hardy bits, the comedy kicks in and I start to grin. No, they’re not as good at it as the real thing, but the bits are still funny. I also appreciated the fact that the script makes it clear how much of the writing and directing of their films was done by Stan Laurel, whether he received any credit for it or not. They were both really talented guys, and STAN & OLLIE does a good job of showing that.

By the way, I also really like Oliver Hardy as John Wayne’s sidekick in THE FIGHTING KENTUCKIAN and wish he had done more roles along those lines.

Anyway, I didn’t even know STAN & OLLIE existed until we watched it recently, but I’m glad we did. If you’re a fan of classic movie comedies and watched them all the time on TV while you were growing up, as I did, you might like it, too.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Reign of Terror - Paul Bedford

Frontiersman Jared Tucker has brought his family to a ranch on the Brazos River for a new start in Texas, unaware that roving bands of Comanche, frustrated by their defeat at the Battle of Adobe Walls, are looking for just such isolated ranches where they can vent their anger against the white settlers. An attack on his home leaves a grieving Tucker searching for his 13-year-old daughter, the only survivor of the massacre, who has been carried off by the renegades.

Tucker falls in with buffalo hunter Woodrow Clayton, who has faced the Comanches before at Adobe Walls. Together, the two men join forces with a cavalry column led by Colonel Ranald Mackenzie, bound for a showdown with Chief Quanah Parker’s forces at a place called Palo Duro Canyon. Tucker, along with Clayton, hopes to find and rescue his daughter before it’s too late . . .

I read another historically based Western novel by Paul Bedford not long ago and enjoyed it, and REIGN OF TERROR is even better. He does a fine job of mixing history and fiction and presents an accurate portrayal of the Battles of Adobe Walls and Palo Duro Canyon and the leaders on both sides, Quanah Parker and Ranald Mackenzie, all the while spinning a compelling fictional yarn as well. The search among the Indians for a white captive is a very traditional Western plot, so the execution becomes even more important. Bedford pulls it off, even more impressive considering that he’s an English author and REIGN OF TERROR is part of the Black Horse Western line, soon to be published in England but available for pre-order in the U.S. as well. I plan to read more by Paul Bedford, and if you’re a fan of traditional Westerns, I recommend his books.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Ten Detective Aces, February 1935

I don't know much about Emery Clarke, who did the cover on this issue of TEN DETECTIVE ACES, except that he was pretty active as a pulp cover artist from the mid-Thirties to the mid-Forties, including doing the covers for a number of issues of DOC SAVAGE. The guy on this one looks kind of dumb with his hand spread out like that as he reaches for his gun, but that's a fine-looking blonde beside him. Inside is the usual strong line-up for this pulp, including a Moon Man story by Frederick C. Davis and other yarns by G.T. Fleming-Roberts, Emile C. Tepperman, Philip Ketchum writing as Carl McK. Saunders, Joe Archibald, and J. Lane Linklater.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: 10 Story Western Magazine, April 1947

And thus another Old West poker game comes to a violent end. Not only that, but look at the bullet hole in the guy's hat brim. Injury to a Hat Alert! I love this cover, which I'm pretty sure is by Robert Stanley. It's the little details that really make it work, like the two matches tucked in the cowboy's hat band and the royal flush laid out on the table. A lesser artist might not have even thought of those things. 10 STORY WESTERN MAGAZINE always had a good group of authors, and this issue is no exception: Tom W. Blackburn, Joseph Chadwick, Gunnison Steele (Bennie Gardner), Carl McK. Saunders (Philip Ketchum; "Saunders" is a pseudonym he used mostly for mystery and detective yarns), John Jo Carpenter (John Reese), Rod Patterson, Richard Brister, and Harrison Colt, a name I've always thought must be a pseudonym, but I don't know if it really was. Plus the familiar, instantly recognizable yellow-and-red color scheme. I'm a big fan of 10 STORY WESTERN and this looks like an excellent issue.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Forgotten Novelettes: Wreckers of the Star Patrol - Malcolm Jameson

A down-on-his-luck ship’s captain winds up taking a job as first mate on a tramp steamer carrying a valuable cargo, only to find himself involved in a scheme to wreck the ship for the insurance money . . .

