Thursday, April 15, 2021

The Sheriff - Robert Dwyer and Austin Wright

An aging Sheriff Donovan is coming to terms with his recent diagnosis of terminal cancer and desperate to maintain his tenuous grasp on Three Chop—the town he willed into existence. When Donovan enters into a bargain with a faction of rural Christian Prohibitionists, agreeing to shutter the local saloon and brothel, his plan to cement his legacy in the eyes of God meets resistance from the town’s business elite, whose livelihoods depend on liquor sales. With a band of notorious outlaws descending on Three Chop, the dispute ignites into a furious battle that forces residents to take sides, to choose between the town’s past and future.

THE SHERIFF is the debut novel from authors Robert Dwyer and Austin Wright, and a strong debut it is. Set in the last decade of the Nineteenth Century, in and around the Texas Panhandle town of Three Chop, it brings together a variety of characters—assorted dangerous outlaws, a fanatical evangelist, a dying sheriff determined to maintain law and order no matter what the cost—and orchestrates some epic showdowns between the various factions. There are definite echoes of the traditional Western here but a more literary sensibility to the writing and plotting. It’s a bleak but impressive yarn and well worth reading if you’re looking for a Western that’s a bit offbeat while retaining a fondness for what’s gone before.

Wednesday, April 14, 2021

Now Available in Large Print: West of the Big River: The Lawman - James Reasoner

William M. "Bill" Tilghman had one of the most illustrious careers of any Old West lawman, serving as sheriff, town marshal, and deputy United States marshal in some of the toughest places west of the Mississippi. But he faced perhaps his greatest and most dangerous challenge when he rode alone into the wild Oklahoma Territory settlement of Burnt Creek on the trail of a gang of rustlers and outlaws with some unexpected allies . .

Center Point recently acquired the large print rights and the first hardback of Western Fictioneers' West of the Big River: The Lawman is now available. The Avenging Angel by Michael Newton, The Artist by Jackson Lowry, and The Ranger by James J. Griffin are already up for pre-order and more will follow. This would be a great series for your local library to pick up.

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Overlooked Movies: My Man Godfrey (1936)

MY MAN GODFREY is one of those movies that played on TV all the time when I was a kid, but I never watched it until now. When it started, Livia and I both commented on what an inventive main title sequence it has, especially for the time period, as the names of the actors and filmmakers appear on the sides of buildings as the scene pans across a city skyline. It works really well.

The story itself opens with a group of homeless men, including Godfrey, played by William Powell. Let’s face it, William Powell is always going to look dapper and distinguished, even unshaven and wearing raggedy old clothes. Some rich society folks show up on a scavenger hunt, including a pair of sisters: cold, arrogant Gail Patrick and sweet but goofy Carole Lombard. Lombard winds up hiring Powell as the new butler for her eccentric family. Everybody learns lessons from each other. And then “Godfrey” turns out to be not quite what he appears to be.

This is an early screwball comedy, and as such, a not quite perfected example of the genre. A few goofy things happen, and there’s a lot of fast-paced-almost-to-the-point-of-incomprehensible dialogue, but it’s not really all that funny. The more dramatic aspects of the story actually work better, as the movie has some points to make about the Depression era in which it was made. As usual, Powell’s great. I’ve liked him in everything that I’ve seen. Eugene Pallette, who has become one of my favorite character actors, is on hand as the long-suffering patriarch of the society family. I have to admit, I’m not much of a Carole Lombard fan, and she didn’t win me over in this movie. There’s nothing wrong with her, it’s just that she’s overshadowed by icy-but-beautiful Gail Patrick as the unsympathetic sister. It may be sacrilege to say this, but I almost wished Godfrey had wound up with her instead of Lombard’s character.

And where the hell was Charles Lane? Isn’t it a rule that Charles Lane has to be in every movie like this?

Anyway, I enjoyed MY MAN GODFREY and I’m glad I finally watched it. It’s well worth the time. It has a reputation as one of the best films of all time, and for me, it doesn’t reach that level, but it’s still a really nice movie from one of the various Golden Ages of Hollywood. 

Monday, April 12, 2021

The Coldest Trail - Wayne D. Dundee

Wayne D. Dundee's latest Western novel, THE COLDEST TRAIL, is a direct sequel to his previous novel, THE FOREVER MOUNTAIN, taking up not long after that one left off. Lone McGantry has finished the dangerous task of laying the remains of his murdered partner to rest, and now he takes up the trail of the men responsible for killing the man and stealing the horse herd he and McGantry had on their ranch. Cold trail or not, McGantry is determined to track down the gang led by "the man with the burned face", as McGantry's partner told him before dying.

As always with a Dundee novel, you can count on a tough, stubborn protagonist, and Lone McGantry is one of his best. He's one of my favorite characters in the Western genre these days. You can also be sure that Dundee will pile a lot of trouble on the protagonist's head, and that's certainly true in THE COLDEST TRAIL. McGantry runs into plenty of obstacles and proddy characters during his quest, which also involves a stolen army payroll and a beautiful saloon singer known as Calamity Jane Jr.

Everything leads up to an action-packed final battle with McGantry's quarry that's one of the best I've read recently. It's great stuff, and very satisfying. Wayne Dundee is one of the best Western writers in the business, and you won't go wrong with any of his books. Highly recommended.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Super Science Stories, November 1941

You know, sometimes it seems like the bugs around here are that big, too. This looks like a great issue of SUPER SCIENCE STORIES, with stories by Robert A. Heinlein (writing as Lyle Monroe), Alfred Bester, Henry Kuttner, a collaboration between Ray Bradbury and Henry Hasse, a yarn by pioneer pulpster Ray Cummings, and a reprint of a Tumithak of the Corridors story by Charles R. Tanner. I've been aware of those Tumithak stories for many years now, but I'm pretty sure I've never read one. Are they worth seeking out?

Saturday, April 10, 2021

Saturday Morning Bonus Pulp: Double Action Western, November 1944

What did I tell you about those Old West barber shops? It just wasn't safe going into those places, as the cover on this issue of DOUBLE ACTION WESTERN proves. This issue has only three stories in it, a novel by Galen C. Colin, an author I've never read, and short stories by Chuck Martin, whose work I've read and enjoyed in the past, and Basil Wells, an author I'd never even heard of. But a quick check of the Fictionmags Index reveals that Wells broke into the pulps in 1940 and as still writing stories for small press magazines as late as the Nineties! There weren't very many pulpsters still active at that point.

