Thursday, December 31, 2020

The Wrap Up

I don’t have to tell any of you that this has been a pretty rotten year in many ways, but around here, Livia and I have been fortunate in that we’ve been able to carry on working as usual. Because of that, I topped one million words of fiction for the 16th straight year (my usual goal of slowing down not having panned out, also as usual). That million words encompassed eight solo novels and five collaborative novels. No short fiction this year, but I plan to do at least one novella in 2021. No fiction under my own name, either, but that will change next year.

On the reading front, I had my second-best year since I started keeping records in 1980, with 164 books read. The fact that we were home more than usual may have had something to do with that. Here are my top ten favorites from the books I read, in alphabetical order by author and with links to my reviews of them:

THE SPICY-ADVENTURE MEGAPACK, Robert Leslie Bellem, Victor Rousseau, et al.
DEATH SQUAD, Alan Hebden
FOREVER AND A DAY, Anthony Horowitz

That’s four books reprinted from the pulps and two more by authors who sold to the pulps (Abbott and Haas). There were a lot of other good books on my list that came close to cracking the top ten. Overall, it was a good year for reading, and I already have a lot of great stuff lined up to read in 2021.

Which I hope will be a vast improvement for all of us. I’m not at all convinced that it will be, mind you . . . but there’s nothing wrong with hoping.

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Commando: Cardiff Blitz - Gary Dobbs

Cardiff, 2nd January, 1941. For over ten hours, the Welsh capital was blitzed by over one hundred German bombers who were determined to turn the city to ruins. On the ground and among the rubble was the Martin family. The father, Charlie, was a firefighter in the AFS and his daughter, Freda, was an Air Raid Warden. While Charlie put out the flames from the incendiary bombs, Freda helped civilians get to the safety of the shelters. But the Blitz wouldn't be the only challenge the pair would encounter that cold Cardiff night...

CARDIFF BLITZ is the first COMMANDO story written by Gary Dobbs, also known as blogger and Western writer Gary Martin Dobbs. I believe he has several more scripts in the pipeline, and I hope so because this is an excellent homefront tale of World War II. The characters are very good and we can't help rooting for them, including a cat known as The General who prompts some of the action. I really enjoyed this one and look forward to reading more issues of COMMANDO written by Dobbs.

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Overlooked Movies: They Got Me Covered (1943)


THEY GOT ME COVERED is another early Bob Hope movie that I somehow never saw until now. It’s got a great premise: Hope is an inept newspaper correspondent, Dorothy L’amour is his girl Friday/girlfriend who shares an apartment with five other young women in war-crowded Washington D.C., and together they uncover a Nazi spy ring run by Otto Preminger, Eduardo Ciannelli, and Philip Ahn. Hope and L’Amour have the Nazis after them while they run around trying to get the proof they need to expose the spy ring. Many hijinks ensue.

This is an odd movie that relies more on funny situations and physical comedy for its laughs rather than the snappy banter that Hope was known for. There’s some of that in Harry Kurnitz’s script, of course, but overall it’s not as funny as many of Hope’s movies. It is, however, a fairly complex, well-plotted little spy thriller, and as usual, for all of his cowardly posturing, Hope’s character turns out to be quite a scrapper when he’s forced into it.

For the most part, the cast carries this movie. I always like Hope, Dorothy L’amour is beautiful and funny, all the bad guys are suitably sinister, and character actor Donald Meek does a weird scene in which he’s a crazy old man who thinks the Civil War is still going on. It’s amusing, but it almost seems like a scene from a different movie. There’s a Bing Crosby joke (always welcome). THEY GOT ME COVERED never quite rises above the level of average . . . but an average Bob Hope movie from that era is still pretty entertaining. I’m glad I finally got around to watching it.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Commando: HMAS Expendable - Brent Towns

The crews of The Wombat and The Tiger are reunited once again, on a mission to uncover the truth about a new terror lurking in the Coral Sea! Are they really being betrayed by their American allies -- or is there more to this than meets the eye? They've been fooled once by radio transmissions, but now Captain Griffin has a cunning plan...

Brent Towns spins another fine yarn of naval warfare in this sequel to THE WOMBAT AND THE TIGER. The feuding battleship captains--who are also reluctant allies--are excellent characters, and there are plenty of battle scenes and plot twists. As an added bonus, an Admiral Towns makes an appearance in this one as well. As always, this is a very entertaining story.

Sunday, December 27, 2020

The Annual December 27th Post

44 years ago today, I made my first sale as a professional fiction writer. I've done a post to mark that anniversary every year since 2004, when I started this blog. The first and most detailed of those posts can be found here. Back on December 27, 1976, I had no way of knowing how my career was going to turn out, of course. That one sale might have been one-and-done. That happens to a lot of people less fortunate than I've been. Yeah, I have a certain amount of talent for the writing game and I've worked pretty hard at it at times, but luck has also followed me every step of the way and don't think I don't know it. The biggest stroke of luck I ever had, in more ways than one, was marrying Livia four months before I made that first sale. One thing definitely has a lot to do with the other. So here's a big thanks to her, to our daughters, to all the editors who've had faith in me, to all the friends I've made, and to all of you reading this post.

