Sunday, May 31, 2020

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Planet Stories, Fall 1943

An excellent cover by George Rozen graces this issue of PLANET STORIES, and there's a really fine group of writers behind it: Leigh Brackett, Clifford D. Simak, Nelson S. Bond, Carl Jacobi, Wilbur S. Peacock, Charles R. Tanner, and Henry Hasse. I haven't read it, but you can read or download the entire issue here.

Saturday, May 30, 2020

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Dime Western, August 1933

I'm not sure that shade of red hair appears in nature, but it appears on several different DIME WESTERN covers in 1933 and it's certainly eye-catching. Equally eye-catching is the group of authors in this issue: Max Brand (Frederick Faust), T.T. Flynn, Harry F. Olmsted (twice, as himself and a Tensleep Maxon story as by Bart Cassidy), Stephen Payne, J.E. Grinstead, and John Colohan. That's a potent pack of pulpsters.

While I don't own a copy of this issue, I have read the Max Brand novella, "Guardian Guns". It was reprinted under the title "The Stage to Yellow Creek" in THE LOST VALLEY, one of the Max Brand collections published by Five Star and Leisure. It's an excellent, action-packed yarn about a stagecoach journey, a bag full of money, a gang of outlaws, and one of Faust's typical good badmen as the protagonist. I enjoyed it a lot. It's almost long enough to be considered a novel.

Friday, May 29, 2020

Forgotten Books: Barge Girl - Calvin Clements

With a Barye Phillips cover and a title like BARGE GIRL, from a publisher like Gold Medal, I expected a noirish crime novel with a regular guy protagonist falling for some beautiful but scheming dame who has an older husband who just needs to be gotten rid of so that she and the protagonist can live happily ever after. And as I started this 1953 novel by Calvin Clements, it looked like that was what I was going to get, as our narrator, tugboat captain Joe Baski, mets and falls for gorgeous young Stella Murk, whose much older, barge captain husband takes her for granted and makes her live in near-squalor on the barge.

The thing is, for the longest time Clements dances right up to the edge of giving us that plot but then pulls back, and as a result, the first three-fourths of BARGE GIRL never amounts to more than a well-written but slow-paced domestic drama that will tell you more about barges and tugboats operating on the Hudson River between New York City and New Jersey than you ever wanted to know.

Maybe Clements was trying to subvert his readers’ expectations, or maybe he just wasn’t comfortable spinning a truly noir crime yarn. I don’t know. But BARGE GIRL was a considerable disappointment to me up until a late twist that almost salvages the book. The last few chapters pack a lot more punch and are more fun to read, although even then he seems to be setting up a twist that never comes to fruition. That makes the pretty good climax not as effective as it could have been.

Calvin Clements wrote a few novels but is best remembered for his long career as a screenwriter for movies and TV. He wrote excellent episodes of a number of different Western series. Based on BARGE GIRL, the only one of his books I’ve read, he wasn’t as skillful a novelist. Overall, though, the final fourth of this one impressed me enough that I can say I’m glad I read it. Don’t rush right out to look for a copy, but if you ever run across one, you might want to learn more about tugboats and barges than I did.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Kid Colt: Kill the Kid! - Tom DeFalco

Some of the first Marvel comics I ever read, before I discovered their superheros on Christmas Day, 1963, were early issues of KID COLT, OUTLAW that had found their way to our house some way. Because of that, I've always had a soft spot for the character, even though now I realize he's a pretty generic "good guy outlaw framed for a crime he didn't commit".

I didn't realize Marvel had brought him back briefly in 2009 in a three-part story written by Tom DeFalco and drawn by Rick Burchett. "Kill the Kid!" is an origin story (comics, like movies, love origin stories) that goes in for a little bit of retconning. Kid Colt's real name is Blaine Cole, instead of Blaine Colt as in the original, and I think the details of the crime that leaves him an outlaw are a little different, but I didn't do any research to confirm that. Either way, this reads and looks like a genuine Kid Colt, Outlaw yarn, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. If you're an old fan of the character, like me, you might enjoy it, too, and the digital version is really inexpensive, if you read comics that way. I've come to prefer that method, which surprises me a little.