Friday, April 09, 2021

Forgotten Books: Meg - Loren Beauchamp (Robert Silverberg)

Sexy, redheaded, 19-year-old bombshell Meg Tandler loses her virginity to her farmboy beau, and that causes her to realize that if she doesn’t make a break, she’ll be doomed to marry such a dullard and live a bleak existence as a farm wife for the rest of her life. So she leaves the small town in Idaho where she grew up and heads for New York, determined to break into show business and make herself rich and famous.

That’s how MEG, written by Robert Silverberg and published by Midwood in 1960 under the pseudonym Loren Beauchamp, begins. And it’s a whirlwind that never really slows down after that. Almost before you know it, Meg is in New York and has a manager/agent who gives her a new name—Meg Loring. She wins a couple of beauty pageants, does some sexy but tasteful magazine covers and photo shoots, gets a screen test in Hollywood, signs a movie contract, and becomes a star. Oh, and along the way she sleeps with every powerful man who can help further her career. She’s made the proverbial journey from rags to riches, but of course, there are still a lot of pitfalls waiting for her in Hollywood . . .

The pace is so fast in this book, the plot developments so over the top, the characters so colorful, that MEG has something you don’t often find in Robert Silverberg’s soft-core novels: a really tongue-in-cheek tone and some genuinely amusing lines of dialogue, especially from Meg’s eccentric agent Max Bonaventura. Some of the Hollywood stuff is pretty funny, too, as many of the characters seem based on real-life figures in the movie business. It also provides a vivid, accurate portrait of the time period, the same way most of the novels in this genre do, at least the ones by the better writers.

MEG is certainly the most lightweight soft-core novel by Silverberg that I’ve encountered yet, and as such, it’s a nice change of pace and a very enjoyable novel. I thought the ending was a little lacking, but it’s still very much worth reading. It’s the second half of a double novel reprint volume coming soon from Stark House.

Thursday, April 08, 2021

Now Available: Battling Britons - Justin Marriott, ed.

Brits at War! War at sea, in the air and on land, as seen through the pages of classic British comics. The war comic has been an enduring part of British pop culture, from the invasion of the pocket books in the 1960s, through to the explosion of weekly strips in the 1970s. Often dismissed and derided, the time has come to reassess their importance as entertainment and education. In these pages are 215 capsule reviews of war comics from the 1960s through to the 2000s, with insights to the creators, themes and sheer readability. Strips from well-loved comics such as Action, Air Ace Picture Library, Battle Picture Library, Battle Picture Weekly, Commando, Valiant, Victor, War Picture Library and Warlord. Fully illustrated with covers and panels from the stories reviewed, many of them by top European creators. Edited and co-written by Justin Marriott, with contributions from Jim O’Brien, Steve Myall and James Reasoner. Foreword from award-winning journalist and war comics expert Paul Trimble. Afterword from Commando scripter Gary Martin Dobbs.

(I wrote some of the reviews in this excellent volume, and in reading through it, I've found a number of other stories I want to look for. If you're a fan of war comics, war fiction, or comics in general, I think you're going to want BATTLING BRITONS. Highly recommended.)

Wednesday, April 07, 2021

The Miracle Squad - John Wooley and Terry Tidwell

Back in the Eighties, I read a lot of independent comics (along with plenty of Marvel and DC titles), and one that I remember very fondly is THE MIRACLE SQUAD, written by John Wooley and drawn by Terry Tidwell. Recently I discovered that the first four issues have been reprinted in a very handsome trade paperback, so I was eager to revisit them. I’m glad I did, because THE MIRACLE SQUAD is still a lot of fun.

Not surprisingly, since Wooley is an expert on pulps, old comics, and old movies, I am definitely the target audience for a yarn like this. In 1937, beautiful Sandra Castle arrives in Hollywood to search for her twin sister. A year earlier, they both won a talent contest that got them screen tests, but only Sandra’s sister Eileen headed west to Hollywood—where she promptly disappeared. Now Sandra’s searching for her, but before you know it, she’s mixed up with a low-budget movie production company, Miracle Studios, which is targeted for a takeover by gangster Sweets O’Hanlon. Handsome young producer Mark Barron takes over the studio after his father is murdered by O’Hanlon’s gunmen. Also working for the studio are magician and daredevil Johnny Rice, character actor Hamilton Wynde, towering prop man Billy Caserta, driver and valet Tito Guzman, and studio detective Robert B. Leslie (any resemblance to pulpster Robert Leslie Bellem, creator of Dan Turner, is strictly not coincidental, since Wooley’s connections to Bellem go ’way back). Together, this group calls themselves the Miracle Squad as they battle O’Hanlon and his goons and search for Sandra’s missing sister at the same time.

I had a great time reading this collection. I mean . . . B-movies, gangsters, cowboys, night clubs, blimps, gambling ships, beautiful dames, two-fisted heroes . . . what more could a fan of that era want? Wooley’s scripts and plot twists are excellent, and Tidwell’s art does a great job of capturing the era.

Rounding out this volume from Bill Cunningham’s Pulp 2.0 Press are reminiscences by the creators, articles on B-movies that originally ran in the comic book, artwork and sketches, and the short story in which Wooley first wrote about several of these characters. It all makes a wonderful package, and I’m glad I discovered it. Wooley and Tidwell produced another series about a masked crimefighter called THE TWILIGHT AVENGER, and Pulp 2.0 has reprinted two volumes of those stories, as well. I have them and look forward to reading them. In the meantime, if you’re a fan of independent comics and/or old movies or just very good adventure fiction, THE MIRACLE SQUAD gets a high recommendation from me.

