Monday, January 18, 2021

Coming Soon: The Manhunt Companion - Peter Enfantino and Jeff Vorzimmer


Following the success of their great anthologies THE BEST OF MANHUNT and THE BEST OF MANHUNT, VOLUME 2, Stark House soon will be publishing THE MANHUNT COMPANION by Peter Enfantino and Jeff Vorzimmer. This book contains a history of the magazine, indexes of authors and stories that MANHUNT published, plus reviews of every story from every issue. I'm not sure anything like this has ever been attempted before, let alone pulled off in such great style. I may not agree with every review, but they're all entertaining and informative and present a compelling picture of what's regarded (rightly so) as the top crime fiction digest of the Fifties. But MANHUNT lasted well into the Sixties, and Enfantino and Vorzimmer don't shy away from its slow decline, either, although there were still some very good stories to be found in those later years. Overall, if you're interested in crime fiction and/or digest magazines, there's plenty here that you'll find enjoyable and enthralling. I give THE MANHUNT COMPANION a very high recommendation. (And while you're at it, if you haven't read the two BEST OF MANHUNT volumes, I can't recommend them highly enough, either. They're great books.)

Sunday, January 17, 2021

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Crack Detective Stories, May 1946


I think it's the expression on the blonde's face and the look in her eyes that really make this cover work. James Blish (writing as Marcus Lyons) and Tom Thursday are the only authors in this issue of CRACK DETECTIVE STORIES whose names ring a bell, although of course Cliff Campbell is a house-name and could be anybody. But other than that we have Frances Beck and Ken Lewis, neither remembered much today. I like the skeleton hands, and in that situation, I think I'd feel just about as dubious as the blonde looks.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Big-Book Western Magazine, June 1948


What a great cover! I think the art is by Robert Stanley, but I'm not sure about that. The artist has really piled trouble on this guy. Evidently he's being shot at, he has a knife wound in his arm, he's in jail, and he's about to get blown up! What's next? A coyote's going to drop an anvil on his head? The stories in this issue sound pretty darned good, too, with authors like Harry F. Olmsted, Giff Cheshire, Joseph Chadwick, Rod Patterson, C. William Harrison, and Ray Townsend. Like the other Popular Publications Western pulps, BIG-BOOK WESTERN was consistently entertaining.

Friday, January 15, 2021

Forgotten Books: Shootout at Sioux Wells - Cliff Farrell


Cliff Farrell was a prolific pulpster who wrote hundreds of stories, mostly Westerns but a good number of sports stories, too, for a variety of Western and general fiction pulps. His career began in the mid-Twenties and lasted until the end of the pulp era. But he wasn’t done then. In the Fifties, he began selling Western novels to hardback publishers and was still at it in the Seventies, writing new books for Doubleday’s Double D line until his death in 1977. Over the years, I’ve read quite a few of Farrell’s pulp stories and enjoyed them all. I’ve found that he was more inconsistent as a novelist but still produced some excellent work, including SHOOTOUT AT SIOUX WELLS, published by Doubleday in 1973. It’s a top-notch traditional Western novel.

The protagonist of this one is Zach Keech, a Texas cowboy from the Brazos country who’s part of a cattle drive heading for Montana. The herd belongs to Zach’s father (a rather Gabby Hayes-like character), and while they’re in Kansas, the engineer of a passing train blows the locomotive’s whistle and deliberately stampedes the herd, resulting in the loss of some of the cattle.

Angry over this, Zach leaves the drive and heads for the nearest town, Sioux Wells, where the railroad’s headquarters are, determined to settle the score and make the railroad pay for the lost cattle. That could have been a book in itself, but instead, Zach hasn’t been in town long before the local marshal ropes him into becoming an undercover agent and infiltrating a gang of train robbers. That will be the best way for Zach to collect what he thinks the railroad owes to his father, the lawman argues. And that marshal’s name? Why, Wild Bill Hickok. The fact that a couple of beautiful young women are mixed up somehow in the affair helps Zach make up his mind to help Hickok bust up the gang.