Sunday, May 24, 2020

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Argosy, January 13, 1940

It's been a while since I posted a Mountie cover, and this is a good one (not surprising since it's on an issue of ARGOSY) by Rudolph Belarski. There's an excellent group of authors inside this issue as well, including E. Hoffmann Price, Harry Sinclair Drago, Eustace L. Adams, Bennett Foster, William Gray Beyer, and Bruce Douglas. ARGOSY was always good, often great.

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Story, June 7, 1941

Another excellent and effective cover by H.W. Scott on this issue of WESTERN STORY, and another prime example of why I never liked to go to the barber shop: yuh never know when some ranny's liable to bust in and commence to slingin' lead. There's an all-star line-up of authors in this issue, too: Walt Coburn, Peter Dawson, Norman A. Fox, Harry F. Olmsted, Frank Richardson Pierce, and Glenn H. Wichman. Looks like a great issue to me.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Forgotten Books: The Gate of Farewell - H. Bedford-Jones

Of the many, many series written for the pulps by H. Bedford-Jones, his longest-running featured a fat little Cockney named John Solomon, which ran from 1914 to 1936 and encompassed more than twenty novels and novellas. John Solomon may not seem very impressive at first glance, but he actually runs a far-flung intelligence network and makes a specialty of thwarting all sorts of criminal and espionage schemes around the world. I’ve been aware of this series for years but hadn’t read any of them until recently, when I started at the most logical place, the novel THE GATE OF FAREWELL, which was published originally as a serial in ARGOSY in 1914 and is Solomon’s first appearance. (It was later published as a novel under the pseudonym Allan Hawkwood.)

Solomon is a supporting character in this book and doesn’t play much of a part in the action until the late stages. The protagonist is an American businessman named Allen Tredgar, who is searching for his older brother who vanished in Arabia five years earlier. He hires a captain and a ship, gets a tip on where to look for his brother from John Solomon, goes through the Suez Canal, and then heads down the Red Sea to the area where his brother disappeared.

Unfortunately, there’s a sinister American working against Tredgar’s interests, and things are complicated even more when Tredgar and his companions rescue a beautiful young woman blown out to sea in a small boat during a storm. Ultimately, everybody winds up in a fortress on the coast of Arabia built by what today we would call an Islamic terrorist group. Torture, slavery, and epic battles ensue, along with a hunt for ancient relics that will give whoever possesses them great power in the Middle East.

For a novel written and published more than a hundred years ago, THE GATE OF FAREWELL is surprisingly modern. I can see this same basic plot being used by a number of today’s thriller writers (although the resulting book would be three or four times as long). This early in his career, Bedford-Jones’ prose is still a bit stodgy and old-fashioned and not as crisp and stream-lined as it would be later. Also, the plot is rather slow to develop, leading to the first half of the book just sort of meandering along.

The second half, though, has a lot of punch, building up a considerable amount of suspense that delivers an action-packed climax. The characters are interesting, including a suitably despicable villain. Bedford-Jones lays the groundwork for more adventures of John Solomon, which I’m sure I’ll be reading. THE GATE OF FAREWELL isn’t in the top rank of H. Bedford-Jones’ novels, as far as I’m concerned, but it’s an entertaining adventure yarn in the classic style and well worth reading, especially as an introduction to his longest-running character.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Commando: Destination Siberia - Alan Hebden

When Hector Salway and a bunch of mates decided to go halfway around the world to repay a debt, they knew it wouldn't be an easy task -- their destination was Siberia, with the Cold War between the West and East at its height. What they didn't know was that a vicious killer who had tried to murder them once before would already be there -- and was now even more dangerous.

