Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Halfway Point

Last year at this time, you may recall, I was moaning and complaining about how my long streaks of writing at least a million words a year and reading at least 100 books a year might well come to an end in 2019. Actually, as the year played out, neither of those things happened. So, how am I doing this year at the halfway point?

Despite all my blathering about how I was going to slow down, I’ve written about 550,000 words so far in 2020, and my schedule is full for the rest of the year (actually, a book or two probably will slop over into next year), so it looks like I have a reasonable shot at the million words for the 16th year in a row. Which is fine, whether it happens or not.

On the reading front, I’ve read 84 books so far this year, so I’m on a pace to have one of my best reading years ever. I guess maybe I’ve had more time to read, although it doesn’t seem like it.

I hope I haven’t jinxed either of those things by posting about them. We’ll see what the second half of the year brings. Some improvement in real life would be fine with me. All this other stuff doesn’t mean much in the long run.

Overlooked Movies: Magic in the Moonlight (2014)

I’d never heard of MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT because I really haven’t kept up with Woody Allen’s movies for the past thirty years or so. I’ll always love his work from the Sixties and Seventies, but I’ve found his movies since then to be wildly inconsistent and, even at their best, not nearly as good.

That said, 2014’s MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT isn’t bad. A friend of mine watched it and mentioned on Facebook that the same script could have been filmed in 1940 with Cary Grant and Ginger Rogers. That sounded like the sort of thing I wanted to see, so we gave it a try. That assessment is pretty accurate, too.

Colin Firth plays the Cary Grant part, if you want to call it that. He’s a stage magician whose secondary career is debunking phony mediums and spiritualists. Emma Stone takes on the Ginger Rogers role, a young American woman who has her hooks in a wealthy British family by pretending to be in contact with the departed patriarch. Or is she pretending . . .? Firth winds up involved in the whole thing because a magician friend of his was hired to expose Stone’s chicanery but failed to find any proof she’s a fake. If anybody can do it, though, it’s Firth.

Well, you know as well I do what’s going to happen. Firth and Stone wind up falling in love. Is she a con artist, or isn’t she? The answer to that question lies in a very clever twist in the script by Allen, one that I probably should have seen coming but didn’t, at all. The whole thing is frothy, well-acted, and beautifully filmed. The main objection most people seem to have is that Firth is too old for Stone, a fact that people who hate Allen for things he’s alleged to have done in his personal life seize on to criticize the film. My opinion is that, yes, the age difference probably is a little too much, but it didn’t really detract from the movie for me. If that’s likely to bother you, I’d say don’t watch MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT. Otherwise, I recommend it. It’s not as good as his early stuff, but like another fairly recent film of his, MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, I liked it quite a bit and think it’s a movie with its heart in the right place.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Terror of the Crimson Talons - Fred Blosser

Fred Blosser is best known for his non-fiction about the work of Robert E. Howard and other subjects related to popular culture. But he’s also a fine author of fiction himself, as I know because I published his excellent historical adventure novel THE SAVAGE PACK a few years ago. His latest fictional offering is TERROR OF THE CRIMSON TALONS, a novelette inspired by Howard’s stories about two-fisted detective Steve Harrison.

Blosser’s version is called Kirby Brill, two names familiar to readers of Howard’s yarns. Brill is a retired police detective who’s now a private investigator in a nameless city where the shadows are thick and the streets are always damp. In a very nice twist, Blosser has moved the action up from the Thirties to the Fifties, so the world is a little coarser and filled with new dangers such as the atom bomb. Brill’s methods haven’t changed from the old days, however. When he gets in trouble, he’s still inclined to slug or shoot his way out, although he’s actually a pretty clever thinker, too.

In TERROR OF THE CRIMSON TALONS, Brill get a call for help from the beautiful daughter of a famous explorer and archeologist. She was given Brill’s name by a friend of her father’s, who also happens to be one of Brill’s friends. Before the case can barely get started, though, Brill is almost seduced by an exotic Oriental beauty and attacked by Mongolian bandits. He’s also targeted by hatchet men working for a Chinese tong leader who carries an old grudge against him. Throw in an Afghan sidekick who’s a great character, some shadowy figures whose true allegiance is unknown, some torture and whipping scenes straight out of a Weird Menace yarn, abundant nudity, and a vicious catfight, and you’ve got a nonstop action yarn that’s incredibly entertaining. Blosser really knows the territory he’s working and does a superb job of it.

