Friday, September 25, 2020

Forgotten Books: The Quest of the Sacred Slipper - Sax Rohmer (Arthur Sarsfield Ward)

THE QUEST OF THE SACRED SLIPPER is another early novel by Sax Rohmer (Arthur Sarsfield Ward) that  was published originally as a series of eight short stories in the magazine SHORT STORIES (appropriate, eh?) from November 1913 through June 1914. The protagonist/narrator is a British journalist named Cavanaugh who, on a ship traveling back to England from the Middle East, befriends an archeologist and anthropologist who turns out to have stolen a sacred relic, a cloth slipper believed to have once been worn by Mohammed. Strange, sinister things happen, and when they get back to England, the archeologist is murdered and Cavanaugh comes into possession of the key to the place where the slipper is hidden. This makes him the target of the Hashishin, a fanatical cult of killers bent on recovering the slipper. There’s also a mysterious, beautiful girl with violet eyes somehow involved in the dangerous affair.

This novel has an episodic nature due to its origins as a magazine serial, as did the last Sax Rohmer novel I read, BROOD OF THE WITCH QUEEN. I think THE QUEST OF THE SACRED SLIPPER holds together a little better, though, and has enough drive to keep it moving steadily forward even though the seams between the installments show pretty plainly. The book starts out well and then becomes even better part of the way through with the introduction of another character, an American criminal mastermind known as the Stetson Man, who is also trying to get his hands on the slipper. Earl Dexter is a Westerner who wears a Stetson (hence the nickname), and he’s as out of place in England as the Hashishin are, putting poor Cavanaugh in the middle of two colorful enemies who are out to steal the slipper.

Rohmer keeps the action moving and throws in plenty of the usual bizarre murder methods and death traps that show up so often in his books, especially the Fu Manchu novels. I do have a couple of minor complaints. Cavanaugh, like many of Rohmer’s narrators, isn’t a very strong character (although he tries), and Inspector Bristol of Scotland Yard, who investigates the case, never rises to the level of Sir Denis Nayland Smith when it comes to being a formidable adversary for the bad guys. In fact, it’s one of those bad guys, Earl Dexter, who actually comes closest to being the protagonist of this novel, and he’s simply not on-screen enough to function well in that role. Also, the ending is a little abrupt and not as dramatic as it could have been.

All that said, THE QUEST OF THE SACRED SLIPPER is a very entertaining yarn, and Earl Dexter is an interesting enough character that I wish Rohmer had written more about him. I enjoyed this novel quite a bit and I’m sure I’ll be reading more by Rohmer in the relatively near future. By the way, THE QUEST OF THE SACRED SLIPPER is in the public domain and there are free e-book versions in numerous places on the Internet, plus some very reasonably priced and well-done reprint editions.

Monday, September 21, 2020

Legend of the Black Rose - A.W. Hart

LEGEND OF THE BLACK ROSE is the first book in a new series from Wolfpack Publishing under the house-name A.W. Hart. The author behind this novel is Richard Prosch, who spins an excellent yarn reminiscent of Zorro, the classic television series KUNG FU and BEARCATS, and the iconic Fargo novels by Ben Haas writing as John Benteen. In other words, this stuff is right up my alley.

Set in the years between 1910 and the beginning of the First World War, LEGEND OF THE BLACK ROSE opens with a massacre on the ranch belonging to the Rivera family, not far north of the Texas-Mexico border. The only survivor (apparently) is twenty-year-old Catalina Rivera. She seeks refuge with the nuns at the convent in the nearby settlement, not knowing that this order is one that has some secrets. Catalina sets out to discover who is to blame for wiping out her family and avenge their deaths, and in the course of that, she finds herself needing to don a disguise. With some clothes from the wardrobe trunks of a troupe of traveling actors and some Apache war paint, she transforms herself into the mysterious, deadly fighter known as the Black Rose.

See, I told you this was good stuff.

Things get complicated with Mexican revolutionaries, German secret agents, hired killers, bandidos, and a U.S. Marshal who rides a grouchy donkey. Lina’s allies are the nuns, her young cousin, and a beautiful young redhead who also proves to be a dangerous fighter. Prosch doesn’t explain all the mysteries or reveal all the back-stories of the various characters, leaving plenty of material for future books. Books that I will most certainly be reading.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Detective Yarns, February 1939

The Weird Menace boom of the mid-Thirties hadn't gone away completely by 1939, as the cover of this issue of DETECTIVE YARNS proves. Definitely some Weird Menace influence in this cover. I don't know the artist. The stories inside sound more like typical hardboiled detective pulp. The best-known authors are Fredric Brown, Carl Rathjen, and Armand Brigaud, backed up by lesser-known authors and house-names.

Saturday, September 19, 2020

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Wild West Weekly, April 1, 1939

The April 1, 1939 issue of WILD WEST WEEKLY sports a very atmospheric, excellent cover by the great H.W. Scott that features a skull. I like this one a lot. There's a fine bunch of writers in this issue, too: T.W. Ford (with a Silver Kid story), J. Allan Dunn (with a Bud Jones story), Walker A. Tompkins (with a Firebrand story), William F. Bragg (with a Smoky Joe story), and Dean Owen (with a non-series story). Now, I'll admit I haven't heard of Firebrand or Smoky Joe, but I'm sure I'd enjoy reading about them.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Forgotten Books: Saturday Night at San Ramon - Marshall Grover (Leonard F. Meares)

I’ve mentioned Leonard F. Meares many times on this blog, writing about how I went from being a big fan of his Western novels published by Bantam in the Sixties under the name Marshall McCoy, to learning more about him (Australian, wrote more than 800 novels, mostly under the name Marshall Grover, created the Larry and Stretch series and Big Jim Rand series, a couple dozen of each published by Bantam as Larry and Streak and Nevada Jim Gage), and finally becoming a good friend-by-correspondence with him in the Eighties and Nineties.

It had been a while since I read any of his books, though, so when I got a big box of Cleveland Westerns (Len’s first publisher in Australia) from a friend of mine, the first one I grabbed to read was SATURDAY NIGHT AT SAN RAMON, one of Len’s non-series yarns. Not surprisingly, it’s a good one.

The protagonist, young bronco buster Gil Draper, comes to San Ramon on a vengeance quest, seeking the man responsible for a tragedy in Gil’s past. After running afoul of the town’s lawmen, though, Gil realizes he needs to find a job if he’s going to stay in the area searching for his quarry. So he takes a job breaking wild horses on the Triangle Ranch, only to find that not only does the owner of the spread also have a beautiful daughter, but danger also threatens the ranch in the form of a gang of rustlers.

From that description, it’s obvious that SATURDAY NIGHT AT SAN RAMON is a very traditional Western, which is true of most of Len’s books. However, what makes them well worth reading, in my opinion, is the skill and enthusiasm with which he manipulates those plot elements and the vivid characters with which he populates them. SATURDAY NIGHT AT SAN RAMON races along and is great fun to read. I’d tell you not to pass it up if you come across a copy, but that’s pretty unlikely since I doubt if it was ever reprinted since the edition I read (that’s it in the scan), published in Australia as a Tumbleweed Western by Cleveland more than fifty years ago. However, if you’re a fan of traditional Westerns and find anything by Marshall Grover or Marshall McCoy, chances are you’ll like it.