(As always with Alan Hebden's COMMANDO stories, this is a well-written yarn with a bit more of an epic scope than usual, going from Italy in the final months of World War II to a Siberian prison camp in the post-war years. This is a reprint of a story originally published in 1994, and I'm glad COMMANDO brought it back because I really enjoyed it.)

Monday, May 18, 2020

Nameless - Dean Koontz

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I have a love/hate relationship with the work of Dean Koontz, but my reading of his books has certainly gone back and forth over the years. Early on in his career, I read a few of his science fiction novels and remember liking them okay, but when he became a bestseller in the Eighties with a number of doorstop-sized horror/suspense novels, I tried a couple of them and didn’t like them. (WATCHERS was one; I don’t remember the other.) So for quite a while, I didn’t read anything by Dean Koontz.

Then, for some reason I no longer recall, I picked up a copy of his novel LIGHTNING, read it, and loved it. It’s probably still my favorite of his books that I’ve read. After that I went back and read a lot of his earlier books, some published originally under his name, some under pseudonyms that were, by that time, being reissued as Dean Koontz books. I read the new ones as they came out, including DARK RIVERS OF THE HEART, a great book that’s my second favorite of his.

Then, sometime after ODD THOMAS, I picked up a new one, started to read it, said to myself, “Nah,” and that was the end of it. I didn’t read Koontz again for years.

Which is my long-winded way of saying that recently I decided to try something by him again. I picked NAMELESS, a series of novellas published as single e-books on Amazon. These tell the story of an amnesiac avenger with no name who travels around the country, backed by a shadowy, seemingly all-powerful organization, righting wrongs and delivering truth (not justice, which he makes clear) to those who have committed evils. The titles of the individual novellas are IN THE HEART OF THE FIRE, PHOTOGRAPHING THE DEAD, THE PRAYING MANTIS BRIDE, RED RAIN, THE MERCY OF SNAKES, and MEMORIES OF TOMORROW.

I raced through these and enjoyed them, even the ones about serial killers, a genre I don’t particularly like. They’re well-written, fast-paced tales with thoroughly despicable villains and an interesting, likable protagonist. The final volume, MEMORIES OF TOMORROW, solves some of the mysteries that run throughout the series and provides a satisfying ending, although leaving the door open enough that Nameless could return. The whole thing reminded me of a slickly done cable or streaming TV series.

I liked NAMELESS well enough that I’m tempted to read more by Koontz, but honestly, the novella length was a big part of the appeal to me. I already have several of his recent novels on my Kindle that I picked up when they were on sale, so we’ll see.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Adventure, April 1947

I tell you, this is the way I feel a lot of the time these days: ready to snarl and start bashing things with a shovel. By 1947, ADVENTURE may have been long past its glory days as the top pulp in the business, but it still had some great covers, such as this one by Peter Stevens, and some top-notch authors, represented in this issue by E. Hoffmann Price, Jim Kjelgaard, F.R. Buckley, Robert E. Pinkerton, S. Omar Barker, and Franklin Gregory.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: All Western Magazine, October 1936

This is a pulp that I own and read recently. That's my copy in the scan. ALL WESTERN MAGAZINE, and for that matter, the other pulps published by Dell, are little remembered these days, but I’ve read several issues of ALL WESTERN and found them to be very solid. The cover on this issue was painted by Arthur Mitchell, who did most of the covers for this pulp.

The issue leads off with a novella by Tom Roan, “The Two-Gun Sheriff of Painted Rock”. Roan was most prolific in the Western pulps from Popular Publications, but he appeared in others as well. This yarn begins with a couple of owlhoots bushwhacking a rider who they believe to be the new sheriff on his way to tame the wild town of Painted Rock. Their unfortunate mistake sets in motion a chain of violent events as the new sheriff clashes with the crooked saloon owner who runs the town. It’s a stereotypical plot, but Roan keeps things moving very fast and has a good touch with an action scene. He’s never been one of my favorite Western pulpsters, but he’s dependably entertaining, and so is this novella.