As a bonus, there are two short articles about Howard’s Steve Harrison stories included with this novelette, and they’re informative and enjoyable as well. I just had a great time reading TERROR OF THE CRIMSON TALONS, and I was glad to see that Blosser left an opening for Kirby Brill to return. To that possibility, I say an emphatic yes. I’m ready to read more of Kirby Brill’s adventures right now.

Sunday, June 28, 2020

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Complete Stories, December 15, 1932

Pulp covers loved that bright red and yellow combination. Those are some scary-looking dogs on this cover by H.W. Scott, too. This issue of COMPLETE STORIES has some fine authors in it: Frederick C. Davis with a White Wolf story (ghosted under the name of the late Hal Dunning), George Harmon Coxe, Allan Vaughan Elston, Richard Howells Watkins, C.S. Montanye, Karl Detzer, and a pulpster I'm not familiar with, James Clarke. I've never read an issue of COMPLETE STORIES, but I know it doesn't have the same sort of reputation as the big-name general fiction pulps like ARGOSY, ADVENTURE, and SHORT STORIES. However, judging by the authors this looks like a pretty good issue.

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: West, March 1950

An interesting cover by an unknown artist. The shadow almost makes the guy look like he's wearing a mask. And of course, this cover is further evidence that no poker game in the Old West ever ended peacefully. I also find it curious that a story by Harry C. Rubicam Jr. gets such prominent treatment when ol' Harry, whoever he was, apparently only published one other story in his career, also in WEST a couple of years earlier. He wrote a few non-fiction books and at least one Western novel, but this issue also includes stories by Johnston McCulley, Allen K. Echols, Richard Brister, and Dupree Poe, and if I was the editor I would have put any of them on the cover ahead of Rubicam. Barry Scobee is on the cover and was a top-notch pulpster, so I agree with that editorial decision. Anyway, it's an eye-catching cover.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Forgotten Books: Night Marshal - L.P. Holmes

As I’ve mentioned before, I only started reading L.P. Holmes in the past ten years or so, even though I saw paperbacks of his Western novels around all the time when I was a kid. I’m not sure why I never picked up any of them. However, that’s worked to my benefit since I’ve found that I really enjoy his work, and there are still quite a few books and stories by him left for me to read.

Most recently, I read his novel NIGHT MARSHAL, published in hardback by Dodd, Mead in 1961 and reprinted in paperback by Bantam in 1964, the edition I read. That’s my copy in the scan. I don't know who painted the cover.

The protagonist is Chris Waddell, a down-on-his-luck lawman who takes the job of night marshal working for an old friend and mentor of his who’s the top lawman in the wild Montana mining town Midas Hill. Problem is, Waddell is still a straight-shooter while his old friend and boss has gone soft and corrupt and is under the thumb of the saloon owner and mining magnates. If Waddell wants to bring any real law and order to Midas Hill, he’ll have to buck all of them, which means he’ll have enemies on all sides.

From what I’ve read of his work, Holmes never strayed from the traditional Western elements but did an excellent job of working within that framework. I’ll be honest: while it’s enjoyable, NIGHT MARSHAL is the weakest novel of his that I’ve read so far. The plot meanders along and is really slow to develop, he sets up several characters and conflicts but then never does anything with them (speaking in particular of a potential romantic triangle that he never does anything with and seems to forget, as well as never resolving the question of whether a particular character is one of the bad guys or not), and the book ends in rather hurried fashion.

That said, Holmes does a fine job with the setting, the dialogue is good, Waddell is a likable, easy to root for protagonist, and the final shoot-out is effective even though it could have been longer and more dramatic. I’m glad I read the book, even though NIGHT MARSHAL isn’t one that I’d give to somebody who has never read Holmes before. If you’re already a fan of his work and come across a copy, I wouldn’t pass it up.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Overlooked Movies: Swamp Fire (1946)

As big a fan of Tarzan movies as I was when I was a kid, I’m not sure how I didn’t even know this Johnny Weissmuller movie existed until recently. Of course, considering how different SWAMP FIRE is from your typical Tarzan movie, maybe my ignorance isn’t a surprise. But I’m glad I came across it.