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Dime Detective Magazine, March 1938

For the last pulp cover post of the year, we have a dandy cover by Walter Baumhofer on one of the iconic pulp magazines, DIME DETECTIVE. Inside this issue, there's a Race Williams story by Carroll John Daly, Raymond Chandler's "The King in Yellow", a Keyhole Kerry story by Frederick C. Davis, and stories by a couple of lesser known writers, William Edward Hayes and Maxwell Hawkins. Baumhofer, Chandler, Daly, and Davis are more than reason enough to think this was a great issue of DIME DETECTIVE.

Saturday, December 26, 2020

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Star Western, August 1947

For our last Western pulp cover of the year, we've got a pretty tough-looking hombre on this STAR WESTERN cover by the ubiquitious Sam Cherry, as regular commenter Tiziano Agnelli referred to him last week. Cherry doesn't get as much attention as some pulp and paperback cover artists do, but man, he turned out a lot of work and nearly all of it was excellent. He's one of my favorite artists, no doubt about it. And a couple of my favorite Western pulp authors, Walt Coburn and Harry F. Olmsted, have stories in this issue, along with other top-notchers Philip Ketchum, Joseph Chadwick, Giff Cheshire, Lee E. Wells, and Marvin De Vries. STAR WESTERN was always good.

Friday, December 25, 2020

Forgotten Books: The Trailsman #314 North Country Cutthroats - Jon Sharpe (Peter Brandvold)

(This post originally appeared on December 14, 2009.)

I’m not exactly what you’d call a Scrooge, but I’m generally not as filled with the Christmas spirit as some people are. So I thought maybe it would help me get in a holiday mood if I read a sweet, heartwarming, inspirational Christmas novel. What did I pick?


This entry in the long-running Trailsman series was published a couple of years ago and is definitely a Christmas novel, taking place on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day as Skye Fargo finds himself in Dakota Territory, riding shotgun on a stagecoach driven by his old friend Grizzly Olaffson. Fargo would rather be wintering some place warm and tropical, but that’s not how things have worked out. And of course, getting caught in a blizzard is almost the least of Fargo’s troubles, since the stage is carrying a strongbox full of army payroll money that’s bound to attract outlaws, and one of the passengers is a beautiful Russian woman with a secret in her past that may prove deadly to Fargo.

The author behind the Jon Sharpe house-name on this novel is the always dependable Peter Brandvold. As usual in Pete’s work, there’s plenty of gritty action and colorful characters, a few touches of dark humor, and a vividly described setting. NORTH COUNTRY CUTTHROATS may not be exactly what you’d call sweet and heartwarming, but I thought it was a lot of fun and thoroughly enjoyed it. If you’re a Trailsman fan, you’ll want to read this one, and if you haven’t tried that series yet, this would be a good place to start, especially given the time of year.

(Update: I'm fudging a little by calling this a Forgotten Book, because the e-book version is still available on Amazon, but it's an excellent book, and if you need something entertaining to read after whatever festivities you have going on today, I give it a high recommendation. I hope all of you have a very Merry Christmas!)

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Classic Adventure Pulp: The Spicy-Adventure Megapack - Robert Leslie Bellem, Victor Rousseau, et al.


I’ve been reading this big e-book anthology for the past year or so, a story or two (or three) between novels, or when I just didn’t have the attention span for anything longer, an all too common condition these days. I’ve also discovered that they’re also great to read while sitting and waiting at the doctor’s office, fast-paced and always interesting. The contents are as follows, all of them originally published in SPICY-ADVENTURE STORIES, with a few exceptions as noted.

THE SHANGHAI JESTER, by Robert Leslie Bellem (July 1934)

BLACK MURDER, by Carl Moore (Edwin Truett Long) (April 1935)

SUEZ SOUVENIR, by Jerome Hyams (Robert Leslie Bellem) (SPICY DETECTIVE STORIES, September 1934)

THE HOUSE OF WEIRD SLEEP, by Charles R. Allen (January 1935)

CAVE OF THE CRISS-CROSS KNIVES, by C.C. Spruce (April 1935)

HOT BLOOD, by Arthur Wallace (April 1935)

THE MOON GOD TAKES, by Robert Leslie Bellem (SPICY MYSTERY STORIES, December 1936)

SMUGGLER’S ISLAND, by Atwater Culpepper (April 1935)

TALISMAN OF DOOM, by James W. Marvin (Robert Leslie Bellem) (April 1935)

TATTOOED BLONDE, by Ellery Watson Calder (Robert Leslie Bellem) (April 1935)

WHITE MEAT, by Don King (Gunard Hjertstedt, better known as Day Keene) (April 1934)

RED BAMBOO, by Jason Lyttell (SPICY MYSTERY STORIES, June 1935; apparently Lyttell’s only published story)

