Friday, December 31, 2021

The Wrap Up

As we all know, 2021 has been a rough year in many respects. At times, I’ve felt as if I were keeping busy just so I wouldn’t think about how many unpleasant and downright tragic things were happening in the world.

But I did keep busy: I wrote somewhere around 1.1 million words, the most in several years. I read 202 books, the most I’ve ever read since I started keeping records 41 years ago. (My previous record was 186.) I not only kept my own writing going, but I also sold my publishing imprint, Rough Edges Press, to Wolfpack Publishing and stayed on as the editor, guiding the development of a line that I think can compete with anybody in the mystery/suspense/men’s adventure field. So I think I accomplished quite a bit, although it wasn’t enough for me to feel caught up. I’ll never be caught up . . .

Not for a while yet, anyway. But another thing I’ve done this year is decide on the date when I actually will retire, except for maybe writing a few more books of my own and keeping this blog and the WesternPulps email group going, assuming those platforms still exist. More about that later, as the time approaches. For now, full speed ahead.

Which means listing my top ten favorites of all the books I read this year, in the order in which I read them:

GUN RUNNER, Larry Correia and John Brown
THE COMANCHE KID, James Robert Daniels
5 DECEMBERS, James Kestrel
AMBA, Andrew Hallman

The last two on that list aren’t available yet. They’re books I’m publishing at Rough Edges Press, and they’ll be out next year. I read a lot of good books this year, and there are twenty or thirty more that could have made the cut for the top ten. I especially want to acknowledge the three issues of MEN’S ADVENTURE QUARTERLY from Bob Deis and Bill Cunningham, BATTLING BRITONS and the two follow-up issues from Justin Marriott, the Levon Cade series by Chuck Dixon, THE COMPLETE CASES OF THE RAMBLER, VOLUME 1 by Fred MacIsaac, THE GUN WITH THE WAITING NOTCH by Stone Cody (Thomas E. Mount), and two thrillers by William Christie that I’ll also be publishing next year, DARKNESS UNDER HEAVEN and BARGAIN WITH THE DEVIL. I’m very glad I had so many good books to read, and I want to give a big thank you to all the authors, editors, and publishers who made that possible.

I mentioned above that I wrote around 1.1 million words this year, the 17th straight year I’ve hit the million word mark. This is where I always say I won’t do that much next year, and then I wind up writing that much anyway. Right now, I’d say it’s doubtful that I’ll do a million words in 2022, but stranger things have happened. I still have some ghost work lined up, and I plan to write a few books under my own name, if I can get around to them. So we’ll see.

And that pretty much sums up my attitude toward everything that’s waiting for us in 2022. We’ll see. Because there’s nothing else we can do.

The Price of a Dime: The Complete Black Mask Cases of Ben Shaley - Norbert Davis

The first Norbert Davis story I ever read was “Don’t Give Your Right Name”, a Max Latin yarn included in the iconic anthology THE HARDBOILED DICKS. That was the first time I’d heard of Davis, but I loved the story and in the years since have read dozens of other pulp stories by him. They’ve never disappointed me.

Davis is best remembered for stories that were both humorous and hardboiled, but he could do straight tough guy tales, too, which he did early in his career. THE PRICE OF A DIME, a new Davis collection from Black Mask/Steeger Books, features five of those early hardboiled stories, two starring private detective Ben Shaley.

“Red Goose” is the first of the Shaley stories, from the February 1934 issue of BLACK MASK. It was reprinted in Joseph T. Shaw’s THE HARD-BOILED OMNIBUS, so I know I’ve read it before, but I didn’t have any recollection of it when I sat down to read this volume. Not surprisingly, it’s a very entertaining story in which Shaley is hired to recover a valuable painting stolen from a museum. There are a lot of twists and turns in a relatively short story, and it takes some explaining from Shaley at the end to straighten everything out, and even then, Davis has a final twist lined up.

Shaley’s second, and final recorded, case is “The Price of a Dime” (April 1934). This involves a hotel bellhop who receives a dime as a tip, an incident that leads to murder, blackmail, and a shootout on the Western lot at a movie studio. Shaley reminds me a little of Mike Shayne, because his thinking always seems to be two steps ahead of everybody else in the story and three steps ahead of the reader. With its movie studio background, this yarn also reminds me of Robert Leslie Bellem’s Dan Turner series, and it has something in common with one of Fred MacIsaac’s Rambler stories I read recently. A very entertaining tale, all around.

Davis’s first appearance in BLACK MASK was in the June 1932 issue, with a story called “Reform Racket”. This is a pretty straightforward story in which the protagonist returns to his hometown and finds himself in the middle of some dangerous political intrigue involving his sister, gangsters, and a candidate vowing to clean up the town. With its very terse prose, ultra-hardboiled protagonist, and understated but brutal violence, this made me think of some of Paul Cain’s stories. It’s an auspicious beginning for Davis.

“Kansas City Flash” was published in the March 1933 issue of BLACK MASK, and despite the title, it’s another Bellem-like yarn about a Hollywood troubleshooter, a former stuntman named Mark Hull. Given that, it’s also reminiscent of W.T. Ballard’s Bill Lennox stories, which also ran in BLACK MASK. I enjoyed this one, and it would have been fine with me if Davis had written more stories about Mark Hull, but this is the only one.

This volume wraps up with “Hit and Run”, from the April 1935 issue of BLACK MASK. It’s a tale of another one-shot private eye, Jake Tait, who goes in search of a hit-and-run victim and finds himself neck deep in a case involving bank robbery and murder. It’s surprising just how much plot Davis could work into these novelettes. Tait’s another tough but likable protagonist, able to absorb a lot of punishment but dish it out, too.