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Amazing Stories, May 1943

I like the cover by Harold McCauley on this issue of AMAZING STORIES. It's hard to go wrong with a floating skull and a sexy redhead, even though she's probably evil. I mean, she's the "Priestess of the Floating Skull", which sounds pretty sinister. The author of this featured story is Edwin Benson, which was a Ziff-Davis house-name, so there's no telling who actually wrote it. Perhaps Leroy Yerxa, who also has a story in this issue and was very prolific, or Robert Moore Williams, also on hand under his own name. Other authors in this issue are Nelson S. Bond (with a Lancelot Biggs story), Ross Rocklynne, and Festus Pragnell, a name that's always sounded like a pseudonym to me but evidently wasn't. None of these authors are particular favorites of mine, but I'm sure I would have enjoyed this issue anyway, had I plucked it off the newsstand in 1943.

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Exciting Western, September 1948

Ah, the old "shooting behind your back while your hands are tied and you're burning the ropes on a candle" trick! The bad guys never see that one coming. This is probably a Sam Cherry cover, but that's not confirmed. What I can confirm is that there are some good authors in this issue, leading off with one of W.C. Tuttle's Tombstone and Speedy yarns, which ran for a long time in EXCITING WESTERN, and followed up by stories by D.B. Newton, Chuck Martin, Nels Leroy Jorgensen, Robert J. Hogan, and a Navajo Raine story under the Jackson Cole house-name.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Forgotten Books: Frisco Flat - Stuart James

See, I thought this book was about an apartment in San Francisco. Nope, not at all. It’s set in California, but that’s about the only thing I got right. Frisco Flat is actually the name of the small town where Frankie Cargo grew up. (And isn’t Frankie Cargo a great name for a protagonist? I wonder if he’s related to Clutch.)

At any rate, Frisco Flat is on the coast, with farms to the east and the Pacific to the west, so it’s both an agricultural town and a fishing town. Frankie grew up there, the son of a fisherman, then went off to the Korean War, and when it was over, he knocked around various places for six years before finally returning to his home when he gets the news that his father has died.

We’ve all read enough of these books to have a pretty good idea what’s going to happen. Frankie quickly runs afoul of the local law and discovers that sinister things are going on in Frisco Flat. For one thing, his father was murdered. The local big shot tries to buy the fishing boat Frankie inherits, and when Frankie refuses to sell, the boat is vandalized. The beautiful brunette who’s moved into his house is a hostess in the local honkytonk and also the mistress of the corrupt sheriff. There’s a beautiful rich blonde who wants to help Frankie, but can she really be trusted? His best friend from childhood and the other fishermen in the area are counting on him to break the hold of the bad guys who have moved in and taken over, so he can’t just cut his losses and leave.

Unlike most of the authors who wrote for Monarch Books, Stuart James seems to have used his real name on this and the eight other novels he wrote in his career: three movie novelizations from the Sixties, three hardboiled sleaze novels (this one and two for Midwood), also in the Sixties, and three thrillers in the Eighties from Bantam. This information is from my friend David Spencer, who has read and collected them all. Why the long gap in the middle of his career and why he didn’t write more, I have no idea. It’s a shame, because based on FRISCO FLAT, he was pretty darned good. The plot in this one is fairly standard, but as I’ve said many times, the appeal of a book with a traditional plot lies in how well the writer handles those elements. James does a good job. This book is a little better written, a little more literary in places, if you will, than many of the hardboiled novels from that era.

On the other hand, while FRISCO FLAT moves along well, it doesn’t have quite the same sort of propulsive storytelling you find in books by Harry Whittington and Gil Brewer, for example, nor does James have his plot as tightly under control as, say, Day Keene usually does. Unless I missed something, he never completely resolves one of the main plot points. But hey, Raymond Chandler didn’t know who killed the chauffeur, either. I enjoyed this one enough that I won’t hesitate to read the other couple of books by Stuart James that I have on hand.

Now, a word about that cover. When I first looked at it, I thought that maybe Tom Miller had painted it, because it reminded me of covers by Miller on some of the other Monarch Books. However, this one isn’t on Lynn Munroe’s checklist of Miller’s covers, and I trust Lynn completely in such matters. Also, FRISCO FLAT was published a couple of years earlier than Miller did most of his work for Monarch. So I don’t know who painted this cover, but it’s a really good one anyway.

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Movies I've Missed (Until Now): The Palm Beach Story (1942)

We’ve caught up with another Preston Sturges movie neither of us had ever seen until now. THE PALM BEACH STORY, from 1942, opens with a credit sequence that’s unusual for the time period, the significance of which doesn’t become apparent until much later in the film. (And there are competing theories about that credit sequence, too, which I’m not going to get into because, frankly, they make my head hurt and I’m not getting paid for this, you know.)

Anyway, stalwart inventor Joel McCrea and beautiful Claudette Colbert get married, and after five years they’re broke and about to get kicked out of their apartment (which is so ritzy you wonder how they ever afforded it in the first place, but you don’t ask questions like that about a movie like this) because McCrea can’t sell any of his inventions, and if you ask me, the one they keep talking about in the movie is so cock-eyed I can understand why nobody would ever invest in such a crazy idea. So Colbert decides that she’s just holding McCrea back and they ought to get a divorce, even though they get a reprieve on the rent from a chance encounter with a rich Texan who calls himself the Weinie King (an absolutely hilarious Robert Dudley). McCrea doesn’t want a divorce, but Colbert runs away, finagles her way onto a train bound for Palm Beach because a taxi driver tells her that’s a good place to get a divorce (this is the kind of movie where a lot of finagling goes on), runs into a bunch of drunken, gun-toting millionaires (I’d say that this makes sense in the context of the movie, but well, not so much, but it does get Willliam Demarest and Chester Conklin on screen for a little while), and then meets an innocent young gazillionaire played by Rudy Vallee, who’s great in the part, and of course Vallee falls for her and she decides to get the money out of him for McCrea’s invention, but then McCrea shows up and Colbert pretends that he’s her brother so he won’t mess up her plans, and Vallee’s hot-to-trot countess sister (played by Mary Astor, who I seem to recall had quite a reputation for being hot-to-trot in real life) falls for McCrea, but she already has a suitor played by the hilarious Sig Arno, and then . . .

I tell you, Preston Sturges is a bad influence. The whole movie barrels along a-mile-a-minute like that. Sturges gets fine performances from his cast and there are a lot of very funny lines. I really enjoyed this one. My favorite screwball comedy is BRINGING UP BABY, and while THE PALM BEACH STORY never reaches that level, it’s still very good.

Oh, and Franklin Pangborn plays the manager of the apartment house in New York City, so there’s that to recommend it, too.

Sunday, September 06, 2020

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Detective Book Magazine, Summer 1938

This issue of a lesser known pulp (lesser known to me, anyway) has a colorful, distinctive cover and a nice line-up of authors inside. Two of the stories are reprints, including the lead novel, A. Merritt's "Creep, Shadow!" The other reprint is one of Theodore A. Tinsley's Amusement Inc. yarns from the pulp BLACK ACES. The non-reprints include stories by Erle Stanley Gardner and Franklin H. Martin, so . . . pretty good stuff. I think Gardner must have loved writing for the pulps, otherwise why would he have continued to do so after he'd already started enjoying a lot of success with Perry Mason? By the way, the big guy in the green hat on this cover reminds me a little of Broderick Crawford.