Made relatively on the cheap in 1946, this movie finds Weissmuller staying fully dressed the whole time (despite the poster), although there’s still a considerable amount of swimming in it. He plays Johnny Duval, a Cajun bar pilot (a guy who guides ships through the sand bars in the Mississippi River) returning to his home in the Louisiana swamps after serving in World War II. Johnny is tortured by the memory of a ship he commanded during the war being sunk in battle, with considerable loss of life. He doesn’t want to go back to being a bar pilot. He’s glad to get back to his girlfriend, played by Carol Thurston, though.

Complications arise in the form of an arrogant society girl (Virginia Grey) who sets her sights on Johnny and an old enemy of his, played by none other than fellow Tarzan and Olympic swimming champion Buster Crabbe, complete with sinister, pencil-thin mustache and thick Cajun accent. Will Johnny get over his guilt? Will he decide between the icy socialite and the hot-blooded Cajun girl? Will he wind up rasslin’ an alligator at some point? Will he have a violent final showdown with Crabbe? I think you know the answers to all those questions, but getting there is pretty darned entertaining.

The script, which packs a lot in 68 minutes, is by “Geoffrey Homes” (Daniel Mainwaring), who also wrote the classic film noir OUT OF THE PAST and the source novel it’s based on. (Confession time: I’m not a big fan of OUT OF THE PAST. I saw it once years ago, didn’t care much for it, and haven’t rewatched it since.) SWAMP FIRE has some good lines and a little more depth than some B-movies. Director William Pine, who also produced, probably could have kept things moving along at a little faster clip. There are too many stock footage scenes of ships not really doing much of anything, and they go on too long.

That said, I still enjoyed this movie. Weissmuller was never any great shakes as an actor, although he manages some nice poignant moments in some of the Tarzan movies. But he was a big, likable lug with a lot of screen presence and that’s true in SWAMP FIRE, as well. Supposedly he was drunk during much of the filming, but I couldn’t tell it. Buster Crabbe, usually cast as the Stalwart Hero (really, how much more stalwart can you get then Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon?), seems to really relish playing a bad guy for a change. His mustache is too thin to twirl, but you get the sense that if he could, he would have. He’s pretty effective in the role, creating a nice sense of menace while not being out-and-out despicable. You can almost sympathize with him at times.

Although this movie came out several years before the Gold Medal paperback line was launched, in many ways it plays like an early Gold Medal novel with its tortured hero, its romantic triangle, and its naturalistic setting. I would have enjoyed SWAMP FIRE when I was a kid—hey, Johnny Weissmuller rassles a gator, what else would 10-year-old me have wanted, other than maybe some quicksand (how can you make a swamp movie with no quicksand?)—but I think I probably appreciated it more now. It’s available to watch various places on-line, and I think it’s worth investing an hour or so of your time.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Popular Detective, March 1936

Now there's a thoroughly bizarre cover for you. I'm not sure what's going on here, but I am certain there are some good authors in this issue of POPULAR DETECTIVE, including Hugh B. Cave, Steve Fisher, Edmond Hamilton, Barry Perowne, Emile C. Tepperman, Frederick C. Painton, and George A. McDonald. If I'd had an extra dime and nickel in my pocket back in 1936, I might've had to buy this one just to try to figure out the cover.

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Lariat Story Magazine, December 1935

That's a pretty dynamic cover by Emery Clarke on this issue of LARIAT STORY MAGAZINE. There are some really excellent writers to be found inside, too: Walt Coburn, Eugene Cunningham, Frederick C. Davis, James P. Olsen, and Theodore A. Tinsley all have stories in this issue, as well as lesser known authors Ralph Condon and Edgar L. Cooper, plus house-name John Starr, who could be any of those guys if you go by the theory that house-names were used when a writer had more than one story in an issue. If I had to venture a guess, I'd say that in this case, Starr is probably Olsen or Tinsley, both prolific pulpsters, or possibly Davis. Coburn and Cunningham were big names and an editor wouldn't have wanted to waste a story from either of them by putting a house-name on it. But all that's just speculation on my part. I love the title of Cunningham's yarn, "The Gun-Girl of Murder Mesa".

Friday, June 19, 2020

Forgotten Books: The Gladiator #4: Blood on the Sand - Andrew Quiller (Laurence James)

I meant to get back to this series of historical action/adventure novels set in ancient Rome sooner, but other books got in the way. However, I’ve now read BLOOD ON THE SAND, the fourth novel in the Gladiator series (originally published in England under the series title The Eagles). The author behind the Andrew Quiller house-name this time is the prolific Laurence James, who also wrote the first book in the series, HILL OF THE DEAD.