All these stories are very good and well worth reading if you’re a fan of hardboiled detective fiction. My Norbert Davis streak continues: he’s never disappointed me. I give this collection a high recommendation.

Monday, December 27, 2021

The Annual December 27th Post

When I wrote the first of these posts back in 2004, it never occurred to me that I'd still be writing them seventeen years later. I've missed posting about it a year or two along the way, but I've never forgotten what it was like to make that first sale on December 27, 1976, and to be able to consider myself a professional writer.

This year I was trying to think of something to write about those days that I haven't rehashed before. I've talked about the first story that sold and how I came to write it . . . but I don't think I've ever written anything about the stories that didn't sell, for the very good reason that I don't remember much about them. But I recall a few titles and plot details, yarns that I scribbled out with a fountain pen on notebook paper or in a spiral notebook while I was working in my father's TV repair shop. Then either Livia or I would type them, I'd go over them and make revisions, then one of us would type a final draft to go in the manila envelope (with SASE, of course) to go winging off to editorial offices in New York or Los Angeles or Chicago . . . where they went right back in those SASEs and limped back home to me. Those manuscripts are long gone, of course, so I'm working by memory, but here are a few I recall.

"On the Dead Run" -- this was a mystery story about a heist crew that targeted a big party held by degenerate jetsetters in Cancun. All elements about which 23-year-old me knew little or nothing.

"Over on the Hot Side" -- a science fiction story about a radioactive zone, mutants, and other stuff that had been done to death even then.

"The Long and the Short of It" -- another science fiction story. I don't remember anything about it except that one of the editors who saw it handwrote a note on the rejection slip about what an offensive story it was.

"Key Allegro" -- some sort of tropical adventure yarn that I targeted at the men's adventure magazine market. The title came from a housing development in Rockport, Texas, a town I had visited with Livia a few months earlier. That's all I remember.

"No-Hitter" -- now this one, I remember a little better, because Sam Merwin Jr. almost bought it for MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE. It was about a major league baseball pitcher who got in trouble with the Mob. He was ordered to tank a game he was pitching, but a few innings in, he realizes he has a no-hitter going, and he's torn between his competitive nature and his desire to save his skin from the gangsters. It was a suspense story, told from inside his head as the game progresses, and probably the best story I'd written up to that time. But Merwin hated the ending so much that he didn't even ask me to revise it, as he did with another story of mine that he wound up buying a short time later.

For every one of these stories, I wrote at least five or six others that never sold, either. I tried to have three or four stories out in the mail, minimum, all the time. I look back on those days now with nostalgia and think about what a great time it was to be alive, a newlywed with a beautiful bride and a head full of hopes and dreams, but I'm also realistic enough to know that it was a lot of hard, grinding work, too, and I'm not surprised that I almost gave up a few times.

But I'm glad that I didn't, because today marks 45 years that I've been in this business of telling stories. I hope I have a few more years of it left in me. For now, a big thanks as always to the editors who bought the stories and the novels, those of you who read them, and Livia, Shayna, and Joanna, who continue to make it all worthwhile and possible. 

Sunday, December 26, 2021

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Argosy, August 17, 1935

Yes, the serials are annoying and the bane of a collector's existence, but I love ARGOSY anyway. There was just so much fine fiction and so many great authors to be found in its pages. This issue has a cover by Paul Stahr, who did most of them for the magazine during the Thirties. The lead story is a circus yarn by John Wilstach. I haven't read this one, but I've read other circus stories by Wilstach and enjoyed them all. Also on hand are Frederick Faust (twice, as Max Brand and Dennis Lawton), H. Bedford-Jones, Borden Chase, Anthony M. Rud, and Hapsburg Liebe. And that's just a typical issue of ARGOSY in the Thirties, the magazine's glory days as far as I'm concerned. 

Saturday, December 25, 2021

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Rangeland Romances, January 1952

A very nice Christmas-themed cover on this issue of RANGELAND ROMANCES, Popular Publications' answer to RANCH ROMANCES. By the Fifties, this pulp leaned more toward actual romances rather than traditional Westerns and featured more female authors. One of those in this issue, Helen Meinzer, who wrote the lead novella under the pseudonym A.C. Abbott, was just about as hardboiled in her writing as her male counterparts, though. Her novels WILD BLOOD and BRANDED are excellent. Other notable names in this issue are Marian O'Hearn, Kenneth Fowler, and Theodore J. Roemer. None of the story titles sound Christmas-like, but the cover's enough to generate some holiday spirit. 

Friday, December 24, 2021

Merry Christmas

By S. Omar Barker (1894-1985)
I ain't much good at prayin', and You may not know me, Lord-
I ain't much seen in churches where they preach Thy Holy Word,
But you may have observed me out here on the lonely plains,
A-lookin' after cattle, feelin' thankful when it rains,
Admirin' Thy great handiwork, the miracle of grass,
Aware of Thy kind spirit in the way it comes to pass
That hired men on horseback and the livestock we tend
Can look up at the stars at night and know we've got a friend.
So here's ol' Christmas comin' on, remindin' us again
Of Him whose coming brought good will into the hearts of men.
A cowboy ain't no preacher, Lord, but if You'll hear my prayer,
I'll ask as good as we have got for all men everywhere.
Don't let no hearts be bitter, Lord.
Don't let no child be cold.
Make easy beds for them that's sick and them that's weak and old.
Let kindness bless the trail we ride, no matter what we're after,
And sorter keep us on Your side, in tears as well as laughter.
I've seen ol' cows a-starvin, and it ain't no happy sight:
Please don't leave no one hungry, Lord, on thy good Christmas night-
No man, no child, no woman, and no critter on four feet-
I'll aim to do my best to help You find 'em chuck to eat.
I'm just a sinful cowpoke, Lord-ain't got no business prayin'-
But still I hope You'll ketch a word or two of what I'm sayin':
We speak of Merry Christmas, Lord-I reckon you'll agree
There ain't no Merry Christmas for nobody that ain't free.
So one thing more I'll ask You, Lord: Just help us what you can
To save some seeds of freedom for the future sons of man.
Merry Christmas, everyone, and good night.