Tuesday, April 06, 2021

Overlooked Movies: Air Strike (2018)

AIR STRIKE, a 2018 Chinese/American production starring Bruce Willis as an American pilot training and commanding the Chinese air force in the early days of World War II, has some of the worst reviews I’ve ever seen on IMDB. It’s propaganda, they say, showing how brave and noble the Chinese were in their battles against the Japanese. Yeah, maybe so . . . but the Chinese guys who wrote it must have watched every American war movie made during the Forties, because that’s exactly how it plays, complete with soap opera, comedy relief, and a lot of stirring action as the Chinese pilots fight to protect their homeland from Japanese bombers. There’s also a plotline about how one of the pilots, grounded because of injuries, becomes an intelligence agent and is tasked with delivering a vital code-breaking machine to its destination.

As with a lot of Bruce Willis movies these days, he gets top billing but is actually playing a supporting role. He’s on-screen for fifteen or twenty minutes, total. But that’s more than his daughter Rumer, who’s third-billed but has only one scene that lasts maybe thirty seconds. Adrian Brody, the only other actor in the cast you’ll recognize, plays a doctor and fares a little better, but he’s not around much, either.

AIR STRIKE suffers from some muddled storytelling, but the action scenes, although pretty heavy with CGI, are effective. I found myself interested in the characters and their storylines. It’s certainly not a great film, but I don’t think it’s as bad as the reviewers make it out to be. An enjoyable time-waster, let’s call it, and I don’t mean that to be damning with faint praise. Sometimes that’s plenty for me.

Monday, April 05, 2021

Bear River - Ryan Fowler

I’ve always liked small town mysteries: Ellery Queen’s Wrightsville novels, Bill Crider’s Dan Rhodes books, and Ed Gorman’s Sam McCain series are good examples, among many others I’ve read over the years. Ryan Fowler’s debut novel, BEAR RIVER, is a fine addition to the sub-genre.

The narrator, Mike Burkett, is a former army investigator and policeman who has become a successful novelist and abandoned the big city to live in a small vacation community in northern Utah named Bear River. He’s friends with the local chief of police, and when a young woman who’s renting one of the local vacation homes goes missing, the chief asks Mike to help out as a volunteer part-time deputy. Mike’s not sure he still has the skills to get involved in such an investigation, but he plunges into the case anyway, and it’s not long before he’s uncovered a murder. He also runs into a couple of attempts on his life, but that just reinforces his determination to see things through and uncover the truth.

Mike’s investigation takes him from one end of Utah to the other and into Arizona and Montana, and he turns up a wide array of possible suspects ranging from meth dealers living in squalid trailer houses to wealthy business owners who have fabulous vacation homes in the area.

Fowler spins this very well-paced yarn with assurance and skill. Mike Burkett is an extremely sympathetic and likable narrator/protagonist, the supporting cast is top-notch, especially an Arizona sheriff who helps him out, and the plot is appropriately twisty. I really enjoyed BEAR RIVER and hope it’s the first of a series. Highly recommended.

Sunday, April 04, 2021

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Thrilling Detective, February 1951

I'm used to seeing Sam Cherry's covers on Western pulps, but he also did a lot of work in other genres, and on paperback covers, as well. Here's one on an issue of THRILLING DETECTIVE, and I like it a lot. Inside are stories by Stewart Sterling, Norman A. Daniels (writing as Wayland Rice), D.L. Champion, house-names John L. Benton and Robert Wallace (who might well be either Sterling or Daniels in this case), and little known authors B.J. Benson and Burt Sims.

Saturday, April 03, 2021

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Star Western, December 1940

Ah reckon thar's about tuh be trouble betwixt these two rannies. Best hunt cover, hombres! I don't know the artist on this STAR WESTERN cover, but it's a good one. The usual great collection of authors can be found inside, too, including Harry F. Olmsted, Cliff Farrell, Philip Ketchum, Stone Cody (Thomas Mount) with a Silver Trent story, Dee Linford, Norrell Gregory, and M. Howard Lane. Looks like another fine Popular Publications Western pulp.

Friday, April 02, 2021

Forgotten Books: Connie - Loren Beauchamp (Robert Silverberg)

I’ve read a number of Robert Silverberg’s soft-core novels written under the Don Elliott pseudonym, but until now I’d never read any of his Midwood books written as Loren Beauchamp. CONNIE is an early Midwood, originally published in 1959, the same year Silverberg began his long run as Don Elliott for William Hamling’s Nightstand Books (and its other assorted imprints). The cover of the original edition is by Paul Rader.

Not surprisingly, Connie is the name of the protagonist, 17-year-old Connie Barrett, a pretty girl living in Brooklyn with her parents and about to get engaged to her high school sweetheart, who is off in his freshman year at Syracuse. One night she goes out to mail a letter to him, not really worrying because the mailbox is just down the street . . .

Of course, that proves to be a mistake, as Connie is kidnapped and gang-raped by a gang of juvenile delinquents. She survives but her personality is changed forever. Her parents send her to stay with her grandparents in Phoenix, but hardened and embittered, she runs away to San Francisco and becomes a high class call girl, soon having a lot of success in that sordid but lucrative racket. Then she meets a man who offers to take her away from it . . . but will she just wind up in the middle of something even worse?

As you might expect, and as Silverberg acknowledges in his foreword to an upcoming reprint of this novel from Stark House, CONNIE is not exactly a politically correct book. But it’s so well-written that it moves like the proverbial wind. Silverberg used the rape-and-its-aftermath plot in other soft-core novels, and as usual he doesn’t pull any punches in this one. His efforts in this genre are often pretty bleak. CONNIE is no exception. By the time it’s over, are there any glimmerings of hope left for its characters?

You’ll have to read it to find out, but I guarantee a fast-paced, engrossing yarn. I read it in two sittings, almost unheard of these days for little ol’ attention-span-challenged me. As mentioned above, Stark House is reprinting it later this spring in a double volume with another of Silverberg’s early Midwood novels as by Loren Beauchamp, MEG. All the Midwoods I’ve read have been good, no matter who wrote them. I’ll definitely be reading MEG soon, too, and then looking for more.

Monday, March 29, 2021

Wolf Stockburn, Railroad Detective - Max O'Hara


WOLF STOCKBURN, RAILROAD DETECTIVE introduces a new character and is the first in a new Western series from Kensington, and it’s a great debut. The first chapter, which details a bloody attack on a train by an outlaw gang known as the Devil’s Horde, is as fine an opening as I’ve read in a long time, and then no sooner is that done than the reader is introduced to the title character, Wolf Stockburn, a tough, veteran railroad detective who, as we come to find out, is haunted by a pair of tragedies in his past. He also has a dry sense of humor that reminds me a lot of Deputy U.S. Marshal Custis Long (better known as Longarm, of course), another of my favorite Western characters.

