Friday, July 31, 2020

Pages and End of the Month Update

There were errands to run this morning and I only got in half a day at the computer, but in that time, I wrote 13 pages, so I was well pleased with that. (I'm not superstitious . . . too much.) I'm getting fairly close to the end of this book, so I'm hoping that will help me pick up some steam.

That gave me 261 pages total for July. I need to be writing 350-400 pages per month in order to get everything done without it being too ridiculously late.

I also read 13 books in July. I was kind of hoping to finish another one so it would be 14, but like I said, I'm not too superstitious . . .

Forgotten Books: The People of the Mist - H. Rider Haggard

I’ve heard and read so many good things about H. Rider Haggard’s work over the years that I’ve been interested in reading more of it for a long time. More than 50 years ago, I read perhaps his most famous novel KING SOLOMON’S MINES, and although I remember enjoying it, that’s about all I recall.

Recently, having seen comments about the 1894 novel THE PEOPLE OF THE MIST being a great Lost Race yarn by Haggard, I decided to give it a try. It opens in England, with Leonard Outram and his older brother Tom losing the family estate because their father, in financial embarrassment, has committed suicide. Leonard and Tom vow to become rich enough to reclaim their birthright, and so off they go to Africa to hunt for gold. Unfortunately, Tom dies of a fever, and Leonard is left to carry on with the quest, aided only by his faithful servant, the native dwarf known as Otter.

In a chance encounter, they learn about a beautiful English girl, Juanna Rodd, who’s being held captive by slavers, and the girl’s servant, who is from a city hidden by a mysterious mist, promises Leonard that if he’ll help rescue Juanna from the slavers, she’ll lead them back to that lost city where there’s a fortune in rubies and sapphires waiting for the man bold enough to take them.

From there, of course, we gallop off on a grand adventure featuring evil slavers, evil high priests, human sacrifices, hidden passages, a giant idol, and a monstrous crocodile worshipped as the living embodiment of a god. THE PEOPLE OF THE MIST is full of stuff we’ve seen countless times in pulp stories and Tarzan movies. The thing to remember, though, is that Haggard was there first for a lot of it.

I love stories like this, no matter how many variations of them I read, and THE PEOPLE OF THE MIST is full of wonderful scenes that really linger in the imagination. Some of the images Haggard conjures up are really epic. Otter is an absolutely great character, too, and even though he’s supposedly Leonard’s sidekick, he’s the one who actually saves the day over and over. Everything builds up to a conclusion that is both satisfying and a little surprising. Haggard doesn’t let things play out exactly how you might expect.

Now, as you might expect with a book first published in 1894, the style is, at times, a little dry and old-fashioned, although the action scenes clip along nicely. THE PEOPLE OF THE MIST is considerably longer than the books I normally read, too, and it took me a while to get through it. But there are some great scenes and I wound up thoroughly enjoying it. It may be a while before I get around to reading another novel by H. Rider Haggard . . . but not 50 years this time, I’m thinking.

Thursday, July 30, 2020


I only managed to get 5 pages done today, but I also had to deal with technical problems and then I got to spend some time talking on Zoom with two writer friends of mine I've known for more than 30 years. So in that respect it was a good day.

Classic Noir: Sin For Me - Gil Brewer

SIN FOR ME is one of Gil Brewer’s later novels, published by Banner Books in 1967, the second novel of his published by Banner that year. The first was THE TEASE. Both books have been reprinted recently by Stark House in a very nice double volume with the usual fine introduction by David Rachels that puts the books in the larger context of Brewer’s triumphant yet tragic career. In my frequently bass-ackwards fashion, I read SIN FOR ME first.

The narrator is Jesse Sunderland, a real estate agent in Denver who is almost broke and drinking too much, because he’s still despondent over the break-up of his marriage to the beautiful Germaine, who comes from a rough family up in the Rockies. Germaine took Sunderland to the cleaners in the divorce and then quickly remarried.

Then a good-looking blonde with a secret about Germaine and her new husband shows up and enlists Sunderland’s help in a scheme that will both make him rich and gain him a measure of revenge on his ex-wife. Chances are that like me, you’ve read enough of these books to know that that’s not going to end well for Sunderland.

Sure enough, murder crops up, Sunderland is slated to take the fall for it, and he has to go on the run to clear his name and maybe, just maybe, get his hands on that fortune . . .

SIN FOR ME is a noir novel in the classic man-on-the-run style, with plenty of lust and greed and raw emotion propelling the story along at a breakneck pace, and few authors were ever better at that than Gil Brewer. At his peak, he may have been the best ever, although Harry Whittington and Day Keene belong in that discussion, too. By 1967, Brewer wasn’t at his peak anymore, but he was still capable of spinning a fine yarn, which SIN FOR ME certainly is. I raced through this book and thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m glad Stark House has reprinted it and THE TEASE, because I don’t think I’ve ever come across a copy of the original edition of either book. This double volume is well worth picking up.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020


The struggle was back today, very slow going until late in the day when it finally kicked in and I wound up getting 8 pages done. As I told Livia, that's not a terrible day, but it's not a good one, either.