The Gunsmith: The Jingle Bell Trail - J.R. Roberts (Robert J. Randisi)

In the past I've read Christmas-themed books from the Edge, Longarm, and Trailsman series, and this year it's the Gunsmith's turn. I've been reading Gunsmith novels almost as long as Bob Randisi has been writing them, since I bought the first one at a newsstand in Fort Worth as soon as it came out.

The Gunsmith, for those of you who don't know, is Clint Adams, a famous gunfighter who wanders the West getting into various adventures and often running into an assortment of historical characters, making friends and enemies among them. There are no historical characters in this Christmas tale, however, which finds Clint in North Dakota as the holiday approaches, far from his usual stomping grounds of the Southwest. He visits a town that decorates heavily for Christmas, and while he's there, the sheriff from a neighboring town--which celebrates the holiday even more than the one where Clint is--asks him to help out with the pursuit of three outlaws who robbed and murdered a ranching couple. The lawman wants to get back to his wife and their five-year-old son before Christmas, so against his better judgment, Clint agrees to help track down the outlaws.

The owlhoots wind up dead, not surprisingly, but so does the sheriff, which leaves Clint with the grim task of returning the body and breaking the bad news to the man's family. From that point, things take some unexpected turns and more trouble looms in the form of a vicious gang that strikes only on holidays.

As always in Randisi's novels, THE JINGLE BELL TRAIL is a fast-paced, dialogue-driven yarn. This one has a little more action than some, with a nice epic battle at the end. Clint is more introspective than most series Western protagonists, struggling with some moral issues and not always making the right choices, which makes him a very human, sympathetic hero. I've always liked him and still do.

THE JINGLE BELL TRAIL is a good addition to that group of Christmas-themed series Westerns. I don't think there was ever a Christmas Slocum or Lone Star or Raider and Doc novel, but if there was, somebody let me know and I'll read it for next year. Meanwhile, I hope everyone has a very Merry Christmas this year.

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

Coming Soon: Outlaw Ranger: Ravagers of the Border - James Reasoner

Coming next month. I had a great time writing this one. With interesting characters and lots of all-out action, I think it's my favorite of the Outlaw Ranger series so far. I love the cover from Wolfpack Publishing, too.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Detective Novels, June 1944

Both stories featured on the cover of this issue of DETECTIVE NOVELS are by Norman A. Daniels, a stand-alone novella under his own name and a novella in the Candid Camera Kid series as by John L. Benton. Other authors in this issue include Oscar J. Friend (perhaps better known as an agent) writing as Owen Fox Jerome and lesser-known pulpsters Hal White and W. Fredric Kruger. I don't know the cover artist, but that guy looks suitably menacing. In 1944, I doubt if that little mustache was a coincidence, although he doesn't look like Hitler in any other respect.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Trails, May 1936

This looks like a pretty good mid-Thirties issue of WESTERN TRAILS, with a cover by William F. Soare and entries in two long-running series, Duke Buckland by Frederick C. Davis and Bert Little by Clyde B. Warden. The other authors on hand are all top-notch pulpsters, as well: Philip Ketchum writing as Carl McK. Saunders, Frank Gruber, James P. Olsen, Peter Germano (as Peter Germane), and Bruce Douglas.

Friday, December 17, 2021

Terror Tales - John H. Knox

Art by John Howitt

This is kind of a familiar story. A young man with literary ambitions in a central Texas town, the son of a well-respected professional man, is friends with all the locals who also have literary ambitions. He decides to become a pulp writer and pounds out stories in a small room that becomes his sanctum, while also working at various odd jobs. When he breaks in and makes his first sale, he becomes even more prolific, with his work appearing in several of the top pulp magazines of the era and even frequently featured on the covers.

Robert E. Howard, you say? Nope. This is John H. Knox we’re talking about, the son of a minister and probably the most successful pulp writer to come out of Abilene, Texas. Certainly the most successful author of Weird Menace yarns from Abilene, which is less than an hour’s drive from Cross Plains, the home of Robert E. Howard. It kind of boggles the mind to think that these two young men lived so close to each other and toiled in the same business at the same time, yet, as far as I know, they never met or even knew of each other.

Radio Archives compiled several collections of Knox’s Weird Menace stories, including this one where all the stories are taken from the pulp TERROR TALES. I decided to sample his work, and this seemed like a good place to start.

The first story in this collection is “Dead Man’s Shadow”, from the December 1934 issue of TERROR TALES. It makes use of a standard mystery plot: a creepy old house full of sinister, eccentric characters, relatives of a rich old man who are waiting for him to die so they can fight over his fortune. The protagonist is a private detective hired by one of the potential heirs who fears someone is going to try to murder him. Knox’s Texas connection comes through in this one because the private eye works for the Lone Star Detective Agency in San Antonio, and although it’s never stated, it’s easy to assume that the creepy old house is located on the Texas Gulf Coast. While there’s nothing groundbreaking in the plot, and the main villain is pretty easy to spot, Knox keeps the action moving along very well, and his prose is both evocative and fast-moving, two important qualities for a Weird Menace writer.