Saturday, September 05, 2020

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Leading Western, August 1949

I don't know the cover artist on this issue, but it's a pretty good one, and given that LEADING WESTERN was published by Trojan, no surprise that there's a pretty girl on it. Frank C. Robertson is easily the biggest name among the authors. The others are a mixture of lesser known real authors (Cliff Walters, Spencer Frost, Art Kercheval), house-names (Paul Hanna, Stan Warner), and one interesting pseudonym: Mark Mallory, who was actually science fiction writer Mack Reynolds.

Friday, September 04, 2020

Forgotten Books: Master of the Lash - Ford Bowne (Forrest R. Brown)

I was vaguely familiar with the name of Western writer Ford Bowne, probably because late in his career, he published at least one novel with Manor Books, the publisher of my first novel. I’d never read anything by him, but when I came across a 1974 novel entitled MASTER OF THE LASH, I was intrigued enough to buy it and read it. The results were .  . . mixed.

First of all, MASTER OF THE LASH sounds more like the title of a plantation novel, but this is definitely a Western. The protagonists are a young U.S. marshal with the unlikely name of Sudbury Pinkham and his old geezer sidekick Joe Enright. They aren’t really on law business, though. They’re answering a summons for help from an old flame of Pinkham’s, a Chinese girl who was bought from her impoverished parents by evil cattle baron Fritz Hein, a German immigrant with a fondness for whips (hence the title of the book). Hein has in turn sold the girl to another, slightly less evil cattle baron, but now she’s disappeared after smuggling out a note to Pinkham, who worked on Hein’s ranch as a young man. Then there’s the shadowy hombre who calls himself Will of the Willows, whose motives for getting involved are a mystery. Follow all that? The plot actually gets a lot more complicated, full of tragedy and melodrama, an old murder, a will written in German, a deadly booby trap, and a bloody, high country showdown between two men wielding whips.

This is a seriously weird book. It was published by Lenox Hill Press, a small publisher whose books were marketed almost exclusively to libraries. It was similar to Arcadia Press and Avalon Books, the best-known of such small library publishers. As such, the language is remarkably clean; I don’t think there’s a single damn or hell in the book. But there’s plenty of gory violence, as well as a scene where Hein strips Lotus, the Chinese girl, naked and puts her over his knee to spank her. It’s implied that he whipped her naked in the past, too. Clearly, the publisher didn’t care about any of that.

On the plus side, there are a number of lurid, over-the-top scenes, which are always okay with me. The plot has a lot of layers to be peeled away, and the characters, while mostly unsympathetic, are interesting. Hein in a thoroughly despicable villain, but he holds some surprises, too. MASTER OF THE LASH has the makings of a pretty good book.

What keeps it from following through on that is that Ford Bowne just wasn’t a very good writer. Some scenes are written in such a clumsy manner that I had to read them more than once just to figure out what was going in. The dialogue is oddly formal and stilted much of the time. There are some excellent moments here and there—the final showdown with whips is great, for example—but they’re too few and far between.

Ford Bowne was actually a writer named Forrest R. Brown, who published a dozen or so stories in the Western pulps under his own name and the Bowne pseudonym. He wrote an equal number of Western novels for Lenox Hill Press, Arcadia Press, and Manor Books, along with a few volumes of historical non-fiction. MASTER OF THE LASH is from fairly late in his career. Maybe his earlier books are better. I found enough oddball stuff to like in this one that I might try another book by him at some point, but I won’t be in any hurry to do so. If you’re a casual Western reader, there are a lot better books out there to read than MASTER OF THE LASH, but it's not totally without interest. Just consider yourself warned.

(That's a picture I found on-line. My copy doesn't have a dust jacket.)

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Saucy Detective, May 1937

What a bizarre cover on this issue of a short-lived pulp that seems to have had some connection with the Spicy line. Robert Leslie Bellem has a story in here, under the name Reeves L. Black. The only other author names I recognize are Lawrence Sternig, who became much better known as a literary agent, and Lars Anderson, really Thelma Ellis, author of the original Domino Lady stories. Others on hand are John Beck, Roger Orange, Gig Lockhart, Donald Hogarth, Cliff Everard, Pierre Monte, Peg Dougherty, and Mildred Walsh, some or all of whom may be pseudonyms or house-names. It's not every day you see a gorilla--or Bigfoot, I dunno--packing heat.

Saturday, August 29, 2020

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: 10 Story Western Magazine, March 1942

The cover on this issue of 10 STORY WESTERN MAGAZINE is more proof, as if we needed it, that the barber shop was one of the most dangerous places in the Old West. I don't know who painted this one, but I like it quite a bit. There's the usual fine bunch of writers inside the magazine, too: Tom W. Blackburn, Frank C. Robertson, Tom Roan, Leslie Ernenwein, Art Lawson, Glenn Wichman, Dabney Otis Collins, and James C. Lynch. No Olmsted or Coburn, surprisingly. But solid pulpsters, for sure.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Forgotten Books: 14 Seconds to Hell - Nick Carter (Jon Messmann)

I’ve mentioned before that when I was a kid, I was a huge fan of the secret agent boom in books, movies, and TV during the Sixties. As a freshman in high schoool, I came across a book called HANOI, part of a series of spy adventures starring a secret agent named Nick Carter, a name that also functioned as the series by-line. I was familiar with the original, dime novel version of Nick Carter because I’d read an anthology of those old detective stories a year or so earlier, and I had already learned enough about publishing to realize that this new Nick Carter was a house-name, although I had no idea who wrote the books, of course.

All that mattered to me was that HANOI was a great yarn, full of sex and violence and all the other stuff that appealed to my 14-year-old brain. (My 67-year-old brain isn’t that much different, but that’s neither here nor there.) I bought and read every Nick Carter novel I came across all the way through high school and on into college, getting many of them new off the paperback spinner rack at Lester’s Pharmacy.

14 SECONDS TO HELL, which was published in 1968, is one that I missed somehow, and I’d never read it until recently. It’s a fairly early entry in the series, #37, although the books themselves weren’t numbered at that point. (There are 261 Nick Carter novels in this modern incarnation.) During this part of the series’ run, the books are in third person and Nick is usually referred to as Nick, something that makes him a pretty likable and approachable character. He works for a super-secret government agency called AXE, where he carries the Killmaster designation. (Any resemblance to James Bond’s 00 status is entirely not coincidental.) His boss is David Hawk. He carries a Luger that he calls Wilhelmina, a dagger called Hugo, and a tiny gas bomb he’s dubbed Pierre. (There’s a reason the weapons have names, which I’ll get to later.)

In this novel, a tenuous world peace is threatened by the insane scheme of a Red Chinese scientist, Dr. Hu Tsan, who has a secret base in China from which he intends to launch seven nuclear missiles at the free world. Nick’s job is to destroy that base and the missiles, and since Russia doesn’t want a nuclear war breaking out, they assign one of their top agents to team up with him. That agent, of course, is a beautiful blonde, and she and Nick team up in more ways than one, if you know what I mean, and I think you do. The Russian girl has a secret which the cover copy totally gives away, but it’s pretty obvious so that spoiler doesn’t actually ruin much.

The first half of this book is a little slow, since it’s mostly about Nick trying to reach the evil scientist’s base and overcoming a few relatively minor obstacles along the way. The pace picks up considerably at that point, with a lot going on leading up to a slam-bang climax. The problem is, when that climax is over, there are still thirty pages left in the book, so even though there’s a little more action, it feels tacked-on to pad out the wordage.

