Sunday, February 28, 2021

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Detective Short Stories, April 1941

Are there people who collect covers with hook hands on them? Seems like there must be. I think this cover might be by J.W. Scott, but I'm not really familiar enough with his style to be sure. I'm sure there's a good bunch of authors in this issue of DETECTIVE SHORT STORIES, though: E. Hoffmann Price, Roger Torrey, W.T. Ballard, Edward S. Aarons (under his pseudonym Edward S. Ronns), J. Lane Linklater, Eric Howard, Dale Clark, Cyril Plunkett, and even legendary BLACK MASK editor Joseph T. Shaw under the pseudonym Mark Harper. Hard to go wrong with writers like that.

Saturday, February 27, 2021

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Fifteen Western Tales, June 1947

We can add another category to the things we see on Western pulp covers: Injury to a Saddle. This is a really nice, dynamic cover on this issue of FIFTEEN WESTERN TALES. And as was common with the Popular Publications Western pulps, a strong group of authors with stories inside, as well. In this case, Peter Dawson (Jonathan Glidden), William Heuman, Walker A. Tompkins, William R. Cox (twice, once as himself and once as house-name David Crewe), Joe Archibald, Barry Cord (Peter Germano), T.C. McClary, the mysterious Frank Morris, Wallace Umphrey, James Shaffer, and house-name Lance Kermit. A very entertaining issue, I suspect.

Friday, February 26, 2021

Forgotten Books: Hill Girl - Charles Williams

(This post was originally published on March 16, 2005. I started to rewrite it some because so much has changed since then, but in the interest of historical accuracy, I decided to leave it as it was. There'll be some more reruns from the early days of the blog in the coming weeks that I hope will be new to many of you.)

Every time I get a new issue of Steve Lewis's excellent fanzine MYSTERY*FILE in the mail, one of the first things I read is Bill Crider's column "The Gold Medal Corner". And no matter what author Bill is writing about, I think to myself, "I gotta get some of this guy's books off the shelf and read them." But usually I get sidetracked before I get around to it.

Not this time. Bill's latest column is about Charles Williams, and after reading it I actually went to the shelves and pulled down my Charles Williams books. Now, for years I've heard Bill, Ed Gorman, and other people talk about how good Williams' books are. A few years ago, I read one of his Dell First Edition novels, GIRL OUT BACK, and liked it quite a bit. But I never got back to his other books. (That easily sidetracked business I mentioned above.) Until now. I just finished Williams' first novel, HILL GIRL, published by Gold Medal in 1951. Even knowing how people whose opinions I respect feel about his work, I was still surprised by how very, very good it was. Williams wrote very well, mixing vivid, almost lyrical descriptive passages with dialogue that rings absolutely true. Prose that doesn't want to let the reader's eyes stray away from the page. Like the Silverberg book I read a couple of days ago, HILL GIRL is more domestic drama than crime novel, but that doesn't mean there's no suspense in it. The plot unfolds leisurely but builds to a very suspenseful climax. This is a fine novel, and I suspect it's not even one of Williams' best. I hope I'll get around to another of his books soon, instead of waiting several years again.

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Available Now: Rattler's Law, Volume 1 - James Reasoner

I don't do a lot of Blatant Self-Promotion (does anybody even use that term anymore?), but here's an e-book omnibus of eight full-length Western novels by me, more than half a million words of fiction, for less than a buck. It's available on Amazon, and if you're a fan of traditional Westerns, I think you'll enjoy it.

Monday, February 22, 2021

Classic British Thrillers: Hercules Esq. - Gwyn Evans

I’d never heard of Gwyn Evans until recently. He was a prolific author of some highly regarded stories in the very long-running Sexton Blake series, as well as writing novels about his own characters. My friend Steve Holland has published a biography of Evans and reprinted the four volumes of his Bill Kellaway series. I recently read the first one, HERCULES ESQ.