Wait a minute. That’s the sort of nautical adventure yarn H. Bedford-Jones would have written for ARGOSY or SHORT STORIES. “Wreckers of the Star Patrol” by Malcolm Jameson, a novelette that appeared originally in the August 1942 issue of SUPER SCIENCE STORIES, is completely different. It’s about a down-on-his-luck spaceship captain who winds up taking a job as first mate on a tramp spaceship carrying a valuable cargo, only to find himself involved in a scheme to wreck the spaceship for the insurance money.

I’m sorry. I’m being too snarky here, and “Wreckers of the Star Patrol” doesn’t deserve it because I actually did enjoy this pulp science fiction yarn. The Bedford-Jones-like plot only takes up about the first half of it. Then it becomes a Space Western for a while, as the hero becomes a cowboy of sorts herding native fauna on another planet, riding a sort of small, winged dinosaur instead of a horse. And then, suddenly (here comes the kitchen sink), evil aliens invade! This gives the hero the chance to meet up again with the villains responsible for his previous dilemma and get his revenge on them.

Honestly, “Wreckers of the Star Patrol” isn’t very good. For one thing, there’s no Star Patrol in it, not even a mention. It’s a collection of standard pulp adventure elements dressed up with science fiction trappings. Characterization is almost non-existent. But, as I said above, I did enjoy it, mostly for the head-long pace and some good action scenes and dialogue. This is the first thing I’ve read by Malcolm Jameson. He sold quite a few stories to John W. Campbell for ASTOUNDING and UNKNOWN and I’m inclined to try some of them because he clearly wasn’t without talent. I think this one is just a reject sold to a salvage market, and even at that, I would have loved it when I was ten years old. I have no trouble putting myself in that mindset, and if you can do the same, you might like it, too.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Last Stage to Hell Junction - Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins

First of all, is that a great title or what? LAST STAGE TO HELL JUNCTION. I can see it on the cover of a Popular Publications Western pulp or a Gold Medal paperback. In fact . . .

But more on that later. What you need to know is that this is the fourth Caleb York novel by Max Allan Collins based on the character created by Mickey Spillane. Former Wells Fargo detective/gunfighter Caleb York is still the sheriff of the small town of Trinidad, New Mexico Territory, and as usual, trouble’s not long in cropping up. York is also still juggling on-again, off-again romantic relationships with two women, beautiful blond ranch owner Willa Cullen and beautiful brunette saloon owner Rita Filley. The two women find themselves on the same stage bound for the neighboring town of Las Vegas, where there’s a railroad spur that will take them to Denver for shopping trips. Also on the stage is the most successful businessman in Trinidad, who owns banks and other enterprises throughout the Southwest.

The stagecoach hasn’t gone very far before it’s jumped by an outlaw gang led by a charismatic former actor gone bad. Their target is the businessman, who they kidnap to hold for ransom. They take the two women along with them as well, and everybody holes up in the ghost town of Hale Junction, which some wag has renamed Hell Junction on the sign at the edge of town. When Caleb York finds out about this, he sets out to rescue the hostages and deal with the outlaws, of course, but doing that without getting his friends killed proves to be a tricky job.

As always, Collins’ prose is just as smooth and fast-flowing as can be, and his characters are interesting, including the villains. I’m particularly fond of York’s deputy, reformed drunk and desert rat Jonathan Tulley. He’s a fine sidekick. I don’t know how the author sees him, but in my head he’s always Al “Fuzzy” St. John. Collins does an excellent job of making things worse and worse for his protagonist, until you really do start to wonder how York will be able to sort things out.

Now, as for that Gold Medal connection . . . I realized as I was reading this book that the series reminds me of the Amos Flagg novels written by Clifton Adams under the name Clay Randall in the Sixties. Flagg and York are very different characters, of course, but the books are the same sort of tough, fast-moving Western yarns with colorful casts and plenty of action. The York books could have almost been written and published then. If you’re looking for good, solid traditional Westerns with a hardboiled edge, I highly recommend LAST STAGE TO HELL JUNCTION and the other Caleb York novels.