Overall, though, 14 SECONDS TO HELL is a pretty entertaining book, and it’s not just because of its nostalgia value, either. The author behind the Nick Carter house-name is veteran paperbacker Jon Messmann, and this is the first of fifteen novels he wrote for the series in a two-year span, making him the most prolific Nick Carter author during that particular stretch. Messmann went on to create the Trailsman Adult Western series and write more than a hundred of those novels, many of which I’ve read. His style is pretty easy to recognize in this book. He tends to write long paragraphs and fairly long chapters, but despite that, his stories move along very well. I think the pacing problems in 14 SECONDS TO HELL are probably the result of its being his first entry in this series. I remember some of his later Carters, such as THE LIVING DEATH, THE AMAZON, THE SEA TRAP, and OPERATION SNAKE being excellent. Really, though, I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read by him, since he has a good touch with characters and plot and writes good action scenes.

I mentioned the weapons Nick carries and the fact that they have names, and to get back to that . . . I may have written about this in other posts, and some of you know the background already, but for those who don’t, this Nick Carter series was packaged, starting out, by Lyle Kenyon Engel. In interviews, Engel claimed to have created it, but having worked for Book Creations Inc., the book packaging company he founded later on, I suspect his contribution consisted of saying, “Hey, that James Bond stuff is selling well. We should do a secret agent series.” The author hired to write the books was Michael Avallone, and my hunch is that all the details about the character came from him. Avallone was a long-time fan of the pulps and surely remembered the pulp version of Nick Carter, and possibly the dime novel detective before that. He was also a big fan of the pulp series The Avenger, in which the hero carried a pistol and a throwing knife he called Ike and Mike. (Don’t ask me which was which, I don’t remember and I’m not going to look it up.) I’m certain that’s where Hugo, Wilhelmina, and Pierre came from. AXE and Nick’s boss Hawk both sound exactly like things Avallone would have come up with. It’s no secret that Mike and I were friends and corresponded for a number of years, and we probably talked about all this in our letters, but again, that’s too long ago and I don’t recall all the details. But I’m confident that’s what happened and I believe the whole basis of the series came from Avallone, even though he wound up writing only two heavily edited novels and part of another one before he and Engel had a falling out.

Also, ‘way back at the beginning of this post, I mentioned the novel HANOI, the first Nick Carter I read. I had no idea who the author was then, but now I know it was written by Valerie Moolman, the series’ first editor who also wrote or co-wrote a dozen books in the series, including the first eight, so along with Avallone, she really set the tone for everything that came later. Those Nick Carters are her only published fiction, as far as I know, although wrote some non-fiction books and worked as an editor for many years. I owe her and Mike Avallone a debt of gratitude for their work on a series that was one of my favorites and entertained me for a long time . . . and as this post proves, still entertains me today.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Infestation - William Meikle

When you tell me that a book is about commandos fighting monsters, you’re really appealing to the inner 12-year-old in me. And that’s what INFESTATION is all about. This is the first book in the S-Squad series by Scottish horror author William Meikle, and I really enjoyed it. The story follows a squad of British Special Forces soldiers sent to a remote Inuit village in Canada, north of the Arctic Circle, to investigate the suspicious presence of what is believed to be a Russian spy ship. When they reach the village, though, they find that something terrible has happened and the inhabitants have been wiped out in bloody fashion. The suspected spy ship, anchored a short distance off-shore, also appears to be deserted . . . but it’s not.

Then things get worse.

The plot of this novel may be familiar, but Meikle’s execution of it is pretty much flawless. He does an excellent job of keeping the story moving along at a fast pace and handles the action scenes very well. The characters are interesting, and Meikle makes the reader care if they survive or not. (Spoiler: some don’t.) He really had me flipping the digital pages. I had a great time reading INFESTATION, even though I’m generally not much of a horror fan, and I’m glad that there are quite a few more in the series. There’s a good chance I’ll be reading another one soon.

Sunday, August 23, 2020

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Black Book Detective Magazine, May 1936

Now here's a pulp that actually does have a Norman Saunders cover, although I wouldn't say it's one of his best. Eye-catching, though. The only authors in this issue of BLACK BOOK DETECTIVE MAGAZINE who are familiar to me are Richard Sale and James P. Olsen. Some of the other names--George H. Michener, David Redstone, Ernest M. Poate, John Kobler, and Emmett B. Hargett--are just names. They all seem to have been fairly prolific pulpsters, though, so they must have had some talent.

Saturday, August 22, 2020

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Short Stories, December 1942

There's so much happening on this cover, I thought at first it might be by Norman Saunders. But it's not listed on his website and I don't think the style is quite right to be one of his. However, lots of action there and I still like it. Inside is a pretty good bunch of authors, including Tom W. Blackburn, James P. Olsen, Gunnison Steele, Ralph Berard, Archie Joscelyn, Kenneth Fowler, and Rod Patterson. 

Friday, August 21, 2020

Forgotten Books: The Dawn Riders - Dan Roberts (W.E.D. Ross)

When I was a kid, I watched DARK SHADOWS during the summers when school was out. It aired too early for me to get home and watch it during the school year, but I was still a fan. So it’s not surprising that when paperback original tie-in novels loosely based on the series began to be published, I read quite a few of them, too. The author was some lady named Marilyn Ross. I’d never heard of her, didn’t know anything about her.

Around the same time, I was a faithful reader of the Man From U.N.C.L.E. digest magazine published by Leo Margulies. Several stories featuring a detective named Mei Wong appeared in that magazine. (There were a bunch more Mei Wong stories in MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE, I discovered many years later, but in those days MSMM got little or no distribution in my area.) The author of the Mei Wong stories was some guy named Dan Ross. I’d never heard of him, didn’t know anything about him.

Some of you already know where this is going. “Marilyn Ross” and “Dan Ross” were the same person, a Canadian author named W.E.D. Ross who wrote several hundred gothics and romance novels under the names Marilyn Ross, Clarissa Ross, and other pseudonyms. What I didn’t know until recently was that he also wrote a dozen or so Westerns for the American library publishers market under the name Dan Roberts. Out of curiosity, and because I read those DARK SHADOWS books and Mei Wong stories all those decades ago, I picked up a few of Ross’s Westerns to give them a try. I recently finished the first one I’ve read, THE DAWN RIDERS, published by Arcadia House in 1968 and reprinted in a large print trade paperback by Curley years later (the edition I read).

The protagonist, young lawyer Chet Lane, returns to the town where, as a boy, his father was lynched for a crime he didn’t commit. Chet’s looking for revenge on the local cattle baron he blames for his father’s death. The brutal deputy sheriff from years earlier is now the sheriff and hates Chet. The sleazy lawyer who works for the cattle baron wants him run out of town. Chet’s only friends are the town drunk, a beautiful saloon singer with a heart of gold, and the cattle baron’s beautiful daughter. Oh, and there’s a gang of raiders known as the Dawn Riders who are trying to terrorize all the smaller ranchers into leaving so the cattle baron can gobble up their spreads, too.