More stuff going on in the middle of the day tomorrow, but again, I hope to be productive both before and after.

If you folks get tired of this, let me know and I'll cut it out.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020


I had to go to the dentist in the middle of the day today, but I was able to write some both before and after that appointment and wound up doing 15 pages for the day. Not spectacular, but a considerable improvement and a lot closer to what I need to be writing everyday. Moving those scenes around a couple of days ago helped a lot in figuring out what I needed to do next.

Monday, July 27, 2020


Real life was busy today, and what with errands and other things, it was the middle of the afternoon before I was able to sit down to write. But I managed to do 6 pages before I called it a day, which was more than yesterday in a lot less time, so I'm calling that a considerable improvement. I also realized I had written a couple of scenes out of order and needed to switch them around to make the story flow better, so that helped, too.

Blog Business

I have a pretty good backlog of books I want to read and review, so I'm going to make a slight change in how I schedule posts. For the Forgotten Books series on Friday, I'm going to concentrate on books that are out of print or in public domain, and for older books that currently have reprint editions available, those reviews will go up whenever I have one ready, probably under labels like Vintage Noir, Vintage Westerns, etc. Reviews of current books will be posted on Monday, if I've got one. I realize there's no real reason to post about this, but doing so might make it a little more likely that I'll remember what I'm doing. Can't underestimate the value of that these days.

That Old Dead Magic - Robert J. Randisi

Bob Randisi’s series of mystery novels featuring the Rat Pack is one of the very best mystery series of recent years, and it continues in very strong fashion with the 12th entry, THAT OLD DEAD MAGIC, set mostly in 1965. This time around, Eddie Gianelli, the narrator/protagonist who works as a fixer at the Sands Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, is tasked with helping out Jerry Lewis, who is appearing at the Sands with Sammy Davis Jr. in an attempt to recapture some of the same sort of magic Lewis had with Dean Martin. As it turns out, Lewis is being blackmailed, and Eddie G. has to find out what’s behind it and put a stop to it.

At the same time, Eddie’s private eye friend Danny Bardini is involved in a different case that a beautiful young waitress/aspiring showgirl who’s also a friend of Eddie’s. Another friend, Big Jerry Epstein, a shady character from Brooklyn, is mixed up in that one, too. Then a murder takes place in each case, with the odd connection that the bodies are found in dumpsters. Could the cases possibly be connected? Well, you’ll have to read the book to find out, but as usual with these well-plotted mysteries, don’t be so sure you have everything figured out until Randisi gets to the end of the tale he’s spinning.

Driven primarily by dialogue and action, THAT OLD DEAD MAGIC moves very fast and has humor, likable characters (and some suitably despicable ones), and little bits of detail that capture the setting and the time period perfectly. I remember the mid-Sixties quite well—better than I remember yesterday, I think sometimes—and Randisi does a great job of taking the reader back to that time. He’s also very skillful at working historical figures and incidents into his fictional narrative. I had a really fine time reading this novel and give it a high recommendation.

Sunday, July 26, 2020


I'm starting to understand what Walt Coburn meant about not being able to make a hand. Those of you who are very familiar with Coburn's life and career probably know what I'm talking about. The note he left behind when he committed suicide in 1971 read in part:

May God forgive me
I can't make a hand anymore.
I've written my last story.
I leave the world with no regrets.

Now, I'm not planning on crossing the divide anytime soon, so don't worry. But I'm mired in the worst writing slump I can remember, and I really can't afford it right now and it's incredibly frustrating. So I'm going to fall back on the old trick of posting my daily pages, in the hope that will spur me to greater production.

So, today's big total . . . 4. That was about 800 words, and I felt like I sweated a drop of blood for every damned one of them. Yes, I know I'm being overly dramatic. It sort of goes with the territory, now and then.

By the way, to make a hand is to be a good working cowboy (or whatever the job is). Coburn took his life because, after years of drinking heavily and markets changing without him being able to adjust to them, he wasn't able to write and sell books anymore. I'm still selling, in fact I have plenty of work lined up, I just can't get the blasted words to come out. But I will, one way or another.

Sunday Afternoon Bonus Pulp: Blue Book, July 1937

I don't recall seeing many aviation-themed covers by Herbert Morton Stoops, but this is a good one. I really like the blend of colors on it. Not surprisingly for BLUE BOOK during this era, there are three H. Bedford-Jones stories in this issue--one under his own name, one under his name as well as that of his fictional collaborator Captain L.B. Williams, and one as Gordon Keyne. Other notable writers on hand are Warren Hastings Miller, Leland Jamieson, Kenneth Perkins, William Chester (with a Kioga story), and Robert R. Mill (with a Tiny David story). As a blend of the pulp and slick sensibilities, nothing else came close to BLUE BOOK.