THE BLACK 13, by Ellery Watson Calder (Robert Leslie Bellem) (August 1935)

THE ISLE OF MONSTERS, by Jane Thomas (August 1935)

TUFFY AND HIS HAREM, by Nick Anderson (August 1935; the second of only two stories by Anderson)

QUEEN OF THE FLAMING ARROWS, by Frank E. Marks (September 1936)

VALLEY OF BLOOD, by Lew Merrill (Victor Rousseau) (September 1936)

LUST TO KILL, by Jose Vaca (Edwin Truett Long) (March 1937)

MARRIAGE FOR MURDER, by C.A.M. Donne (Donald Clough Cameron) (March 1937)

MESSAGE TO MORGAN, by Guy Russell (March 1937)

RIVER OF FIRE, by Ken Cooper (March 1937)

SKY GODDESS, by Clive Trent (Victor Rousseau) (March 1937)

LEAF OF THE LOTUS, by Guy Russell (May 1937)

THE DEVIL'S DAUGHTER, by Clark Nelson (house name) (December 1939)

ADVENTURE'S END, by Robert Leslie Bellem (April 1935)

As you might expect, these stories tend to run together after a while, which is why you need to space them out. Also as you might expect, they’re all lurid, over the top, and very politically incorrect. But they’re full of action and enormous fun to read, at least for me. The Spicy level is really pretty tame. Girls tend to lose their clothes fairly often, leading to frequent flowery descriptions of their anatomy, but that’s about it. The stories all fade to black before anything actually happens.

With seven stories, more than a fourth of the total, Robert Leslie Bellem dominates the table of contents, which comes as no surprise. And every one of Bellem’s stories is good, with “Talisman of Doom”, a World War I espionage yarn under the name James W. Marvin, standing out in my memory. For sheer luridness, it would be hard to top “White Meat” by Day Keene (I’m going to call him that since that’s the name he’s best known by) and “River of Fire” by Ken Cooper. I didn’t know Keene had written for the Spicy Pulps, but I’m not surprised. I don’t know anything about Cooper except that he was fairly prolific, although nowhere near Bellem-level.

Honestly, some modern readers are going to find these stories offensive. There’s little characterization, and the plots are rushed and don’t always make sense. But I thoroughly enjoyed this collection, and it’s going on my list of top ten favorite books I read this year. I’m just a little sad that I finished it and don’t have more of them to read when I don’t feel like tackling anything else.

But wait. What’s this I see on my Kindle? THE E. HOFFMANN PRICE SPICY ADVENTURE MEGAPACK, you say? Fourteen stories by another of the prolific contributors to the Spicy Pulps who doesn’t have any stories in the collection I just finished? Well, all right. I know what I’ll be reading between books and in doctor’s offices for a while.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Overlooked Movies: A Pistol for Ringo (1965)

I had a hunch that this was the first Spaghetti Western I ever saw, and when I watched it again recently, I was sure of that because I remember some of it vividly and know that I watched it the first time at my sister's house in 1969 or '70, years that I spent a lot of time there.

But that bit of nostalgia aside, A PISTOL FOR RINGO is a pretty darned good movie. It was made when the Italians were just starting to make Westerns and is a little closer to American Westerns in its look and attitude. Giuliano Gemma (billed as "Montgomery Wood") is a gunfighter named Ringo who is recruited to infiltrate a gang of bank robbers when the outlaws take over a hacienda and hold the owner and his beautiful daughter hostage. It's a fairly simple plot, but there are a few twists and turns and double-crosses in the script by director Duccio Tessari, and after a while it's a little difficult to figure out whose side Ringo is really on.

The action scenes are consistently good, the scenery is spectacular, and the music is Ennio Morricone, so you know it's top-notch. Gemma is a handsome, athletic, likable hero, and Nieves Navarro, playing a female outlaw named Dolores, is just gorgeous. All the bad guys are suitably despicable.

You might not think so, but A PISTOL FOR RINGO is actually a Christmas movie, as the characters mention frequently. Some of the Christmas decorations at the hacienda actually play a significant role in one of the action scenes. It's not IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE or MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, by any means, but if you want some offbeat Christmas viewing, you could do worse. I enjoyed it quite a bit, and I'm glad to have seen A PISTOL FOR RINGO again after 50 years.

Sunday, December 20, 2020

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Argosy, March 1943

This is the final issue of ARGOSY published by the Frank A. Munsey Company before Popular Publications took over the magazine the next month. I used to own a copy of this issue--I remember that fine cover by Peter Stevens--but I don't think I ever got around to reading it. That's a shame, because inside are stories by H. Bedford-Jones, Norbert Davis, E. Hoffmann Price, Georges Surdez, Robert Carse, Tom W. Blackburn, William R. Cox, and Stewart Sterling. That's a great bunch of authors, but just par for the course where ARGOSY is concerned.