The big twist in this plot will be pretty obvious to most readers, and I don’t think anybody will be surprised by the identity of the mastermind behind the gang, either. But man, Farrell has a lot of fun spinning this yarn. Everything perks along nicely, and there’s some good hardboiled action along the way, especially the epic shootout at the end. There’s even some “yuh mangy polecat” dialogue, a nod to Farrell’s pulp origins, perhaps. That kind of stuff never bothers me. All in all, despite being published in the Seventies, SHOOTOUT AT SIOUX WELLS reads like it could have been written in the Forties or Fifties.


I read the Double D hardback, an ex-library edition I picked up somewhere, but this book was reprinted in paperback a couple of times by Signet, too. I really enjoyed it, and if you’re looking for a solid traditional Western, I give SHOOTOUT AT SIOUX WELLS a high recommendation.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Commando: Lords of the Vortex - Stephen Walsh


US Army Nurse Emma Wade was no stranger to wacky adventures but this was a new one... Granted, she hadn't slept in the thirty hours she'd been at the Anzio beachhead, but it was strange indeed that she found herself tagging along with Rek Starlo, a self-confessed galactic avenger. Stranger still, he was determined to vanquish a group of Nazis he claimed were trying to drag Earth into their cosmic war. But was Rek really who he said he was? And -- more importantly -- was Emma?

I admit, I picked up this issue of COMMANDO because of the great Ian Kennedy cover. Also, "wacky" isn't a word I'm accustomed to seeing in COMMANDO sales copy. I mean, some of the stories are a little offbeat, sure, but I'm used to a certain level of grit and realism. "Lords of the Vortex", however, with its tale of an American nurse roped into a galactic war, is just pure goofy fun that never takes itself seriously. Stephen Walsh's script is fast-paced and very entertaining. He's written a couple of earlier COMMANDO stories and, based on this one, I've already bought them. One word of warning: "Lords of the Vortex" ends on a cliffhanger, so if you're expecting the usual stand-alone story, it's not. I don't know when the next part will be published, but I'll be keeping an eye out for it.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Overlooked Movies: The Sapphires (2012)


I’d never heard of this movie until a friend of mine mentioned it favorably, but it has Chris O’Dowd in it and he’s great in THE IT CROWD and GET SHORTY, so I figured it might be worth watching. Turns out, it definitely is.

Set mostly in the Sixties, THE SAPPHIRES is the story of three aborginal sisters and their cousin who form a singing group in Australia, wind up with a washed-up musician (O’Dowd) as their manager, switch from country and western to soul music, and get a job entertaining American troops in Vietnam. Comedy, tragedy, and romance ensue.

The plot of this movie is fairly predictable, but fine acting and great music elevate it into a well above average film. O’Dowd is wonderful, as usual, in a sad sack but good-hearted role, and the Australian actresses playing the Sapphires are all excellent. This is a heart-warming movie, but not in a mawkish sense. I really enjoyed it and give it a high recommendation.

Sunday, January 10, 2021

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Planet Stories, Winter 1948


I always like Allen Anderson's covers, and this one for PLANET STORIES is no exception. Based on the authors inside, this is a fine issue: Leigh Brackett, Ray Bradbury, A. Bertram Chandler, Frank Belknap Long, Ray Cummings, Bryce Walton, Alfred Coppel, and a couple of lesser known writers, W.J. Matthews and William Brittain. One of the things I want to do this year is read more science fiction. Some stuff from PLANET STORIES would be a good place to start.

Saturday, January 09, 2021

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Ranch Romances, First February Number, 1952


A really nice cover on this issue of RANCH ROMANCES. I think I want to write a story with that redhead in it! I don't know the artist. There's a signature in the bottom right corner, but I can't make it out. There's a great group of writers inside, too: Wayne D. Overholser, Todhunter (W.T.) Ballard, Giff Cheshire, Elmer Kelton, Tom W. Blackburn, and Arthur Lawson. It would be hard to go wrong with that bunch.

Friday, January 08, 2021

Forgotten Books: North Fork to Hell - Dan Cushman


Remember those great, gritty 1950s Western movies starring James Stewart and directed by Anthony Mann? Well, that’s what Dan Cushman’s 1964 novel NORTH FORK TO HELL reminds me of. As the book opens, protagonist Morgan McCoy and his friend Doc Tiller are on the run from a gang of vigilantes after helping steal back some gold from the vigilantes, who stole it in the first place. They run afoul of some Indians and McCoy is wounded in the fight, but they’re taken in by the members of a wagon train heading north for a new town that’s supposed to be founded by their leader, the charismatic Major Garside.