Tuesday, July 09, 2019

Overlooked Movies: The Catcher Was a Spy (2018)

THE CATCHER WAS A SPY is about 90% a very good movie. The other 10% is just annoying.

Some of you probably know just from the title that this movie is about Moe Berg, a journeyman major league baseball catcher during the 1920s and ’30s. He was an interesting character, having attended Princeton, learned numerous languages, and deliberately cultivated a mysterious air about himself. Not surprisingly, his nickname was “Professor”. He even became a minor celebrity for appearing on a radio quiz show.

And at some point—we’re not sure when, possibly even before World War II—he went to work for Wild Bill Donovan at the Office of Strategic Services, the forerunner of the C.I.A. His primary mission, on which he worked with several other agents, was finding out how close Germany was to developing a working atomic bomb, and eventually he was assigned to assassinate Werner Heisenberg, the scientist in charge of the German effort, if he deemed it necessary.

All this is a matter of history, and the movie does an excellent job of playing out that part of the story. The pace is leisurely but never boring, and the cast, led by the always likable Paul Rudd as Moe Berg, is top-notch. Production values are high. All that is the 90% that works.

The 10% that doesn’t occurs when the director and screenwriter, out of the blue, decide that Moe Berg must have been gay, something that none of his biographers or the director of a documentary about him, give any credence to whatsoever. It’s like they sat down and said, “Oh, he never got married and he was kind of secretive about his life . . . so he must have been gay! Yeah, let’s go with that!” And so we get a few scenes clumsily shoehorned into the movie that almost feel like they came from a diffferent film. Rudd doesn’t even come across like he believes those scenes. In those moments his performance seems like he’s saying to the audience, “Yeah, I’m only doing this because these guys told me to. I don’t buy it, either.”

I realize this is more of a rant than I normally post. Despite the reservations, I enjoyed THE CATCHER IS A SPY. Sometimes it’s nice to watch a movie that’s not all CGI and explosions (although there are some of those in the World War II sequences, which are very well done).

Monday, July 08, 2019

Robert E. Howard: A Literary Biography - David C. Smith

I met David C. Smith at the very first Howard Days get-together I attended, back in 1996. Back then it was more like Howard Day, since all the activities—what few of them there were—took place on Saturday. The big appeal was just being able to visit the Howard House and talk to fellow fans. I had a great time and have been back many times since.

Dave and I met again face to face at the most recent REH Days last month, where he was the guest of honor, and once again it was great to be able to talk with him. For those of you not familiar with his work, he co-wrote the Red Sonja series of paperbacks published by Ace and wrote Black Vulmea and Bran Mak Morn novels for Zebra during the Howard Boom, as well as authoring numerous sword-and-sorcery novels featuring his own characters. He’s a really fine writer, a great guy, and very well qualified to write a book that I’ve had for a while and was prompted by our visit to go ahead and read—ROBERT E. HOWARD: A LITERARY BIOGRAPHY.

The wording of that title is important. While Smith includes plenty of biographical details, his focus is on Howard’s writing career and how it developed, both commercially and creatively. I’ve always been very interested in the way Howard conducted his writing career since I feel a certain kinship with him (small town Texas, not knowing any other actual professional writers, etc.). Howard’s success was an inspiration to me when I was trying to break in, and it’s always nice to read about how he accomplished that.

Smith also examines a number of Howard’s stories in depth to show how his writing became richer and more polished as he went along. Because of this, there are a number of spoilers, as well, so this is more of a volume for readers who are well acquainted with Howard’s fiction. However, if you’ve read the stories, Smith’s analysis of them is very rewarding. The first time I read the Conan stories was in the old Lancer editions, where they were arranged in the “chronology” imposed on them by L. Sprague de Camp. Reading them in the order in which Howard wrote them, which I did about ten years ago, is a much different and, to me, more interesting and enjoyable experience. ROBERT E. HOWARD: A LITERARY BIOGRAPHY applies this technique to Howard’s entire output and proves to be fascinating.

This might not be the best book for someone who’s new to Howard, but for long-time fans such as myself, it’s a real treat. Well-written and insightful, ROBERT E. HOWARD: A LITERARY BIOGRAPHY is one of the best books I’ve read this year and gets a very high recommendation for me.