Bill Kellaway is a down-on-his-luck journalist, almost broke, sitting on an embankment in London, when he’s approached by a stranger offering him a million pounds for some sort of secretive mission. Although Bill isn’t really suicidal, this opening reminded me a little of the first chapter of THE LIVING SHADOW, the first novel from the long-running pulp, written by Walter B. Gibson. HERCULES ESQ. isn’t a whirlwind of crime-fighting like those early Shadow novels, though. Instead, it’s a much more light-hearted romp, as Bill finds himself trying to complete a series of difficult tasks assigned to him by the Secret Six, a group of bored millionaires who get their fun out of trying to give Bill impossible chores and making side bets on whether or not he can complete them. (The Labors of Hercules being where this novel gets its title, of course.) There’s also a beautiful, mysterious young woman involved, but is she working with Bill or against him?

Although there’s some criminous stuff going on and Bill often finds himself vying against or working with various lawbreakers, the stakes are never really life and death in this book. There are no murders to solve. Which works against it a little if you’re expecting more of a thriller. There is some slam-bang action, though, as well as a smart, really likable protagonist and a lot of really clever plot twists, but what really makes HERCULES ESQ. work is Evans’s style, which is consistently breezy, fast-paced, and funny. The word “blithe” could have been invented for this book. I really enjoyed it, even though it wasn’t quite what I expected. I have the other three books in the series, as well as the Evans bio, and I look forward to reading them. All of them are available here.

I also have a collection of Sexton Blake stories by him, too. Knowing a little about Evans’s background, one of the funniest bits in this book involves Bill’s indispensible valet/assistant and his reading habits.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Real Mystery Magazine, April 1940

This is the first issue of a very short-lived Weird Menace pulp (there was only one more issue) debuting at a time when the Weird Menace boom was just about over. Most of the authors inside are house-names. The only ones who aren't are Ray Cummings (with a story as by Ray King), Bruno Fischer (with a story as by Russell Gray), and somebody named Lon Cordot, who published only a few stories and may well have been a pseudonym or house-name, too. I don't know who did the cover, but it's pretty eye-catching.

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Exciting Western, May 1948

Another Old West poker game gone bad in this excellent cover by Sam Cherry! EXCITING WESTERN was a consistently good Western pulp with several different series running regularly in its pages. In this issue there's a Tombstone and Speedy yarn by the great W.C. Tuttle, plus a Navajo Tom Raine, Arizona Ranger story by house-name Jackson Cole. Also on hand are top-notch pulpsters Wayne D. Overholser, Lee Bond, Gladwell Richardson, Ben Frank, and another house-name, Reeve Walker. 

Friday, February 19, 2021

Forgotten Books: Rustlers' Warning - E.B. Mann


RUSTLER’S WARNING by E.B. Mann is the other half of the Belmont Double Western that includes Walt Coburn’s EL HOMBRE, which I reviewed last week. Like EL HOMBRE, I feel like this short novel probably appeared first in a Western pulp, but I haven’t been able to track down its source. It’s a very entertaining yarn, wherever it first appeared.

The plot is pretty traditional. Young Steve “Snap” Calhoun returns to the ranch where he was raised after being away from home, leading an adventurous life, for several years. He left in the first place because he and his father and his brother fought a bloody war against a gang of rustlers. The wideloopers were wiped out, for the most part, but Steve’s father and brother were killed. Steve leaves the ranch in the capable hands of his foreman.

But now he’s back because rustlers are once again threatening the range, including one of the survivors from the previous clash. Steve knows who’s to blame for the thieving, so he posts a list of their names on a bulletin board in the local town and warns that he’s going to shoot them on sight. This prompts the owlhoots to come after him to try to get him first, which, of course, was exactly what Steve wanted all along.

Mann does throw in a twist that’s fairly predictable, but how everything works out came as a surprise to me, at least in some respects. Traditional it may be, but RUSTLERS’ WARNING is well written and has some great action scenes. I haven’t read much by E.B. Mann, but I’ve enjoyed everything I’ve read and admire his ability to come up with some excellent shootouts. I had a really good time reading this book, and I’m glad I have several more of Mann’s novels on hand.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Overlooked Movies: 49th Parallel (1941)


I had never heard of this British war film from 1941 until recently, but it sounded intriguing, so we watched it. 49TH PARALLEL refers to the border between the United States and Canada, and fittingly, since the movie is dedicated to the Canadian war effort, all but a few minutes of the action takes place in Canada.