In other words, there’s nothing in this book you haven’t read or seen hundreds of times already, but Ross does a decent job of handling the traditional material and adds a couple of nice flourishes, including the talisman the Dawn Riders carry to identify themselves, a tiny, carved wooden skull. There’s a late twist in the plot that I saw coming, but not right away. All in all, THE DAWN RIDERS is about as generic a Western novel as you’re going to find but written well enough that it kept me reading. I’ll probably read the others by Ross that I picked up, too, but I doubt if I’ll search out any more. I get the feeling that despite doing a competent job, Westerns just weren’t Ross’s strong suit. I seem to recall that his steamy historical romances under the name Clarissa Ross had good covers and sounded intriguing. Maybe I’ll try to find one of them.

A Middle of the Night Music and Pages Post: What Now My Love - Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass

I've posted this song before, but here it is again because I heard it on the radio and it was one of my favorite songs when I was in high school. I was that weird kid who liked easy listening music as much as rock. Rock was what I listened to in the car and when I was with my friends, but I had a good FM radio in my bedroom that I got for Christmas one year, so I usually had an easy listening station playing (FM in those days was mostly easy listening stations) while I sat in my recliner and read paperbacks and comic books.

Anyway, when I heard it on the radio, I had one of those odd solipsistic moments when I wondered if everything that's happened in the past 53 years is just an extended fantasy sequence, and it's actually still 1967 and I'm still sitting in my room listening to Herb Alpert and thinking about what might be coming in the future. I don't really believe that, mind you . . . but I can see the appeal of it.

I was on a nice little run with the writing for a few days, averaging around 15 pages a day, but then real life kept me busy all day and I haven't gotten anything written the past two days. That will probably continue for another day or two. I always get antsy when I can't write, but sometimes that's the way things work out.

Assuming any of this is actually real.

Thursday, August 20, 2020

Classic Hardboiled Pulp: Dead Evidence: The Complete BLACK MASK Cases of Harrigan - Ed Lybeck

Ed Lybeck’s name was vaguely familiar to me, and when I read Will Murray’s excellent introduction to this collection of Lybeck’s stories published in BLACK MASK, I realized why: Joseph T. Shaw included one of Lybeck’s stories in the iconic anthology THE HARD-BOILED OMNIBUS, which I read about fifty years ago. I have no memory of Lybeck’s story in that book, however, and after rereading it in this one, I still have no memory of it from back then. Which proves nothing except that I didn’t always recognize greatness when I came across it, because these yarns are absolutely fantastic.

Lybeck had only four stories published in BLACK MASK, all of them novella or novelette length, and they all feature the same protagonist, tough guy reporter Francis St. Xavier Harrigan, who covers the crime beat for the New York Leader and who, Lybeck implies, was once a crook and a gunman himself. Lybeck doesn’t seem sure whether abandoning gangdom for journalism is a step up or down for Harrigan.

In the first story, “Leaded Ink” (BLACK MASK, December 1931), Harrigan goes after the mobsters who murdered a young reporter who was his protégé. The second story, “Kick-Back” (January 1932) finds him clashing with a corrupt politician running on a reform ticket and the gangster backing the politician. This is the story that appeared in THE HARD-BOILED OMNIBUS. “Dead Evidence” (March 1932) is a direct sequel to “Kick-Back”, with Harrigan framed for a killing and fighting to clear his name. The final Harrigan story, “Silent Heat”, didn’t appear until February 1934. In this one, Harrigan takes on a white slavery ring.

These are all action yarns and don’t have much actual detection in them, but as fast-moving tales of crime-busting, they’re some of the best I’ve ever read. Lybeck’s style is a joy to read, a mixture of tough violence, snappy patter, and unexpectedly breezy humor. I laughed out loud a number of times reading these stories. Harrigan’s a great character, able to absorb a tremendous amount of punishment and still keep slugging away at his enemies. I probably never would have been able to read these stories if Steeger Books hadn’t reprinted them in the new Black Mask line, so I really appreciate the opportunity. Based on only four stories, you can’t put Lybeck in the same rank as Hammett, Chandler, Nebel, and the other giants from BLACK MASK, but he was mighty good anyway and I had a great time reading this collection. If you love hardboiled pulp like I do, it gets my highest recommendation.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Classic Westerns: Taps at Little Big Horn - John Benteen (Ben Haas)

Although Ben Haas wrote a lot of books under a lot of different names (including some well-regarded mainstream novels under his real name), he’s probably best remembered these days as the author of two Western series from the Seventies, Fargo and Sundance, both of which he wrote under the pseudonym John Benteen. I’ve been a fan of his work for many years and have read most of the Fargo novels, but for some reason I read only a few books in the Sundance series. I intend to remedy that, starting with the fifth entry, TAPS AT LITTLE BIG HORN. (I read the first four years ago, plus another book or two from later in the series.)

Jim Sundance is the son of a Cheyenne mother and a British remittance man father. He’s a professional fighting man and is equally at home in either world, Indian or white . . . although if he had to choose, he’d probably stick with the Cheyenne. He’s a staunch defender of the Indians and uses the money he makes as a mercenary to fund efforts to combat the schemes of the Indian Ring, a notorious cartel of ruthless businessmen and corrupt politicians. This much is based on history, and actual events crop up in the novels from time to time.

TAPS AT LITTLE BIG HORN, as you’d expect, is a prime example of that. In an earlier book, Sundance met and fell in love with Barbara Colfax, the beautiful daughter of the president of the Northern Pacific Railroad. Barbara now lives with the Cheyenne and has adopted the name Two Roads Woman. But her father still wants her to come home, and he persuades Sundance to bring her to a meeting with him. The bait he dangles is a promise to use his influence to keep the army from trying to move the Cheyenne and the Sioux out of their hunting grounds in Montana.

Well, I think any reader of Westerns and men’s adventure fiction will know that things don’t work out as Sundance hoped. He winds up putting the white part of his heritage aside and throwing in with the Cheyenne as Colonel George Armstrong Custer leads the Seventh Cavalry on its fateful mission to force them out of their hunting grounds.

One of the problems with a book like this that’s so tied in with actual history is that the reader already knows a lot of what’s going to happen. The challenge to the novelist is to blend the fictional characters and events in with the real ones skillfully enough to create an interesting story that holds the attention. Ben Haas is more than up to this challenge. Sundance is a strong, likable protagonist, and even though we know things aren’t really going to work out for him in this book, we root for him anyway. And as always, Haas provides plenty of great, gritty action scenes.

Personally, I wouldn’t put TAPS AT LITTLE BIG HORN in the top rank of Ben Haas’s books, because while it’s as well-written as always and compelling enough that it kept me up later than usual reading, I’m just not as fond of books set during the Indian Wars, especially ones that focus on actual battles. It’s a good solid novel and I’m glad I read it, but I’m looking forward to some of Sundance’s more fictional adventures. Which I plan to be reading soon.

That's my copy in the scan above, by the way, complete with tape on the cover and price sticker from the Used Book Warehouse in Rockport, Texas.

Monday, August 17, 2020

Mystery at Movie Ranch (Hollywood Cowboy Detectives #1) - Darryle Purcell

A series of fast-paced, medium-boiled mysteries set in the world of B-Western moviemaking in Hollywood in the 1930s, featuring real-life cowboy stars as characters? Now you're talkin' my lingo, hombres!