There are several problems with this plan, starting with the fact that winter is coming on, and the wagons may not make it before they’re trapped by the snow. On top of that, Garside is a tyrant, driven half-crazy by ambition and lust, and he and McCoy are both interested in the same beautiful Mormon girl. Some of the pilgrims want to split off and head for the gold fields in Montana, but Garside is determined to keep the group together, even if it means killing those who want to leave. Throw in blizzards, starvation, and more Indian trouble, and it starts to look as if they’ll be lucky to have any of the bunch survive.


Cushman got his start writing Westerns, Northerns, and jungle yarns for the pulps, and he’s very good at handling setting and action. However, in this original paperback, he gets a little too long-winded and literary for his own good. Morgan McCoy isn’t a very likable protagonist, either. The irredeemably evil Major Garside is a pretty interesting character, though, and after meandering around for a while, NORTH FORK TO HELL does develop some nice momentum and suspense in its second half. Cushman has used the theme of the group wanting to split up but being held together by the villain in at least two earlier novels. That gives the book a moral complexity that you don’t find in all Westerns.

From what I’ve read of his work, I prefer Cushman’s pulp stories to his later novels, mostly because he concentrates on the action in them. But I’ve found that his books are always worth reading. He has a distinctive style that takes a little getting used to, but once you do, it’s very effective. Despite my criticisms above, NORTH FORK TO HELL is a pretty good book, especially if you enjoy traditional Westerns that are a little offbeat at the same time. I’ll certainly be reading more of Dan Cushman’s novels and stories.

Wednesday, January 06, 2021

Commando: The Bayonet Fighters - Eric Hebden


When a man has served for five years in the Foreign Legion you can reckon he knows a thing of two about fighting. Dirk Lassiter had come through many a savage battle, but the grimmest fight of his whole life was against a man who knew just as much as he did -- another Legionnaire!

This issue of COMMANDO, published last year, is actually a reprint of a yarn from 1972. I don't know if that's the original cover, but I really like it and that's what caused to pick up the e-book edition, along with the fact that it's written by Eric Hebden, father of long-time British war comic author Alan Hebden and a really fine writer himself. I'm a sucker for a French Foreign Legion story, but that's only the way this one starts out. The story has some nice scope to it, covering several years and ranging in setting from Libya to Madagascar. As always, a top-notch war tale, and I enjoyed it very much.

Monday, January 04, 2021

War Dog - Alan Hebden, Cam Kennedy, Mike Western


 

WAR DOG is a 16-part serial that debuted in the December 29, 1979 issue of the British weekly war comic BATTLE ACTION and ran for several months on into 1980. The art on the first five of the three-page episodes is by Mike Western. Cam Kennedy is responsible for the art on the rest of the serial, which was written by Alan Hebden. This is an absolutely outstanding World War II yarn featuring a protagonist who never says a word, and we’re never really privy to his thoughts. I’m talking, of course, about Kazan, the massive German Shepherd, who, as this story opens, is a guard dog at a Luftwaffe base in Russia.

Kazan winds up in the hands of some Russian partisans, and that’s just the start of a journey that finds him taking part in an Arctic convoy, getting in trouble in England, barely escaping a bureacracy that wants him dead, serving masters in several different armies, surviving a plane crash in the Libyan desert, being pursued by a madman who wants to kill him, and finally encountering an unexpected destiny. I’m used to plot twists in Hebden’s scripts, but they come so fast in this story that it’s almost dizzying. And just when you think Hebden’s going to push things so far over the top that you have to say, “Oh, come on!”, darned if he doesn’t make it all come together and make perfect sense.

I really enjoyed this one. It’s a great story with epic scope and a very likable protagonist, and the artwork by Western and Kennedy is richly detailed and top-notch all the way through. Garth Ennis has reprinted this in the second volume of his BATTLE CLASSICS series, and I give it a high recommendation. Also in that second volume is FIGHTING MANN, a Vietnam-set serial also by Hebden and Kennedy, and I’ll probably be reading that one soon. A year ago I knew about COMMANDO but was unaware of the wealth of great material in the other British war comics. I’m having a fine time reading them.