The protagonist of these books is Marcus Julius Britannicus, also known by his gladiator name Vulpus the Fox. As each novel opens, Marcus is the most famous gladiator in Rome, then the story flashes back to his earlier days as a Roman soldier and establishes his history as the son of a Roman centurion and a barbarian princess. Marcus is also motivated by a vengeance quest that runs through the series, as well as getting involved in various historical events such as the Siege of Masada and the eruption of the volcano Vesuvius.

The main storyline in BLOOD ON THE SAND wraps up that quest and also explains how Marcus went from being a soldier to fighting as a free gladiator sponsored by the Emperor Titus. It’s a fast-moving tale without an overly complicated plot, as I’ve come to expect from Laurence James. It’s also lurid, over the top, occasionally crude, and very violent, also hallmarks of James’s work. But he’s a great storyteller, and his books really keep the readers turning the pages. That’s certainly the case with BLOOD ON THE SAND. There’s also a nice, obscure in-joke involving Kenneth Bulmer, one of the other writers who shared the Andrew Quiller house-name.

This was the final Gladiator novel published by Pinnacle (that’s my beat-up copy in the scan), and with the wrapping up of several storylines it reads like the final book in the series. But it’s not. There’s one more, SEA OF SWORDS, written by Bulmer and published only in England. Copies of it can be hard to find, especially at an affordable price, but I came across one a while back and grabbed it. So I’ll be reading it, too, maybe in the reasonably near future.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Overlooked Movies: The Bride Came C.O.D. (1941)

I admit, when I think about screwball comedies, James Cagney and Bette Davis are not among the first names that come to mind. However, we were in need of something to watch, and we’d never seen THE BRIDE CAME C.O.D., so . . .

This movie has a pretty complicated set-up. Davis plays a Texas oil heiress who, after a whirlwind courtship, is about to elope from Los Angeles to Las Vegas with smarmy bandleader Jack Carson (the marriage being egged on by radio gossip columnist Stuart Erwin). Davis’s father, the great Eugene Pallette, is strongly opposed to the marriage. The couple hires Cagney, the owner of an air charter business who’s about to lose his plane to the finance company, to fly them to Vegas, but Cagney, learning of Pallette’s opposition, strikes a deal with the oil tycoon to break up the wedding and bring Davis back to Texas. Got all that?

Actually, it’s all just an excuse to strand Cagney and Davis in an old mining ghost town that may be in California or may be in Nevada. That uncertainty actually becomes part of the plot later on. The screenplay by Julius and Philip Epstein (who wrote another movie that came out in 1941 you may have heard of: CASABLANCA) is full of banter, racy innuendo, crazy coincidences, and Davis falling in cactus. Cagney and Davis argue for the whole movie and then wind up falling in love, which was the whole point, of course.

This movie doesn’t have much of a critical reputation, and evidently the stars didn’t care much for it, either, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. Yes, it’s predictable, but so are a lot of movies I watch. No, it’s not uproariously funny, but I chuckled numerous times and smiled a lot. And that supporting cast! In addition to the ones I’ve already mentioned, George Tobias plays Cagney’s airplane mechanic, the great William Frawley is the sheriff of Los Angeles County, and Harry Davenport is an old desert rat. And despite what they said later about the movie, Cagney and Davis both appear to be having a great time. THE BRIDE CAME C.O.D. doesn’t belong in the top rank of screwball comedies, but I think it’s certainly better than the much more praised THE AWFUL TRUTH, with Cary Grant and Irene Dunne, that we watched a couple of months ago. I’m glad we watched it.