Stockburn sets out to track down the Devil’s Horde, and along the way he runs into a beautiful half-breed bordello owner who wears an eyepatch, a feisty, redheaded Wells Fargo express messenger, a beautiful blond star-packer, and as nasty an assortment of outlaws, gunmen, and killers as you’ll ever want to encounter in a Western novel.

Author Max O’Hara never lets the action slow down for long in this novel, and that action, along with the colorful characters and richly detailed settings, really kept me flipping the pages all the way to a spectacular and very satisfying climax. This is some great storytelling, and I had an absolutely fine time reading it, too. If you’re a Western fan, WOLF STOCKBURN, RAILROAD DETECTIVE gets a very high recommendation from me. It’s one of the best Western novels I’ve read in recent years.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Super-Detective, February 1950

As you probably can tell from the cover, SUPER-DETECTIVE was put out by Trojan Publications, part of the same stable as all the Spicy/Speed titles, and as a result, you get a racy cover, at least one story by Robert Leslie Bellem, and a bunch of stories by authors who are either house-names or one-shots. However, that's a good cover, and Bellem is always worth reading, and chances are that some of the other stories are worth reading, too. One oddity is that while Bellem is credited on the cover as the author of "Gambling Corpse", according to the Fictionmags Index (where this scan came from), the story is credited in the Table of Contents to Ellery Watson Calder, one of Bellem's well-known pseudonyms. It doesn't really matter either way, of course.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Wild West Weekly, January 21, 1939

This is an excellent gun and knife cover by H.W. Scott, who has become one of my favorite cover artists. He could work in a variety of styles, but his paintings are always distinctive and eye-catching. As always, there are some good authors in this issue of WILD WEST WEEKLY: T.W. Ford with a Silver Kid story, Laurence Donovan with a Pete Rice story under the Austin Gridley house-name (I didn't know that Donovan wrote any Pete Rice stories, but I'm not surprised; he wrote a little bit of everything and did it well), Chuck Martin, Anson Hard, and Guy L. Maynard.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Forgotten Books: Magazines I Remember - Hugh B. Cave

I consider myself fortunate to have traded a few emails with Hugh B. Cave before he passed away. Like nearly all of the old pros I’ve met or corresponded with, he was a true gentleman and always a pleasure to hear from. A legendary pulp writer who had a long, prolific career in their pages, Cave was unusual in that he moved on to other things and continued writing successfully all the way into this century.

His memoir, MAGAZINES I REMEMBER: SOME PULPS, THEIR EDITORS, AND WHAT IT WAS LIKE TO WRITE FOR THEM, published by Tattered Pages Press in 1994, touches on all phases of his career, not just the pulps, despite its subtitle. Most of it is drawn from a decades-long correspondence between Cave and fellow writer Carl Jacobi. The letters from the Thirties, full of news about stories they had written, sales they had made, and the changing landscape of magazines, editors, and agents, is a fascinating look into the pulp industry. Cave was prolific, though never a million-words-a-year man like Arthur J. Burks, and when he writes about how it was to make your living that way, you know he knows what he’s talking about.

But equally interesting are the sections about writing dozens of stories for the high-paying slick magazines, non-fiction books about World War II and about Jamaica (where Cave lived and operated a coffee plantation for a number of years), and finally his later career when he wrote many horror, fantasy, and dark suspense stories for various small press magazines and anthologies, along with a number of horror novels for Avon, Dell, and Tor. And that doesn’t even include the horror novels he wrote for Leisure after this memoir was published. Several times in his letters, Jacobi mentions that he doesn’t understand why Cave was still writing so much for markets that paid only a fraction of what he had earned from the slicks.

Cave’s answer is simple: He’s a writer. So he writes. And he writes for the markets that are available to him. It’s that attitude that makes me admire Cave and causes me to be glad that I knew him, if only briefly.

Jacobi, on the other hand, in his later years comes across as a man very much out of his time who tries to adjust to change but can’t quite do it. I’ve read very little of Jacobi’s work over the years, but after reading Cave’s memoir, I’m more interested in him and his career. I have a copy of LOST IN THE RENTHARPIAN HILLS: SPANNING THE DECADES WITH CARL JACOBI, a biography/bibliography by R. Dixon Smith, and I may read it in the near future, along with a couple of collections of Jacobi’s stories I also own. But more about that later. For now, let me give a very high recommendation to MAGAZINES I REMEMBER. I’ve been meaning to read this one for years, and I’m glad I finally got around to it.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

Now Available: Rattler's Law, Volume Two - James Reasoner

Wild Bill Hickok may be gone, but Abilene is still a wild and woolly cowtown in need of a strong marshal to bring law and order to its streets. That man is Lucas Flint . . . a legendary lawman sometimes known as the Rattler because of his swift and deadly speed with a Colt .45. Together with his deputy, dashing young gunfighter Cully Markham, Lucas Flint will take on any challenge that threatens the safety of the town and its people that he’s sworn to protect.

As a blizzard rages on the Kansas plains, an old buffalo hunter is caught in the crossfire between a Sioux war party and a clan of bank-robbing killers. A fortune in Confederate gold lures outlaws to Abilene. A young gunslinger bent on vengeance has a startling secret. A prize bull, a hard-bitten rancher, and a gang of thieves prove to be an explosive mixture for Cully Markham. A deadly Fourth of July celebration provides more than one kind of fireworks. A man sworn to uphold the law instead launches a reign of terror. A trio of mail order brides arrives in Abilene, but they bring flying lead rather than matrimonial bliss.

Rattler's Law, Volume Two includes: Buffalo Hunter, Rebel Gold, Devil With a .38, Hell on the Hoof, Gundown, Killer With a Badge, Six-Gun Wedding, and Big Fifty Justice

Classic Noir Novels: Hoodlums - George Benet

One of the latest books from the always impressive Black Gat Books line is HOODLUMS, a crime novel by George Benet. Originally published by Avon in 1953 under the title THE HOODLUMS, as by John Eagle, it was very successful, selling more than half a million copies, but that wasn’t enough to keep Benet from walking away from the writing business and working as a longshoreman for many years before finally turning out two more books decades later.