Miles Overholt sounds like a pseudonym, but evidently that was his real name. He had a long, prolific career as a pulpster stretching from 1909 to the early Fifties, writing a variety of genres early on and then concentrating on Westerns. His story in this issue, “Gunsmoke Money”, is the first thing I recall reading by him. The protagonist is a young, drifting cowboy who’s forced to kill an hombre trying to steal his horse. The dying man asks him to deliver some money that’s in his saddlebags, and the cowboy’s promise to do so lands him in the middle of a range hog’s attempt to take over a beautiful young woman’s ranch. Nothing new there, but Overholt spins his yarn in such a breezy, fast-moving fashion, and his protagonist is so likable, that I really enjoyed this story and will be keeping my eyes open for more of his work. As far as I can tell, he never wrote any novels, just short fiction.

I’ve read a number of stories by Hapsburg Liebe over the years. His contribution to this issue is the short story “The Britches Kid”, which finds a prodigal son returning home to help save his father’s ranch from yet another range hog. It’s very different from the Miles Overholt story with a similar plot, and not as well written as Overholt’s story, to be honest, but several interesting, offbeat characters make this one worthwhile.

Charles M. Martin, who also frequently wrote as Chuck Martin, was a very prolific Western pulpster who worked as a real cowboy in his younger years. His work is heavy on pseudo-Western dialect and standard plots, but he wrote good action scenes and kept his yarns moving right along. His story in this issue, “Casa Grande Bullets”, find two Arizona Rangers trying to arrest a couple of bank robbers, and the ensuing shootout results in a vengeance quest that leads across the border into Mexico. It was entertaining enough to keep me reading but pretty forgettable at the same time.

The novelette “Lightning in Levis” is by Harry F. Olmsted, one of my favorite Western pulp authors. Some have claimed that Olmsted farmed out all of his work and never wrote anything on his own, but I don’t believe that. I don’t doubt that he might have gotten some help from other authors from time to time. That’s common among high-producing writers, and although I haven’t counted them, I read somewhere that Olmsted is credited with more than 1200 stories. The voice in the ones I’ve read is pretty consistent. That said, the tone in “Lightning in Levis”, which features a number of colorfully named characters and a convoluted plot, seems a little goofier than the usual Olmsted yarn. So I guess it’s possible somebody else contributed to this one, or maybe Harry was just feeling a little more whimsical than usual when he wrote it. At any rate, it’s an entertaining tale that finds the Wild Bunch (Butch, Sundance, and the rest of the boys) clearing their names after being framed for some robberies and killings they didn’t commit.

Arthur H. Carhart (sometimes billed as Arthur Hawthorne Carhart) is a name I’ve seen on a lot of Western pulps, but I don’t recall ever reading by him until now. “A Streak of Powder” is the story of two rival ranchers trying to capture the same outlaw so they can use the bounty on him against each other. It’s not a bad plot, but the writing is very bland and never hooked me. I finished this one, but it took some effort to do so.

Carson Mowre is another author I haven’t read before. His story “Timber Foot” is about a ferry operated by an ex-outlaw who helps other owlhoots escape from the law, all while waiting to take vengeance on an old enemy. It’s an intriguing idea, and Mowre does a fairly good job with it. The twist ending is pretty predictable but the story overall is enjoyable.

I like S. Omar Barker’s Western poetry and non-fiction, but his humorous short stories don’t appeal to me. “Two Tough Tails”, in this issue, is part of his Boosty Peckleberry series, which involves cowboys with colorful names sitting around the bunkhouse telling shaggy dog stories. I didn’t care for it.