A Middle of the Night Music Post: Blue Rondo a la Turk - The Dave Brubeck Quartet

"Take Five" will always be my favorite Dave Brubeck song--and one of my all-time favorites, period--but this one is mighty good, too. And this performance really takes me back to that era.

Sunday, July 07, 2019

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Speed Adventure Stories, July 1945

I think if I had been around during the Thirties and Forties, I would have been writing for the Spicy and Speed line of pulps. This issue of SPEED ADVENTURE STORIES features three authors better known for their Westerns: L.P. Holmes, Giff Cheshire, and Frank Bonham. Also on hand are the legendary E. Hoffmann Price and Spicy/Speed stalwarts Victor Rousseau (writing under his own name for a change, instead of Lew Merrill, Hugh Speer, or Clive Trent) and Edwin Truett Long, writing under the very transparent pseudonym of Edwin Truett. I've enjoyed stories by all these authors and know I would enjoy the yarns they've contributed here, too.

Saturday, July 06, 2019

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Action-Packed Western, December 1938

Based on the cover by A. Leslie Ross, this probably is an action-packed issue of ACTION-PACKED WESTERN. As usual with this publisher, Chesterfield Publications (later Columbia), we get some stories by house-name authors Cliff Campbell and Mat Rand, but the prolific Ed Earl Repp (or one of his ghosts) and S. Omar Barker are on hand, too, so I'll bet there's some good reading to be had here. Heck, I've liked most of the stuff I've read by "Campbell" and "Rand".

Friday, July 05, 2019

Forgotten Books: The Ranger Way - Eugene Cunningham

Eugene Cunningham's books are always worth reading, and THE RANGER WAY is no exception. You can see the plot in the back cover copy above, and the style is Cunningham's usual distinctive, hardboiled prose. However, THE RANGER WAY is a little on the mild side for a Cunningham novel. I believe there are only ten deaths in the entire book, and nine of those take place in the second half, two of them off-screen. Cunningham is notorious for the amount of powder burned and blood spilled in his yarns, so if you've never read his work, this one might not be the best place to start. But if you're already a Cunningham fan, it's quite enjoyable, if not in the top rank of his books.

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

The Digest Enthusiast, Book Ten - Richard Krauss, ed.

I've been waiting to have a copy of this book in my hands before posting about it, and now I do. THE DIGEST ENTHUSIAST is just about the best magazine out there, and the new issue, Book Ten, features the longest, most extensive interview I've ever done, with lots of cover reproductions and at least one photo of me that I'm pretty sure has never been published anywhere else. Doing this interview with editor Richard Krauss was a lot of fun and brought back many great memories of the early days of my career.

Of course, there's a lot more to THE DIGEST ENTHUSIAST, BOOK TEN, than just my ramblings. You can also read about the Creature from the Black Lagoon, a small publisher I'd never heard of called Bronze Books, and articles on wonderful digests such as MANHUNT, AMAZING STORIES, STARTLING MYSTERY STORIES, ALFRED HITCHCOCK'S MYSTERY MAGAZINE, and a great article on the short-lived CHARLIE CHAN MYSTERY MAGAZINE by Richard Krauss. That's just a ton of great reading, and as always, I give THE DIGEST ENTHUSIAST a very high recommendation.

Blog Anniversary

Today is the 15th anniversary of this blog. As I've mentioned before (and did so in my very first post, in fact), I only started to blog because my best friends in the writing business, Bill Crider and Ed Gorman, had started blogs and I thought it sounded like fun. It probably never occurred to me at the time that I'd still be at it 15 years later. Early on, the blog was very much a diary, full of not only what I was writing and reading but also comments about the weather and my day-to-day life. It's evolved into whatever it is now, mostly just occasional posts about old books and movies. But I'm still enjoying it, and even though social media has moved and blogs are sort of dinosaurs, I intend to keep at it as long as I'm able, just like I plan to continue the WesternPulps email group (an even more prehistoric venue) as long as a platform exists for it.

Looking back at that first post, I notice that I'd just finished my 165th novel. I'm working on #375, so that's 210 novels in 15 years, or an average of 14 books a year. No wonder my brain is tired.