HOODLUMS isn’t your average crime novel, though. There are plenty of criminals in it, including protagonist Kirk Wagner, an ex-con who falls in with his former partner, even though the guy double-crossed him and left him to take the rap for a previous job. Now they’re involved in a scheme where they pass counterfeit bills, which is a step up from what Kirk was doing before, which is beating and robbing homosexuals who approach him in a park near the Chicago neighborhood where Kirk lives. The money Kirk makes from this counterfeit racket allows him to pursue the girl of his dreams, a stripper/nude model/stag film starlet named Jeannie. Jeannie has a problem, a stalker who writes her long, obscene letters . . . but maybe Jeannie likes those letters a little too much.

Art by Kirk Wilson

As you can probably tell from that description, HOODLUMS is a pretty sordid, squalid book with a real sense of impending doom about it. Kirk Wagner is one of the most unlikable protagonists you’re likely to encounter, which makes it all the more impressive that Benet makes you root for the guy. Late in the book, when Kirk has a chance to escape from the darkness closing in all around him, the reader really wants him to make it. Whether he will or not . . . you have to read the book to find that out.

And I recommend that you do read HOODLUMS. There’s not much plot, and what there is just sort of ambles along, and Benet’s prose runs the gamut from clunky to self-consciously literary. But there are also a lot of highly effective passages, and he does a fantastic job of making Chicago come alive and serve as another character in the book. The places he describes aren’t ones that I’d like to visit, except in the pages of a book like this. Mostly, though, Benet has that unteachable storytelling knack that really kept me flipping the pages. HOODLUMS is a powerful novel, and if you enjoy noir fiction, it’s definitely worth reading.

Monday, March 22, 2021

Benedict and Brazos #2: A Badge for Brazos - E. Jefferson Clay (Paul Wheelahan)

A while back, I read ACES WILD, the first novel in the long-running Benedict & Brazos series by E. Jefferson Clay, actually the extraordinarily prolific Australian author Paul Wheelahan. I thoroughly enjoyed that one, so there was no question I’d read the next one, A BADGE FOR BRAZOS. Several people have mentioned that this series gets better as it goes along, and so far I’ve found that to be true. A BADGE FOR BRAZOS is a very entertaining Western novel.

In case your memory needs to be refreshed, the two protagonists of this series set shortly after the Civil War are former Union officer Duke Benedict and former Confederate sergeant Hank Brazos. The two met during the war, fought first against each other and then on the same side against a gang of renegades who stole a fortune in Confederate gold. Even though there’s a lot of friction in their relationship, Benedict and Brazos have teamed up to hunt down the varmints who stole that gold. Benedict is the slick one of the pair, a handsome, fast-on-the-draw gambler, while Brazos is bigger and more of a rough-and-tumble brawler.

When they run short on funds, they come up with a scheme where Brazos will go into a town without any lawman, pretend to kick up a ruckus, and then Benedict will ride in and “subdue” him, thereby prompting the grateful citizenry to offer him the job of marshal, which he’ll hold down until they have enough money to move on again and continue their quest for the stolen gold.

However, through a series of unexpected events, Brazos is the one who winds up wearing a lawman’s badge, and because of that, our heroes find themselves in the middle of a shooting war between the crew from a local ranch and a group of miners working a silver vein that’s just about played out. Not surprisingly, more is going on that is obvious at first, and there are hidden villains to be uncovered. Also on hand are a beautiful librarian, a world-weary gunslinger, and a female saloon owner tougher than any of the men thereabouts.

There’s nothing in the plot of A BADGE FOR BRAZOS that will surprise anybody who’s read many Westerns, but Wheelahan writes well overall and has an extremely likable pair of protagonists. He’s also a master at pacing, keeping the action moving along at a very fast clip and wrapping things up with a huge, very effective gun battle that also features some poignant moments.

These books remind me very much of episodes in the various Western TV series I grew up watching in the late Fifties and early Sixties. I loved those sorts of yarns then, and I still love them now. So A BADGE FOR BRAZOS gets a big recommendation from me, and I look forward to reading the next one. This series is available in e-book editions from Piccadilly Publishing and in handsome trade paperbacks from Bold Venture Press.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Smashing Detective Stories, December 1952

That's a striking cover on this late detective pulp from Columbia. As usual, editor Robert Lowndes has assembled a good-looking pulp with some very good authors inside, even on a low budget. In this case, that group includes Richard Deming, Robert Turner, Seven Anderton, Thomas Thursday, and Richard Brister. Those guys are nearly always worth reading.

UPDATE: Lowell Wilson points out this cover is a swipe from Ray Johnson's cover for CHARLIE CHAN CARRIES ON. I assume that Johnson did this SMASHING DETECTIVE cover, as well. I've seen several mentions of Johnson's work lately. He was an excellent cover artist.


Saturday, March 20, 2021

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Lariat Story Magazine, May 1944

As usual with a Fiction House pulp, the cover of this issue of LARIAT STORY MAGAZINE features both exciting action and a pretty girl. I don't know who the artist was, but I think he did a good job. Inside are stories by top Western pulpsters Wayne D. Overholster, J.E. Grinstead, M. Howard Lane, and Curtis Bishop, as well as house-name John Starr (if I had to guess, I'd say Bishop, but that's purely a guess) and much-better-known-for-his-science-fiction Clifford D. Simak. I've read a few of Simak's Western stories and found them to be very good. I like the title of that John Starr yarn: "Six Sins in My Holster". The editor must not have been quite at the top of his game, though. That title really needs an exclamation mark at the end of it.

UPDATE: The cover art is by Norman Saunders, used originally on the October 1937 issue of ACTION STORIES. Thanks to Sheila Vanderbeek for the info!

A Middle of the Night Music Post: Shaker Song - Spyro Gyra

I'd been trying to remember the name of this song for a while, when it suddenly popped into my head that the Manhattan Transfer did a vocal version of it. So I checked Manhattan Transfer songs on YouTube and that led me to the original. Both versions are excellent. Maybe I'll post the vocal version next time I'm awake in the middle of the night.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Forgotten Books: No Angels for Me - William Ard

(This post originally appeared in somewhat different form on August 18, 2006.)