There are some good stories here from Roan, Olmsted, Overholt, and Mowre, but taken as a whole, this is probably the weakest issue of ALL WESTERN I’ve read so far. Still, I’m glad I read it, of course. I’ve never read a Western pulp that didn’t provide some entertaining yarns.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Forgotten Books: Brood of the Witch-Queen - Sax Rohmer

When I was in high school, I read and enjoyed all of Sax Rohmer’s Fu Manchu novels, but I’ve dipped into the rest of his work only occasionally since then. In the mood to read something by him, I picked up BROOD OF THE WITCH-QUEEN, a stand-alone novel originally published as a nine-part serial in PREMIER MAGAZINE (a publication I’m not familiar with) in 1914 and ’15 before being published in novel form in 1918. So it was written pretty early in Rohmer’s career.

Although he’s best known for Fu Manchu, of course, Rohmer also used a lot of Egyptian themes in his work, including this novel. As the novel opens, co-protagonist Robert Cairn is still in college at Oxford, where he suspects fellow student Antony Ferrara of being up to no good. Ferrara is the adopted son of Dr. Michael Ferrara, who happens to be the best friend of Cairn’s father, noted Egyptologist Dr. Bruce Cairn, who is pretty much the co-protagonist of this book. The elder Ferrara and Cairn explored many Egyptian mysteries of an occult nature before Ferrara’s death. Oh, and in addition to the adopted son, Ferrara also has a beautiful young ward, Myra Duquesne. Robert Cairn is in love with Myra and is jealous of Antony, who has his eye on her as well. Antony’s motives are much more sinister, though, Robert believes.

Well, spooky stuff ensues. Disembodied hands choke folks to death. Venomous spiders scuttle around. People crawl through tunnels and explore hidden chambers inside pyramids. The word “sarcophagus” is used frequently. And of course there’s a final showdown between the forces of good and evil.

BROOD OF THE WITCH-QUEEN’s origins as a magazine serial make for a very episodic novel, but luckily, it’s a fast-moving, entertaining one. Yes, the writing is lurid, even melodramatic at times, but that’s never bothered me. I’ll read a good shudder tale any time. The novel’s biggest drawback for me is the villain. While Antony Ferrara is pretty despicable, he never really dominates the action the way I expected him to. But then, Robert Cairn, whose nerves are shakier than anybody this side of an H.P. Lovecraft protagonist, isn’t a dominating hero, either. What we’re left with is a book with a lot of very well-done creepy scenes that never quite comes together as an adventure yarn. I’m glad I read it, and it’s left me in the mood to read more of Rohmer’s work in the fairly near future, but based on those long-ago memories of the Fu Manchu novels, it’s probably the weakest thing I’ve read by him so far.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Commando: J-For-Judas - James Swallow

Courage in the face of disaster -- a famous trait of the RAF throughout World War Two. But not in the case of Johnny Bagshott. After condemning his team to a POW camp, can the flighty young navigator work with the devious Hauptmann Hasse to regain standing with his friends... or will he betray them all and help destroy a top British base the country would never recover from?!

(Like the other issue of COMMANDO written by James Swallow that I read, this is an excellent, well-written yarn. It combines both an aviation story and a POW story, two sub-genres of war fiction that I enjoy, and has a suitably despicable villain, as depicted on that great cover by Ian Kennedy. Swallow has written at least one other issue, and I'm sure I'll get to it soon.)

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Dead Girl Blues - Lawrence Block

Lawrence Block has been writing and selling novels since 1958, and he’s still at it. I can’t think of any living author who’s been producing at such a high level for so long. His latest novel is DEAD GIRL BLUES, which is something of a departure for him but also shares some of the strengths that have run through his entire career.

It starts out as the story of a young man calling himself Buddy (because that’s the name stitched onto the work shirt he was given when he took his current job), who, on a whim, commits a terrible crime, including murder, and gets away with it. Buddy feels the need to repeat the experience, so what it looks like we’re going to get is a deep dive into the mind of a sociopathic serial killer, since Buddy is also the narrator of this tale.

But then, with no warning, DEAD GIRL BLUES turns out to be something completely different. It’s still a deep dive, because this is novel driven almost solely by characterization rather than plot, but it’s not what I was expecting. And I certainly didn’t expect to feel about the characters like I did by the time I finished the book. Everything is just off-kilter enough that by the later stages of the book, I didn’t know what to expect. That’s not bad, because usually, even in the best books, I have some idea what’s going to happen.