Also, the day I started the blog, our Nigerian dwarf goat Sugarfoot died. Sugarfoot was about the size of a regular goat, so he was a lot bigger than a regular dwarf goat. He was allergic to regular hay and could only eat alfalfa hay, otherwise he would roll onto his back, wave all four legs in the air, and bleat. I am not making this up. We told the vet about it, but he didn't believe us until he saw it happen for himself. He thought it was the weirdest thing he'd ever seen, and it was pretty bizarre, no doubt about that. I don't believe I've ever told that story here on the blog before, so see, there are still new things to discover even after 15 years.

Many thanks to all of you out there, whether you've been reading Rough Edges from the first or have just started it. I appreciate each and every one of you and hope that you enjoy what I'm doing here.

Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Overlooked Movies: Bleeding Steel (2017)

I’m not sure what to say about this 2017 Chinese/Australian science fiction thriller. BLEEDING STEEL stars Jackie Chan, and it’s almost impossible not to like Chan’s screen persona, even though from what I’ve read he’s kind of a jerk in real life. The movie is very stylishly filmed, with lots of colorful, fast-moving action scenes, including an epic fight atop the Sydney Opera House, but pretty as those scenes are to look at, they’re kind of hard to follow at times. Chan is effective as a veteran cop tormented by the death of his young daughter from leukemia during a prologue that sets up the rest of the action 13 years later.

As for the rest of the story, you’ve got a mad scientist who’s come up with a way to create biologically enhanced super-soldiers, a murderous albino arms dealer, a Goth female mercenary who looks like she’s trying to imitate Kate Beckinsale in those UNDERWORLD movies, a sinister fortune teller with an even more sinister dwarf assistant, a sleazy novelist with a dangerous secret, a hustling young conman/martial artist, and a young female student who has bad guys and good guys alike after her for some unknown reason.

In other words, the script for BLEEDING STEEL is a herky-jerky mess full of dead ends and unresolved questions. By the end, it kind of makes sense, if you squint and hold your mouth right, but only with the clumsy shoehorning of a few lines of dialogue to account for some of the plot holes.

Despite all that, Chan is good most of the time, the action scenes are fun to watch, and the flashy cinematography works more often than not. BLEEDING STEEL is not necessarily a good movie, but in the end, I enjoyed watching it and give it a qualified recommendation. If you’re a Jackie Chan fan, you’d probably enjoy it, too, even though he’s getting to be a shadow of his former self.

Monday, July 01, 2019

Trail of the Shark - David Hardy

David Hardy is one of the best current authors of historical fiction, spinning yarns that are well-researched and exciting, as well as fast-moving with more than a touch of pulp influence. In his latest short novel, TRAIL OF THE SHARK, Tom Pepper is a Yankee sailer—a Quaker, to be precise—who has a berth on a Portuguese trading ship that plies the waters along the south China coast in the early Nineteenth Century.

The ship encounters pirates led by the notorious cutthroat known as Meng the Shark, and Pepper’s fiance, the daughter of the ship’s owner who happens to be on board, is kidnapped by the brigands while Pepper is left for dead. He’s not dead, though, and so, accompanied by one of his shipmates who also survived the attack, he sets out after the pirates in the hope of rescuing his fiance.

Unfortunately, he soon discovers that she threw herself overboard from the pirate ship and drowned rather than remain in captivity. This changes Pepper’s motivation—he’s after vengeance now—but not his quest to track down the Shark and settle accounts with him.

This turns out to be a long trail that Pepper has to follow. Along the way, he sets aside his Quaker beliefs and becomes a dangerous, bloody-handed adventurer himself, getting involved with a civil war, various untrustworthy politicians, and a mysterious warrior/monk. You know that eventually Pepper is going to get his showdown with Meng the Shark, and when that finally comes about, it certainly doesn’t disappoint.

Like many of the pulp authors he admires, Hardy manages to work a great deal of plot into a relatively short length. He creates a fine protagonist in Tom Pepper, too, and the supporting characters are colorful and interesting, as well. TRAIL OF THE SHARK is well-written and great fun, and if you’re a fan of fine historical adventure yarns, you definitely should check it out.