Saturday, July 25, 2020

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Giant Western, September 1949

This is another action-packed cover from Sam Cherry, one of my favorite Western pulp cover artists (and paperback cover artist, too, for that matter). Inside this issue of GIANT WESTERN are stories by Wilbur S. Peacock, Allan R. Bosworth, T.C. McClary, and Ben Frank, plus classic reprints by Charles Alden Seltzer and Frederick R. Bechdolt. The big guy in the red shirt looks a little like James Arness to me, but this is too early for Arness to have influenced the art, I think.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Forgotten Books: Little Sister - Lee Roberts (Robert Martin)

I remember reading some of Robert Martin’s novels featuring private detective Jim Bennett many years ago and liking them quite a bit, but I hadn’t read anything by him for a long time. If I was aware that Martin also wrote mysteries under the name Lee Roberts, I had forgotten it until recently when I received a review copy of his novel LITTLE SISTER, soon to be reprinted by Black Gat Books.

According to the fine introduction by Bill Pronzini, LITTLE SISTER is an expansion of the novelette “Pardon My Poison”, which appeared under Martin’s real name in the April 1948 issue of the pulp DIME DETECTIVE. The protagonist in that version is private detective Lee Fiske, but for the novel version, published by Gold Medal in 1952 under the Lee Roberts by-line, Fiske’s name changes to Andy Brice, but he’s still a private eye. And in classic private eye fashion, he’s hired by a rich, beautiful blonde to handle a mess involving her beautiful, wayward, 17-year-old little sister, who’s gotten herself into more trouble than anyone knows when the book opens. Brice quickly figures that out, though, when the girl shows up drunk—or was she drugged?—with the corpse of a murdered young man in the trunk of her car.

That grisly discovery kicks off a fast-paced couple of days in which two more murders take place, Brice is almost bumped off himself (more than once), and, again in classic private eye fashion, every gorgeous babe in sight throws herself at him. Money and passion both turn out to be motivating factors in this complicated affair, but Brice navigates through all of it in a rather low-key manner, wisecracking a little but not going overboard with it, cooperating with the cops (most of the time), and finally untangling everything to uncover a killer.

LITTLE SISTER is a really well-written book with a lot of nice lines, and Brice is a very likable protagonist/narrator. Reading this novel took me back to the days of high school and college when I was eagerly devouring every private eye yarn I could find, many of them read in my favorite spot on my parents’ front porch. I think I may have to hunt up some more of Martin’s novels. This one is right on the border between medium- and hardboiled and is well worth reading. If you’re a fan of private detective novels, you really should check it out. (Great cover on the reprint edition by Rudy Nappi, too, although it originally appeared on a different book, REEFER GIRL by Jane Manning—which also sounds pretty darned good!)

Thursday, July 23, 2020

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

• Tony Gleeson (Fantastic, Amazing Science Fiction, Mike Shayne, Personal Crimes).
• John Shirley (Weirdbook, Fantastic, The Crow, Constantine, Wetbones).

• Lester del Rey’s Five Ages of Science Fiction by Vince Nowell, Sr.
• Born of Other Worlds, it’s Science Stories, a digest Ray Palmer “tossed in your lap with little or no ceremony.”
• News and dozens of cover previews from around the world of digests, direct from the magazines’ editors, publishers, and writers.
• Mike Chomko and William Lampkin untangle the fate of PulpFest 2020 and The Pulpster.
• Richard Krauss exhumes the true crime sensation: Fotocrime.
• Steve Carper rediscovers the remarkable Photoplay Editions.
• Ward Smith spotlights Digest Science Fiction Novels.

• Amazing Selects
• bare•bones No. 1
• EconoClash Review No. 5
• Guns + Tacos Season One
• Lake County Incidents
• Paperback Fanatic No. 43

• Stories by Michael Bracken, Rick Ollerman, and Joe Wehrle, Jr. with artwork by Rick McCollum, Marc Myers, and Michael Neno.

• Over 100 digest magazine cover images, cartoons by Bob Vojtko, first issue factoids, and more.
• Cover by Tony Gleeson, 160 pages, published in full color by Larque Press.

(The Digest Enthusiast continues to be the most informative, entertaining magazine around, and if you have any interest in digest magazines or magazine fiction in general, you really need to be reading it. Great stuff as usual, with a slight emphasis on science fiction this time around, but my favorite part was the interview with Tony Gleeson, who provided the cover for the "Crimes in Other Times" issue of MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE with what I think is my best Mike Shayne story. It's really nice learning more about the cover artist all these years later!)

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Three Black Deeds - David Hardy

I’ve made no secret of my lack of interest in most of the bloated, angst-ridden, pretentious, politically correct books that traditional publishers consider science fiction these days. Give me space Vikings, star pirates, cybernetic swords and plasma pistols, and stories that are epic in scope but still move like the solar wind. And that’s exactly what David Hardy delivers in his new novel, THREE BLACK DEEDS.

Set in the far future when humankind has spread out through the galaxy, this novel begins with two princes on a world heavily influenced by Scandinavian culture. One winds up dead, tragically, while the other is forced to flee and becomes an outlaw. His adventures eventually take him to a world where he settles down and rises to become a king, only to find that a pirate’s life had a lot less complications and emotional turmoil.