I believe it was Ed Gorman who said that Block writes the best sentences in the business. That’s still true. His style isn’t flashy, but it sure makes you want to keep reading. That’s certainly true of DEAD GIRL BLUES. This is a book that may not be for everybody, since it’s a little squirm-inducing in places, but it’s also heartwarming at times, in its own oddball way. I really liked it, and if you’re a Lawrence Block fan, you’ll want to read it.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Detective Tales, November 1937

That looks like a Tom Lovell cover to me, although I could certainly be wrong about that. I'm sure there are some good authors inside, including Norbert Davis, Paul Ernst, and Dale Clark. Also on hard are authors I'm less familiar with: John Hawkins, Walter C. Brown, John Kobler, Charles Boswell, Robert W. Thompson, Thomas A. Hoge, and H.T. Sperry. If they sold to Popular Publications, I'll bet they're pretty good, too.

Saturday, May 09, 2020

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Thrilling Western, April 1936

This issue of THRILLING WESTERN has a nice dramatic cover, probably by Richard Lyon. I'm not sure about that, but it looks like his work to me. Inside are stories by some prolific pulpsters, including Thrilling Group stalwarts Lee Bond, Syl MacDowell (with a second story under the pseudonym Tom Gunn), Donald Bayne Hobart, and "Jackson Cole" (probably either Bond or Hobart, I'd guess, since they each have a story in this issue). Plus the well-regarded Stephen Payne and a couple of authors I'm not familiar with, James W. Egan and Victor Kaufman. Looks like an entertaining issue.

Friday, May 08, 2020

Forgotten Books: Wild Blood - A.C. Abbott

I admit, I bought this book for that great cover (that’s my copy in the scan), having never heard of it or the author. But sometimes a gamble like that pays off, and such is the case with WILD BLOOD, a 1951 Gold Medal Western by A.C. Abbott.

The plot of this novel is very traditional. After several years away from home, Jim Dixon returns to the ranch in Arizona where he grew up in response to a plea for help from his father. Jim had left home because was forced to kill one of the sons of a neighboring rancher in a gunfight. Complicating the matter is the fact that Jim was in love with the other rancher’s daughter, the sister of the man he gunned down. Since then, that rancher has passed away and his surviving son has taken over running things. And he’s spoiling for a range war with Jim’s father.

Throw in the local storekeeper’s beautiful daughter, who’s in love with Jim, a gunfighting friend who may or may not be trustworthy, two young cowboys suspected of being rustlers and stagecoach robbers, some old geezers, and all the standard elements are there. The situation ratchets up with bushwhackings, brutal fistfights, barns burned down, and a lynching. Our hero Jim takes an incredible amount of punishment in this book, having to recuperate from several serious injuries, and keeps coming back for more until everything builds to a very violent climax.

The author’s ability to create complex and interesting characters and spin this yarn in tough, very fast-paced prose lifts WILD BLOOD from a run-of-the-mill traditional Western to an excellent novel. It has its pulpish touches, but they don’t detract from the story and characters.

Naturally, having never heard of A.C. Abbott, I had to do some investigating. As it turns out, Abbott was a fairly prolific contributor to a variety of Western pulps, publishing approximately 70 stories in an eight-year career from the late Forties to the mid-Fifties. Many of those stories appeared in the Western romance pulps such as RANCH ROMANCES and RANGELAND LOVE STORIES. Early on in reading WILD BLOOD, I had a hunch the author might have been female. There’s a little more emphasis on what the characters are feeling than you usually find in Fifties Westerns written by men, as well as one of the more believable romantic rectangles I’ve encountered in a Western. Sure enough, after a tip from my friend Tom Simon indicated that “A.C. Abbott” was a pseudonym for someone name H.A. Meinzer, born in 1918, I was able to track down a gravesite for Helen Abbott Meinzer, born in Idaho in 1918, died in Arizona in 1963. Although that’s not definitive proof, I’m confident that Helen Meinzer was the actual author of WILD BLOOD, as well as those pulp stories and one other novel, BRANDED, published by Signet in 1954. (I have a copy of that one, as well.)