The narrator of this novel is Sean "Curly" Woods, former crime reporter turned studio publicity flack and trouble-shooter. MYSTERY AT MOVIE RANCH opens with Curly (a very likable protagonist, by the way) trying to get a drunk Ken Maynard to the set of the serial MYSTERY MOUNTAIN, a production that's been plagued by various difficulties, including possible sabotage. Before you know it, they're being ambushed, running around mine tunnels with secret passages, battling would-be killers in a mysterious futuristic aircraft, butting heads with mad scientists and Nazi Fifth Columnists and gangsters (including some infamous real-life mob figures), and generally entertaining the reader (this one, anyway) with a great yarn that plays like a movie serial, complete with a hooded mastermind orchestrating all the havoc.

Darryle Purcell, who's also a cartoonist and provides the cover and some interior illustrations, knows his stuff when it comes to the B-Western era. I really enjoyed all the little details and the appearances of real-life characters such as Ken and Kermit Maynard and Hoot Gibson. There are more than a dozen books in this series so far, and I may well read all of them if they're as much fun as MYSTERY AT MOVIE RANCH. I mean . . . Hollywood Cowboy Detectives? You can't get much more in my wheelhouse than that.

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: G-Men, April 1938

I like this cover because it has a good-looking redhead and a Tommy-gun on it. Which may make me a bit shallow, but as usual, I don't care. I've enjoyed every Dan Fowler novel I've read, although some are certainly better than others. "The Devil's Playground", the novel in this issue, has the C.K.M. Scanlon house-name on it, and there's no attribution for it in the Fictionmags Index, so I suppose we don't know who really wrote this one. Edward Churchill, who has a short story in this issue under his own name, was writing some of the Fowlers during this time period, so he might be the author behind the house-name. Or not. Either way, I'm sure I'd like it.

Saturday, August 15, 2020


I seem to be on a decent little run on this book. Thursday we had some other stuff going on, so I only made it to the computer for a couple of hours, but I got 7 pages done in that time. Yesterday I was able to stick with it most of the day and wrote 21 pages, my best day in several weeks. Today was a bit of a slowdown, only 10 pages. But 12,000 words in, I like the way the book is shaping up so far.

Saturday Afternoon Western Pulp: Ace-High Western Stories, July 1949

I'm going to be writing a book set in Death Valley later this year, but I won't be able to call it "Death Valley Gun-Devils". I would if I could! I'm sure this is a good story, though, since it's by William Heuman. Other authors in this issue of ACE-HIGH WESTERN STORIES are Tom Roan, Richard Brister, Larry Harris, and Harold F. Cruickshank. I don't know who painted the cover. Something about the guy's head looks just a bit off to me, as if it doesn't quite sit right on his body, but seeing as I have no artistic talent whatsoever, I feel a little bad about criticizing it. Overall I like it and think it's another exciting Popular Publications cover.

Friday, August 14, 2020

Forgotten Books: Murder Bait - Duane Yarnell

Barney Madigan returns home to the small town in the Ozarks where he was raised, planning to put in a fishing camp on some land he’s inherited next to a newly built lake. He left several years earlier to get away from an old flame who rejected his marriage proposal. Now that he’s back, who does he run into right away? You guessed it, that old flame—and she’s swimming naked in the new lake.

Before Barney barely has time to think about that, he realizes a guy in a speedboat is about to deliberately run over the girl in the water. Barney, being a good guy, naturally interferes in this murder attempt, and wouldn’t you know it, before he can even start to figure out what’s going on, his old flame has killed the guy who was trying to kill her, and she’s begging Barney to help her hide the body and solve the murder of her father. You know as well as I do how Barney responds to that.

Oh, and did I mention that the newly elected sheriff of the county is an old enemy of Barney’s, and the dead guy was engaged to a girl that Barney always regarded as his best pal, back in the days when he was chasing the unattainable lovely—who is now very attainable because she needs Barney’s help staying out of jail?

Yep, that’s the kind of book MURDER BAIT is. Everything happens in about 36 hours, and there’s a lot to cram into that time. Barney gets beat up, doped, shot at, nearly drowned, and pursued non-stop by not only the law but also the minions of the criminal mastermind operating behind the scenes of this sleepy little Ozark town. It’s a little like RED HARVEST, only set in Mayberry. There’s almost too much action at times, as the plot threatens to become ridiculously complex, but the author, Duane Yarnell, always pulls back just enough to let the reader catch his breath before plunging back into the breakneck craziness.

Duane Yarnell wrote dozens of stories for the sports pulps, as well as a handful of detective and Western yarns and a few juvenile sports novels, but in the mid-Fifties he also wrote two hardboiled crime novels for Fawcett Crest, MANTRAP and MURDER BAIT. I read and enjoyed MANTRAP a while back, but MURDER BAIT is a big step forward. This book is better paced and better plotted and maintains a sense of breathless tension from start to finish, along with providing plenty of gritty action scenes. There are some nice twists along the way. Several times, I thought I had everything figured out, only to have Yarnell spring another unexpected but logical surprise. I didn’t pin down the main villain until nearly the end of the book, although I suspected the right person more than once along the way.

Based on the improvement between MANTRAP and MURDER BAIT and how much I enjoyed both books, it’s a real shame Yarnell didn’t continue writing crime novels. But other than a few short stories in various mystery digests, MURDER BAIT is the end of his writing career, even though he lived another thirty years. I don’t know anything about him or why he stopped writing (if he stopped writing; maybe he just couldn’t sell anymore), but I would have liked to see another couple of dozen novels by him, published by Crest or Gold Medal or Ace or Dell. But we get what we get, and MURDER BAIT is a fine hardboiled novel. I give it a high recommendation.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Classic Westerns: The Death Riders - Jackson Cole (A. Leslie Scott)

The older I get, the more I seem to crave “comfort reading”, as I’ve seen it referred to. I’ll still seek out new authors, but I return more and more often to those whose work I know I’ll enjoy. For example, A. Leslie Scott, pulpster, paperbacker, and creator of Texas Rangers Jim Hatfield and Walt Slade, two characters whose adventures I’ve been enjoying for more than 50 years now.

I recently read THE DEATH RIDERS, a 1952 paperback by Scott published by Pyramid Books under the house-name Jackson Cole. After creating Jim Hatfield for the first issue of the pulp TEXAS RANGERS back in 1936, Scott was one of the main writers on the series until 1950, but at that point, he and Tom Curry, the other principal Hatfield writer, were either fired from the magazine or quit. (I’ve always suspected the former, although I don’t know if that’s true or, if it is, why.) Scott moved right over to Pyramid and continued writing novels about Hatfield, only they were paperback originals now instead of appearing in a pulp magazine. I suppose he figured he had the right to do that since he created the character. (Some of Scott’s Hatfield paperbacks are rewrites/expansions of novels he wrote for TEXAS RANGERS, and I used to have a list of which ones and where they came from, but that was lost in the fire of ’08.) After a few years, Ned Pines, who was still publishing Hatfield novels by other authors in TEXAS RANGERS, under the same Jackson Cole house-name, got tired of this and demanded that Scott stop writing paperbacks about Hatfield. Scott complied, switching his efforts over to a long-running series featuring Texas Ranger Walt Slade (whose pulp adventures he chronicled for years in THRILLING WESTERN). Even though it was basically the same situation as with Hatfield, right down to Scott occasionally cannibalizing a pulp story, Pines evidently didn’t object to this and Scott continued the Slade series until 1971. (My apologies to those of you who have read previous posts in which I pontificated about this situation.)

