Tuesday, June 15, 2021

Classic Adventure Pulp: The Resurrection of Jimber Jaw - Edgar Rice Burroughs

Edgar Rice Burroughs was one of my favorite authors when I was a kid, but there was plenty of his work I never got around to, and I've read him only sporadically since then. I want to go back and catch up on some of that unread stuff, and I've started with "The Resurrection of Jimber Jaw" (great title!), a novelette that was published originally in the February 20, 1937 issue of ARGOSY, the lead story with a good cover by Emmett Watson.

This story involves a couple of American scientists who are flying over the wastes of Siberia for reasons that are convoluted and, frankly, not all that convincing. When they're forced to land by an engine malfunction, they find a prehistoric man frozen in a chunk of ice. Since one of the scientists just happens to specialize in freezing living things and bringing them back to life, they decide to thaw out the guy they find, who they nickname Jimber Jaw because he resembles a grizzly bear of that name one of the fellows once saw.

Now, there are usually only two ways a set-up like this can go: comedy or bloody horror. Burroughs opts for comedy, and there's plenty of the dry wit that crops up so often in his later work. It's pretty funny, too, and the story is well-written overall.

The problem with "The Resurrection of Jimber Jaw" is that the plot is rather thin, and Burroughs merely summarizes much of the action, so that some of it reads more like an outline than a story. This is a yarn that's really crying out for more length and a better developed plot.

As it is, the humor and the fast pace kept me reading effortlessly, and overall, I enjoyed it. I can't help but feel, though, that it could have been much better. That won't stop me from reading more of those Burroughs stories I haven't gotten to yet.

Monday, June 14, 2021

Chronos Commandos: Dawn Patrol - Stuart Jennett

A friend of mine mentioned this the other day and compared it to the old DC Comics series The War That Time Forgot, so I had to check it out. I'm definitely the target audience when it comes to anything about World War II G.I.s fighting dinosaurs.

I was pleased to find that this five-issue comic book series is pretty good. It's been reprinted in trade paperback and as an e-book and is worth reading. The concept is that a combined scientific and military force called The Watchmakers, led by Albert Einstein, is tasked with traveling through time to foil the plots of Nazi time travelers. The leader of one of the field teams is a tough non-com called only The Sarge, who, along with his men, is in prehistoric times with his men as this yarn opens.

Through some bad luck, The Sarge and one other soldier are the only ones who make it back to the present (well, the middle of World War II, which is the present as far as this series is concerned) only to find that things are in even worse shape there. Nazi agents have infiltrated the Watchmakers, wrecked their headquarters, and stolen a vital component of their time traveling equipment, escaping into prehistoric times with it. The Sarge and a new squad are sent to recover it and prevent the Nazis from changing the course of history.

All of that is set up in the first issue, and the rest of the series is nearly non-stop action. If you enjoy G.I. vs. dinosaur battles, Albert Einstein with a tommy gun fighting Nazi agents, and mind-bending time travel paradoxes, CHRONOS COMMANDOS is for you. Stuart Jennett's script is excellent. I'm not as big a fan of his art, but he's a decent storyteller and the art, by today's standards, is not bad at all. Taken together, Jennett delivers a very enjoyable yarn that I enjoyed quite a bit. Recommended.

Sunday, June 13, 2021

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Detective Fiction Weekly, October 30, 1937

There's a nice sinister cover on this issue of DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY. I don't want anything to do with that operating room, thank you. Leading off this issue is a novella by T.T. Flynn, one of my favorite Western writers, featuring his series characters Mike Harris and Trixie Meehan. I've never read any of this series, but I expect I'd enjoy it. Other well-known pulpsters on hand are Richard Sale, Dale Clark, Cyril Plunkett, and George Armin Shaftel. Other authors are prolific but little known (to me, anyway) H. Randolph Peacock, Thomas W. Duncan, Donald S. Aitken, and Milo Ray Phelps. I don't think DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY is considered one of the top pulps these days, but there was plenty of good reading in its pages, and a great deal of it has never been reprinted.

Saturday, June 12, 2021

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: West, June 1946

An ominous cover by Sam Cherry graces this issue of WEST, which includes a Zorro story by Johnston McCulley and a novella by Paul Evan Lehman. Other authors on hand are Dupree Poe (writing as Roger Rhodes), Larry Harris, and Hal White, a prolific but little remembered author whose career lasted from the mid-Twenties to the early Fifties and included Westerns, detective stories, and dozens of aviation yarns.

Friday, June 11, 2021

Forgotten Books: Rimrock Town - William Heuman

The mining novel is a popular sub-genre of the Western. Sometimes it’s mixed with another sub-genre, such as the ranch novel, and in a book like that you’re nearly always going to have a big brawl between cowboys and miners somewhere along the way. William Heuman’s RIMROCK TOWN, published by Hillman in 1957, is a mining novel without a cowboy in sight, or a cow, for that matter. It’s set in Rimrock, Montana, a thinly disguised version of Butte, and centers around the bitter rivalry between two mining tycoons, Boyd Garrison and William Andrews.

Winding up in the middle of this brewing war is newcomer Harlan Craig, who owned a stage line in California that went out of business following the arrival of the railroad. Now at loose ends, Craig has drifted to Rimrock to see if he can make his fortune some other way. When he saves Boyd Garrison from an ambush, the mining magnate hires him as a bodyguard, which puts Craig in the thick of trouble, because Andrews has started importing gunmen to destroy Garrison’s operation.

Oh, and there are two beautiful women in the mix, as well, the daughter of the local judge (who is in Garrison’s pocket) and another newcomer to Rimrock, an ambitious redhead who opens a dress shop. There’s a nicely done romantic rectangle involving those two ladies, Craig, and Garrison, but Heuman doesn’t spent nearly as much time on that as he does on gunfights, ambushes, brutal fistfights, sabotage, explosions, and a harrowing battle deep underground.

Heuman is one of my favorite hardboiled Western writers, and he’s in excellent form in this novel, which I raced through and thoroughly enjoyed. If you like traditional Westerns and come across a copy, RIMROCK TOWN is well worth reading.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

Men's Adventure Quarterly #2: The "Eyes Only" Espionage Issue -- Robert Deis, Bill Cunningham, Tom Simon, eds.

There’s no sophomore jinx for the second issue of MEN’S ADVENTURE QUARTERLY. It remains one of the most impressive, beautifully designed publications available today. The theme this time around for this oversized trade paperback is Espionage. It features a lot of vividly reproduced artwork, including both covers and interior illustrations, from a variety of the Men’s Adventure Magazines published in the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies, along with seven stories (mostly fiction, even the supposedly true ones) from those magazines.