Saturday, December 19, 2020

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Frontier Stories, Spring 1947

I don't know who the artist is, but I like the cover on this issue of FRONTIER STORIES. There's plenty to like about the authors in this issue, too, including L.P. Holmes, Dan Cushman, Joseph Chadwick, Lee E. Wells, and M. Howard Lane. I've seen white horses with that same design on them in red paint on other FRONTIER STORIES covers, so that artist must have liked the image.

Friday, December 18, 2020

Forgotten Books: The Road's End - Albert Conroy (Marvin H. Albert)

During the Fifties and early Sixties, Marvin H. Albert was a prolific and dependable author for Gold Medal, turning out Westerns, hardboiled novels, and even movie novelizations of movies you wouldn't have thought would have novelizations, let alone from Gold Medal (THAT JANE FROM MAINE, starring Doris Day, Jack Lemmon, and Ernie Kovacs, for example). He wrote under his own name and the pseudonyms Albert Conroy (sometimes Al Conroy) and Nick Quarry.

THE ROAD'S END (1952) is a hardboiled yarn under the Albert Conroy name, and it's a good one. Albert uses the old amnesia plot in this one but throws a clever twist on it. The narrator/protagonist doesn't know who he is when the book opens, but he finds out pretty quickly. He's Dan Ginger, a bar owner in a small Gulf Coast town, married to the daughter of the local rich man but carrying on affairs with numerous other women, including one who turns up murdered on the same night Dan was clobbered on the head and dropped off a bridge, seemingly to his death. He survives, but he's the leading suspect in his girlfriend's murder, and before you know it, somebody else has been killed, and Dan's caught between the wife he decides he loves after all, the beautiful country girl whose father fished him out of the river, his partner in the bar who maybe hates him, a doggedly determined sheriff, and some mobsters who want to move in with their gambling operation.

Those of us who are Gold Medal fans have seen all these elements before, but Albert weaves them together expertly with some fine writing and characters. THE ROAD'S END almost belongs in the upper level of Gold Medals. I liked it a lot, except for the ending, which made me go "Wait. What?" I almost wanted to see if some pages were missing from my copy, a later printing from 1958. (That's it in the scan.) I decided that, no, that's the way Albert intended to do it, but I don't agree with him.

That said, THE ROAD'S END is still well worth reading. Albert does a great job with the small town setting and the book has some really nice lines in it, as well as some excellent action scenes. I really need to read more by him.

UPDATE: I've discovered that this is actually Albert's first novel.

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Vintage Western Novels: Adam Steele #1: The Violent Peace - George G. Gilman (Terry Harknett)

Over the years I’ve had a bit of a love/hate relationship with the work of British Western writer George G. Gilman, who was really a prolific paperbacker named Terry Harknett. I’ve read more than two dozen entries in his most successful series, Edge, and while I really enjoy the plotting and pacing, and I’m even fond of the groan-inducing puns the series is known for, I don’t like the graphic violence and the vicious amorality of the books. Even so, I find myself drawn to read one now and then.

Harknett’s second most successful series features a former Confederate cavalryman named Adam Steele. Steele and Edge even met in several crossover volumes. Both series were reprinted in the U.S. by Pinnacle, often with title changes. The first Steele book, THE VIOLENT PEACE, was published by Pinnacle as REBELS AND ASSASSINS DIE HARD. I believed I had read that one many years ago but never continued with the series. Recently, thinking that I might give the Steele books another try, I decided to reread it, only this time around it would be the e-book version, under the original title THE VIOLENT PEACE.

Well, I discovered that I must have started but never finished it, because I have no memory of it beyond the first few chapters, which occur on the night Abraham Lincoln is shot at Ford’s Theater. The Civil War is over, and Adam Steele is supposed to meet his estranged father at a tavern in Washington D.C. so they can mend the rift between them. Unfortunately, in the uproar over Lincoln’s assassination, the elder Steele is lynched by a group of men who claim that he was part of the conspiracy to kill the president. Adam Steele arrives too late to save his father, but he immediately sets out to track down and kill the men responsible for the lynching.

All that, I remember. But I don’t think I read beyond that point, because Steele follows the murderers to Tennessee and finds himself mixed up in such a bizarre, over-the-top situation that I feel certain I would have recalled if I ever read it. In the last section of the book, Steele finds himself facing enemies the likes of which I don’t think I’ve ever encountered before in a Western.

Of course, THE VIOLENT PEACE isn’t much of a Western, taking place as it does in Washington D.C., Virginia, and Tennessee. I may have found that off-putting enough that I never continued with the series all those years ago. The violence is just as graphic and disturbing as in the Edge books, and I found Adam Steele to be an even less sympathetic protagonist than Edge. However, I did enjoy Harknett’s plotting in this one, and I like the fast-paced style of his writing. I’m not a big fan of origin stories to start with, and that’s definitely what THE VIOLENT PEACE is. From the looks of them, the other books in the series are more traditional Westerns. I found enough to like in this book, and in the Edge books I’ve read, that I’m going to read at least the second book in the Adam Steele series, and then we’ll see how things go from there.