Art by John Howitt

“The Ice Maiden” was published in the June 1935 issue of TERROR TALES, and man, does it move! The narrator is a reporter who has journeyed to an isolated lodge somewhere in the North Woods to interview a famous Arctic explorer, along with two of the man’s colleagues. The beautiful young wife of one of the other men is there, too. After the discussion strays into the subject of mythological monsters found in the icy climes, the explorer says that he has something in the basement that he wants the others to see. Well, we all know that in a Weird Menace story, nothing stashed away mysteriously in a basement is going to be good, and sure enough, that’s the case here. Gruesome murders right and left, baffling disappearances, love at first sight . . . Knox really piles it on, and the characters barely get to take a breath before some other horror threatens them. The ones who survive, that is. I got so caught up in enjoying this story that I completely missed the clues to the big twist, which made it even more fun. This is just a great Weird Menace yarn.

Art by John Howitt

“His Bodiless Twin”, from the November 1935 issue of TERROR TALES, is a much different sort of story. It starts off philosophical, with discussions among the characters about mankind’s dual nature, the presence of good and evil in every man, and what a boon it would be if, say, a man’s evil nature could be separated from his good side through some combination of science and the occult, and then destroyed. Why, what could possibly go wrong with something like that? Of course, once the narrator agrees to go through with the experiment devised by his beautiful young wife’s cousin, who happens to be a movie star/scientist/metaphysicist, things do indeed go wrong. I’ll give Knox credit for writing some nicely atmospheric scenes in this one, but it’s talky in stretches and the big twist stretches disbelief pretty close to the breaking point.

Art by John Howitt

Dave Powell, the protagonist of “Reunion in Hell” (TERROR TALES, March 1936), is the sort of down-on-his-luck guy you’d expect to encounter in a Fifties noir novel by David Goodis or Gil Brewer. He and two other men were partners in a successful gold mine, until an explosion killed one of them and caused a scandal that ruined Dave and his other partner. Because he’s broke and desperate, Dave’s beautiful, wholesome young wife is tempted by an offer from a sleazy producer to join his burlesque show. Then, an unexpected visitor offers Dave a chance to fix everything. All he has to do is pretend to be somebody else and attend a family reunion held in a spooky old house. Again . . . what could possibly go wrong? This yarn rockets right along with a lot of well-done action and over the top horror. Knox really piles the trouble on his hero, and watching Dave battle through it is pretty entertaining. But as in “His Bodiless Twin”, the explanation for all the crazy goings-on really stretches credulity past the breaking point. I realize it’s kind of silly to be complaining about believable plots in Weird Menace stories, but Knox seems to be trying to outdo himself with every story.

Art by John Drew

If Knox faltered—a little—in the previous two stories, he more than redeems himself with “Kiss Me—and Die!”, a great yarn from the March/April 1937 issue of TERROR TALES. The plot is still packed full of stuff. Let me see if I can remember all of it. First of all, the story takes place in and around an isolated Arizona settlement that’s mostly a ghost town called Angel’s Grave. The setting gives it an almost Western feel at times. The place is called Angel’s Grave because local legend has it that two hundred years earlier, a Spanish soldier murdered his mistress and concealed her body in a cave. But ever since then, her ghost, known as “Sister Death”, has been appearing and luring men to their deaths with a siren-like scream. A mad scientist from Germany who claims to have mastered the process of alchemy has showed up in the area and built a laboratory in a cave that may or may not be the final resting place of Sister Death. Then there’s a millionaire toy manufacturer who wants to buy the process from the mad scientist, assuming, of course, that it turns out to be real, and the toy manufacturer has a beautiful daughter who the narrator, an undercover newspaper reporter, falls in love with at first sight. The mad scientist has deaf-mute assistants and a mysterious Hindu servant. And, oh, yeah, a blind violinist and a drunken artist are hanging around Angel’s Grave, too. Whew. As crazy as all that sounds, Knox actually makes the plot work, while providing several gruesome murders and plenty of breakneck action. I had a great time reading this one.

Artist Unknown

Compared to the inspired lunacy of “Kiss Me—and Die!”, the set-up for “Tenement of the Damned” (TERROR TALES, November/December 1937) is fairly simple. It also makes use of Knox’s Texas background in the setting, an unnamed city along the Texas/Mexico border that I think is probably supposed to be El Paso. It seems that a Mexican drug smuggler named El Vibora—The Viper—has been shot and killed by the Border Patrol, but the poor people who live in the slums near the Rio Grande believe that he has come back to life in the form of a snake that draws women and children to their deaths. It’s up to two-fisted real estate agent Jim Francis to figure out what’s really going on, and he has a personal reason to do so because his beautiful young wife, whose father owns the property where the slum sits, has a mysterious serpentine mark on her arm that shows she’s a target of El Vibora! At times, this story reads like Knox was trying to write a straightforward hardboiled detective yarn, but it never strays very far from Weird Menace territory. It’s a good story and moves along quite well.

It also wraps up this collection, which is no longer available. But if you already have it on your Kindle and are a Weird Menace fan, I give it a pretty high recommendation. Knox can be a little inconsistent, certainly, but all the stories are enjoyable and a couple of them are exceptional. I think he’s an interesting writer, and I intend to read more by him. There are three print collections of his Weird Menace stories available from Ramble House, and I've already ordered them even though there’s some duplication between them and the ebook volumes I have.