My favorites were “The Deadly Spy Mystery of the Formosa Joy Girls” by Brand Hollister, an acknowledged pseudonym, real author unknown (MAN’S ACTION, March 1963); “Operation Maneater” by Donald Honig (FOR MEN ONLY, February 1969); and “She Knew Too Much to Live” by H. Horace, another pseudonym, I’m thinking (MAN’S LIFE, October 1973). These are all action-packed yarns, and “Operation Maneater”, which is about an American agent’s efforts to bring down a counterfeiter headquartered in a compound on the Amazon in South America, is especially good and would have made a fine novel if it had been expanded. You can’t go wrong with a bad guy who has a pool full of piranha. Of course, a pool full of sharks or alligators would have been pretty good, too.

In addition to the stories and great artwork, there are also informative, entertaining essays from editors Robert Deis and Bill Cunningham and guest editor Tom Simon. MEN’S ADVENTURE QUARTERLY #2: THE “EYES ONLY” ESPIONAGE ISSUE is just great fun and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Highly recommended. (It's also available directly from the publisher.)

Wednesday, June 09, 2021

Terminal Memory - Brian Drake

Brian Drake has been making a name for himself as an author of action/adventure novels for the past few years. TERMINAL MEMORY is the first book in his latest series and features Sam Raven, a former CIA agent who has left the Company and become a sort-of-freelance vigilante for hire, due to some mysterious tragedy in his life.

After a short section that introduces Raven and has him rescuing a kidnap victim, the main storyline of this book involves a more personal mission. Several years before this book opens, while Raven was still working for the CIA, he and four fellow agents were involved in a mission in Afghanistan that saw them captured and tortured by terrorists. Now three of those former agents are dead, leaving just Raven and his traumatized former lover Mara Cole. It’s up to Raven to find Mara, keep both of them from getting killed, discover who’s behind this apparent vendetta and why, and deliver some swift and deadly justice to them.

I really enjoyed this book. Too many contemporary thrillers suffer from a bad case of bloat and are at least twice as long as their plots justify. Not so TERMINAL MEMORY. Drake doesn’t waste a word and keeps things moving at a very fast pace most of the time. When the characters do slow down to take a breath, those scenes are well-written, too. There are two more Sam Raven novels out already, and I look forward to reading them. If you’re an action/adventure fan, TERMINAL MEMORY gets a high recommendation from me.

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

The Comanche Kid - James Robert Daniels

THE COMANCHE KID is playwright/actor James Robert Daniels’ first novel, but you’d never know that by reading this magnificent, bigger-than-life tale.

Sixteen-year-old Jane lives on the Texas frontier with her twin brother Jamie, her parents, and her three-year-old sister Sally. Their hardscrabble but peaceful existence comes to an end when a Comanche war party raids their homestead. Jane and Sally are the only survivors of the bloody attack. Jane avoids capture, but the Indians carry off Sally, leaving Jane determined to rescue her sister and avenge the deaths of her other loved ones . . . even if she has to pretend to be a boy to do it.

Making use of traditional Western elements—the vengeance quest, the coming-of-age story, the trail drive yarn, the epic clash of cavalry and Indians—Daniels’ evocative prose lifts the odyssey of sixteen-year-old Jane into something special as she searches for her younger sister and encounters a host of colorful characters along the way. With echoes of TRUE GRIT, THE COWBOY AND THE COSSACK, and LONESOME DOVE, this is a big, thrilling, tragic, and ultimately uplifting portrait of the American West. THE COMANCHE KID is one of the best novels I’ve read this year and gets a strong recommendation from me.

Monday, June 07, 2021

Robert E. Howard Changed My Life - Jason M. Waltz, ed.

I suppose it might be possible for somebody to read Robert E. Howard’s work and not have it change their life. I know logically that a person might like the stories, like them enough to read all of them, even, and then move on and never think about them again. I get that, because I’ve been that way with plenty of authors.

But man, as for me and all the Howard fans I know, once you’ve read those yarns, you’re never really the same again. I’ve written before about how discovering Howard’s work in the Lancer edition of CONAN THE USURPER (the one with the great giant snake cover by Frazetta) had a huge impact on me not only as a reader but also as a writer. Of course the stories were wonderful and immediately captured my imagination, but reading the introduction and finding out that Howard was from a small town in Texas (like me) and was able, against the odds, to become a successful professional author was more inspiration than I had ever gotten before in my budding desire to be a writer myself.

ROBERT E. HOWARD CHANGED MY LIFE, edited by Jason M. Waltz and published by the Rogue Blades Foundation, is a great new collection of essays from a number of fans and professional writers, artists, editors, and academics, about that same subject. The book leads off with “How Robert E. Howard Saved My Life” by Bill Cavalier, a fantastic memoir that I’ve been privileged to hear Indy (as Howard fans know “Indiana Bill” Cavalier) deliver in person. He’s a monumental figure in Howard fandom, and so is Rusty Burke, who is also present in this collection along with Howard scholars Karen Joan Kohoutek, Todd Vick, Bobby Derie, Fred Blosser, Patrice Louinet, Dierk Gunther, Jeffrey Shanks, Deuce Richardson, and Chris Gruber. Professional authors Michael Moorcock, Joe R. Lansdale, Roy Thomas, David C. Smith, Scott Oden, C.L. Werner, Charles Saunders, Howard Andrew Jones, Keith Taylor, Cecilia Holland, David Hardy, Mark Finn, Nancy A. Collins, Steven Erikson, and Adrian Cole are all on hand with essays that range from poignant to informative to humorous. I should point out that all of these people are Howard fans, many of the ones I refer to as scholars have written professionally, and many of the ones who make their living primarily from their fiction have also contributed greatly to the study of Howard’s life and work.

I consider many of them good friends from Howard Days, the annual get-together in Cross Plains, Texas, to celebrate everything REH. Many of the others I know at least through the Internet. It’s an absolute pleasure to read their comments about the effect Robert E. Howard has had on their lives. For those of you who have been to Howard Days, reading this book is like sitting in the pavilion next to the Howard House and listening to the smartest, wittiest bunch of people in the world having a great time talking about a writer they all love.

Simply put, ROBERT E. HOWARD CHANGED MY LIFE is the best book I’ve read so far this year, and I give it my highest recommendation. If you’re a Howard fan, you can’t afford to miss it. 

Sunday, June 06, 2021

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Thrilling Adventures, January 1936

Seems like a lot of guys picked up tripod-mounted machine guns and waved them around on pulp covers. I know I've seen that sort of cover more than once, probably on another issue of THRILLING ADVENTURES. This issue has a fine group of writers inside, including Hugh B. Cave, G.F. Eliot (billed as Major George F. Eliot in this issue), Leslie T. White, Oscar Schisgall, Jackson Cole (who could well have been Schisgall, since that started out as a personal pseudonym for him, before it became a house-name), and Gunnison Steele (who was always Bennie Gardner). Eliot's not the only one to use his rank, either. There's also a novelette by Lieutenant Seymour Pond.

UPDATE: Annnnd the reason that cover looks familiar to me is that I've posted it before, about four years ago. So this is an accidental rerun. I've been doing this long enough that I need to start checking on that before I schedule the posts.

