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.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Detective Fiction Weekly, November 20, 1937

That's a really striking cover by Rudolph Belarski on this issue of DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY, illustrating a story by a fine writer, John K. Butler. Also in this issue are stories by a couple of top hardboiled writers, Roger Torrey and Steve Fisher, and yarns by long-time pulpsters Edgar Franklin and Fred MacIsaac (writing as Donald Ross this time around). An issue of DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY was the first pulp I ever bought, so I have a definite fondness for the magazine.

Saturday, November 09, 2019

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Dime Western, August 1949

Well, that's gonna hurt! And that's one ugly varmint tusslin' with the star packer. Inside this issue of DIME WESTERN are stories by a couple of long-time top-notchers, Walt Coburn and Giff Cheshire (although Coburn was past his prime by this point), as well as George C. Appell, John Prescott, Kenneth Fowler, and Robert L. Trimnell. I'm not sure who did the cover art on this one. Robert Stanley, maybe? The lawman looks a little like Mike Shayne on those Dell mapback covers Stanley did for the Shayne series. But that's just a guess and I'm not convinced it's right.

Friday, November 08, 2019

Forgotten Books: The Green Master - Kenneth Robeson (Lester Dent)

With the Winter 1949 issue, DOC SAVAGE returned to its pulp roots, going back to the traditional pulp size after several years as a digest magazine. The covers by George Rozen also attempted to recapture the adventurous dynamic of the classic Walter Baumhofer covers from the magazine’s early years. The first novel in this attempted revitalization of the lagging publication was “The Green Master”, and it’s the next one up in my continuing project to read all the Doc Savage novels I’ve never read.

This yarn begins with Monk Mayfair, one of Doc’s aides, being trailed in New York City by a beautiful blond woman and then a couple of blond men, all of whom seem very unfamiliar with being in a city, as if they came from somewhere far away from civilization, like maybe, oh, a lost city. Sarcasm aside, it turns out that these strange folks have incredible powers of persuasion that are like super-hypnotism, but when Ham Brooks, another of Doc’s aides, and then Doc himself become involved in the affair, it becomes obvious that what’s going on isn’t hypnotism but something much more astounding. Then people start trying to kill Doc, his men, and the blond strangers.

Globe-trotting adventure was always one of the hallmarks of the Doc Savage series, and this novel delivers when the action shifts to South America. I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler to say that, yep, there’s a lost city, and it’s a good one. Doc, Monk, and Ham wind up being in on plenty of action. (Doc’s other aides aren’t even mentioned this time around.)

The ultimate explanation for everything is a little unsatisfying, as if author Lester Dent didn’t have room to develop the plot as much as it should have been. THE GREEN MASTER probably isn’t more than 30,000 words long. But Dent’s writing is so sharp and funny that the book is still very enjoyable. It may not be a true return to greatness, but it’s a good stab at it.

Monday, November 04, 2019

Bouchercon 2019

Livia and I spent last Thursday, Friday, and Saturday in Dallas attending Bouchercon, the world mystery convention. This is only the second one I've been to, Austin in 2002 being the other. It was a great time, although I'm never very comfortable in large crowds like that. The best part about it was seeing old friends such as Gary Goldstein, Scott Cupp, Joe Lansdale, Kasey Lansdale, Angela Crider Neary, Bob Randisi, Marc Cameron, Mel Odom, Mark Finn, Charles Siros, Richard Moore, Art Scott, Jeff Meyerson, George Kelley, and Thom Walls, and meeting in person other friends I've known only on-line or on the phone, like Paul Bishop, Lee Goldberg, Patti Abbott, Rick Ollerman, Jeff Vorzimmer, Mike Bray, Scott Montgomery, and others I'm bound to be forgetting (my sincere apologies if I did). I enjoyed the panels I was on and I bought some great old books in the dealer's room. There was a bizarre moment while walking through the almost deserted hotel lobby at six o'clock in the morning when I came across James Patterson sitting by himself reading the newspaper. He looked so relieved to have some peace and quiet that I didn't have the heart to go up and introduce myself. Then I got to meet and chat with one of my long-time writing heroes, Lawrence Block, and managed not to be too much of a fanboy, I hope. All in all, it was a good convention. I don't know when or if I'll ever make it to another one, but I'm glad I went to this one. Below are a few pictures.