And I still think it’s a shame Knox and Bob Howard never ran into each other. I think they would have gotten along just fine.

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

William G. Contento, R.I.P.

I've seen several mentions on Facebook that William G. Contento has passed away. If you don't recognize the name, Bill Contento was one of the editors of the Fictionmags Index, along with Phil Stephensen-Payne, and also produced or assisted in the production of many other bibliographic resources. The Fictionmags Index is an absolutely vital website for me and the one I've almost certainly visited more than any other during my time on the Internet. The information and cover scans available there have contributed immensely to this blog, the WesternPulps email group, and my pulp education in general. The FMI is always open on my computer, and I'm there checking out something at least once a day, often multiple times. I had only limited contact with Bill Contento, but the emails we traded were always pleasant, and I'm glad I got the chance to tell him how much I appreciate his efforts. Rest in peace.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Amazing Stories, December 1944

I'm not really familiar with artist James B. Settles, but I like the cover he did for this issue of AMAZING STORIES. Not only that, it illustrates a Ray Bradbury story I'd never even heard of, let alone read. If you want to read it, and the rest of the issue, it's available here. Also with stories in this issue are Emil Petaja, Stanton A. Coblentz, Berkely Livingston (twice, as himself and as Lester Barclay), Don Wilcox, Helmar Lewis (Louis Herman), C.A. Baldwin, Donald Bern, and George Tashman. (I never heard of those last four guys, either.)

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: West, September 1943

I find the cover on this issue of WEST interesting for a couple of reasons. First of all, the guy reminds me of Alfred E. Neuman of MAD MAGAZINE fame. Secondly, compare this cover to the cover from the January 1951 issue of MAMMOTH WESTERN painted by Robert Gibson Jones (below). It's not a direct swipe, but when I saw this WEST cover, I was reminded immediately of the MAMMOTH WESTERN cover. Had Jones seen the earlier cover and remembered it? Pure coincidence? I have no way of knowing, of course, but I find the similarity interesting. I'm sure the stories in this issue of WEST are pretty interesting, too. The authors on hand are all prolific pulpsters: Larry Harris, Dean Owen, Bill Gulick, Kenneth Fowler, and John A. Thompson. I met Gulick a couple of times. He continued writing and publishing into the 1990s, far past the end of the pulp era.

Friday, December 10, 2021

No Pockets in a Shroud - Richard Deming

“No Pockets in a Shroud” is the fourth novella featuring Richard Deming’s private eye character Manville Moon. It was published originally in the January 1949 issue of the iconic pulp BLACK MASK, a magazine long past its glory days by that time but still publishing plenty of good hardboiled detective fiction. “No Pockets in a Shroud” is a fine example of that.

Moon, who operates in an unnamed Midwestern city, is a World War II vet who lost his right leg from the knee down to a shell blast in Europe. He gets around pretty well on an artificial leg, though, and other than not being able to run very fast anymore, his injury doesn’t really hamper him. He’s still plenty tough and smart and still attracts the ladies, even though he describes himself as ugly.

As this case opens, Moon is approached by two competing mobsters, each of them determined to control the city’s gambling. Open warfare between them is looming, and each man wants to hire Moon to be on his side if that happens. Moon isn’t having any of it. The last thing he wants is to get caught in the middle of a gang war. Then one of the mobsters surprises him by trying to hire him in advance to investigate a murder. Whose murder, Moon wants to know? Turns out, the mobster thinks somebody is trying to kill him, and if the would-be murderer succeeds, he wants Moon to bring the killer to justice.

Well, before you know it, there’s a murder, of course . . . but it’s the other mobster who winds up dead, and Moon is up to his neck in the case, anyway. Also, naturally, while trying to sort out the truth, he has to deal with several beautiful women, including the wives and mistresses of the two rival gangsters. There’s also a hopped-up young gunman with an itch to ventilate Moon. All of it is hectic and breathless and a heck of a lot of fun to read for somebody who grew up on this stuff like I did.

As in the previous Manville Moon yarns, the murder is pretty complicated, but Deming puts it all together very well and all the clues are there, leading to a satisfying conclusion. Moon is a very likable protagonist. There’s one bit of business that’s so old it had long white whiskers on it even in 1949, and its stereotypical nature takes away a little from the story, but not enough to cause a real problem. I had a great time reading “No Pockets in a Shroud”, and if you’re a private eye fan, there’s a very good chance you’ll enjoy it, too. There’s an inexpensive e-book version available on Amazon if you don’t have the pulp.

By the way, the title has nothing to do with the story, and I have to wonder if some editor at Popular Publications was responsible for it. They retitled many of the stories published in their Western pulps and I imagine the same was true in their detective pulps. Anyway, it’s a good title, relevant or not, so I’m fine with it.

Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Ozark Mountain Massacre - Ryan Fowler

Taney County, Missouri. 1883. Tensions are thick. The gun smoke is even thicker!

Jacob Langthorn just wants peace. Having roamed the West, he’s happy to be back home in the beautiful Ozark Country of Southwestern Missouri. With a cabin by the creek and kinfolk nearby, Jacob is ready for a quiet life.

But fate has other plans.

With criminals running rampant in Taney County and crooked officials turning a blind eye, someone has to step in and tame a lawless land. So, Jacob straps on his guns once more and confronts a violent band of outlaws.

But other folks want to take the purge a few steps further. What started as a one-time event has become a movement. A group of vigilantes in horned masks are terrorizing the mountains, burning out and taking down anyone they deem unfit for their community. With families split and friendships torn apart, Jacob will have to step in once more and fight a monster he helped create.