Part of the way through this book, Hardy springs a surprise I didn’t see coming and the direction of the plot changes somewhat but remains full of action and drama. The dominant character is actually the sword known as Tyrving, endowed with an artificial intelligence and a grim destiny, but the human protagonists are interesting and well-written, too. There’s some Robert E. Howard influence in this book, plus some Poul Anderson and Leigh Brackett from the era when they were writing for the pulp PLANET STORIES, plus some Norse mythology. Hardy blends it all together with his own excellent sense of storytelling and spins a fine yarn full of action and color. I really enjoyed THREE BLACK DEEDS, and if you’re a fan of classic-style space opera, I give it a high recommendation.

Tuesday, July 21, 2020

Overlooked Movies: The Current War (2017)

I’m enough of a weirdo that the idea of a movie about the battle between Thomas Alva Edison and George Westinghouse over the question of whether direct current or alternating current will be the dominant electrical power source in the country sounds really interesting to me. And I was right. THE CURRENT WAR turns out to be an intriguing mix of science, history, biography, and personal tragedy. Beautiful photography and fine performances by Benedict Cumberbatch as Edison, Michael Shannon as Westinghouse, and Nicholas Hoult as Nikola Tesla make this a movie well worth watching. It’s a little on the slow side, and sure, we know some of what’s going to happen, but I still enjoyed THE CURRENT WAR quite a bit.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Who's Who in New Pulp - Ron Fortier, ed.


Since the days of Homer, people have naturally loved a good story. From the oral traditions of heroic sagas all the way to the traveling minstrels of the Middle Ages and the Penny Dreadfuls and Dime Novels of a burgeoning new continent. People have always enjoyed action adventure yarns. Then in the 1930s they evolved as garishly painted monthly magazines printed on rough, cheap paper and they were christened the Pulps.

Today their heritage continues in both the hundreds of paperbacks that entertain the masses as “populace fare.” There’s nothing high-brow here, just plain old-fashioned entertainment as a new 21st century generation has picked up the mantle to continue those amazing tales. In these pages you will find….The 222 Writers, Artists, Editors, & Publishers Who together are — THE WHO’S WHO Of NEW PULP!

(I got my copy of this today and, while I haven't read it cover to cover yet, I've had a great time already just looking through it. In the spirit of full disclosure, I have an entry in it myself since I've written a few things that fall directly into the New Pulp category and probably 95%--or more--of my entire career shows a definite pulp influence. This volume is great because it's already introduced me to writers whose work I need to check out, and in many cases it's nice to be able to put a face with the names I already know. I really need to read more New Pulp, and this book is going to inspire me to do so. Highly recommended!)

The Wild Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Volume One - Will Murray

I’ve been a Sherlock Holmes fan for close to 60 years now. I don’t recall which of the stories I read first, but I know I was in elementary school when I discovered the series. Then, when I was in fifth grade, I read THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (in the Scholastic Book Club edition, I think; I’ve written about that on the blog before) and was blown away, to the point that I read it again just a few months later during the summer. It remains one of my all-time favorite mystery novels, all these decades later.

By the time I was out of high school, I’d read all the stories and all four novels by Arthur Conan Doyle. When I say I’m a fan, I don’t mean to imply that I’m any sort of Holmes scholar. Most of the stories, I’ve read only once and I never actually studied them. I couldn’t win a Holmes trivia contest to save my life. But I enjoy the characters and as time went on, I read some of the pastiche novels, too, such as the ones by Nicholas Meyer and THE GIANT RAT OF SUMATRA by Richard L. Boyer when Warner Books published it in 1976. I’ve never written a Holmes pastiche, but I published one a while back at Rough Edges Press, Stephen Mertz’s excellent SHERLOCK HOLMES: ZOMBIES OVER LONDON (now available from Wolfpack Publishing and highly recommended).

So it’s safe to say that I was inclined to like THE WILD ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES by Will Murray, a new collection of ten Holmes tales written by Murray for various anthologies. This volume certainly didn’t disappoint me. In fact, I had an absolutely great time reading it. For a long-time Holmes fan, it was pure pleasure.

Some authors have taken Holmes out of his element, placing their stories in different settings and using elements from other genres. For the most part, Murray’s Holmes is the pure quill, though, classic style stories with the original setting and supporting characters. Here are the tales in this collection:

Is a blue-skinned dinosaur tearing up the Essex countryside? "The Wild Adventure of the Indigo Impossibility" provides the astonishing answer.

Holmes and Watson plunge into the darkest dens of Limehouse in search of "The Mystery of the Elusive Li Shen." Is he man, myth, or monster?

What is the secret of the uncatchable Thames footpad chronicled in "The Adventure of Old Black Duffel?"

A famous American soldier of fortune asks Sherlock Holmes to locate a Russian adventuress long believed dead in "The Adventure of the Nebulous Nihilist."

Did fairies lure a young Manchester boy to his doom? "The Misadventure of the Bonny boy" tells the chilling tale.

A wealthy art collector challenges Sherlock Holmes with an unsolvable riddle. Or is it a riddle? What is "The Enigma of Neptune's Quandary?"