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Fantastic Novels, May 1949

This reprint pulp from Popular Publications usually had good covers like this one by Lawrence Sterne Stevens, usually credited as just Lawrence. Most of the stories were drawn from early Munsey pulps, which Popular had acquired the rights to several years earlier. This issue features a novel by Victor Rousseau published originally in ALL-STORY WEEKLY in 1920. I've read a reprint of "The Eye of Balamok", but it was many years ago and all I recall is that I liked it. By the time this pulp came out, Rousseau had been a stalwart of the Spicy/Speed line for a decade, under his name and numerous pseudonyms. I don't think I've ever read Murray Leinster's "The Red Dust", but I'm pretty sure I have a copy of the novel version somewhere. It was published originally in ARGOSY ALL-STORY WEEKLY in 1921. Rounding out the issue is the Max Brand short story "Devil Ritter", which I think I've read but I'm not sure. It comes from a 1918 issue of ALL-STORY WEEKLY. One interesting thing about FANTASTIC NOVELS is that it featured a letter column, and this issue includes letters from future pros W. Paul Ganley and Samuel A. Peeples, who wrote Western novels as Brad Ward and under his own name, scripted at least one episode of STAR TREK, and created the TV series LANCER.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Fifteen Western Tales, September 1948

We have what looks like a Deliberate Injury to a Hat cover on this issue of FIFTEEN WESTERN TALES. And a really strong line-up of authors inside, too: Peter Dawson, Steve Frazee, Tom W. Blackburn, Talmage Powell, Rolland Lynch, Joe Archibald, and Rod Patterson. Some well-respected pulpsters and paperbackers there.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Forgotten Novellas: The Man Who Chose the Devil (Manville Moon #2) - Richard Deming

Richard Deming’s private eye character Manville Moon makes his second appearance in “The Man Who Chose the Devil”, a novella originally published in the May 1948 issue of the pulp BLACK MASK (far past its glory days of the Twenties and Thirties but still publishing a lot of pretty good stories). This yarn opens with Moon getting in a brawl in a bar with a businessman who seems to be going out of his way to get thrown in jail. The reason for that becomes apparent when one of the guy’s business partners is murdered and all the evidence points to him, but that doesn’t seem possible since he was behind bars at the time. Of course, he hires Moon to find the real killer and solve another impossible crime, as in the series’ debut, “The Juarez Knife”.

When I read and reviewed that story a while back, I commented that it was more of a puzzle mystery than a hardboiled crime yarn. Deming certainly ramps up the hardboiled elements more in “The Man Who Chose the Devil”, but the story still revolves around how somebody could commit a murder and so successfully frame someone whose alibi is that he was in jail at the time. As in “The Juarez Knife”, the ultimate solution is maybe not as clever or convincing as it might have been, but getting to it is a lot of fun and Manville Moon (who has an artificial right leg because of injuries suffered in World War II) is a fine protagonist/narrator. I liked the two stories I’ve read so far well enough that I’ve bought all the other pulp yarns that are currently available as e-books, as well as the three novels that feature Moon. I’m looking forward to reading all of them.

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Commando: Convict Commandos: Mask of Death - Alan Hebden

The Convict Commandos -- Jelly Jakes, Smiler Dawson, Titch Mooney -- and their leader Guy Tenby are back in action. This time they are planning to snatch a scientist from under the noses of the Nazis in occupied Europe. It's no easy job and, with treachery afoot, the prison sentences they're trying to avoid begin to look a very tempting alternative.

(This is another good adventure yarn with some effective--but not really that surprising--plot twists. Another good job on the art by Manuel Benet, as well. I've read enough issues of COMMANDO now that I'm starting to get a pretty good handle on how the different writers handle things. Alan Hebden has a denser style, with longer captions and more description. Iain McLaughlin's stories are more breakneck action. Brent Towns' yarns have the most heart and emotional impact. All of them work very well and provide a nice variety.)

Tuesday, June 09, 2020

Overlooked Movies: Texas Masquerade (1944)

As much as I love the series, there are still quite a few Hopalong Cassidy movies I haven’t gotten around to watching yet. Recently we watched one of those, TEXAS MASQUERADE from 1944, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

In this one, Hoppy and his two sidekicks California Carlson (Andy Clyde) and Jimmy Rogers (Jimmy Rogers) interrupt a stagecoach robbery and capture the bandit. They discover that a badly wounded passenger is a Boston lawyer on his way to Texas to claim his half of a ranch. Hoppy decides to take over the man’s identity while the hombre recuperates at the Bar-20. (Don’t ask why the guy was going from Boston to Texas by way of Arizona. Just don’t.) Hoppy’s motivation for this masquerade is pretty flimsy, but of course when he gets to Texas, he finds there’s all sorts of chicanery going on involving the beautiful girl who owns the other half of the ranch, a crooked lawyer, a brutal saloon owner, and a gang of night riders. Never fear, though, Hoppy, California, and Jimmy will set everything right.