Saturday, June 05, 2021

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Story, July 15, 1933

Looks like trouble's a-brewin' on the cover of this issue of WESTERN STORY. I don't know if that hombre is a good guy fortin' up against the bad guys, or if he's a dirty, lowdown bushwhacker, but either way, there's gonna be powder burnin' pretty quick-like. To pass the time until all hell breaks loose, though, that fella could read stories by Frederick Faust (a serial installment under the name George Owen Baxter), Kenneth Gilbert, Lloyd Eric Reeve, George Cory Franklin, Guthrie Brown, and Adolph Bennauer. Those last two names aren't familiar to me, but they must have been all right to sell to WESTERN STORY. This is a nice, evocative cover. I don't know the artist.  

Friday, June 04, 2021

Forgotten Books: South of the Law Line - Walt Coburn

I’m glad that over the past couple of decades, quite a few of Walt Coburn’s pulp stories have become available again. Inconsistent he might be, but at his best, he’s one of my all-time favorite Western writers. SOUTH OF THE LAW LINE, published by Five Star in 2006, is a collection of three Coburn novellas from the great Fiction House pulps LARIAT STORY MAGAZINE and ACTION STORIES, all of them published while he was still being billed as Walter J. Coburn.

“Riders of the Purple” appeared in the very first issue of LARIAT STORY MAGAZINE, published in August 1925. It’s about a couple of old ranchers in Montana, long-time friends who have a bitter falling-out over a trivial argument. One of the smaller ranchers in the area tries to take advantage of that and drive an even bigger wedge between the old pards, hoping to goad them into wiping each other out so that he can take over. That’s a pretty basic plot, and Coburn doesn’t bring to it any of his usual hidden identities, complicated back-stories, and out-of-left-field plot twists. Don’t get me wrong. I love that stuff. It just doesn’t come up in this story.

Instead we get a yarn that fairly reeks of authenticity, as well as powdersmoke and horse sweat. Coburn’s boyhood spent growing up on the Circle C ranch in Montana gives his stories a feeling that isn’t present in every Western pulpster’s work. Sure, the plots may not be all that realistic, but when you’re reading one of Coburn’s better stories, you can’t help but feel that, yep, this is the way it really was, and if it isn’t the way things really happened, well, it should have been. “Riders of the Purple” is a prime example of that.

Coburn wrote a number of what were, for him, contemporary Westerns, often featuring veterans of the First World War, as Coburn himself was. One such is the title story of this volume, “South of the Law Line”, which originally appeared in the August 1924 issue of ACTION STORIES. It features Texas Ranger Bill Douglas and roguish bandit Eduardo Martinez Chávez, who were comrades-in-arms in a machine gun company that fought in France during the war. They’re reunited because of Douglas’s efforts to break up a drug smuggling ring operating along the Mexican border. A quack doctor, a young man who believes he’s dying, and the man’s beautiful fiancée also figure in the plot, which moves along with plenty of action and a really nice pace. This one is a little more pulpish and melodramatic than “Riders of the Purple”, but it sure is a lot of fun.

Bill Douglas and Eduardo Martinez Chávez return in “High Jack and Low”, from the March 1925 issue of ACTION STORIES. The Texas Ranger is trying to nab the mastermind of yet another drug smuggling ring, and Chávez has gotten himself involved with a group of Mexican revolutionaries and has risen to the leadership of them, which makes him a man who the Rurales would very much like to stand in front of a wall and introduce him to a firing squad. Not surprisingly, Bill’s and Chávez’s troubles wind up intersecting, and once again Coburn provides a breakneck yarn with plenty of gunplay and suspense. The highlight is a harrowing journey along a narrow mountain trail that follows a ledge hundreds of feet in the air, with the added danger of a condor that attacks anyone who travels along that perilous path.

Coburn’s Golden Age as a writer runs from the mid-Twenties up until about 1945, so he was just entering his prime when he wrote these three novellas. They’re all very good, and I really enjoyed them. They don’t have the complex plots and emotional depth of some of his later stories, but they’re still great entertainment. SOUTH OF THE LAW LINE gets a solid recommendation from me.

Wednesday, June 02, 2021

The Ranger: Concho - A.W. Hart (Charles Gramlich)

Concho Ten-Wolves is half black, half Kickapoo, a former Army Ranger, and currently a Texas Ranger working out of Eagle Pass, Texas, in this thriller that launches a new action/adventure series from Wolfpack Publishing. Charles Gramlich is the top-notch author behind the A.W. Hart house-name on THE RANGER: CONCHO, which was just released today.

The opening section of this novel, in which Concho takes on a gang of neo-Nazis who have taken over a shopping mall in Eagle Pass and are holding hostages, is spectacular, with plenty of great action and several stand-up-and-cheer moments. What follows is even better, with Concho getting involved in a double murder case that takes on some personal ramifications before it’s done, along with some political maneuvering centered around the Kickapoo Tribal Police and Concho’s own superiors in the Rangers. It’s a twisty, satisfying plot that never skimps on the action.

Gramlich has gotten this series off to a great start. THE RANGER: CONCHO is intelligently written, packs plenty of punch, and has one of the most compelling and likable protagonists I’ve encountered in a while. The next book will out later this summer, and I’m already looking forward to it. Highly recommended.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Thrilling Wonder Stories, December 1949

Ah, the wonderful cover art of Earle Bergey! I would have grabbed this issue of THRILLING WONDER STORIES off the newsstand if I'd been browsing the new pulps in 1949. And the line-up of authors inside certainly doesn't hurt: Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, James Blish, Murray Leinster, Cleve Cartmill, L. Sprague de Camp, Raymond F. Jones, and William Morrison. You can download a PDF of this issue here.

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Fifteen Western Tales, January 1944

We have a tough-looking hombre, courtesy of Sam Cherry, gracing the cover on this issue of FIFTEEN WESTERN TALES. The collection of authors inside is pretty good, too: William Heuman, Philip Ketchum, Les Savage Jr., Tom W. Blackburn, Chuck Martin, Rod Patterson, M. Howard Lane, James C. Lynch, James Shaffer, house-names Ray P. Shotwell and Lance Kermit, and lesser known authors Frederick Bales and Joe Payne. They always counted the features in FIFTEEN WESTERN TALES, so actually there are only thirteen stories in this one.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Forgotten Books: The Sex Ladder - Anthony Gordon (Robert Leslie Bellem)

(This post originally appeared on March 6, 2007.)

Lawrence Block isn’t the only author getting his Sixties soft-core porn novels reprinted these days. I just read a brand-new Pulpville Press edition of THE SEX LADDER by Anthony Gordon, originally published by Beacon Books in 1964, just like Block’s LUCKY AT CARDS. And as in the case of Block’s pseudonym “Sheldon Lord”, “Anthony Gordon” turns out to be an author best-known for his mysteries, too – Robert Leslie Bellem, the prolific creator of private eye Dan Turner.