Not knowing who he can trust or if he’ll even survive, it’s going to take all the grit Jacob has to stop the vigilantes before full-scale war breaks out and the Ozarks run red with blood.

(I read this a while back in manuscript and thoroughly enjoyed it. It's a fast-paced, very well-written traditional Western yarn with plenty of action, but what really comes through is Fowler's love of the setting, which he captures beautifully, and his empathy for his well-developed characters, especially Jacob Langthorn. This is Fowler's first Western novel, but it won't be his last. Jacob Langthorn's second adventure is already in the works, and I'm eager to read it. This one is highly recommended for Western fans!)

Tuesday, December 07, 2021

Stripped and Branded - Peter Brandvold

Yakima Henry is probably my favorite character created by Peter Brandvold, and he returns in STRIPPED AND BRANDED, the latest novel from Brandvold. Yakima last appeared in the somewhat heart-warming REDEMPTION TRAIL. As you might guess from the title, STRIPPED AND BRANDED is a considerably harder-edged tale.

In this one, Yakima encounters three bank robbers on the run and desperate after killing three members of a posse and losing one of their horses. They want Yakima’s horse Wolf and are more than willing to kill to get him. Of course, this is a big mistake, and all three of the varmints wind up dead. Yakima takes the bodies back to the town where they robbed the bank, figuring he’ll collect the bounty on them (even though he’s not really a bounty hunter) and that money will finance the rest of his trip to Mexico, where he intends to spend the winter.

What he’s not counting on is the fact that one of the robbers was the black sheep son of the woman who owns the largest ranch in the area, and she wants vengeance. There are other things going on, too, but that’s best left to the reader to discover.

Nobody could ever accuse Brandvold of taking it easy on his characters. Yakima suffers a lot in this one, both physically and mentally. The action is almost non-stop, the characters come to vivid life, and Brandvold continues to be maybe the best in the business at setting a scene and making it real. His work always reminds me of some of the great hardboiled Western writers of the past, authors such as Harry Whittington, T.T. Flynn, William Heuman, Les Savage Jr., Marvin Albert, and Clifton Adams, although with a more modern, grittier tone. I give all of his work a very high recommendation, and STRIPPED AND BRANDED is one of his best.

Monday, December 06, 2021

New Issue of the Lowestoft Chronicle Now Available

What's in Season @ Lowestoft Chronicle?

Check out the latest issue of Lowestoft Chronicle, the free online magazine featuring fiction, poetry, creative non-fiction, and interviews.

Ascend with Lowestoft Chronicle this winter!

In Issue 48: A doctoral candidate lands a three-month study abroad opportunity in Barbados and swiftly becomes a newsworthy Caribbean personality. Romance blooms while a withering magic show descends into chaos at a retirement home in Pittsburgh. A drifter imprudently misses his scheduled ride off a small, isolated island and then overstays his welcome with the disobliging local deadbeats. And devious thieves test the mettle of a salesman with big plans during his 1941 business trip to the Big Apple.

We proudly present the work of Linda Ankrah-Dove, Rob Dinsmoor, Paul Gray, Spencer Harrington, Bruce Harris, Richard Holinger, Matthew Menary, Jon Moray, Dan Morey, Alfredo Quarto, Marc Simon, Steve Slavin, and Melissent Zumwalt.

Our thanks to all contributors, as well as everyone who submitted work to us. We are currently accepting submissions for Issue #49 (due on March 1st). Preference is given to humorous submissions with an emphasis on travel. See our submissions page for guidelines.

The Latest News...

Lowestoft Chronicle’s 2021 Pushcart Prize Nominations

This November, we made the following nominations for the Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses series, published every year since 1976.

Pushcart Prize nominations:
“The Journey to Autumn” by (Essay) Sharon Frame Gay
“Espèce de Cowboy,” (Story) by Charles Holdefer
“My Happy Place” (Poem) by Jacqueline Jules
“Empathy” (Story) by Laurence Klavan
“Isle of Mull” (Poem) by George Moore
“Hsi-wei and the Little Straw Sandals” (Story) by Robert Wexelblatt

Full details can be found on the website here:
Nominations for the Best American Series 2022

We recently nominated the following pieces from 2021 for Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s annual Best American anthology series. Pleasingly, The Best American Essays series editor, Robert Atwan, selected Scott Dominic Carpenter’s essay “Squirrel Pie and the Golden Derriere,” from issue 37 of Lowestoft Chronicle, for inclusion in his list of “Notable Essays and Literary Nonfiction of 2019” in The Best American Essays 2020 collection. Our best wishes go out to these other fine writers featured in past issues of Lowestoft Chronicle.

The Best American Short Stories:
“Espèce de Cowboy” by Charles Holdefer
“Empathy” by Laurence Klavan
“Una Terra del Miracoloso” by Robin Michel
“Hsi-wei and the Little Straw Sandals” by Robert Wexelblatt

The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy:
“Empathy” by Laurence Klavan

The Best American Mystery and Suspense:
“Subway Swindle” by Bruce Harris

Full details can be found on the website here:

Sax Rohmer's Mystery Novels, Grey Face and Green Eyes of Bâst

High adventure and mystery can be found in this pair of haunting classics from the king of eerie occult fiction, Sax Rohmer. This collection includes a scholarly account of the conception and reception of these two books, penned by the editor of Lowestoft Chronicle.

You can purchase the book from Stark House PressAmazon, or other online booksellers.