I was in the mood to read a vintage hardboiled paperback, and this is what came to hand. I'd never read any of William Ard's mysteries before, but years ago I read all the Westerns he wrote under the name Jonas Ward. He created the long-running Buchanan series and wrote the first five books featuring the character (one of which was made into a movie starring Randolph Scott). Ard died during the writing of the sixth book, which was completed by Robert Silverberg, and then the series was continued by Brian Garfield (one book) and William R. Cox (all the others), with Jonas Ward becoming a house-name.

But I'm getting off the subject here. I knew that Ard wrote mysteries as well as Westerns and have half a dozen of them on my shelves, including NO ANGELS FOR ME. The hero of this one is New York private detective Luke MacLane, who works for the All-States Detective Agency rather than being a loner PI like so many. But all the other usual elements of the genre are here. The book opens with MacLane identifying the body of a fellow PI for All-States who had been on the trail of some stolen diamonds. Vowing vengeance for his friend's murder, MacLane sets out to track down the killer as well as the loot from the diamond heist. Along the way, assorted beautiful women in varying stages of undress throw themselves at him, he gets hit on the head, drugged, and taken for a ride, and there are double-crosses galore.

This sounds pretty hokey and cliched now, but it probably wasn't in 1954, when this book was published. I enjoyed it quite a bit. There are some nice turns of phrase here and there, the action scenes are good, and even if beautiful women really don't throw themselves at private eyes all the time, I want to believe they do. I wouldn't hesitate to read another of Ard's mystery novels.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Overlooked TV: The Range Rider (1951-53)

The other day, a friend of mine mentioned the early Western TV series THE RANGE RIDER, which was syndicated for three seasons (a total of 78 episodes) in the early Fifties. By the time I was watching TV in the late Fifties and early Sixties, it was still showing regularly in reruns, and I was a big fan. I hadn't thought about it for a long time and probably hadn't seen an episode in almost 60 years, so I decided to check one out on YouTube. Since then I've watched several more. This series holds up pretty darned well, and I'm enjoying it.

The Range Rider (we're never told any other name for the character) is the sort of drifting troubleshooter we often encounter in Westerns. He doesn't seem to have any job other than riding around and helping out folks who need it. Along with his sidekick, young Dick West, he's always solving mysteries and catching bad guys. Granted, the plots aren't very complex, since we're talking about half-hour TV episodes, but the stories are well-constructed and have plenty of action. My friend who brought up the series mentioned speculation that it was based loosely on the Hashknife Hartley stories and novels by W.C. Tuttle. I've read quite a few Hashknife yarns, and if that rumor isn't true, it sure could have been, since THE RANGE RIDER features the same blend of action, mystery, and comedy.

The Range Rider is played by Jock Mahoney, former stuntman turned actor who was an early favorite of mine based on this show and his later series YANCY DERRINGER. Mahoney was never a great actor, but man, he has screen presence to spare and as a former stuntman does a great job with the action scenes. Dick Jones plays the sidekick Dick West (often called Dickie by the Range Rider) and is also very good, handling most of the comedy and romance in the same sort of performance Richard Martin gave as Chito Rafferty in dozens of Tim Holt movies. And like Chito, Dickie can be tough and competent when he needs to be.

Mahoney would have made an excellent Hashknife Hartley if we had ever gotten such a TV series. THE RANGE RIDER is the closest we'll ever come to it. I'm having a great time watching it, and it's nice to know that one of my early favorites still comes across as well-made and entertaining.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Men's Adventure Quarterly, Volume 1, Number 1: The Most Wanted Wild West Issue

Nobody knows more about the Men’s Adventure Magazines, those lurid mixtures of fact and fiction that were common on newsstands and magazine racks in the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies, than Bob Deis. He’s teamed up with Bill Cunningham (and an assist by Paul Bishop) to produce a terrific new anthology series called MEN’S ADVENTURE QUARTERLY, each issue of which will focus on a different genre from the Men’s Adventure Magazines. The first one is out now and is loaded with Western stories and artwork from a variety of sources.

There are non-fiction articles about madams of the Old West and the TV series GUNSMOKE, but most of the contents are fictional, although some stories are based on historical characters such as Clay Allison and Buckskin Frank Leslie. Not surprisingly, my favorites are the tales by old pros Lou Cameron, Dean W. Ballenger, and Donald Honig. All the stories are well-written and entertaining, though.

Visually, MEN’S ADVENTURE QUARTERLY is a real treat. The production values are excellent, and it features dozens of magazine covers and interior illustrations by some of the top artists of the mid-Twentieth Century era. It’s a wonderful recreation of that time.

By the time I was trying to break into writing in the mid-Seventies, the Men’s Adventure Magazines were still around but mostly a pale shadow of what they had once been. I sent them dozens of stories anyway but never sold any. I’m sorry I didn’t crack that market, but I really enjoy revisiting it now. MEN’S ADVENTURE QUARTERLY gets a high recommendation from me. You can buy it on Amazon or directly from the publisher.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Astounding Science-Fiction, June 1939

This cover by Graves Gladney almost looks like it would be more at home on a detective pulp, rather than an issue of ASTOUNDING SCIENCE-FICTION. Either way, I like it. There's a fine line-up of authors in this issue, too: Jack Williamson (with an installment of a Legion of Space serial), Clifford D. Simak, Nat Schachner, Arthur J. Burks, Ross Rocklynne, and Harl Vincent. I'm not sure if I've ever read anything by Schachner or Vincent, but I've read and enjoyed all the other authors.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Range Riders Western, Fall 1942

Another action-packed scene involving a stagecoach on this issue of RANGE RIDERS WESTERN. I don't know the artist. For those of you not familiar with this pulp, it featured a lead novel in every issue starring a trio of range detectives, Steve Reese (the leader) and his two sidekicks Hank Ball and Dusty Trail. It's a time-honored setup (think of all the trio B-Western movies that were made during the same era) and RANGE RIDERS WESTERN delivered consistently good stories, many of them by Walker A. Tompkins, the author of this issue's lead novel. I've never understood why the stories from this pulp weren't reprinted in paperback during the Sixties and Seventies the way the stories from TEXAS RANGERS, RIO KID WESTERN, and MASKED RIDER WESTERN were. I think they would have done well. This particular issue also has some back-up stories by Allan K. Echols, Eugene A. Clancy, Clinton Dangerfield, and Ralph Yergen, not big names but steady producers in the Western pulps. 