Unfortunately, THE SEX LADDER isn’t up to the same standards as LUCKY AT CARDS. Instead of a noirish crime novel like Block’s book, THE SEX LADDER is pretty much a run-of-the-mill, fairly sordid soap opera about a young engineer and his ambitious girlfriend, who will do just about anything to help advance his career, if you know what I mean and I think you do, wink, wink, nudge, nudge. It has none of the goofy charm of the Dan Turner stories or the other mystery and weird menace stories that Bellem turned out by the hundreds for the Spicy pulps during the Thirties and Forties. Bellem was a fine wordsmith and the writing here is certainly smooth enough, reading very fast, but it doesn’t seem to me that his heart was really in this job. There was at least one other Beacon Book by “Anthony Gordon”, DOCTOR OF LESBOS. I assume that Bellem wrote it, as well. There are a few listings for it on ABE, but Pulpville Press also plans to reprint it in the future. Despite my reservations about THE SEX LADDER, I’ll probably read DOCTOR OF LESBOS, too. That’s just the kind of guy I am.

(UPDATE: No, I never got around to reading DOCTOR OF LESBOS, and I probably won't. You can still find used copies of the reprint, but even they're too pricey for me. So more than likely, I'll do without that one.)

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Classic Private Eye Novels: Case of the Vanishing Beauty - Richard S. Prather

The Shell Scott series by Richard S. Prather is one of my all-time favorite private eye series. I read nearly all of them when I was in junior high and high school and thoroughly enjoyed them. Recently, Wolfpack Publishing got the rights to reprint them and is reissuing the series in omnibus volumes. I just reread the first published (but not first written) novel, CASE OF THE VANISHING BEAUTY, for the first time in more than 50 years.

This one involves a beautiful blond client who hires Shell to have dinner with her, hints that something sinister is going on, but won’t give him the whole story; the client’s beautiful younger sister, who turns out to be missing (the “vanishing beauty” of the title); the beautiful target in a knife-throwing nightclub act (are you sensing a theme here?); a religious cult like so many others that show up in California-set private eye novels; and assorted gangsters and con-men, plus Shell’s police detective buddy Phil Samson.

Prather hadn’t quite hit his stride yet in the early novels, and that shows in a rather thin plot with few real surprises in it. But there’s plenty of snappy patter, some nice action scenes, and Shell himself, one of the most likable narrator/protagonists in the entire genre. For years I had a rule about not rereading books, but the older I get, the more I enjoy revisiting old favorites from time to time. I enjoyed CASE OF THE VANISHING BEAUTY. Prather’s prose is just fun to read. I’m sure I’ll be rereading more of the Shell Scott series.

Monday, May 24, 2021

Kill Gardner! - Ned Oaks

As this novel opens, Garrett Gardner is a bank robber, a veteran of several holdups that have gone off without any violence or real trouble. That’s all about to change in an outburst of violence that leaves both of Gardner’s partners in crime dead, although not before one of them double-crosses him and sets him up for even more trouble in the future.

For a while, though, it looks as if Gardner will be able to put his lawless past behind him. He takes on a new identity, marries, and settles down. But there are bounty hunters and private detectives after him, hired by a man who wants vengeance, and Gardner has to go on the run again. Then, in a very nice twist, this former outlaw winds up as the marshal of a small logging town in Oregon, only to run afoul of the ambitions of a brutal, ruthless timber magnate.

Ned Oaks has written a very good traditional Western in KILL GARDNER!, his latest novel, taking several compelling plotlines and mixing them together in expert fashion. Not everything turns out quite the way you might expect, either, which is always welcome. Garrett Gardner is a flawed but ultimately sympathetic protagonist, and Oaks keeps the story moving along in a brisk, action-packed fashion.

Full disclosure: “Ned Oaks” is the pseudonym of a friend of mine who has written half a dozen Western novels, but KILL GARDNER! is the first one I’ve read. I have all the others, though, and look forward to reading them, because this one is very entertaining. If you’re a fan of traditional Westerns, you should check out KILL GARDNER! and the other books by Ned Oaks.

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Astounding Stories, November 1933

I don't know about you, but I find that cover by Howard V. Brown intriguing. Scans of this issue are available on-line. I may have to see if I can find time to read it. The line-up of authors is certainly a strong one: Murray Leinster, Jack Williamson, Arthur J. Burks, Harl Vincent, Wallace West, Robert H. Leitfred, Desmond Hall (writing as Ainslee Jenkins), and a couple of lesser-known authors, Stuart Jackson and Holloway Horn. You can find a PDF of this issue here

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Complete Cowboy Novel Magazine, February 1950

Now that's a close range shootout in this cover by A. Leslie Ross for COMPLETE COWBOY NOVEL MAGAZINE. The complete novel in this issue is by Cliff Campbell, a common house-name in the Western and detective pulps edited by Robert W. Lowndes, and I have no idea who actually wrote "Six-Gun Harvest". Could've been Lowndes himself, I suppose. There are only two other stories in this issue, by James A. Hines and Ward Raymond, and neither of those names are the least bit familiar to me. With all that yellow, red, and blue, though, and its dramatic composition, this is certainly an eye-catching cover.

Friday, May 21, 2021

Forgotten Books: The Whistling Waddy - Donald Bayne Hobart

Donald Bayne Hobart was one of the more prolific contributors to the Western pulps in the Thrilling Group during the Thirties and Forties, but his writing career actually started with a poem sold to SNAPPY STORIES in 1919, followed by other poems sold mostly to LOVE STORY MAGAZINE during the Twenties. He didn’t publish his first Western until 1928, a short story called “The Whistling Waddy Wades In”, published in the January 14, 1928 issue of ARGOSY ALL-STORY WEEKLY. He followed this up with “The Whistling Waddy Warbles On”, in the April 7, 1928 issue of the same pulp, and then tackled a full-length Western serial with “Two-Gun Magic”, published in three consecutive issues of ARGOSY ALL-STORY WEEKLY in July 1928.

While I don’t have the actual pulps to confirm this, I’m fairly convinced that the novel THE WHISTLING WADDY, published by Chelsea House in 1928, is a fix-up of those three stories. It opens with two fairly short sections in which drifting cowboy Solitaire Stevens (also known as the Whistling Waddy because he whistles a mournful air as he’s about to go into action) battles outlaw gangs led by mysterious masterminds known as the Eagle and the Ace. Those sections come from the two short stories. Then the rest of the novel concerns Solitaire’s clash with an outlaw gang led by a mysterious mastermind known as the Chief. Clearly, Hobart liked that plot and didn’t want to let go of it.

Those first two sections aren’t particularly good. Their length works against them—the plots barely get started before a big shootout wraps everything up—and they’re full of melodramatic hokum, even by 1928 pulp standards.