Sunday, January 03, 2021

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Thrilling Mystery, October 1936


Well, here's a cover with a little bit of everything! THRILLING MYSTERY may not have been the best-known of the Weird Menace pulps, but it had some good covers and authors. Inside this issue are stories by top pulpsters John H. Knox, G.T. Fleming-Roberts, Frank Belknap Long, D.L. Champion (writing as Jack D'Arcy), Frederick C. Painton, and none other than Leslie Scott, best remembered for his Westerns, of course, writing under his pseudonym A. Leslie. A very entertaining issue, I'll bet.

Saturday, January 02, 2021

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Dime Western, November 1939


We get the year started off right with a crowded but effective cover for DIME WESTERN. I don't know the artist. Inside are some great authors--Walt Coburn, L.L. Foreman, Cliff Farrell, Harry F. Olmsted (writing as Bart Cassidy), and Robert E. Mahaffey--as well as some great story titles: "Gun Guide for Satan's Border Jumpers", "Blood Call of the Lawless", "Bullet-Heir of Lost Ranch", and "Champion of the Empty-Saddle Legion", among others. I love the titles in the Popular Publications Western pulps.

Friday, January 01, 2021

Forgotten Books: Seven Footprints to Satan - A. Merritt

 


While I’ve been aware of A. Merritt’s work for decades, I’ve never read much of it. But I finally got around to reading SEVEN FOOTPRINTS TO SATAN, only the third novel of his that I’ve read (the other two being DWELLERS IN THE MIRAGE and THE SHIP OF ISHTAR). This novel was serialized originally in ARGOSY in 1927, reprinted in ARGOSY a dozen years later, and then went through many hardback and paperback reprintings. For many years I owned the Avon edition from the Seventies, which has the great cover pictured here. I read an e-book edition, however.

Instead of the rip-roaring adventure yarn that cover looks like, SEVEN FOOTPRINTS TO SATAN is really an oddball tale, part crime novel, part Sax Rohmer-like thriller, part romance. It begins with down-on-his-luck explorer and adenturer James Kirkham being kidnapped and forced to join the criminal organization of an evil mastermind who calls himself Satan. But is he really just an earthly criminal? Could he actually be the Devil himself?

As part of a ceremony in which the members of the organization take part, they climb a set of stairs ascending to the throne of Satan, and some of the stairs have glowing golden footprints on them. Some of those footprints mean freedom, others mean subjugation to Satan or even a gruesome death. They reset with each ascent. This bizarre ritual gives the novel its title.

Our narrator Kirkham falls in love with one of Satan’s female sujects, of course, and makes friends and enemies among the organization as he sets out to topple Satan and end his reign. Along the way there’s a museum robbery and a few murders, but by and large, SEVEN FOOTPRINTS TO SATAN is a pretty talky tale. Merritt was a master of vivid settings and images, though, and could put his characters through quite an emotional wringer. All that’s true in this book, and toward the end, it almost does become a rip-roaring adventure novel, although there are no shirts torn in Doc Savage fashion as the cover would have you believe.

One of the most interesting things about this book to me is wondering whether or not it was an influence on other authors. When Satan is first introduced, after reading his description and the way he talks, I immediately thought "Casper Gutman!" Did Dashiell Hammett read this book? It came out a couple of years before THE MALTESE FALCON. Even though the circumstances are very different, as I read about how James Kirkham was recruited by a mysterious mastermind, I thought about Harry Vincent and how The Shadow recruited him in the opening chapters of THE LIVING SHADOW four years after SEVEN FOOTPRINTS TO SATAN was published. Did Walter B. Gibson read this book? And going back to Satan's description and his position as the almost all-powerful head of a crime ring, I was reminded right away of the Kingpin. Did Stan Lee read this book? The answer to all those questions is that we don't know. Maybe. But I found it fascinating to speculate about the possibility, anyway.

This book wasn’t what I expected, but I enjoyed it and I think I need to read more of Merritt’s work. It appears to be in public domain, judging by the number of e-book and POD versions that are readily available, as are used copies of the many reprints.