Lawrence Block about to sign my copy of the original Gold Medal edition of TWO FOR TANNER. I'm telling him this isn't my original copy but that I remember exactly where I bought it brand-new off the spinner rack in one of the local drugstores.
The Western Mystery panel. Left to right, me, Scott Cupp, Lee Goldberg, and Joe Lansdale.

Left to right, Lee Goldberg, Paul Bishop, Mel Odom, Mike Bray

Lee and me.

Richard Moore, Thom Walls, George Kelley, and me.

The Paperback Revolution panel. George was the moderator, just out of sight at the left side, then Art Scott, Angela Crider Neary, Patricia Abbott, me, and Rick Ollerman.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Strange Detective Mysteries, May 1941

This issue of STRANGE DETECTIVE MYSTERIES has a good cover, but the real attraction is the line-up of authors: Day Keene, Hugh B. Cave, Norvell Page, Emile C. Tepperman, and Wayne Rogers. That's a powerhouse bunch of pulpsters!

Saturday, November 02, 2019

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Action Stories, Fall 1946

ACTION STORIES didn't start out, strictly speaking, as a Western pulp, since it featured adventure yarns set in many different times and locales, but by this time in its existence it might as well have been a Western pulp since all the covers were Western-themed and nearly all of the stories were. Indeed, in this issue, all the story titles sound like Westerns (with maybe one Northern, a close cousin), and the authors are thought of primarily as Western writers: Les Savage Jr., Giff Cheshire, Joseph Chadwick, William Heuman, and Ben Frank, plus Tom O'Neill (sports stories and Northerns) and house-name John Starr. The cover features another example of a female character dressed anachronistically, which was common on the Fiction House pulps. I hope she didn't have to run on those high heels.

Friday, November 01, 2019

Forgotten Books: Young Kit Carson - H. Bedford-Jones

As you know if you’ve read this blog much, H. Bedford-Jones is one of my favorite pulp authors and indeed one of my favorite authors, period. I think he was at his strongest with historical adventure novels, so it’s no surprise that YOUNG KIT CARSON is a top-notch yarn that’s been out of print since 1941, when it appeared in the fiction supplement of a Canadian newspaper. A copy of it was discovered recently, and it’s about to be reprinted by Bold Venture Press.

The story is set in 1835, when Carson is 25 years old, a fur trapper who has worked for the Hudson’s Bay Company in the past as well as being an independent trapper. It opens in Santa Fe where Carson encounters the beautiful Marie, the daughter of a French-Canadian trapper and a Blackfoot woman. Marie is also known as Go Everywhere Woman, because she can travel among any of the frontier tribes with impunity, even the ones who are feuding with each other.

Carson and some of his friends are soon involved in a dangerous quest for a rare white beaver pelt, a talisman regarded by the Indians as possessing great medicine. A prophecy says that once the white beaver pelt is found, all the tribes will unite into one great army and scour the Americans from the frontier. This is exactly what the Hudson’s Bay Company wants, of course, so their agent, that French-Canadian trapper who is Marie’s father, is working behind the scenes to bring that bloody frontier apocalypse about.

Bedford-Jones never lets the action lapse for long, and he paints a vivid picture of the early West. In his hands, Kit Carson is a very likable protagonist and the supporting cast is excellent as well. The love-hate duel between Carson and Go Everywhere Woman that continues almost through the entire book is compelling, and I honestly didn’t know how it was going to turn out.

This would have made a good Forties or Fifties big-budget movie, with maybe Alan Ladd playing Kit Carson and not having to stand on a box for a change since Carson was notably short. The Indians even refer to him as Little Chief. There’s also an excellent role for Alan Hale as Kit’s sidekick. Such a movie was never made, of course, but it’s fun to think about.

And we have the novel itself, thanks to Camille Cazedessus, who located the copy of it, and Rich Harvey and Audrey Parente of Bold Venture Press who are reprinting it. If you enjoy historical adventure fiction, you really need to read H. Bedford-Jones, and YOUNG KIT CARSON is a fine example of his work. Highly recommended.