But either Hobart was getting better with experience or else he needed the longer length of a serial, because the rest of THE WHISTLING WADDY is pretty good. Still melodramatic and hokey—at one point, a character leans on a bookcase and it opens up, revealing a secret chamber—but Hobart keeps things moving along nicely. There are some well-done gun battles, some creepily atmospheric scenes, some good hardboiled dialogue, a few touches of welcome humor, and a traveling salesman supporting character who functions as comedy relief but also has an impact on the plot and is better developed than most such characters. The obligatory rancher’s beautiful daughter is tougher than most and matches up well with Solitaire.

The ending is a bit of a letdown that seems to be missing one final twist, but overall, THE WHISTLING WADDY is an entertaining traditional Western. It’s very old-fashioned, though, so if you’re not already a fan of Westerns from that era, it’s probably not best to start with it. If you can put yourself in the mindset of a reader from those days, though, as I can, you’ll probably have some fun with it. It’s never been reprinted, as far as I know, but used copies are out there. I’ve owned more than one over the years. The copy I read is the one shown in the cover scan.

Chelsea House, by the way, was the book publishing arm of Street & Smith and did hardback reprints of serials and fix-up novels like this one based on stories that ran originally in various pulps. Lots of good adventure reading if you can find them.

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Super-Detective, June 1943

This is a later issue of SUPER-DETECTIVE where Jim Anthony, star of the lead novel, is a hardboiled detective and no longer a Doc Savage-like character, and the tale was written by W.T. Ballard and Robert Leslie Bellem under the John Grange house-name. I've never read any of this version of Jim Anthony, and I really ought to. I think one or two of them have been reprinted, but I could be wrong about that. Also on hand are Harold de Polo and three more house-names, Paul Hanna, R.T. Maynard, and Walton Grey. No telling who they were. The cover is by H.J. Ward, and I like it.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Cowboy Stories, November 1934

Great cover by Tom Lovell on this issue of COWBOY STORIES, and some fine writers inside, too: Philip Ketchum, James P. Olsen, Archie Joscelyn, S. Omar Barker, John Colohan, house-name Ken Martin, and some lesser-known writers, H. Fredric Young, Lee Willenborg, and Rand Rios. This one would sure catch a potential buyer's eye on the newsstand.

Friday, May 14, 2021

Forgotten Books: Executive Boudoir - Ken Barry (Ben Haas)

Before he became known as one of the best action writers of the Twentieth Century with dozens of Westerns, thrillers, and sword-and-sorcery novels under the names John Benteen, Richard Meade, and Thorne Douglas, Ben Haas got his start as a professional writer by turning out soft-core sex novels for Beacon Books and Monarch Books. He used the names Ben Elliott (which later became one of his Western pen-names), Sam Webster, and Ken Barry. I’d never read any of them until recently, when I picked up a copy of EXECUTIVE BOUDOIR, one of his Beacons under the name Ken Barry. Actually, I didn’t mean to read it right then, I was just looking at it, but after the first few pages, I was hooked. That’s because, no matter what the genre, Ben Haas was one of the best pure storytellers I’ve ever encountered.

As you might guess from the title, EXECUTIVE BOUDOIR is a mixture of corporate warfare and sexy, soap operatic romance. Jim Sloane is the hard-charging executive vice-president of Canady Industries. He’s in love with beautiful Lisa Canady, daughter of company president Mart Canady, who commits the company to a bad deal by buying a failing company and then immediately dying. Lisa takes over as president, she and Jim clash, both turn to other lovers for comfort, and Canady Industries teeters on the brink of ruin.

While there aren’t any plot twists in this book you won’t see coming, Haas spins the yarn with such great skill it doesn’t matter. He worked in the steel industry, and it shows, as the book has a real air of authenticity about it. There’s a good balance between the sexy romantic element and the corporate in-fighting element. Haas also has a sure hand with his characters and pacing. I stayed up later than I normally do to finish this one, that’s how much I was enjoying it. I recommend it, and I plan to read more of the books from this part of Haas’s career in the near future.

Sunday, May 09, 2021

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: New Detective Magazine, January 1942

This issue of NEW DETECTIVE MAGAZINE sports a striking cover (I don't know the artist) and features some fine authors: Frederick C. Davis, William R. Cox, Robert Sidney Bowen, Donald G. Carmack, and a few who are unfamiliar to me: Richard L. Hobart, Don Joseph, and John Hawkins. Davis, Cox, and Bowen are enough to make an issue worth reading, though.

Saturday, May 08, 2021

Saturday Morning Western Pulps: Western Trails, November 1939

This great cover by Rafael de Soto from WESTERN TRAILS was also used on one side of an Ace Double Western (see below). WESTERN TRAILS and later Ace Books were both owned by A.A. Wyn, so I'm sure this isn't the only case where covers from the Ace Western pulps later showed up on Ace Double paperbacks. This particular issue looks like a good one, with stories by L.P. Holmes, Wayne D. Overholser, Tom J. Hopkins, Claude Rister, and Joe Archibald, among others. I've found WESTERN TRAILS and its sister publication, WESTERN ACES, to be consistently good, and of course I love the Ace Double Westerns. I think I've read Leslie Scott's THE BRAZOS FIREBRAND, but it's been so long ago I'm not sure anymore. Maybe I'll dig it out and read it again.

Friday, May 07, 2021

Forgotten Books: Lost in the Rentharpian Hills: Spanning the Decades With Carl Jacobi - R. Dixon Smith

As I mentioned that I might, prompted by reading Hugh B. Cave’s memoir MAGAZINES I REMEMBER, I dug out my copy of LOST IN THE RENTHARPIAN HILLS: SPANNING THE DECADIES WITH CARL JACOBI and read it. This volume by R. Dixon Smith is part biography and part bibliography, and now that I’ve read it, I think it’s safe to say that between it and the Cave book, I’ve read more about Carl Jacobi and his work than I’ve read of Jacobi’s actual fiction.

The biography section, while not exhaustive, provides a good background on Jacobi’s personal life but focuses primarily on his career as a writer, which isn’t surprising that Jacobi’s life really centered on that aspect. He was a reasonably successful author of pulp stories in several different genres—horror, science fiction, mystery, and adventure—but was never very prolific because of the time he spent researching and revising his stories. As a result, he never made his living as a full-time writer except for brief stretches, but his stories are well-regarded and I have several collections of them on hand to read. He was persistent, too, staying with the writing game, off and on, from the Twenties up into the Eighties, when he sold a few stories to Chuck Fritch at MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE during the same era when I was writing for MSMM. I probably read those yarns, although I have no memory of them, and if I did, it’s unlikely I would have connected that Carl Jacobi with the same one who wrote for the pulps.

Smith rounds out this volume with an excellent bibliography of Jacobi’s work and a section of letters to Jacobi from various writers and editors, including Cave, Robert E. Howard, August Derleth, Clark Ashton Smith, and Farnsworth Wright. Overall, LOST IN THE RENTHARPIAN HILLS is an excellent book, probably more so if you’re already a fan of Jacobi’s work, but I found it very entertaining, as well.