Book News by Lowestoft Chronicle Friends and Contributors

The Thirteenth Studebaker by Robert Wexelblatt

The Money by David Shawn Klein

The Sailcloth Shroud / All the Way by Charles Williams (Introduction by Nicholas Litchfield)

A Particular Madness by Sheldon Russell

The Dressmaker's Daughter by Linda Boroff

Pieces of Bones and Rags by Michael C. Keith

Steal Big / The Big Caper by Lionel White (Introduction by Nicholas Litchfield)

Under an Outlaw Moon by Dietrich Kalteis

Rattler's Law, Volume One by James Reasoner

Ralph Compton the Too-Late Trail (The Trail Drive Series) by Matthew P Mayo

Road of Bones (A Billy Boyle WWII Mystery) by James R. Benn

Behind the Lines by Mary Donaldson-Evans

The Iron Horse: A Faraday Novel by James Reasoner

Ralph Compton Guns of the Greenhorn (The Gunfighter Series) by Matthew P Mayo

Kind regards,
Lowestoft Chronicle

Sunday, December 05, 2021

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Spicy-Adventure Stories, January 1936

Another great Parkhurst cover on this issue of SPICY-ADVENTURE STORIES. Inside are yarns by the usual assortment of authors: Robert Leslie Bellem (as himself and Jerome Severs Perry), Victor Rousseau (as Lew Merrill and Hugh Speer), Wyatt Blassingame (as William B. Rainey), Arthur Wallace, W.W. McKenna, and two authors who have no credits in the Fictionmags Index except their stories in this issue, George Herreford and Lance LeCamp, so both of those names may well be pseudonyms.

Saturday, December 04, 2021

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Ranch Romances, Third April Number, 1950

RANCH ROMANCES was published every two weeks and referred to the issues as the First Number and the Second Number for each month. Not many months lined up just right to have three issues published in them, but clearly April 1950 did, because this is the Third April Number, 1950. With another very good cover by Kirk Wilson, who did some fine work for RANCH ROMANCES. The best-known authors inside this issue are L.P. Holmes, Wayne D. Overholser, and Robert Moore Williams. Also on hand are lesser-known authors Pat Johns, A. Kenneth Brent, and Ennen Reeves Hall, with a reprint from THRILLING RANCH STORIES.

Friday, December 03, 2021

Salvage in Space - Jack Williamson

This novelette first appeared in the March 1933 issue of ASTOUNDING STORIES OF SUPER-SCIENCE, edited by Harry Bates. You can't really tell it's that old, however, as Jack Williamson's clean, almost spare style reads as if the story was written much more recently than that.

The protagonist is young asteroid miner Thad Allen, who leads a lonely existence wandering among the asteroids searching for valuable metals. But then he comes across what appears to be an abandoned space liner and immediately thinks that if he can get it back to Mars and claim it as salvage, he stands to make a lot of money from the discovery. Unfortunately for Thad (and I'm sure you saw this coming), something is still alive on the spaceship, as he discovers after coming across some ominous bloodstains while he's exploring the seemingly deserted corridors. Then there's the coffin-like apparatus containing the body of a beautiful young woman whose fate greatly intrigues Thad. But will he survive long enough to figure out what happened here?

"Salvage in Space" is basically a suspense yarn, and a very good one. The level of tension that Williamson creates in this story reminded me a little of John W. Campbell's "Who Goes There?" "Salvage in Space" isn't quite on that level, but I had a really good time reading it. Williamson leaves one plot point unresolved, which I found a little annoying, but other than that I found it to be a very good story. There's a free e-book version of it available on Amazon, if you don't happen to have a copy of that 1933 pulp sitting around. It was also reprinted in the anthology THE EARLY WILLIAMSON and the Haffner Press volume WIZARD'S ISLE.

Sunday, November 28, 2021

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Complete Northwest, October 1939

"More pages!!! More Words on Each Page!!!" I think this is the first time I've seen that latter boast on a pulp cover, although the former claim is common. COMPLETE NORTHWEST published plenty of good authors, and this issue has a nice cover by A. Leslie Ross. The stories in this issue are by Harold Titus (a prolific pulpster, but one whose work I'm not familiar with), William Byron Mowery (a very well-known writer of the era; his story in this issue of a reprint from a 1926 issue of ADVENTURE), Vingie E. Roe (best remembered for her Westerns), and a collaboration between two little-known pulpsters, Robert J. Green and Charles Tenney Jackson (Jackson being the more prolific and better known of the two).

Saturday, November 27, 2021

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Story Magazine, August 1953

Once again, an Old West poker game is about to end badly. This is from the usually forgotten Popular Publications incarnation of WESTERN STORY, after it was cancelled at Street & Smith four years earlier. The magazine lasted only about a year and a half at Popular, but its lack of success didn't have anything to do with its quality, in my opinion. It generally had good covers, such as this one by Charles Dye, and excellent authors. This issue contains stories by Will Cook (twice, as himself and as Frank Peace), George C. Appell, William Heuman (a reprint from FIFTEEN WESTERN TALES), Fred Grove, Leslie Ernenwein, Bruce Cassiday, lesser-known pulpster Frank Scott York, and Richard H. Nelson, who was really William L. Hamling, science fiction fan, editor, and publisher of the SF digests IMAGINATION AND IMAGINATIVE TALES, as well as the publisher of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of soft-core novels in the late Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies.