Wednesday, December 16, 2020

Classic Noir Novels: I'll Find You - Richard Himmel

I’LL FIND YOU by Richard Himmel was one of the earliest Gold Medal novels and also one of the most successful, going through several reprintings after it was published originally in 1950. It’s the first of a series featuring Chicago lawyer Johnny Maguire, although I’m not sure Himmel (also a very successful interior decorator) had any plans to make Maguire a continuing character when he wrote this book.

Maguire is an interesting character, a scuffler and a scrounger, a low-rent type who has ambition to be something more, a womanizer and kind of a heel. But then he falls in love with the widow of a rich client, only to have her commit suicide by walking into Lake Michigan with a fortune in cash.

Ah, but you’ve read Gold Medal novels before. Johnny doesn’t believe she’s actually dead. He thinks she staged the suicide for some reason unknown to him, but he’s determined to find her and discover the truth.

Well, it’s no surprise that he does, and fairly quickly, too, and the whole thing plunges him into a conflict between two mobsters (one of them another of his clients), some romance, and a murder which everybody, cops and crooks alike, assumes Johnny committed. Can he get out of this mess and win the girl? That’s what the rest of the book is for, isn’t it?

I’d never read anything by Himmel before. He has a really appealing style in this book, fast-paced, funny, almost breezy at times, with lots of excellent dialogue, but he also manages to work in some poetic bits from time to time and some angst and tragedy. I’m not sure I’ve read anything exactly like it before, and I can see why I’LL FIND YOU was a big success. It really had me flipping the pages to find out what was going to happen.

This book, along with the other four Johnny Maguire novels and all the stand-alone novels by Himmel, has been reprinted by Lee Goldberg’s Cutting Edge Books. You can even get the complete collection for a very reasonable price. I really enjoyed I’LL FIND YOU and plan on reading the other books by Richard Himmel.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Overlooked Movies: Sahara (1943)

I had seen this movie before, so it wasn’t completely overlooked by me, but the last time I watched it was during the summer of 1966, so I remembered almost nothing about it except that I liked it at the time. Felt like watching it again now, and I’m glad I did because it’s even better than I remembered it.

The plot of SAHARA is pretty simple: an American tank commanded by Sgt. Joe Gunn (Humphrey Bogart) and crewed by radioman Jimmy Doyle (Dan Duryea) and gunner Waco Hoyt (Bruce Bennett) is trying to get through the North African desert and link back up with the rest of their command before the Germans catch them. In order to do that, they’ll have to have more water, so they head for an area where some wells are supposed to be located. Along the way, they pick up a British medic, some British soldiers, a Frenchman, a Sudanese soldier with an Italian prisoner, and a German pilot who tries to shoot up the tank only to have his plane shot out from under him. It’s a motley crew, certainly. Then, when they finally find water, they have to defend the well from a horde of German soldiers, basically sacrificing their lives to slow down Rommel’s advance.

This movie has a great cast. In addition to the actors mentioned above, we have J. Carrol Naish as the Italian prisoner, Lloyd Bridges as one of the English soldiers (his British accent isn’t bad), Richard Aherne as the medic, Kurt Kreuger as the German pilot, and a fine performance from Rex Ingram as the Sudanese sergeant. The acting is strong all around.

Director Zoltan Korda co-wrote the screenplay, based on a story by Philip MacDonald (probably best remembered these days for his mystery novels). Korda keeps the action moving along very smoothly, and the movie generates a lot of suspense leading up to a very effective, almost last minute plot twist. There’s some humor and tragedy along the way, and the whole thing works as great entertainment. I never hear much about this movie, but as far as I’m concerned it’s a real gem. Highly recommended.

Sunday, December 13, 2020

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Spicy-Adventure Stories, January 1937

A lurid but eye-catching cover by H.J. Ward on this issue of SPICY-ADVENTURE STORIES. This one has a particularly good line-up of authors inside: Robert E. Howard (writing as Sam Walser) with one of his Wild Bill Clanton stories, Robert Leslie Bellem (of course) as both himself and Ellery W. Calder, Hugh B. Cave as Justin Case, Victor Rousseau as Lew Merrill, Edwin Truett Long as Clint Morgan, and a couple of authors writing under (apparently) their real names, Alan Anderson and Carson West. I love all the Spicy pulps, although they're best in small doses. I can read two or three stories in a row and still find them very enjoyable.

Saturday, December 12, 2020

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Popular Western, August 1948

I think that's the first time I've seen anybody use a shovel for cover during a gunfight. Doesn't seem to be like it would be all that effective, although it seems to be doing the job in this cover by Sam Cherry. This issue of POPULAR WESTERN has a strong group of authors inside, including William Hopson, Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson, Louis L'Amour, Tom Gunn (probably Syl MacDowell), Ben Frank, Harold F. Cruickshank, Alfred L. Garry, and house-name Jackson Cole. I'm not that fond of some of those writers, but their work was popular and they sold plenty of it.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Forgotten Books: Thrilling Sky Stories - Frederick C. Davis


Over the past few years, Frederick C. Davis has become one of my favorite pulp authors. I’ve always liked his work ever since reading those Corinth paperback reprints of some of his Operator 5 pulp novels, back in the Sixties. I hadn’t really realized how many different genres Davis wrote in, though, until recent years.