Of course, “entertaining” is a relative term. This book left me with the same feeling about Jacobi that Cave’s memoir did, a mixture of admiration and sympathy. He doesn’t really seem to have been cut out to be a pulp writer, and yet that was where he found his most success, and then only for a relatively short amount of time. Never married, spending a big chunk of his adult years taking care of his parents, unable to adjust to changing markets, beset by physical ills and a variety of mishaps, but still trying to write even though he had limited success at it in his later years . . . I have to give him credit for his determination. I wish he’d had more luck.

But his stories remain, and I hope to get to some of them soon.

Wednesday, May 05, 2021

Classic British Thrillers: Sexton Blake and the Great War - Mark Hodder, editor

I’ve been aware of the character Sexton Blake for many, many years, having first seen the name on paperbacks during the Sixties, none of which I ever owned or read. Over time I learned more about him: inspired by the success of Sherlock Holmes, Blake is another British Great Detective (he even lives in Baker Street) who solved cases in hundreds of stories and novels by dozens of authors, published in story papers and magazines from the 1890s through the 1960s. He has a young assistant, Tinker, and a faithful bloodhound, Pedro, and they had all sorts of adventures ranging from traditional mysteries to high adventure to espionage thrillers.

In recent years, a lot of Sexton Blake stories have been reprinted, and I’ve picked up quite a few of them but haven’t read any until now. I started with SEXTON BLAKE AND THE GREAT WAR, a collection of three novellas set before and during World War I.

This volume begins with “The Case of the Naval Manoeuvres”, written by Norman Goddard and published originally in the story paper UNION JACK #253 in 1908. The British navy is engaged in some top-secret practice in the North Sea, but the Prime Minister thinks that some foreign power may be spying on them, so he enlists Sexton Blake’s help and sends the Great Detective to the Shetland Islands to find out what’s what. Pedro the bloodhound doesn’t appear in this story, although he’s mentioned, but Tinker is on hand and so is Inspector Spearing of Scotland Yard, who also helps out Blake from time to time. It doesn’t take Blake long to discover that not only is Germany behind the spying, but Wilhelm II, Kaiser Bill his own self, is on hand to boss the operation, which involves a zeppelin and a secret air base in the Shetlands.

That’s probably enough for a novella by itself, but Goddard actually disposes of the threat fairly quickly and instead sets up a chase through England as Blake and his allies try to capture the Kaiser and deliver him to London so that a diplomatic solution to the mess can be worked out without the necessity of having to go to war. Not only are German agents trying to rescue their leader, but other groups with their own agendas try to get their hands on the Kaiser.

The plot in this yarn is driven almost entirely by coincidence, and for a Great Detective, Blake sure does some dumb stuff now and then when the writer needs him to in order to keep things moving. But move they do, as Goddard delivers a surprisingly fast-paced and exciting tale in prose that doesn’t often read as if it were written more than 110 years ago. Blake is pretty likable, and there are a couple of great action scenes, so overall, despite its stodgy title, I enjoyed “The Case of the Naval Manoeuvres” quite a bit.

England was actually at war with Germany by the time the next novella in this collection was published. “On War Service; or, Sexton Blake’s Secret Mission” is from UNION JACK #645, published in 1916. The author is Cecil Hayter, who, according to editor Mark Hodder, is best remembered for chronicling some of Blake’s adventures that take place in Africa. The setting in this one is far from the Dark Continent, however. It’s very much a wartime espionage yarn, as Sexton Blake and Tinker are sent to Holland, where they’re supposed to slip into German-occupied Belgium and deliver an important document to someone there who’s working for the British. They have some harrowing adventures just reaching their contact, and when they get there, he’s on the verge of death, having just been attacked by German agents who’ve discovered his identity. He lives long enough to tell Blake and Tinker where the message is supposed to go, and they’re off again, knowing that even if they manage to get the document into the right hands, they’ll still face an incredible amount of danger getting back out of Belgium.

As before, there’s quite a bit of coincidence and deus ex machina in this plot, but Hayter keeps things moving along at a very nice pace. His version of Blake is a little more hardboiled than Goddard’s, and the story is grittier, not as much high adventure. I didn’t like it quite as much as the first one, but it’s still very enjoyable.

The final novella in this collection backtracks a year to 1915. William Murray Graydon’s “Private Tinker—A.S.C.” was published originally in UNION JACK #589. Through a series of odd circumstances, Tinker winds up enlisting in the army under another young man’s name and is sent to the front to fight the Germans. Sexton Blake, upset over Tinker’s disappearance, gets drawn into an assignment that takes him to the front. Naturally, they’re both going to have adventures and then run into each other, which is exactly what happens. Yet again, we get a plot that’s driven by coincidence, but along the way, we also get some decent action and a spectacular scene where Tinker and another young soldier take over a German supply train. Graydon does a great job in this section.

Overall, I enjoyed SEXTON BLAKE AND THE GREAT WAR quite a bit. Blake is a good character, and I want to see him in action again. As editor Mark Hodder points out in his introduction and story notes, after World War I, the villains in the series become more colorful and bizarre and the stakes become higher. I look forward to reading some of those yarns.

Monday, May 03, 2021

Shoot-Out at Sugar Creek (Caleb York #6) -- Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins

The Caleb York series, written by Max Allan Collins and based on a character created by Mickey Spillane, started out strong and has gotten better as it goes along, coming to an end (for now) with a terrific range war novel that stands with the best of the classic Western writers.

Following closely on the events of the previous book, former gunfighter and Wells Fargo detective Caleb York, currently a lawman in Trinidad, New Mexico, finds himself caught up in the clash between two strong women: Willa Cullen, the beautiful young ranch owner York wants to marry, and Victoria Hammond, newly arrived in the territory and determined to start a cattle empire built on rustling, intimidation, and outright murder if that's what it takes. The fight over water rights between Willa and Victoria expands to include a number of hired gunmen on both sides and plenty of blood being spilled.

Collins never lets up on the pace in this book. It races along with plenty of action and characterization and occasional bits of humor. In Victoria Hammond, it also has one of the most despicable villains I've encountered lately, willing to sacrifice her own flesh and blood to gain what she wants and a more than worthy adversary for York. The regular supporting characters show up, too, including York's scruffy sidekick/deputy Jonathan P. Tulley (in my head, he's always played by the great Al "Fuzzy" St. John) and saloon owner Rita Filley, part of an uneasy romantic triangle with York and Willa. (If you ask me, and nobody did, York should pick Rita.)

In his acknowledgments, Collins also has a nice mention of the Western Fictioneers for the research help the group provided. It's always good to see WF get a little publicity.

I hope Collins finds time in his schedule to continue this series. I've really enjoyed it. I think I've compared them before to the Amos Flagg series by Clifton Adams writing as Clay Randall. If you're a fan of traditional Western action novels, I give the Caleb York books a very high recommendation.