Despite those snarky comments aimed at the script, I really had a great time watching this movie. And William Boyd clearly had a great time playing a high-falutin’, fancy-dressed, foppish Boston lawyer who swaggers into the saloon that’s the bad guys’ headquarters and orders milk. Andy Clyde is fine as California, as usual, and Jimmy Rogers does a good job as one of the alternating third wheels in this series. Russell Harlan’s photography is very good, production values are generally high with lots of riding extras and powder burning, and director George Archainbaud keeps things moving along briskly. The movie suffers a little because the villains seem weaker than usual. We know, of course, that they’re never going to stand a chance against Hoppy and his pards, but they never really put up much of a fight until the end.

That final showdown is pretty epic, though, and TEXAS MASQUERADE is also a good example of Crider’s Law: Any movie is improved by the addition of quicksand. I enjoyed this one enough that I think there’s a good chance I’ll be watching another Hopalong Cassidy movie pretty soon.

Sunday, June 07, 2020

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Adventure Trails, October 1938

Although I don't believe the Stalwart, Fur-Hatted Hero on this cover has a mustache (it's kind of hard to tell), I think the unknown artist intended for him to look like Errol Flynn. That's the way it appears to me, anyway. ADVENTURE TRAILS was a short-lived pulp from Manvis Publications, one of the lower-rung pulp publishers. The biggest name in this issue is Rodney Blake, who was really the great H. Bedford-Jones, although it's unlikely that readers of the time knew that. Also on hand are house-names Ken Jason and James Hall, plus little-known pulpsters such as Rex Evans, Lon Taylor, and Beech Allen. I'm sure the HB-J yarn is worth reading, and I'll bet some of the others are, too.

Saturday, June 06, 2020

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Ranch Romances, Second December Number 1957

This is a pulp that I own and read recently. That’s my beat-up copy in the scan. I don’t know who did the cover art.

When I sat down to read "Lone Hand" by T.V. Olsen, the lead novel, it didn't take me long to realize that the opening few pages of it are pretty blatantly plagiarized from Joseph Chadwick's 1951 novel RIDER FROM NOWHERE, published by Gold Medal, which I happen to have read earlier this year.

Consider these passages:

Chadwick: His cigarette grew short and finally scorched his fingers. He dropped the butt and deadened it under the heel of a shabby boot, very deliberately; he was a careful man, and, although he owned not a single acre of this vast sweep of range, or any range, he wanted to start no grass fire.

Olsen: His throat was parched with thirst, and the acrid dry taste of smoke wasn't helping. He ground the cigarette under his heel, mashing it deep into the earth. Trace Keene was a saddlebum who hadn't an acre of land to his name, but the scruples of a better past made him take care against starting a fire on the sweeping expanse of New Mexico grass.

Chadwick: He found himself trembling; it was partly from excitement, partly from the hunger that was a dull ache in his belly and a quivery weakness in the rest of him. He could see the brand mark on the horses from here, a curious brand unfamiliar to him.

Olsen: The horses were so close now that Trace could make out the brand mark on the hip of the nearest. It was a curious design unknown to him. Not that he cared who owned the animals. His legs were already cramped from miles of unaccustomed walking.

In Olsen's paragraph just prior to that, there's a line about "the quivering weakness of thirst and a belly-knotting hunger".

The first few pages of both are full of such similarities, and the action that takes place is the same: the protagonist watches a band of horses in hopes of catching one; they drift away from him; he moves closer; the horses finally come close enough for him to rope one of them and put his saddle on it. Then two cowboys who work for the ranch that owns the horses ride up and catch him.

I used the word "blatantly" above, because one of the characters introduced late in this scene is even named Chadwick.

Now, from that point on, the stories diverge from each other, and although there are minor similarities, it's more a case of both of them being save-the-ranch yarns, I think. And Olsen's novella is pretty darned good overall, a traditional plot but well-handled, with some nice writing and gritty action scenes. I'm baffled as to why he would have used Chadwick's opening like that, though. 1957 is pretty early in Olsen's career, but he was already selling regularly to the few remaining Western pulps by then and I believe had already sold a novel to Ace. At this point there aren't really any answers to be had, but I just found it curious. I'm used to pulp authors cannibalizing their own work but it seems rare for one of them to swipe something from another writer.