THRILLING SKY STORIES is a 2005 small press collection of aviation yarns Davis wrote, including two novellas and a short story. I’ve had it for years but just got around to reading it. The volume opens with the novella “The Sky Pirate”, from the April 1929 issue of AIR STORIES. A mysterious, all-black plane is involved with a series of daring robberies. The thieves strike at a ship at sea, a gold mine in the mountains, and a bank in a San Francisco skyscraper. It’s up to a pair of stalwart, two-fisted Border Patrol pilots to track down the mastermind behind these bizarre crimes, but their investigation has barely started when one of them finds himself framed for a crime he didn’t commit, a twist of fate that turns him against the law, too.

The prose in this yarn from fairly early in Davis’s career isn’t as polished as it would be later, and his plotting is a little weak and driven by too many coincidences . . . but man, the action scenes are great. Also, he was a master at coming up with slam-bang endings where the action continues to the very last paragraph, and he provides a fantastic one here that would have called for some great flying and stunt work if Hollywood had ever made a movie out of this tale. I was really flipping the pages in the last chapter, and any time an author can make me do that, I’ll forgive a lot of other weaknesses. “The Sky Pirate” is a mixed bag, but overall I enjoyed it quite a bit.

“Sky Racketeers”, a novella from the May 1930 issue of WINGS, is exactly what it sounds like, a tale of how gangsters work the ol’ protection racket on an airline. Also as you’d expect, a stalwart, two-fisted pilot gets the job of stopping them, with help from his mechanic sidekick. The plot is a little better in this one, but some of the coincidences still stretch credibility too far. Again, however, the slam-bang ending is great.

This volume wraps up with “Patrol of the Dead”, a short story from the Spring 1937 issue of AIR STORIES. It’s a sequel of sorts to “The Sky Pirate”, featuring the same Border Patrol base and one of the same supporting characters from the earlier story. It’s about the conflict between the Border Patrol and an organization of Mexican drug smugglers (an early day drug cartel, in other words) and is better written and plotted than the other two stories in this book. It lacks the huge climax, but there’s still some good action.

I enjoyed THRILLING SKY STORIES. It’s not a book I’d recommend to anyone who hasn’t read Davis’s work before, since it’s not as good as some of his other work, but anyone who’s already a fan, or who just really likes aviation pulp, will get some good entertainment out of it.

Thursday, December 10, 2020

The General Dies at Dawn - Alan Hebden


Like DEATH SQUAD, which I read recently and really enjoyed, THE GENERAL DIES AT DAWN is a serial from the British comic BATTLE, written by Alan Hebden with art by John Cooper. And also like DEATH SQUAD, it’s written from the German point of view, although there’s only one protagonist in this story, not the five of DEATH SQUAD.

That protagonist is the general of the title, Otto von Margen, a Panzer commander fighting on the Eastern Front in Russia. As the story opens, von Margen is imprisoned, convicted of treason and cowardice and awaiting execution by the SS at dawn the next day. But it’s the spring of 1945, and American troops are closing in on the prison where von Margen is being held. If they get there first and take control, von Margen probably will be spared. If not . . . he’ll keep his date with the SS firing squad.

So to pass the time on what may be his last night, von Margen tells the story of his military career to the soldier guarding him, with each part of the tale being another episode in the serial. Von Margen, a proud officer from the Junker class, has clashed repeatedly with the SS during the war, such friction eventually leading to his imprisonment and conviction. But along the way, he takes part in many battles, including the desperate Siege of Stalingrad.

This story is shorter but more epic in scale than DEATH SQUAD, which covered a relatively short period of time rather than most of the war. But there’s plenty of action, mostly tank battles on the frozen Russian plains. Von Margen is an interesting character, a professional soldier who fights because that’s his job, another example of a German protagonist the reader can sort of root for, even though he’s on the wrong side in the war.

Hebden’s script has the usual twists. He can pack an awful lot of plot into these three-page episodes. Cooper’s art is excellent as well. All of it comes together to create a considerable amount of genuine suspense as the story winds down and we flip the pages to find out whether the Americans will arrive in time to save von Margen’s life. Do we even want them to? That’s a question every reader will have to answer for themselves, I suppose. This story was reprinted in the collection BATTLE CLASSICS, edited by Garth Ennis, which is still available, and if the others in that volume are as good, it’s well worth reading.