Is a dead man haunting his office––or might an even stranger explanation exist for why his frightened face is imprinted on a windowpane? "The Adventure of the Glassy Ghost" reveals all.

A fiendish murderer strikes down victim after victim in "The Problem of the Bruised Tongues." The only clue: the discolored tips of their tongues.

"The Adventure of the Throne of Gilt." What could it be, and why should Dr. John Watson fear it so?

A revengeful enemy plots a gruesome end for Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in "The Unsettling Matter of the Graveyard Ghoul."

If you can resist those, you’re made of stronger stuff than I am! I'm glad to know that Murray has more of them waiting in the wings. I hope we get collections of them, too. In the meantime, this first volume of THE WILD ADVENTURES OF SHERLOCK HOLMES gets a very high recommendation from me.

Sunday, July 19, 2020

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Aces, October 1930

There's a nice dynamic cover by Rudolph Belarski on this issue of ACES. I haven't read a great deal from the aviation pulps, and I'm not sure why not. I always enjoy them when I do. This issue has just three stories, all of them novella length, by George Bruce, Joel Townsley Rogers, and Robert H. Leitfred, all well-regarded pulpsters, so I'm sure it was a pretty entertaining issue.

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Saturday Evening Western Pulp: Masked Rider Western, January 1943

So, we have a Saturday Evening Western Pulp this week, because I never got a chance to post until now. I don’t own this pulp, but I recently read an e-book reprint of the Masked Rider novel from it, “Black Gold Empire”. It’s a familiar tale of oil being discovered in cattle country, and a criminal mastermind and his outlaw henchmen playing cattlemen and oilmen against each other so they can come in and take over the whole shooting match. A standard plot, for sure, but the author, C. William Harrison, does a good job with it and keeps the story moving along at a very fast pace with lots of action. Harrison was a dependable Western pulpster whose work often had a nice hardboiled tone. He wasn’t the best plotter in the world, and that shows up in this yarn as things get a little muddled in the second half and developments get dragged in from ‘way out in left field, but overall “Black Gold Empire” is a pretty entertaining story. Despite being a Lone Ranger rip-off, The Masked Rider is an interesting character in his own right, and his Yaqui friend Blue Hawk is one of the best sidekicks in the pulps.

The ebook also contains one of the short stories from this issue, “Black Rock Badman” by Harrison Hendryx, who was really James Hendryx Jr. and went on to edit some of the Thrilling Group’s Western pulps during the Fifties. It’s an excellent yarn about a drifting cowboy’s encounter with a small rancher/prospector and all the action that ensues. Hendryx packs a lot of action into a relatively short length with a bank robbery, a gold strike, murder, and a couple of shootouts. I don’t recall ever reading anything else by him, but I’m going to keep my eyes open for his work.

Also on hand are Wayne D. Overholser with a novelette and an author I’m not familiar with, Clay Winburne, with a short story. Having liked the two stories I’ve now read and knowing how consistently good Overholser was, I’d say this was a pretty strong issue of MASKED RIDER WESTERN.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Forgotten Books: Gutter Road - Don Elliott (Robert Silverberg)

As we all know, many of the soft-core “Adult Reading” novels published in the Fifties and early Sixties were really hardboiled crime novels spiced up with a number of flowery, euphemistic sex scenes, while the rest of the book was written in a much tougher, grittier style. GUTTER ROAD, a 1964 Sundown Reader by Robert Silverberg writing as Don Elliott, is a perfect example of this. It opens with the protagonist, a slightly dissatisfied with his life, 38-year-old bookkeeper named Fred Bauman, driving home one rainy night in New York City when he stops to pick up a beautiful young female hitchhiker.

Bad mistake, Fred, as anybody who’s ever read a vintage paperback could tell you. Before you know it, Fred is involved with a blackmail scheme and up to his ears in trouble. Like the ripples from a rock thrown in a pond, his problems spread out to include his wife and his hot-to-trot teenage daughter. There’s a subplot about a down-on-his-luck real estate developer who is also mixed up with the blackmail ring. Things look bad for Fred, but as we also know . . . they can always get worse.

And they usually do in the soft-core books by Silverberg, who turned out some of the bleakest novels in the genre. These aren’t feel-good yarns, but what they are is fast. GUTTER ROAD has some of the smoothest, page-flippingest prose I’ve come across in a while. (If page-flippingest isn’t a word, it ought to be.) I really raced through this one. I would have been okay if the crime element had been played up a little more and some of the sex scenes given fewer pages, but Silverberg knew his audience. GUTTER ROAD has never been reprinted, as far as I know, but if you ever run across a copy, it’s not pretty but it is worth reading.

Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Overlooked Movies: The Peanut Butter Falcon (2019)

Yet another movie I’d never heard of, but the synopsis sounded intriguing, so I figured why not? And I’m certainly glad we watched it.

THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON has a fairly simple plot: Zack, a young man with Down syndrome, is placed by the state (North Carolina, in this case) in a retirement home because he has no family and no one to take care of him. He’s unhappy there and is obsessed with becoming a professional wrestler because of an old videotape he watches over and over about a wrestler who calls himself the Salt Water Redneck. With the help of his roommate (Bruce Dern, having a good time playing an old codger), Zack escapes from the retirement home and takes off to find the wrestling school that’s advertised on the videotape. The retirement home sends a social worker played by Dakota Johnson to find him and bring him back.

Along the way, Zack runs into a scruffy, down-on-his-luck fisherman (played by an almost unrecognizable Shia LaBouef) who is on the run from some guys who have a grudge against him. LaBeouf’s character really doesn’t want to get saddled with Zack, but he grudgingly befriends him anyway and agrees to help him find the Salt Water Redneck’s wrestling school. Picaresque adventures ensue. Johnson catches up to them and reluctantly agrees to help fulfill Zack’s dream. They float down the coast on a raft, just like in the poster. And just as you’d expect, LaBeouf and Johnson wind up falling for each other. But then, not everything plays out like you’d expect, and actually, I think Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz, who wrote and directed this movie (their first feature film), make their only real misstep near the end.

Despite that, THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON is an excellent film, beautifully shot and with fine performances all around. I’m not really a fan of LaBeouf, but he’s pretty likable in this one. I’d never seen anything with Dakota Johnson in it before, at least as far as I remember. Isn’t she in those Fifty Shades films? It’s hard for me to imagine anybody as sweet and pretty and wholesome as she is in this movie doing all kinds of kinky stuff in those other films. But then, I wasn’t planning on ever watching those Fifty Shades movies, so I don’t have to worry about that, do I? The great character actor Thomas Haden Church plays the Salt Water Redneck, and real life wrestlers Mick Foley and Jake “The Snake” Roberts have small roles, too. I’m a Mick Foley fan from ‘way back, so it’s always good to see him.

Zack Gottsagen as Zack steals the show, though, with an earnest, genuinely likable performance, and the fact that he actually has Down syndrome never comes across as a gimmick. He creates a fully rounded character who’s sympathetic most of the time but can also be stubborn and annoying. The script by Nilson and Schwartz deserves some of the credit for that, of course, but Gottsagen really brings it to life.

Overall, THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON is just a really good Southern comedy-drama, sentimental and heartwarming without ever becoming sticky sweet or preachy. It’s not the usual sort of fare I watch, but I really enjoyed it and give it a high recommendation.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Short Stories, July 25, 1937

I'm not crazy about the cover by Duncan McMillan on this issue of SHORT STORIES, but it has a certain evocative quality about it. And the list of authors inside is great: H. Bedford-Jones, James B. Hendryx, F.V.W. Mason, Jackson Gregory, and George Bruce Marquis. With writers like that, I certainly would have been willing to give it a try.

Saturday, July 11, 2020

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Star Western, July 1936

STAR WESTERN nearly always had good covers, and this one is no exception. I'm not familiar with the artist, Don Hewitt, but I like his work on this cover. Inside is the usual great bunch of authors to be found in a Popular Publications Western pulp: Walt Coburn, Cliff Farrell, Oliver King (Thomas Mount), John G. Pearsol, Robert E. Mahaffey, and William F. Bragg.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Forgotten Books: Bloodshot: Blood of the Machine - Kevin VanHook and Don Perlin

I was still reading comics when a new publisher called Valiant debuted in the early Nineties, but mostly I picked up Marvel and some DC. The creators at Valiant were a mixture of newcomers and old pros from the Big Two. I was aware of the comics they were publishing but never read any of them. Only so much time and money in the world.

I’ve heard good things about some of Valiant’s series, though, so I decided to give one of them a try. I found a used copy of a collection called BLOODSHOT: BLOOD OF THE MACHINE, published in 2012 and reprinting the first eight issues of BLOODSHOT from 1993. All the stories are written by Kevin VanHook and penciled by Don Perlin, an artist I remember from his work for Marvel.

The storyline is a little muddled in places, but the title character, Bloodshot, is a former Mafia assassin believed to be dead, but he was really modified by some top-secret government agency, including having healing nanites in his blood, to be a stronger, faster, deadlier killing machine. He’s also had his memory wiped clean, but in the course of things it starts to come back to him, leading to several confrontations with enemies from his past. Eventually he starts working for some British superspy group and tackles missions all over the world. There are also crossovers with other characters from the Valiant universe, none of which I was familiar with, either.

This is an okay collection. The character and the storylines are just a mixture of a number of elements comics fans have seen over and over, but everything is pretty well-executed. Bloodshot, despite his shady past, is a fairly likable protagonist. Don Perlin’s artwork is top-notch all the way. I enjoyed this book, but honestly, I doubt if I’ll seek out any more Bloodshot collections. Too much of it was just too stereotypical.

I have another Valiant collection featuring the character X-O MANOWAR. I plan to read it soon and see what I think of it.

Wednesday, July 08, 2020

Commando: Retribution - Brent Towns

Charlie Grubb's father is found dead -- murdered in his own factory. The main suspect has fled, joining the Australian Imperial Force to avoid justice. But if he thinks he can get away that easily, he's a fool. Charlie will do anything to avenge his father, even if it means tracking the dog to the beaches of Gallipoli and Messines Ridge!