Edward Carr is an author whose work I’m not familiar with. His story in this issue, “Desert Chase”, is about the vengeance-seeking brother of a slain stagecoach guard pursuing the outlaws responsible for the killing into the brutal desert of northern Mexico. The owlhoots have a hostage, a young woman, who they leave behind thinking their pursuer will have to save her instead of coming after them. Carr, who published only about a dozen stories in the Fifties, spins a suspenseful, well-written yarn here.

From what I’ve read of his work, Robert E. Trevathan was a pretty solid author of traditional Westerns. He published about a dozen stories in various pulps during the Fifties and wrote approximately the same number of Western novels during the Sixties and Seventies. Unfortunately, most of his books were published by Avalon, the small, library market publisher, so they never got much attention. He’s almost completely forgotten these days. His story in this issue, “Cherokee Strip or Bust”, is an Oklahoma Land Rush yarn, and the protagonist is a little unusual. He’s a bookkeeper whose ambition is to run a general store. It’s well-written, and I enjoy offbeat tales like this now and then.

“Trouble at the Cimarron” by Leola Lehman is something a little unusual in RANCH ROMANCES during the Fifties—an actual romance story. And it’s a good one, with a female protagonist joining a wagon train headed out the Santa Fe Trail. Lehman is completely unknown to me and like Trevathan published only about a dozen stories, but she tells a good story here with some satisfying action at the end.

Unlike Carr, Trevathan, and Lehman, Ray G. Ellis was more prolific in the pulps, authoring more than three dozen stories during the Fifties and early Sixties. His “Piano Wrangler” also features a somewhat unusual protagonist, a former lunger from back east who came west for his health and wound up playing the piano in a saloon. Now he’s fallen for one of the girls who works there, wants to marry her and buy a ranch and get them both out of the saloon, but before he can do that, he has to face a challenge from one of the local bullies. This is a fine, well-written yarn.

There’s also a serial installment of a novel by James Keene (Will Cook) and the usual assorted features and fillers, but I didn’t read any of them.

Overall, this is a top-notch issue of RANCH ROMANCES. There’s not a bad story in the bunch. If I hadn’t happened to read Chadwick’s novel not long ago, I never would have known that Olsen lifted some of the opening from it, and even with that, it’s the best story in the issue and has made me want to read more by Olsen, an author whose work has never grabbed me in the past. If you have this one, it’s worth pulling down from the shelf and reading.

Friday, June 05, 2020

Forgotten Books: Bannerman The Enforcer - Kirk Hamilton (Keith Hetherington)

Under various pseudonyms, Keith Hetherington was one of the most prolific authors of Westerns published in Australia by Cleveland Publications. One of his most common pen-names was Kirk Hamilton, and under that name he wrote a 48-book series called Bannerman the Enforcer, all of which have been reprinted in e-book editions by Piccadilly Publishing. I’ve read several stand-alone Westerns by Hetherington that I enjoyed quite a bit, so I recently read the first of the Bannerman books, titled simply THE ENFORCER.

As the book opens, Yancey Bannerman is a cowboy and trail boss who has just taken a herd to Mexico and is on his way back to Texas. He runs into some trouble along the way from bandidos who want to steal the money he got for the herd, but with some help from a gunsmith and sharpshooter named Johnny Cato, he makes it back to Texas. Cato, having wrapped up a dangerous errand of his own that took him below the border, tags along.

We quickly learn that Yancey is the younger, black sheep son of wealthy businessman Curtis Bannerman. Yancey’s older brother Charles is actually the black sheep of the family, though, having run up gambling debts and gotten in trouble with local criminals in San Francisco. In an effort to escape from this dilemma, Charles persuades his father to send him to Texas on business, and if you think the Bannerman brothers are going to run into each other and Yancey is going to be drawn into Chuck’s troubles (which wind up involving a conspiracy that stretches all the way from San Francisco to Austin), you’d be absolutely right.

Yancy also meets the governor of Texas, Lester Dukes, who is a reformer out to bring law and order to the Lone Star State. With continued assistance from Johnny Cato, Yancey helps both his brother and the governor and wraps up the various plotlines in a very satisfactory fashion, although not without quite a few fistfights and gunfights along the way, of course.