Don’t mistake WILD BLOOD for a romance, though. Sure, it has a certain amount of “woman interest” (as the pulp editors called it) in it, but it also has plenty of action, and honestly, some of those scenes are as bloody and brutal as anything written by most male Western authors in that era. It was a time of hardboiled Westerns, and this book certainly fits that description. I found it really entertaining and compulsive reading, and I’m glad the cover prompted me to buy it. I don’t know who painted the cover, but he (or she) did the job well.

Thursday, May 07, 2020

Forever and a Day - Anthony Horowitz

In the Sixties, I read all of Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels and stories while I was in junior high and high school, plus COLONEL SUN, the Bond novel by Kingsley Amis writing as Robert Markham. In the Eighties and Nineties, I read most of the Bond novels written by John Gardner (whose Boysie Oakes novels I’d also read back in the Sixties). When the series continued on into this century under the authorship of Raymond Benson, I read nearly all of those books, as well. But I’d never read any of the more recent Bond novels by various hands, until recently until I was really in the mood for one and decided to give FOREVER AND A DAY by Anthony Horowitz a try.

I’d never read any of Horowitz’s other novels, but I’ve seen and enjoyed some of the TV series he’s written. I read enough about FOREVER AND A DAY to know that it’s set in 1950 and is a prequel to CASINO ROYALE, Fleming’s first novel. Setting a Bond novel in the right time-frame was enough to predispose me to like this book. I generally don’t care for updatings and reboots.

The opening is promising, too, with 007 being murdered in Marseille. Not Bond, of course. The agent who had the 007 designation before him. Horowitz then covers Bond’s promotion of the Double-0 section, after which M gives him the assignment of finding out what happened to his predecessor. Bond doesn’t have much to go on: he knows the murdered man was investigating a French drug kingpin named Scipio, and there’s also a connection to a beautiful former British operative known as Madame 16 who has gone rogue and formed her own intelligence network. (Shades of Modesty Blaise!)

Bond’s investigation is very Flemingesque, if that’s a word. Bond gambles at Monte Carlo, meets the lovely Sixtine, has a run-in with the sinister Scipio and is threatened with torture (don’t worry, there’s plenty of actual torture, another Fleming hallmark, later on), and uncovers a connection with an American millionaire who may be an innocent dupe, or not.

There are some very nice scenes and some great Easter eggs about the character’s history (including a chapter based on an outline Fleming wrote), but really, the first two-thirds or so of this book are leisurely paced, more of a slow burn than a thriller. Horowitz really has Fleming’s style down, and it’s a pleasure to read. Eventually things kick into a higher gear, though, and FOREVER AND A DAY really takes off. When it does, it turns into pure greatness. The last 50 or 60 pages are just exhilarating, and I couldn’t turn those pages fast enough. I was back in the Sixties, sitting on my parents’ front porch on a warm summer day, totally caught up in what I was reading, and I can’t give a book a higher compliment or a better recommendation than that.

FOREVER AND A DAY (great title, by the way, also very reminiscent of Fleming) is the best book I’ve read so far this year. Horowitz has written another Bond novel, TRIGGER MORTIS, and I have a copy of it as well, so I look forward to reading it, too. In the meantime, if you’re a James Bond fan and haven’t read this book, don’t miss it.

Wednesday, May 06, 2020

Commando: Across the Fence - Brent Towns

Deep in the Vietnamese jungle, pilot Jake Clancy is lost and running for his life -- but Australian SAS Sergeant Jack Walker and his team are moving in, ready to pluck him from the jaws of the Viet Cong. The Australians' prowess earned them the nickname the "Ghosts of the Jungle," and it was a good thing too, as when an American General gets taken captive Jack's team must go... ACROSS THE FENCE!