(After a short break, I'm back to reading COMMANDO issues, and as expected, this one by Brent Towns is excellent. It's a well-constructed mystery yarn and covers a considerable amount of time and distance. I like the World War I setting, too. You can't go wrong with these if you enjoy war comics.)

Tuesday, July 07, 2020

Overlooked TV: Hot in Cleveland (2010-2015)

The situation comedy HOT IN CLEVELAND aired for six seasons on the cable channel TVLand, so since we don’t have cable, I was only vaguely aware of it. But then, looking for something lightweight for us to watch, Livia bought a set of the whole series on DVD. And I’m glad she did, because we burned right through all six seasons and enjoyed it as much or more than anything we’ve seen in a good long while.

HOT IN CLEVELAND is about three friends from Los Angeles—an actor, Wendie Malick; an author, Valerie Bertinelli; and a hair and nail stylist, Jane Leeves—who are on their way to Paris for a vacation when their plane is forced to land in Cleveland. While they’re waiting to continue on to Paris, they discover that men in Cleveland find them much more attractive than men in L.A. seem to, so they decide to move there and rent a house that comes with a caretaker played by Betty White.

Yes, it’s a very flimsy premise, even for a sitcom, but the execution of it is excellent and it’s clear that everybody involved is having a great time. (You could make a good drinking game out of how many times Bertinelli almost breaks up, especially during the first couple of seasons and whenever Betty White is involved in a scene.) All the leads are very likable, and they try hard even in the most ludicrous situations. The scripts take a lot of funny and accurate shots at Hollywood, too.

What lifts HOT IN CLEVELAND to greatness where I’m concerned, though, are Betty White and a roster of guest stars like a reunion of all the greatest TV comedy talent from the Sixties, Seventies, and Eighties: Carol Burnett, Mary Tyler Moore, Carl Reiner, Bob Newhart, Don Rickles, Tim Conway, Georgia Engel, Valerie Harper, Cloris Leachman, Rhea Perlman, John Mahoney, Tim Daly, Bonnie Franklin, Pat Harrington, and some I’m bound to be forgetting, plus newer guys like Dave Foley (who is excellent as a private detective who starts out as Leeves’ boss and becomes her beau), Will Sasso, and Jon Lovitz, not to mention the great Craig Ferguson. Watching a scene where it’s just Betty White and Carol Burnett sitting on a bench talking, I turned to Livia and said, “That’s a lot of TV history sitting there.”

What I’m getting at is that, yes, HOT IN CLEVELAND is a silly, often raunchy (but never quite crude) sitcom that pushes all my nostalgia buttons. I remember watching THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW, THE BOB NEWHART SHOW, and THE CAROL BURNETT SHOW every Saturday night with Livia at her parents’ house before we got married and in the first apartment where we lived after we got married. That’s part of a very good time in my life, and I remember it with great fondness.

If HOT IN CLEVELAND doesn’t hit that same sweet spot for you, you might not like it nearly as much as I did. But I’m sure glad that in this time when life is all too grim, all too often, we found something that we could count on to make us laugh and remember better days.

Monday, July 06, 2020

Battle for the Wastelands - Matthew W. Quinn

A while back, I read SON OF GRENDEL, a novella that’s a prequel to this full-length novel. Now I’ve read BATTLE FOR THE WASTELANDS, and it’s a fine post-apocalyptic yarn, just as I expected based on my enjoyment of the novella.

It’s the future, of course, after some disaster that has left vestiges of what people call the Old World. The countries, states, and cities that we know are gone, but firearms technology remains (although at a much lower level for the most part) and dirigibles are still around. A warlord known as Grendel has conquered most of North America. I get the feeling that BATTLE FOR THE WASTELANDS takes place primarily in what we know as Texas, although that’s just a hunch on my part. As in any place that’s ruled by an iron-fisted dictator and his vassals, there are rebels who fight back, and a group of them are the main characters in this novel, including the protagonist, a young man from a small settlement that’s almost wiped out who is searching for his sister and the girl he loves, who have disappeared in the chaos of war.

Actually, although he’s not the protagonist, Grendel himself is the dominant character in this novel. Tough, ruthless, smart, and with hints that he still has a bit of a world-weary code of honor, he’s surrounded by allies who can’t be trusted even while he has to deal with his open enemies. Political intrigue is thick, not only because of ambitious subordinates but also due to an abundance of concubines and offspring, all of whom would like to follow in his footsteps as absolute ruler someday.

Author Matthew W. Quinn keeps things moving along at a fast clip with lots of gritty action scenes, including a great dirigible battle late in the book. I get the sense that he’s barely started to peel away the layers of the story he envisions for this world, and I look forward to seeing what he comes up with next. BATTLE FOR THE WASTELANDS is good, solid post-apocalyptic science fiction, and if you’re a fan of that genre I certainly recommend it.