To get back to THE DEATH RIDERS, it’s a very typical Jim Hatfield novel as written by Scott. Hatfield, also known as the Lone Wolf, rides into an area on an assignment from his boss, Cap’n “Roarin’ Bill” McDonald of the Texas Rangers, intent on rounding up a gang of robbers, rustlers, and killers who have been raising hell in the region. This time around, the gang is known as the Death Riders, because they wear black masks with luminous white paint on them to make their faces look like skulls. One of the local ranches is run by a pretty girl whose father and uncle have both been killed by the Death Riders, and Hatfield befriends her (without any romantic interest) and the Gabby Hayes-like old-timer who works for her. Pretty quickly, Hatfield figures out what’s really going on and who the criminal mastermind behind everything is, but while he’s searching for proof of his theory, he battles the gang’s various schemes, sometimes foiling them but sometimes failing to do so. Jim Hatfield is pretty much superhuman, but not all the time.

Eventually, of course, Hatfield is captured by the bad guys, escapes, locates their hideout, and in a big showdown uncovers the identity of the gang’s leader. It won’t come as a big shock to most readers. The plots in these books aren’t exactly complex. But at the same time, Scott usually brings in some nice twist or interesting angle, and that’s true in THE DEATH RIDERS. I didn’t have everything figured out, and Hatfield was ahead of me on a couple of points.

Nobody reads Leslie Scott’s books for the plot, anyway. I certainly don’t. I read them for the vivid (some would say flowery) descriptions of the settings, the breakneck action, and the touches of light humor that run through the books. In a way, Scott’s work reminds me a little of W.C. Tuttle’s. The humor’s not as broad, the plotting not as deft, and Jim Hatfield and Walt Slade aren’t the same sort of compelling character that Hashknife Hartley is. But a lot of the appeal of the two writers is the same, resulting in an entertaining mix of Western action, mystery, and humor. Scott’s not an author I read frequently anymore, but when I do, I always have a great time with his books. THE DEATH RIDERS is no exception.

Wednesday, August 12, 2020


A lot of stuff going on yesterday, but I was able to get 8 pages written. Then today, my editor and I pretty much settled on what I was going to be writing next year, which required me to add some stuff to my schedule board and do some figuring, but I also wrote 15 pages and was pretty happy with that.

Commando: Raging Metal - Brent Towns

August 1942.
Raging metal burned hot under the scorching desert sun. But a grudge between two Aussie tank commanders boiled even hotter. Sergeant Bob Andrews hated Sergeant Simon Meredith, but when Bob's tank was knocked for six and he saw Meredith leave him high and dry -- his rage exploded fivefold. The coward had abandoned Bob to die, or worse -- be captured by the Jerries! And Bob wasn't a forgiving man!

(This is a great example of how Brent Towns mixes action, great characters, and history in these COMMANDO yarns. He clearly did a lot of research for this one but never slows the story down for infodumps. I've written some about the tank war in North Africa, and I really enjoyed this story.)

Monday, August 10, 2020

Next Book

Since I finished a book Saturday, I spent yesterday doing some editorial work on various projects, plus took a little time off in the afternoon to watch hockey on TV (the only sport I still follow). Today, though, I started novel #387 and wrote 10 pages, which was also the first chapter. I always enjoy the first day on a new book.

Also dealt with another project that may turn out to be pretty good in the future, but I'll have to remain vague about that one for now.

And washed three loads of laundry.

The Dust of Stars - Robert E. Vardeman

Robert E. Vardeman has been writing top-notch science fiction for about forty years now, and that’s almost how long I’ve known him. His latest novel, THE DUST OF STARS, is the first book in a new series called ENGINEERING INFINITY, and it’s everything I love about science fiction.

First, it has big ideas. And I mean E.E. “Doc” Smith big: An ancient, long-disappeared alien race scattered planet-sized machines throughout the galaxy. These machines, called World Engines during the era in which the story takes place, are capable of pulling cosmic dust out of the void and using it to build entire solar systems, stars and all. This process takes billions of years, but because of the time-dilation effects of the faster-than-light drive humankind has developed to take them to the stars, somebody can start one of these World Engines going—provided he has the proper Key to make it work—and come back a week later, relative time, to find the new solar system up and ready to go. Our hero, Remagen Roullei, owns one of these World Engines and is one of the richest men in the galaxy because of it, and to satisfy his adventurous nature, he hires it out to people even richer than himself to make new solar systems for them. In order to do that, however, he first has to locate a new Key for each job, and they’re hidden in different places. Oh, and there are space pirates, too, including a beautiful former lover who now carries a grudge against Remy.

With this set-up, we get epic space battles (including using an artifically generated comet as a weapon—see what I mean about Doc Smith!), Indiana Jones-style exploits in underground temples on strange worlds, some hard-SF speculation, great characters including a sexy alien (it’s part of her biology that she gives off overwhelming pheromones, but she’s also the best at programming quantum computers),  a robot sidekick who may or may not be trustworthy, since his primary loyalty is to the mysterious leader of the robo-sapiens called the Gearmeister, other colorful aliens, and some despicable villains. Remagen Roullei is a fine protagonist, too, tough, smart, and even a bit swashbuckling on occasion, one in a long line of scientific genius mavericks in the tradition of Nikola Tesla, Elon Musk, and Richard Seaton.

It’s easy to see that Vardeman had great fun writing this, because I sure had a great time reading it. He’s left things open for plenty of sequels, and I’m looking forward to reading them. If you don’t care for the glum, dystopian, navel-gazing stuff that passes for science fiction these days, you can still find the real thing among the independent and small presses. This is the second excellent new SF novel I’ve read in recent weeks, the other being David Hardy’s THREE BLACK DEEDS. As for THE DUST OF STARS, I give it a very high recommendation. It’s one of the best books I’ve read this year.

Sunday, August 09, 2020

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Top Detective Annual, 1952

That line "The Year's Best Mystery Story Anthology" makes it sound like the stories in this pulp are the best (in the editor's judgment) published in the past year, right? Well, you'd be wrong if you thought that. This is actually just a regular reprint pulp, with stories that go back to 1934 in their original appearances. Most are from various Thrilling Group pulps published during the Forties. But I'm willing to overlook that bit of hyperbole when you get a good Sam Cherry cover, along with writers such as Fredric Brown, William Campbell Gault, Murray Leinster, Stewart Sterling, Wyatt Blassingame, G.T. Fleming-Roberts, Dwight V. Babcock, Ray Cummings, and Joe Archibald. The stories may be reprints, but if you haven't read them before, they're new. And those are some good authors. 

Saturday, August 08, 2020

Pages, and Another Book Done

10 pages today wrapped up the current manuscript. It's just under 95,000 words. I started it on June 21, so that means it took exactly seven weeks to write. I'd like to get them done a little faster than that, but still, 95K is a pretty hefty book. It goes off to Livia now for editing, so I'll still have some work to do on it before it's truly finished.

This is my 386th novel. Steadily closing in on #400.

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Lariat Story Magazine, June 1934

I think this is a very dramatic and effective cover by Rudolph Belarski on this issue of LARIAT STORY MAGAZINE. "Real Cowboy Stories by Real Cowboys", the cover copy says. I'm not sure that's 100% true of all the authors in this issue. Walt Coburn and Eugene Cunningham certainly did some cowboying when they were young. I think Stephen Payne may have, too. I don't have any idea about James P. Olsen, Bruce Douglas, Hubert Roussel, or Ralph Condon. And John Starr was a house-name, so I'm pretty sure he never forked a bronc. Whoever really wrote the story attributed to him in this issue may have, though. Real cowboys or not, I think this looks like a fine issue.