Tuesday, December 08, 2020

A Million Words and Counting

This was the year the streak was supposed to end, but it didn't work out that way. And so, for the 16th year in a row, I've written at least a million words of fiction. I'm sure any number of writers have accomplished that much and more (Frederick Faust and H. Bedford-Jones come to mind), but I'm proud of hitting that mark, anyway. As always, thanks to the editors who have had faith in me, the other writers who have worked with me, and of course, Livia, Shayna, and Joanna, who make all of it possible.

16 is a nice round number, don't you think? 

Monday, December 07, 2020

Redemption Trail - Peter Brandvold


REDEMPTION TRAIL is the latest Yakima Henry novel from Peter Brandvold, and it’s a mighty good one. Yakima, a big, two-fisted, gun-handy, half-breed drifter and adventurer, is traveling with a partner for a change when disaster befalls them. The old-timer named Pete Cahill winds up dead, but before passing on, he gets Yakima’s promise to deliver a letter and a money belt to his son, far north in Dakota Territory. Yakima sets out to honor that pledge, but it’ll come as no surprise to the readers that he runs into a heap of trouble along the way, starting with an encounter in Denver with some visiting Englishmen that makes him some enemies.

Then there are the two orphaned girls he takes under his wing, one of them beautiful and just old enough to be tempting to a man of lesser moral fortitude than our boy Yakima. Plus the passel of vicious bounty hunters who are after him and willing to kill anybody who gets in their way. With all that and more going on, Yakima will be lucky to reach his destination with his hide intact, let alone complete his mission.

As always with a Brandvold book, REDEMPTION TRAIL delivers plenty of gritty action, colorful characters, and vividly captured settings. Brandvold writes with the soul of a poet and the heart of a pulpster. Yakima Henry may well be my favorite character of his. There are a few places in this book where it seems like ol’ Yakima may be mellowing a mite, but he’s still capable of dealing out a lot of hot lead to the bad guys. If you’re a Brandvold fan, chances are you already have this novel. If you’re not and you love Western action, check it out. It’s one of the best books I’ve read this year.

Sunday, December 06, 2020

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Speed Detective, February 1943

Are there people who collect icepick covers? Bound to be, there are collectors for just about every other kind of cover. This issue of SPEED DETECTIVE features a particularly brutal one. The lineup of authors inside is fairly strong: Robert Leslie Bellem (with a Dan Turner novelette), Roger Torrey (twice, as himself and as John Ryan), E. Hoffmann Price, and house-name Walter Cook (probably Torrey or Price; if it was Bellem, it seems more likely to me that they would have just used one of his many pseudonyms).

Saturday, December 05, 2020

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Action, August 1952

A nice colorful, dynamic cover on this issue of WESTERN ACTION. I don't know who the artist is. Most of the issue is taken up by a novel by an author whose name I've seen many times but never read, as far as I recall, Allan K. Echols. Back-up stories are by a couple of prolific but little-known pulpsters, Rex Whitechurch and Ben Smith. So as far as the contents go, who knows, might be good, might not.

Friday, December 04, 2020

Forgotten Books: Gunman's Gold - Max Brand


Several times a year, I get the urge to read a Max Brand novel. Frederick Faust, the man behind the Max Brand pseudonym (and many others), had such a distinctive style, really unlike that of anybody else who wrote Westerns, that I have to space them out. But by doing that, I nearly always enjoy his books quite a bit.

GUNMAN’S GOLD was published originally as an 8-part serial in the pulp WESTERN STORY MAGAZINE from April 22 to June 10, 1933, under the name John Frederick, one of those pseudonyms I mentioned earlier. Honestly, because of that distinctive style I mentioned, I have a hard time believing that readers of the time didn’t realize Max Brand, John Frederick, George Owen Baxter, Peter Henry Morland, and all the other Faust pen-names were really the same author. But maybe they didn’t, and the ones who did, didn’t care. Anyway, it was later reprinted in hardback by Dodd, Mead and went through numerous paperback reprints from various publishers, always under the Max Brand name.

Not surprisingly, considering the title, the plot revolves around the discovery of a fabulously valuable gold mine. The villain of the piece, an Easterner named Lee Swain who has come west, finds out about the strike, kills the two prospectors who discovered the gold, and frames the man who grubstaked them for their murders. Having done that, Swain figures he can get his hands on the mine, but first the man he framed has to be caught and lynched by a posse.

A wealthy old friend of the fugitive’s father gets wind of this and hires a freelance adventurer named Sam Shannigan to rescue the young man from this predicament and clear his name. Shannigan gets some help in this mission from a beautiful young woman who’s the daughter of his housekeeper and his unofficial ward. So, off they go to rescue the innocent lad, stay one step ahead of the posse, wear disguises, orchestrate jailbreaks, fall in and out of love, and figure out who really killed the two old prospectors, and why.

