Friday, September 25, 2020

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



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

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


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

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


Monday, September 21, 2020

Legend of the Black Rose - A.W. Hart



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

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

See, I told you this was good stuff.

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

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Detective Yarns, February 1939


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

Saturday, September 19, 2020

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


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

Friday, September 18, 2020

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



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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Amazing Stories, May 1943


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

Saturday, September 12, 2020

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Exciting Western, September 1948


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

Friday, September 11, 2020

Forgotten Books: Frisco Flat - Stuart James



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

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

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

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

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

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


Tuesday, September 08, 2020

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



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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 06, 2020

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Detective Book Magazine, Summer 1938


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

Saturday, September 05, 2020

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Leading Western, August 1949


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

Friday, September 04, 2020

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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