Friday, August 07, 2020


I've been lax about reporting my progress the past four days. In that time, I did 6, 12, 11, and 13 pages. I'd hoped to wrap up the current book today but didn't make it. It's grown a bit longer than I intended for it to be. But I should finish it tomorrow.

Forgotten Books: X-O Manowar: Retribution - Bob Layton, Steve Englehart, Jim Shooter

A while back, having decided to dip my toe in the Valiant Comics universe from the Nineties, I picked up a couple of collections from some of their most popular titles. A few weeks ago I posted about BLOODSHOT: BLOOD OF THE MACHINE, which I liked overall but only at a lukewarm level. The other book I picked up was X-O MANOWAR: RETRIBUTION, which reprints the first four issues of the title character’s series from 1993. I found it considerably more entertaining and appealing.

The concept is that alien invaders have been lurking on Earth for several thousand years, and at a distant point in the past they kidnapped a Visigoth warrior named Aric to study him. Aric has been kept alive all this time on the aliens’ orbiting ship, but he finally escapes and winds up in possession of one of the aliens’ most dangerous weapons, a set of Manowar-class armor that gives its wearer great power.

So the aliens take off after Aric to try to recover the armor, which he’s trying to learn how to use it on the fly, so to speak. He also lands on 1993 Earth but he’s still a Visigoth warrior, so at the same time he has to learn how to navigate the strangeness of modern life, all while foiling various alien plots and interacting with other characters from the Valiant Comics universe. As it turns out, Aric is a fun character and his exploits are entertaining.

This series was created by Bob Layton, best known as an artist and inker, who contributes some to the scripts and also pitches in on the inking chores. For the most part, though, it’s written by Steve Englehart and Jim Shooter, two very well-known names in comics history. Englehart was a top writer for both Marvel and DC in the Seventies and Eighties, remembered these days for long, complex runs on THE AVENGERS and DETECTIVE COMICS. Shooter broke in writing Legion of Super-Hero stories for DC as a young teenager and went on to a controversial stretch as editor-in-chief at Marvel that left him either admired or loathed, depending on your perspective. I loved Englehart’s work and fall kind of in the middle on Shooter: I usually enjoyed his actual scripts but hate that his run at Marvel introduced the Big Event Crossovers that eventually ruined both Marvel and DC, as far as I’m concerned.

But I was talking about X-O MANOWAR. The first issue and the first several covers were penciled by Barry Windsor-Smith, who became an overnight sensation with his work on CONAN THE BARBARIAN and who also drew some great issues of THE AVENGERS. His pencils here are solid and I like them a lot. Sal Velluto replaces him after the first issue and also does a very good job. (Bear in mind that I’m not an artist, so when I talk about the art in comic books, it boils down to either “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it”.) Overall I think these issues have good art and storytelling, paired with fast-moving scripts. I liked RETRIBUTION enough that I think it’s very likely I’ll read more of this series, whether I explore any more of the Valiant Universe or not.

Thursday, August 06, 2020

Classic Mysteries: The Case of the Lonely Heiress - Erle Stanley Gardner

As I said about the Jim Hatfield novels a couple of weeks ago, I’ve never read a Perry Mason that didn’t at least entertain me. In the mood for a Mason recently, I picked up THE CASE OF THE LONELY HEIRESS from 1948 and had a grand time reading it.

This one opens with a potential client visiting Mason’s office, as so many of the books do. He’s the publisher of a somewhat shady lonely hearts magazine full of classified ads from people seeking penpals and romance, as well as having some confession-magazine-style stories in it written under house-names by the publisher himself. He’s concerned about one of the ads, since it claims to be from a young heiress looking for a man who’s not a fortune-hunter. He suspects the woman is up to no good, and he doesn’t want to be dragged into whatever her scheme is, so he hires Mason to represent his interests and get to the bottom of it.

Of course, as is usual with Perry Mason, what the novel seems to be about at first doesn’t turn out to be what’s actually going on, as Mason, Della Street, Paul Drake, and one of Drake’s operatives quickly find out when they investigate. Not surprisingly, the real mystery winds up involving the fortune the heiress is going to inherit, a last-minute will, a jealous wife, and a nude nurse who’s both blackjacked and stabbed. Mason defends the person charged with the nurse’s murder, so we get some of those always entertaining courtroom scenes full of rapid-fire dialogue and legal wrangling, although there aren’t as many of them as in some of the books. I guess Hamilton Burger was busy, because Mason’s opponent this time is an assistant DA named James Hanover. I have to say, Hanover is pretty bland compared to Burger’s usual bluster and clueless pomposity.

That’s about the only drawback in THE CASE OF THE LONELY HEIRESS, which I think is one of the better Perry Mason novels I’ve read. For one thing, it may be the funniest Perry Mason novel I’ve come across, with an overall tone that approaches screwball at times. Gardner has great fun writing his version of a confession-mag yarn when he has Mason read excerpts from the original client’s magazine. Mason and Della have a run-in with a uniformed cop that’s hilarious, especially in its outcome. The jealous wife who henpecks her hapless husband is a stereotype, but Gardner manages to make those interchanges funny. Now, admittedly, there’s a lot in this novel that might be either puzzling or offensive to younger readers today, but luckily, I’m old and don’t care. I had a great time reading this one, and if you’re a Perry Mason fan and haven’t gotten around to it yet, I recommend it.

Wednesday, August 05, 2020

Classic Western Comics: El Mestizo - Alan Hebden and Carlos Ezquerra

I’m familiar with Alan Hebden’s work from his scripts for the British war comic COMMANDO, but a while back my friend Paul Bishop mentioned this Western comic strip written by Hebden and drawn by Carlos Ezquerra, which ran in the British magazine BATTLE during the summer of 1977. There are only sixteen episodes, each running either three or four pages, but Hebden’s scripts and the great art by Carlos Ezquerra pack a lot of story into that limited space. The whole run was reprinted in 2018 in a handsome hardback collection from Rebellion Books in England.

These are actually Civil War stories, not Westerns, but the two are close cousins and Mestizo certainly has Western elements in his background. He’s a half-black, half-Mexican former slave who escaped from the plantation in Alabama where he lived and went to Mexico to become a bandit and gunfighter. During the Civil War, though, he returns home to try to rescue the girl he loves but instead winds up as a mercenary working for both north and south, taking on whatever dirty jobs need to be done as long as the money’s right. Generals on both Union and Confederate sides come to depend on Mestizo to carry out the missions they give him, which include stopping a crazed southern doctor from unleashing bubonic plague in Washington, D.C., and tracking down renegades on both sides who use the war as a cover for their outlawry.

As you can tell just by looking at that cover, there’s a great deal of Spaghetti Western influence in this comic strip. Actually, EL MESTIZO would have made a great series of movies with, I don’t know, Fred Williamson, maybe, playing the character. Likewise, what a series of novels it would have made for the Piccadilly Cowboys. There’s plenty of gritty violence, and Ezquerra’s artwork makes it even grittier. I enjoyed this collection enough that I’m really sorry the series was so short-lived. If you enjoy this sort of Western, I give EL MESTIZO a high recommendation.