(This is the first issue of COMMANDO I've read that takes place in the Vietnam War, and since it's written by Brent Towns, you know it's good. This yarn flows very nicely from one action sequence to another and has excellent characters. Recommended.)

Monday, May 04, 2020

One More Reason I Love the Internet, Harry F. Olmsted Edition

I just got an email from one of the grandchildren of Western pulp author Harry F. Olmsted, one of my favorite Western pulpsters. The person who got in touch with me had read something I wrote about Olmsted. I tried to respond with some restraint and decorum, but you know me . . . I probably came across as a complete fanboy. I'd love to see more of an interest in Olmsted's work. I think he was a top-notch writer.

Sunday, May 03, 2020

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Amazing Stories, November 1942

Robert Gibson Jones did a lot of great covers for various Ziff-Davis pulps. I like this one on the November 1942 issue of AMAZING STORIES. Inside are stories by Eando Binder (actually Earl and Otto Binder, but you knew that, of course), Robert Bloch, Raymond Z. Gallun, Emil Petaja, David Wright O'Brien writing as Duncan Farnsworth, and John Russell Fearn writing as Thornton Ayre. I've read all those authors except Fearn, and I'm thinking I'll read something by him soon. 

Saturday, May 02, 2020

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Short Stories, June 1949

I like the cover on this issue of WESTERN SHORT STORIES, but what's really amazing is the group of authors inside: Walker A. Tompkins, Giles A. Lutz, D.B. Newton, Roe Richmond, Stephen Payne, Joseph Wayne (either Wayne D. Overholser or Overholser in collaboration with Lewis B. Patten), Joseph Payne Brennan, Frank P. Castle, John Callahan, John H. Latham, Clark Gray, house-name Ken Jason, and somebody named Costa Carousso, the only author in the bunch I haven't heard of. There are several of my favorites in there, and several more who were consistently good Western pulpsters.

Friday, May 01, 2020

Forgotten Novellas: The Juarez Knife (Manville Moon #1) - Richard Deming

Richard Deming was one of the top crime/suspense paperbackers during the Fifties and Sixties, wrote many TV tie-in novels and novelizations under his own name and as Max Franklin (probably the first books I read by him were tie-in novels based on the series THE MOD SQUAD), and contributed frequently to the mystery and detective digest magazines and the pulps before that. His best known original series featured private detective Manville Moon, who appeared in quite a few stories and novels.

The Moon series begins with “The Juarez Knife”, a novella published in the January 1948 issue of POPULAR DETECTIVE. Like a lot of other late Forties PIs, Moon is a veteran of World War II. He lost his right leg in the fighting in Europe, having it amputated just below the knee because of wounds he suffered. He wears a prosthetic leg that slows him down some, but in this story, at least, he seems to have adjusted pretty well.

As this yarn opens, Moon gets a phone call from a lawyer who wants to hire him for what may be a dangerous job. We all know how those turn out. But this one goes south even faster than usual, because right after Moon arrives at the lawyer’s office to discuss the case, the guy is murdered before Moon even gets to talk to him, with the knife of the title, a souvenir of Juarez, buried in his chest. The only possible suspect is a beautiful young woman, but Moon believes she’s innocent, so even though he doesn’t really have a client, he sets out to find the real killer, leading to run-ins with shady gamblers, brutal thugs, good-looking dames, and suspicious cops. All the things we love about private eye yarns, in other words.

To be honest, “The Juarez Knife” is a little milder than I expected and comes down to a solution that’s more like something from an Ellery Queen or John Dickson Carr novel (but without the complexity and skill of those authors). Still, Deming’s writing is very slick and fast-paced, and he’s always fun to read. Plus, Manville Moon is a very likable protagonist. I enjoyed this story, even though I thought it would be a little more hardboiled. It’s available as an e-book, as are most, if not all, of the other novellas and novels in the series, and I certainly intend to read more of them.