Friday, March 12, 2021

Forgotten Books: A Yank at Valhalla - Edmond Hamilton

I’ve been a fan of Edmond Hamilton’s science fiction novels and stories for more than fifty years now, starting with the Starwolf series he wrote for Ace in the mid-Sixties, the paperback reprints of his Captain Future pulp novels, and the stories of his that were included in Isaac Asimov’s great anthology BEFORE THE GOLDEN AGE. It’s entirely possible that I read some of the Superman stories Hamilton wrote for the comic books, too, but I’ve never really looked into that part of his career.

Recently I read a 1973 Ace Double edition of one of Hamilton’s science fiction novels that appeared originally in the January 1941 issue of the pulp STARTLING STORIES. That’s my copy of the paperback in the scan. Just the title is enough to make my blood start to pump a little faster: A YANK AT VALHALLA. That certainly sounds like an epic.

And it kind of is. The narrator is Keith Masters, a two-fisted scientist/pilot who is part of a scientific expedition to the Arctic. The ship which carries Masters and his fellow scientists to these polar climes has dropped anchor, and the group trawls the sea floor to see if they can come up with anything interesting. What would you call an ancient golden cylinder covered with Old Norse runes? What could possibly go wrong with finding something like that and hanging on to it?

Well, if you’re Keith Masters, your rocket plane (the only real indication that this yarn is set in the future) could be blown off course by a violent, mysterious storm while you’re exploring. And you could find a hidden land beyond a mysterious barrier where there’s an island called Asgard off the coast of a continent known as Midgard. And there’s a rainbow bridge called Bifrost spanning the gap between the two, a big guy named Thor who carries a hammer, a wise ruler called Odin, a beautiful shield maiden, two feuding races, the Aesir and the Jotuns, and an evil scientist named Loki who has been imprisoned for centuries along with his giant wolf Fenris and the equally giant Midgard Serpent. Any guesses what rune-covered artifact will free Loki and unleash Ragnarok on the world?

Snark aside, that summary isn’t as much of a spoiler as you might think, because everything in it is established pretty quickly. In fact, that’s really the only weakness in A YANK AT VALHALLA. Keith Masters adapts to the bizarre situation in which he finds himself a little too easily for it to be believable. “So . . . I’m in Asgard having adventures with the Norse gods. Sure, why not?”

But this novel was written for the pulps, after all, where the motto was action, action, and more action, and A YANK AT VALHALLA delivers on that in fine fashion. This is a Front Porch Book for sure, the kind of thing I would have raced through on a lazy summer day, sitting in a lawn chair on my parents’ front porch with a glass of iced tea beside me.

In addition to that, though, Hamilton actually comes up with the plausible (or at least, plausible-sounding) explanation for the existence of Asgard and the Norse gods. I’ve always liked Hamilton’s scientific speculation. Some of it may be far-fetched, but you can tell he put some thought into it, and he was one of the best at combining such speculation with swashbuckling action.

So, does the twilight of the gods fall on Asgard because of the mortal Keith Masters? You’ll have to read the book to find out. I don’t imagine it’s difficult to find in the paperback edition, and there’s actually an e-book version available, so it’s not completely forgotten. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and if you enjoy action-packed, big-idea science fiction, I think there’s a good chance you might, too.

Monday, March 08, 2021

A Writer Prepares - Lawrence Block

I’ve always been fascinated by writer’s memoirs. I’ve seen them criticized as being a series of “And then I wrote” recollections, but the best ones contain a lot more than that. Besides, I like reading about how certain books came to be written, the story behind the stories, if you will. This summer, Lawrence Block will release a memoir called A WRITER PREPARES, and I’ve been fortunate enough to read an advance copy of it. It’s a look at his college days and his early career as a writer, and how those two eras overlapped. He wrote a little more than half of it back in the mid-Nineties, then set it aside and never finished it until the past year. It makes for very interesting reading.

Some of this information I’ve seen before in introductions to various of Block’s novels and in published interviews with him, but there’s plenty that’s new to me, too. He doesn’t spare himself, going into some detail about personal failings, possibly unwise business decisions, and the various sorts of screw-ups that plague all of us. But he doesn’t dwell on those things and keeps the focus primarily on his writing. I especially enjoyed the section about his brief stint working in the mail room of Pines Publications, publisher of some of my favorite Western pulps. Next time I pick up an issue of RANCH ROMANCES from 1956, I’ll think that Block may have been wheeling a mail cart around the editorial offices when that issue was being put together.

There’s a lot of material about his time working for the Scott Meredith Literary Agency, his breaking into print with novels for Harry Shorten at Midwood under the pseudonym Sheldon Lord, his prolific output for William Hamling’s various soft-core imprints under the name Andrew Shaw, and his time writing medical case history books (which were almost all fictional) for Monarch, Lancer, and other publishers. All this makes me want to read more of those early books, and luckily I can since Block has reprinted most of them in the past decade. There are also sections about his friendship with Donald Westlake and Bill Coons (who ghosted a number of the Andrew Shaw novels for Block) and other authors, editors, and agents. It’s a vivid portrait of one little corner of the publishing business from the mid-Fifties to the mid-Sixties.

A WRITER PREPARES ends at a logical point, when Block has pretty much left the pseudonymous work behind to concentrate on books under his own name. This is when he began his Evan Tanner series for Gold Medal, and as it happens, those Tanner books were the first ones by Block that I ever saw, bought, and read, picking up most of them from the spinner rack in Tompkins’ Drugstore, one of my regular stops for paperbacks and comic books. After that, I’ve kept up, more or less, with his career. So it’s nice to read about those early days. I really enjoyed A WRITER PREPARES. The e-book edition is already up for pre-order. I give it my highest recommendation. I’ve been doing that a lot lately. I’ve been on a run of really great books, and this is another one in that streak.