Faust sets all this up pretty quickly, and as a result we’re left with a book that’s a little thin on plot but that has a lot of action and character development. Shannigan is a good protagonist, not everybody turns out exactly as you might expect, and as always the writing is excellent, with Faust coming up with a lot of lines that make it clear why he considered his real calling to be as a poet, not a pulp writer. He was never very successful in that, but he left us with a lot of mighty good pulp yarns. I wouldn’t put GUNMAN’S GOLD in the top rank of his work, but it’s a solid second-tier yarn and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. If you’re a Faust fan and haven’t read it yet, it’s worth picking up. Used copies of paperback reprints, print-on-demand editions, and e-book versions are readily available.

Wednesday, December 02, 2020

Classic Noir Novels: The Tease - Gil Brewer

Things aren’t going too well for Wes McCord, the narrator/protagonist of Gil Brewer’s 1967 novel THE TEASE. Wes has a beachfront house in Florida that he inherited, but other than that, he’s almost broke, his career as a real estate salesman is going nowhere, he drinks too much, he’s a philanderer, and after the argument that opens this book, his wife has left him. So, filled with anger, despair, and booze, Wes wanders down to the beach . . . and who happens to come running along?

Why, a beautiful, redheaded, and very naked teenage girl who has some bad guys after her, of course. And did I mention that she happens to know the location of $300,000 that’s up for grabs? 300 grand that, in Wes’s mind, would solve all of his problems? Is he going to help the girl and try to get his hands on some of that dough? What do you think?

Of course, there’s also a murder mixed up in the whole deal, and the cops quickly suspect Wes of being involved, and those guys who are after the girl are really bad news, and the sexy redhead may or may not be trustworthy . . .

This is the next-to-last noir thriller Brewer published in his lifetime, and man, it’s a late-career masterpiece. Brewer’s prose is stripped down so that there’s not an ounce of fat on it, the story is paced like a rocket, taking place in approximately 24 hours, and the whole thing is so effective it almost leaves the reader breathless. I’ve always thought of Brewer as a plot and pace guy, not a prose stylist, but there are some very nice turns of phrase in this one, too.

It’s a shame that Brewer’s career went downhill after this, but he left us some really fine books and THE TEASE is one of them. It’s been reprinted by Stark House in a double volume with SIN FOR ME (which I also read and enjoyed a lot, although it doesn’t rise to the level of THE TEASE). If you’re a Brewer fan and haven’t read these, you really need to grab this reprint edition. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, December 01, 2020

Overlooked Movies: Barbary Coast (1935)


I was looking around for old movies to watch and came across a mention of BARBARY COAST, released in 1935. A movie directed by Howard Hawks, with an original script by Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur, and I’d never seen it? That really surprised me, so we watched this one a few nights ago and I enjoyed it quite a bit.

It’s the story of a young woman (Miriam Hopkins) from New York who travels to San Francisco during the Gold Rush to marry a miner who’s struck it rich. But when she gets there, she discovers that her intended husband is dead, having lost his mine to crooked saloon owner Edward G. Robinson and then been killed in a shootout. With nowhere else to go, Hopkins, who is greedy and ambitious and was only marrying the miner for his money, stays in San Francisco and winds up as Robinson’s mistress while also running the roulette wheel in his casino. But then things get complicated when she meets stalwart young prospector Joel McCrea, and the vigilantes rise up to start dealing out justice to the crooks who think they run the town.

BARBARY COAST is a pretty hardboiled crime yarn in some respects (one reviewer called it LITTLE CAESAR OUT WEST) and also delivers some romance and adventure and a little comedy here and there, mostly from Walter Brennan, still relatively young but already enthusiastically chewing the scenery as an eccentric, cackling old coot, this time an eyepatch-wearing character known as Old Atrocity. With Hecht and MacArthur handling the writing, you know there’s going to be a lot of witty banter and a little sentimentality, and the script comes through with just about everything you’d expect except a satisfying ending.

The cast is really strong in this movie, too. I’m not a big fan of Robinson or Hopkins, but they’re okay and I always like Joel McCrea no matter what movie he’s in. Brian Donlevy is Robinson’s gunslinging henchman Knuckles Jacoby. Harry Carey is a stern and determined vigilante. Donald Meek plays a prospector instead of a traveling salesman or bank clerk for a change. Bob Kortman is a henchman. (Was Bob Kortman ever not a henchman?) David Niven, in his first movie, is a drunken sailor. Supposedly he’s hard to spot, but I saw him right away. Famous athlete Jim Thorpe plays an Indian (typecasting), but I never spotted him even though I looked for him.

Legend has it that Hopkins was such a huge bitch during the filming that when Robinson was supposed to slap her during one scene and accidentally (?) knocked her down, the set erupted in cheers and applause. Don’t know if that’s true or not, but she’s certainly not playing a very likable character for most of the movie.

The personal themes that crop up again and again in Hawks’ work—competence, self-reliance, a desire for independence tempered by the relationships within a group, a beautiful, wise-cracking gal who’s as tough as the boys (mostly)—aren’t really present in BARBARY COAST. It comes across more as a job of work for Hawks, but it’s a professional, well-made, entertaining job of work. Not a great movie, but a very good one most of the time and well worth watching.