Sunday, May 02, 2021

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Marvel Science Stories, August 1939

There's a lot going on in this cover by J.W. Scott. I like it. This issue of MARVEL SCIENCE STORIES features stories by authors I've heard of but read very little or nothing by: Frederick Arnold Kummer Jr., R.R. Winterbotham, R. DeWitt Miller, Lloyd Arthur Eshbach, and Harl Vincent.

Saturday, May 01, 2021

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Texas Rangers, June 1955

This is a pulp that I own and read recently. That’s my copy in the scan. The cover is by the dependable Sam Cherry. As always, this issue of TEXAS RANGERS leads off with a novel featuring Jim Hatfield, also known as the Lone Wolf. “Beyond the Tenido Barrier” was written by Peter B. Germano under the house-name Jackson Cole.

This novel begins with a fairly simple premise: Texas Ranger Jim Hatfield is on the trail of a train robber and killer known as the Sonora Kid. That trail leads him to the Tenido Barrier, an escarpment in far West Texas, beyond which is a fertile (for the region) valley that was once part of a Spanish land grant. The family of hacendados that has controlled this area for more than a hundred years still owns the ranch that takes up most of the valley, but the spread is being plagued by rustlers. Before you know it, Hatfield has rescued the rancher’s beautiful daughter from a wild bull, befriended the man’s son who has just returned from school in Mexico City, clashed with the local sheriff and deputy, who seem to have an agenda other than keeping the peace, and uncovered a link between the man he’s pursuing and a band of revolutionaries headquartered just across the border in Mexico, where they’re awaiting a shipment of smuggled rifles before starting a bloody rebellion.

In other words, Germano, who always wrote in a terse, hardboiled style, packs plenty of plot and characters into this short novel (35,000 words or so, I’m guessing). There’s so much going on that it’s a little hard to keep up with, and Hatfield has his hands full untangling everything and surviving numerous fistfights and shootouts. Germano really keeps things moving. I think “Beyond the Tenido Barrier” would have been a little better if it was longer, and that’s something I hardly ever say. The plot could have used a bit more room to develop and wouldn’t have seemed so rushed. That said, I still enjoyed this yarn a great deal. I’ve never read a Hatfield novel by Germano that wasn’t exciting and entertaining.

Next up is the short story “The Wrong Guess” by Lauran Paine. In addition to being a fairly prolific pulpster, Paine wrote close to a thousand Western novels under dozens of different pseudonyms, most of them published only in England even though Paine was an American and lived in the Pacific Northwest. He found his niche and wrote the heck out of it. Late in his career, he wrote a number of hardback Western novels for Walker & Company and paperback originals for Ballantine under his own name and the pseudonym Richard Clarke, one of which was made into the movie OPEN RANGE. I’ve never read much by him, and what I have read didn’t impress me much, but in this case, “The Wrong Guess” is a terrific short story. It’s a vengeance yarn featuring an old rancher, but to say anything else about the plot would be giving away too much. This is easily the best thing I’ve read by Paine, though.

I don’t know anything about Phillip Morgan other than the fact that he published approximately 50 stories in the pulps during the 1950s, mostly Westerns but with a few detective yarns mixed in. If he ever published a novel under his name, I couldn’t find any mention of it. He’s the author of the short story “Prairie Town” in this issue, and it’s a good one. This is a town tamer yarn, of the sort that finds an aging lawman questioning the life he leads. It’s a low-key, character-driven tale without much action, but Morgan writes so well that it’s a compelling story anyway. I’ll be on the lookout for his name in other pulps.

Steuart M. Emery had a career as a pulp writer that lasted almost 40 years, beginning in 1919. For the first three decades of that career, he produced mostly war and aviation stories, but during the Fifties he turned to Westerns and specialized in cavalry stories, appearing often in TEXAS RANGERS, usually with novelettes, such as the one in this issue, “Paddlewheel Fort”. This is a great story about a stalwart cavalry lieutenant battling not only Apaches in Arizona but also a by-the-book colonel and a spit-and-polish rival for the colonel’s beautiful daughter. As you might guess from the title, there’s a riverboat involved, too. You might think that’s really out of place in Arizona, but steamboats were used quite a bit on the Colorado River. There are some fantastic battle scenes in this one, and it would have made a fine 1950s movie with, say, Rod Cameron in the lead.

Philip Ketchum was a prolific, widely respected pulpster, known for Westerns, historicals, and detective yarns written under his own name and the pseudonym Carl McK. Saunders. And after the pulp era, he went on to a long career as an author of paperback Westerns, all the way up into the Seventies. His story in this issue, “Skin Deep”, is something of an oddity for him. There’s no action at all. Instead, it’s a quiet, sweet tale of a cowboy courting a rancher’s daughter who, for a change, isn’t beautiful . . . or is she? It’s the sort of story I don’t usually enjoy, but Ketchum’s fine writing saves it, and I wound up liking it quite a bit.

Herbert D. Kastle isn’t really a name I expected to run into in a Western pulp, but his story “The Slow Draw” rounds out this issue. As it turns out, a check of the Fictionmags Index reveals that Kastle wrote several stories for various Western pulps in the mid-Fifties, along with science fiction and detective stories for the digests, before going on to a long career as a paperback author of glitzy bestsellers and dark suspense novels. “The Slow Draw” is a little predictable with its story of a man who seeks out gunfights despite not being fast on the draw, but it’s enjoyable anyway.

Overall, this is a very good issue of TEXAS RANGERS, with a solid Hatfield novel and not a bad story in the bunch among the backups. Steuart Emery’s novelette is the best story by him that I’ve read so far, and that’s saying something since I really like his work. If you have a copy of this one in your collection, it’s well worth pulling out and reading.

Friday, April 30, 2021

Forgotten Books: John Solomon, Supercargo - H. Bedford-Jones

A while back I read THE GATE OF FAREWELL, the first novel to feature H. Bedford-Jones’ longest-running series character, the inoffensive-looking little Cockney ship’s chandler John Solomon, who is really much more than he appears to be. Now I’ve read JOHN SOLOMON, SUPERCARGO, the second novel in the series, and it’s another fine, early high adventure yarn from one of my favorite authors.

Originally published as a complete novel in the July 1914 issue of the iconic pulp ARGOSY, JOHN SOLOMON, SUPERCARGO once again features the title character in more of a supporting role. The actual protagonist is a two-fisted, down-on-his-luck American known as Cyrus Hammer. When he was still working as a stockbroker, before a personal tragedy ruined him, his name was Cyrus Murray, but during his fighting years as a hand on cattle boats coming from Africa to England, he’s acquired the name Hammer. He falls in with a down-on-his-luck English aristocrat, Frederick Harcourt, who still owns a yacht, the Daphne, but nothing else. Hammer and Harcourt team up to take a German archeologist and his entourage to a site in British East Africa where the professor intends to excavate the ruins of an old Portuguese fort. John Solomon shows up and signs on as the ship’s cargo officer.