Sunday, July 05, 2020

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Adventure, August 1942

For Fourth of July weekend, a patriotic cover from one of the longest-running and most iconic pulps, ADVENTURE. That painting is by E. Franklin Wittmack, and I really like it. Inside are stories by Gordon MacCreagh, Tom Roan, Bill Gulick (Hey, I've met him! Jackson, Wyoming, at the 1992 Western Writers of America convention. ), Samuel W. Taylor, and Barre Lyndon. Not the most star-studded line-up of authors ever, but some solid writers there and I'll bet it's a good issue.

Saturday, July 04, 2020

Update on Yesterday's Forgotten Book: Blind Mayhem - Robert Leslie Bellem

Many thanks to Brian Ritt for letting me know that Barnes & Noble has that Nick Ransom collection by Robert Leslie Bellem available as a Nook book under a different title. That's worth downloading the Nook app if you don't already have it (or a Nook), I'd say. That version is called BLIND MAYHEM, and you can find it here:

Happy Fourth of July

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Wild West Weekly, July 4, 1936

Although it doesn't have a patriotic-themed cover, this is the issue of WILD WEST WEEKLY dated July 4, 1936. Behind that cover by H.W. Scott, which I like quite a bit, are the usual assortment of series characters readers found in this pulp: a Silver Kid story by T.W. Ford, a Johnny Forty-five story by Paul S. Powers writing as Andrew A. Griffin, a Pete Rice story by Ben Conlon writing as Austin Gridley, a Risky McKee story by Norman W. Hay writing as William A. Todd, and (Wait a minute! How'd they get in here?) stand-alone stories by Lee Bond writing as Nelse Anderson and George C. Henderson. A person could get exhausted just trying to keep up with all the series characters in WILD WEST WEEKLY, but the readers seemed to have loved it for a long time. I've enjoyed all the issues I've read.

Friday, July 03, 2020

Forgotten Books: Nick Ransom, Confidential Investigator - Robert Leslie Bellem

Art by Sam Cherry

As far as I recall, my introduction to Robert Leslie Bellem and his work was reading his Dan Turner novella “The Lake of the Left-Hand Moon” in the anthology THE GREAT AMERICAN DETECTIVE. I’ve read a bunch of his stories since then, mostly featuring his iconically goofy private detective Dan Turner but also some of his Western, adventure, and Weird Menace yarns. Bellem wrote everything, just about.

Art by Rudolph Belarski

While the bulk of Bellem’s output appeared in various pulps published by Culture Publications and Trojan Magazines (the so-called Spicy line of pulps), he wrote for other publishers as well and wrote about other private detectives besides Dan Turner. One such character was Nick Ransom, who appeared in five stories in various Munsey detective pulps in 1940 and ’41, then was brought back by Bellem for nine novelettes that appeared in THRILLING DETECTIVE from 1948 to 1950. NICK RANSOM, CONFIDENTIAL INVESTIGATOR is an e-book that collects seven of the nine later yarns from THRILLING DETECTIVE.

Art probably by Rudolph Belarski

Included in this volume are:

"Suicide Scenario" (February 1948)

"Mahatma of Mayhem" (April 1948)
"The 9th Doll" (August 1948)
"Serenade with Slugs" (December 1948)
"Homicide Shaft" (April 1949)
"Puzzle in Peril" (October 1949)
"Blind Man's Fluff" (February 1950)
Why the other two stories from THRILLING DETECTIVE, "Preview of Murder" (June 1949) and "Murder Steals the Scene" (August 1950) aren’t included, I don’t know, although the obvious answer is that whoever put together this collection didn’t have those issues of the pulp.

Art by Rudolph Belarski

No matter, what’s important is how much fun these yarns are. I’m not going to attempt to summarize the plots. As usual with Bellem, they’re goofy, surprisingly complex, and fairly clued, as well as being populated by colorful, eccentric characters, not the least eccentric of which is Nick Ransom himself. They all have some connection with the movie business, like the Dan Turner series, but unlike most pulp authors writing about the movies who concentrated on the stars and sometimes the directors, Bellem often brings scriptwriters into his stories. Writers play an important part in several of these.

Art by Rudolph Belarksi; this scene appears in the story, but the cover may have been done first and Bellem wrote the story to fit.

As for Nick himself, he’s been described as a toned-down version of Dan Turner, but if there’s any toning down done, it’s not by much! Nick’s first-person narration is full of eye-popping slang, as well as equally eye-popping descriptions of feminine pulchritude. There’s plenty of wild action, too.

Art by Rudolph Belarski

I know Bellem’s work isn’t to everybody’s taste, but he’s one of my all-time favorites and I really enjoyed this collection. Luckily, there are plenty of his stories still out there for me to read, and a lot of them have been reprinted. If you’re a Bellem fan, like me, I give NICK RANSOM, CONFIDENTIAL INVESTIGATOR a very high recommendation.

UPDATE: I've just discovered that this collection is no longer available on Amazon. I didn't know that when I scheduled the post. I bought it late last year and just recently finished reading it. I have no idea why it was taken down, and I apologize if I've whetted your appetite for a book that can't be bought.