Friday, November 26, 2021

The Complete Cases of the Rambler, Volume One - Fred MacIsaac

I’ve seen Fred MacIsaac’s name on the cover of many, many pulps over the years. He was very prolific for two decades, the Twenties and Thirties, and sold to most of the top pulps, turning out mostly mystery and adventure yarns, with the occasional foray into science fiction. Despite my familiarity with his name, though, I’d never actually read any of his stories until recently, when I tackled a collection of his mystery stories from Altus Press, THE COMPLETE CASES OF THE RAMBLER, VOLUME ONE, which includes an excellent introduction by Ed Hulse.

The Rambler is itinerant reporter Addison Francis Murphy (although in his first appearance, his name is Addison Dexter Murphy), a lanky, redheaded young man who has a habit of getting fired from whatever newspaper job he’s working, but that doesn’t keep him from getting all kinds of scoops and breaking big stories, as well as tackling all kinds of crooks and winding up in danger most of the time. He’s brilliant but prefers being a tramp and drifting around to staying in one place and building a career.

Art by Paul Stahr 

His first appearance is in “The Affair at Camp Laurel”, which was published in the October 8, 1932 issue of ARGOSY, the only story in the series to appear in that venerable pulp. The other Rambler stories were all published in DIME DETECTIVE. This debut is more of an adventure yarn, without much detecting going on as Murphy infiltrates an isolated upstate New York hunting and fishing camp belonging to a rich man who has started behaving eccentrically after being missing for a while in Africa while on an expedition. Yeah, it’s kind of a complicated back-story, and not everything turns out exactly as you might expect. MacIsaac spins the yarn in a breezy, fast-moving style that’s pretty enjoyable.

Art by William Reusswig

By the time Murphy shows up again in the April 1, 1933 issue of DIME DETECTIVE in the story “Alias Mr. Smith”, he’s acquired a new middle name (as mentioned above), he has black hair instead of being a redhead, and his nickname is now The Rambler (that name is never used in the first story). He’s in Boston, and he gets himself a job on one of the papers there by promising to turn up an explosive story. He does that by getting in the middle of what appears to be an open-and-shut murder case in which the victim named her killer before dying. Murphy insists that the alleged murderer is innocent, which brings him to the attention of corrupt politicians, gangsters, and hired killers. Sure enough, Murphy uses an unusual clue to break the case wide open. This story is a little more complicated than the previous one but races along in the same entertaining style.

Art by William Reusswig 

As the third story, “Ghost City Set-up”, opens in the September 1, 1933 issue of DIME DETECTIVE, Murphy actually has some money in his pocket, several hundred dollars, in fact, as he rides across country on a train bound for San Francisco. The reason Murphy is flush is a neat bit of meta-fiction before the concept even existed. It seems that a while back, Murphy met a guy who wrote stories for the pulp fiction magazine and told him about an adventure he had at an isolated hunting camp in upstate New York—“The Affair at Camp Laurel”, of course, which the pulpster (clearly MacIsaac himself) turned into a story and sold to a “major magazine” (ARGOSY). So this explains why some of the details are different in that first story. The writer didn’t remember them correctly when he wrote it.

Of course, that doesn’t explain why Murphy is a redhead again in this one, but hey, let’s not get fanatical about this. Especially when the stories are so gosh-darned entertaining. This time, Murphy spots a rich, beautiful society dame who’s in the process of getting a divorce. When she gets off the train at Reno, and so does a gangster Murphy also recognizes, our intrepid reporter’s nose for news scents a story. Instead of continuing on to San Francisco, he gets off the train in Reno, too, and soon finds himself up to his neck—and deep in an abandoned mine—in a wild, dangerous affair with millions at stake. As usual, it’s great, breakneck fun.

Art by John Howitt

Murphy makes his next appearance in the June 1, 1934 issue of DIME DETECTIVE, in a story called “Go-Between”. He’s made it to California, but not San Francisco. Rather, he’s in Malibu, where he wakes up with a hangover in the beachfront bungalow of a beautiful movie actress. Before you know it, the girl’s been kidnapped, and the gangsters who snatch her force Murphy to act as the go-between for the delivery of the ransom. More complications arise, of course, as the story races along at a breakneck pace in MacIsaac’s breezy, very entertaining style.

Art by John Howitt 

At the end of “Go-Between”, Murphy is sailing off to the South Seas. When “Murder Reel” (DIME DETECTIVE, August 15, 1934) opens, he’s returned from that voyage and landed in San Francisco at last, where he gets a job with one of the local papers and is assigned the story of a mysterious woman who registered in a hotel under a phony name, was murdered a few days later, and is still unidentified. The only clue in the case is a possible connection with a local politician. There’s plenty of colorful action in this yarn and Murphy is as appealing a protagonist as ever, but it’s the weakest Rambler story so far because the solution to the murder involves two really far-fetched coincidences that stretch credulity past the breaking point.

Art by Walter Baumhofer

“Heir-Cooled”, from the June 15, 1935 issue of DIME DETECTIVE, wraps up this first volume of the Rambler’s cases. It’s a considerable improvement on the previous tale. Murphy is back in New York, investigating a jewel robbery and the heart attack death of a financier that may not be natural causes at all. The case has threads that stretch all the way to Miami and the Bahamas, although Murphy doesn’t leave the Big Apple except for a short journey when he gets taken for a ride by gangsters. He survives, of course, but not without some fine action from MacIsaac. It’s another very enjoyable story.

I had enough fun reading all of these yarns that I was left wanting more. Fortunately, there’s a second volume of Rambler Murphy stories from Fred MacIsaac, and I already own a copy, so I suspect I’ll be moving on to it in the reasonably near future. Meanwhile, if you’re a fan of pulp detective stories, I give THE COMPLETE CASES OF THE RAMBLER, VOLUME 1 a high recommendation.