As you’d expect, there’s a lot more going on than is apparent at first. Solomon, who is actually an adventurer/intelligence operative/shady character, has his own reasons for going along on the expedition. So does the beautiful daughter of another archeologist who was the German’s partner before his mysterious death. A murder on board the ship kicks off a series of plot twists, double-crosses, and adventures that culminates in those above-mentioned ruins with a fine, highly suspenseful scene.

At this point in his long, illustrious career, Bedford-Jones still isn’t quite the smooth stylist that he became later, so the prose in JOHN SOLOMON, SUPERCARGO is a little stodgy and old-fashioned at times, as you might expect in a novel first published 107 years ago. But for the most part, things perk along at a very nice pace indeed, with good characters and infrequent but effective bursts of action. Altus Press/Steeger Books is in the process of reprinting the entire John Solomon series, as well as many other H. Bedford-Jones novels and collections, and I give a high recommendation to all of them, including this one.

Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Now Available: Faraday: The Buffalo Train - Robert Vaughan and James Reasoner

It started out as a silly idea to bring buyers back to Abilene. Wrangle some buffalo, put them on a train, and ship them to Chicago so folks back east could see the massive, shaggy beasts with their own eyes. The concept seemed sound. What could go wrong?

But for John Creed, agent for the famed Faraday Security Service, it was anything but simple. First, Hank Miles was willing to do whatever was required to prevent the plan from succeeding. Hiding in the shadows was a silent partner. Creed’s biggest threat, however, came from the man in black—an assassin who took pleasure in his work and would not stop coming until the job was complete.

Before the Buffalo Train reached the end of the line, guns would roar, men would die, and Chicago would get a taste of what the “Wild West” was really like.

(This is the first new Faraday book in many years and the first official collaboration between Robert Vaughan and myself. We've known each other for more than 30 years, have worked on many of the same series, and have had some input on each other's books from time to time. I think this is an excellent Western adventure yarn and hope some of you enjoy it.)

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Overlooked Movies: Road to Hong Kong (1962)

I’m not certain, but I believe ROAD TO HONG KONG is the only one of the Road movies I hadn’t seen . . . until now. It’s the last of the series, and I remember when it played at the Eagle Drive-In in 1962, and of course it was on television many, many times when I was growing up, but somehow I’d never watched it. But I’m a big fan of Bob Hope and Bing Crosby and finally got around to it.

In this one, they play a couple of con men in the Far East, and through a series of screwball circumstances, including mistaken identities and amnesia, Hope’s character winds up memorizing a rocket fuel formula stolen from the Russians by a sinister organization known as the Third Echelon. The rest of the movie is one misadventure after another as the bad guys try to get the formula from Hope. The fanatical leader of the group is played by Robert Morley, and one of their agents is Joan Collins. Hope and Crosby wind up getting sent into space not once but twice. They could have called this one ROAD TO THE MOON. Anyway, after a lot of fairly mild hijinks, everything works out and the world is saved from the bad guys, although the final fate of our not-so-intrepid duo is left in the air a little.

It’s been so long since I’ve seen the rest of the Road movies that I can’t say for sure, but I have a hunch that this is the weakest of them. The script by director Norman Panama and producer Melvin Frank produces some smiles but not many actual laughs. Still, I’ll watch and enjoy Hope and Crosby in just about anything, and it’s fun watching them work to make something out of not much. As usual, the best moments are probably when they break the fourth wall and talk to the audience. There are some amusing cameos by Peter Sellers, David Niven, Pat O’Brien, Frank Sinatra, and Dean Martin. Dorothy L’Amour shows up for one fairly long scene and demonstrates how much the rest of the movie misses her.

Probably the most interesting angle about the whole film is how much it plays like a James Bond movie at times . . . and when it came out, there had been only one James Bond movie released, DR. NO. So oddly enough, ROAD TO HONG KONG may be the first movie to try to cash in on what became the secret agent boom of the Sixties.

If I had seen this movie at the Eagle when I was nine years old, I would have loved it. Some of the more risque dialogue would have gone over my head, but it has enough physical comedy and classic bits that I would have thought it was hilarious. I don’t want to criticize it too much now, because I actually did enjoy it quite a bit, but I think some of that was because of its nostalgia value. Still, that’s a perfectly good reason for watching a movie. I’m glad I finally got around to ROAD TO HONG KONG. I liked it enough I might even watch some of the earlier ones.

Monday, April 26, 2021

The Complete Torpedo, Volume One - Enrique Sanchez Abuli and Jordi Bernet

I remember reading a few issues of an independent comic book called TORPEDO 1936 back in the Eighties, but I hadn’t thought about it for years until one of this blog’s readers mentioned it in a comment on a recent post. After doing some checking, I was a little surprised to see that the book’s entire run has been reprinted and is available in digital form, so I picked up the first volume to revisit it.

The protagonist (you can’t call him the hero) of TORPEDO 1936 is Luca Torelli, a killer for hire who plies his deadly trade in New York during the Depression. He works for the mob but also takes on private commissions, and he’ll kill just about anybody as long as the price is right. Unlike other hitman characters such as Lawrence Block’s Keller and Max Allan Collins’ Quarry, Torelli has no redeeming qualities whatsoever. He’s every bit the despicable character you’d expect a professional killer to be. The only other continuing character is his sidekick/assistant/comedy relief, an oafish gangster known as Rascal.

Originally this series was supposed to be written by Will Eisner, creator of The Spirit and other acclaimed comics. How much input he might have had, I don’t know, but he never wrote any of the stories. The scripts are all by a Spanish comic book writer, Enrique Sanchez Abuli. Legendary comics artist Alex Toth drew the first two stories, then left the series, supposedly because he didn’t like the violent, nihilistic bent of Abuli’s scripts. Jordi Bernet took over the art, and his work on this series is fantastic. His style reminds me very much of Joe Kubert’s artwork.

THE COMPLETE TORPEDO, VOLUME ONE is very episodic, with each tale serving as a separate short story, another killing that Torelli sets out to accomplish. Some have clever plot twists. Torelli isn’t infallible, and sometimes he gets outwitted. Some are darkly humorous, but most are just bleak. A couple are flashbacks to Torelli’s life as a young Italian immigrant, maybe designed to give him at least a semblance of humanity, but if that was the goal, I’m not sure they succeed. He still comes across as extremely unlikable.

Which is not to say the stories are bad. The plots are repetitive enough that it’s best to read them spaced out, but they’re pretty effective when you tackle them that way. The ones where Torelli is up against low-lifes who are equally bad or even worse than he is are the ones that work the best. Overall, I enjoyed the book. Whether or not I’ll continue reading the collections, I just don’t know yet. Bernet’s art is gorgeous, and I’m curious to see if Abuli ever gives Torelli any real character development. So I’ll probably revisit TORPEDO 1936 again in the future. We’ll see.