Sunday, March 07, 2021

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Top-Notch Magazine, First May, 1931

Yep, just polin' down the river on a raft with a machine gun. Think what a different book THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN might have been if Huck and Jim had had themselves a machine gun. They might have had some real adventures then. But not to get too far afield here . . . TOP-NOTCH had some good authors, as you'd expect from a Street & Smith pulp. In this issue are stories by James P. Olsen, George Allan England, house-name Valentine Wood (with a Kroom, Son of the Sea yarn), and Warren Elliott Carleton, among others. Not big names, but Olsen was always dependable no matter what the genre and quite a bit of England's work has been reprinted. Despite its name, I've never considered TOP-NOTCH to be in the upper rank of pulps, but I'm not sure why I feel that way, since I've read very little of what was published in it, mostly just the few stories that Robert E. Howard had there and the Ozar the Aztec stories written by Walker A. Tompkins under that Valentine Wood pen-name. (Speaking of that, the final Longarm novel I wrote, LONGARM AND THE BLOODY RELIC, was inspired by those Ozar stories and has a character in it, a ship's captain, named Valentine Wood. For whatever that's worth.)

Saturday, March 06, 2021

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: 10 Story Western Magazine, April 1953

It's not often you see the Old Geezer on a Western pulp cover without his pards, the Stalwart Cowboy and the Angry, Gun-Totin' Redhead, but here he is on this 10 STORY WESTERN MAGAZINE cover by Norman Saunders. I like the way he can shoot it out with the bad guys and continue smoking his pipe. He's a tough old bird. This is probably a pretty tough-minded issue, too, with stories by H.A. DeRosso and Jonathan Craig, along with Lee Floren, Robert Trimnell, Will Cook, Bill Burchardt, and some lesser-known Western pulpsters including Doc Winchester, a by-line that has to be a pseudonym or house-name, although it hasn't been identified as such.

Friday, March 05, 2021

Forgotten Books: Sage Tower - Dean Owen (Dudley Dean McGaughey)

(This post originally appeared in somewhat different form on April 25, 2007.)

The title of this short novel isn’t a geographical reference, as I thought it might be when I first picked it up. Instead it’s the name of the hero. Published as half of an Ace Double Western (with Ray Hogan’s KILLER ON THE WARBUCKET on the other side), it has some of the best blurb page copy I’ve read.

There were three things that brought Sage Tower out of Texas:
an eight-sided goldpiece;
a dying Mexican woman;
a message reading: there are no flowers on Emilio’s grave.

If you can read that and not want to read the book, you’re made of sterner stuff than I am, compadres. As usual with a Dean Owen novel, the plot is complex, there’s a lot of back-story, and the characters are well-drawn. He packs a lot into a short (in this case, 118 pages) novel. Here we’ve got lust, revenge, buried loot, murder, gun battles, and several brutal, well-written fistfights, all in tough, lean, hardboiled Western style. This is a fine novel and only makes me want to read more of McGaughey’s books.

Thursday, March 04, 2021

The Wild Adventures of the Spider: Fury in Steel - Will Murray

I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that my introduction to The Spider was in 1969, when Berkley Medallion reprinted the first two books in the series, THE SPIDER STRIKES and THE WHEEL OF DEATH, both by R.T.M. Scott. They released these in an odd, “buy one, get one free” scheme which saw the two paperbacks bound together with a paper band around them. I bought them off the spinner rack in a drugstore in Stephenville, Texas. My mother and I were on our way to my aunt’s house in Blanket, Texas, and I usually talked her into stopping at that store in Stephenville because they had good paperback and comic book spinners, as well as a big magazine rack where I saw some of the late issues of RANCH ROMANCES but didn’t buy any because I was spending my money on paperbacks like those two Spider novels.

Anyway, to get back to the subject at hand . . . Berkley reprinted a couple more Spider novels, these by Norvell Page writing under the house-name Grant Stockbridge. Page was far and away the most prolific Spider author and really defined the series’ tone with his wild, over-the-top plots and almost non-stop action. The problem is, I never saw those paperbacks. They just didn’t show up in any my usual book-buying haunts. It was more than a decade before I read any more of the Spider series, although by then I had read quite a bit about it. A few more reprints started trickling out in the early Eighties, a trio of trade paperbacks published by an outfit called Dimedia, and I found an issue of the actual pulp in a thrift store, and I picked up used copies of several novels published by Pocket Books that had been rewritten and “updated” but still retained some of the pulp feel. More actual reprints followed, some in mass market paperback, some in facsimile editions from small press publishers, and I read most of them. I’m not a Spider expert—I’ve read maybe half of the series in one format or another—but I always enjoy the character and his wild exploits.

Which brings us to The Wild Adventures of the Spider, a series of brand-new novels by pulp expert and fine writer Will Murray. The first one, THE DOOM LEGION, guest-starred two other characters from Popular Publications pulps, G-8 (the Flying Spy) and Operator 5, Jimmy Christopher his own self. I loved it. Murray’s latest Spider novel, the recently released FURY IN STEEL, also has some guest stars, in this case Emile C. Tepperman’s intrepid trio of fast-shooting FBI agents, the Suicide Squad: Johnny Kerrigan, Dan Murdoch, and Stephen Klaw. I’ve read half a dozen of Tepperman’s Suicide Squad stories, and they’re great. So seeing them in the same book with The Spider was a big draw for me. They don’t exactly team up—in fact, for most of the book the FBI agents are trying to arrest Richard Wentworth and in fact succeed in doing so at one point—but their efforts against an invasion of New York by giant killer robots makes for some great reading.

That’s right, giant killer robots that can bite off a man’s head, tear him limb from limb, and, like steel termites, gnaw away the foundations of skyscrapers to bring them crashing down. Another week, another apocalypse in the Big Apple, a crazed scheme by another villain to wreak havoc, panic the nation, and cause the deaths of thousands. And the only one who can stop it, of course, is The Spider.

FURY IN STEEL is just pure fun from start to finish. The plot is well-structured, flowing smoothly from great action scene to great action scene, Murray’s prose captures the frantic tone perfectly, and he has a keen sense of the absurd, pushing the boundaries but always stopping short of letting things get silly. I enjoyed this novel a great deal, and if you’re a fan of The Spider, or just a fan of wild pulp adventures in general, I give it my highest recommendation.