Yancey and Cato are quite likable protagonists, and Hetherington’s smooth prose and skillful pacing making THE ENFORCER a real pleasure to read. By the end of the novel (and this isn’t really a spoiler, since it’s the whole concept of the series) our two heroes have gone to work for Governor Dukes as special troubleshooters, authorized to go anywhere in Texas to root out corruption and corral owlhoots. I don’t know if I’ll ever get around to reading all 48 books in the series, but I definitely plan to read more. I had a fine time reading this book, and if you enjoy traditional Westerns, there’s a good chance you will, too.

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

Commando: Codename Warlord: Ship of Fools - Iain McLaughlin

Get ready for Lord Peter Flint like he's never been seen before -- with a beard! German Navy zealots are hell-bent on building a 'Fuhrer' class warship, the biggest warship of all time, and only Britain's top secret agent, Codename Warlord, can stop them!

(I find it kind of, um, odd that the sales copy for this issue of COMMANDO chooses to emphasize the fact that Lord Peter Flint disguises himself with a fake beard. It's really not a huge part of the plot. The story is very enjoyable overall, though, a good espionage yarn set in the very early days of the war. Iain McLaughlin's stories are almost non-stop action and quite entertaining. I don't talk much about the art in these, but that job is handled this time by Manuel Benet, and I like his work quite a bit. At times it reminds me of Joe Kubert, and at others of John Severin. When you're talking about war comics, you can't do much better than those two!)

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

Overlooked Movies: Braven (2018)

I’d never heard of this 2018 action movie starring Jason Momoa, but I’ve found him to be a likable lug of a protagonist so I figured it might be worth watching. He plays the title character, Joe Braven, a logger and sawmill owner in Alaska (or maybe Canada, I’m not sure that’s ever made clear), who, through a set of unfortunate coincidences, winds up with a load of drugs belonging to some bad guys stashed in his hunting cabin in the remote woods. Braven is there with his father (played by Stephen Lang) who is suffering from dementia, and his adorably cute young daughter shows up as well. Then the bad guys (including the great character actor Zahn McLarnon) arrive on the scene to reclaim their drugs and kill everybody. Many action scenes ensue.

If this movie had been made ten years earlier, it probably would have starred Dwayne Johnson. Thirty years ago, Arnold Schwarzenegger. That right there ought to tell you what you’re getting in BRAVEN. However, Momoa is as likable as ever, and he’s not a superhuman hero, either. He takes a lot of punishment in this movie, although he deals out plenty, too. Lang is nearly always interesting, Momoa’s wife is played by Jill Wagner, who is pretty badass herself, and there’s a nice twist in the final showdown between Momoa and the head bad guy that I didn’t see coming, which is always a plus. Watching BRAVEN was a pretty enjoyable hour-and-a-half for me. If you’re an action movie fan, it might well be for you, too.

Monday, June 01, 2020

Son of Grendel: A Battle for the Wastelands Novella - Matthew W. Quinn

It’s been a while since I read a post-apocalyptic yarn. A while back, I bought the e-book edition of a novel called BATTLE FOR THE WASTELANDS by Matthew W. Quinn, mostly because of the great cover since I wasn’t familiar with the author. I hadn’t gotten around to reading it yet, though, so when Quinn recently published SON OF GRENDEL, a novella-length prequel to the novel, I decided to start with it instead.

Quinn doesn’t spend a lot of time on world-building. Instead, in an opening reminiscent of Ernest Hemingway’s FOR WHOM THE BELL TOLLS, he drops the reader down in the middle of the action as a group of resistance fighters in some future America ambushes a column of soldiers from the army of a tyrant known as Grendel, who evidently has conquered most of North America.

Then Quinn cleverly switches the focus to the title character, a young army officer who’s the son of that tyrant, and how he handles the campaign of reprisal against those resistance fighters. There are also some unexpected elements to the story, such as a mention of pterodactyls, that lead me to believe this is either an alternate universe from ours, or else something really weird happened in that apocalypse.

I suspect I’ll find out in BATTLE FOR THE WASTELANDS, which I intend to read soon because Quinn is an excellent writer with a fine sense of pacing and some top-notch action scenes. I really want to discover more about the world he’s created in this series. I’ll add, too, that SON OF GRENDEL is very well edited and formatted, something you don’t always get in books these days, even from the big New York publishers. Overall, if you’re a fan of post-apocalyptic adventure tales, I think this one is well worth reading.