It begins with a German submarine cruising up into Hudson’s Bay after destroying a Canadian tanker. The captain sends a six-man party ashore to capture a small fishing village so they can raid it for supplies and gasoline. However, the six Germans have barely made it to land when a couple of Canadian coastal patrol planes come along, spot the U-boat, and sink it. That leaves the shore party on their own, and the lieutenant in charge decides they’ll try to cross Canada to Vancouver where they can sneak aboard a Japanese ship. Failing that, they’ll try to reach the United States, which at this point is still officially neutral, and claim asylum.

This is the start of a journey that’s both epic and episodic, courtesy of director Michael Powell, screenwriter Emeric Pressburger, and a fine cast. Eric Portman, as the German lieutenant, is the only character who’s around for the entire movie, but others who come and go include a young Lawrence Olivier, playing a French-Canadian trapper; Leslie Howard as a foppish anthropologist/writer who’s tougher than he looks; and Raymond Massey, who plays an apparent hobo with a few surprises up his sleeve.

This is a propaganda film, no doubt about that, designed to point out the need for the United States to get into the war, but it accomplishes that aim with a considerable amount of subtlety and works just as well as a suspense yarn, with a few touches of humor and pathos along the way. Eric Portman is a great villain, and I was also impressed by Leslie Howard, who I think of mostly as Ashley Wilkes in GONE WITH THE WIND. The location photography is great, including some late shots of Niagara Falls. (And if you’re like me, you can’t even read the name of that place without hearing Moe Howard’s voice.) I really enjoyed 49TH PARALLEL and I’m surprised I never heard of it until recently. It’s an excellent film.

Monday, February 15, 2021

The Bozeman Trail War #1: Bluecoat Patrol - Alfred Wallon

Alfred Wallon is one of the leading Western writers in Germany and has been for many years. Recently some of his novels have begun appearing in English translations, as well, including BLUECOAT PATROL, the first in an epic series of historical Westerns called The Bozeman Trail War.

This novel is set against the background of the long-running clashes between the Plains Indians and the U.S. cavalry prompted by the various discoveries of gold in Dakota Territory and Montana. In BLUECOAT PATROL, a group of cavalrymen led by Captain Frank North and guided by scout Buckskin Charly Weatherford joins a group of prospectors headed to Alder Gulch, Montana. North’s assignment is to protect those goldseekers, but not surprisingly, he encounters trouble not only from the warriors led by chiefs Red Cloud and Dull Knife but also from the very men he’s supposed to protect.

Wallon’s historical research is very solid in this novel, and his characters are well-drawn. Frank North is a stalwart hero and Buckskin Charly a top-notch sidekick. The translation gives the prose a voice that’s not quite what we’re used to in traditional Western novels, but at the same time, it works just fine and the story moves along well. Not everything is resolved by the end of BLUECOAT PATROL, but that’s not surprising considering that the series continues for a number of other volumes. It actually reminds me a bit of the old Easy Company series published by Jove under the house-name John Wesley Howard, although it’s more realistic. If you enjoy historically based Western novels or cavalry yarns, check out BLUECOAT PATROL. I enjoyed it. 

Sunday, February 14, 2021

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Thrilling Adventures, December 1940

This is a pretty violent cover to find on a pulp, and especially striking because it was published more than a year before the United States' entry into World War II. But it's also pretty effective and has the yellow and red color scheme that was so popular, especially on the Western pulps. I don't know who the artist is. Inside are stories by some top pulpsters, including Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson and Louis L'Amour (with one of his great Ponga Jim Mayo yarns). Also on hand are William R. Cox, Denver Bardwell, and Harold F. Cruickshank. 

Saturday, February 13, 2021

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Action Novels Magazine, November 1938

This is a nice dynamic cover, although the smoke coming from their guns looks a little odd to me. I don't know the artist. WESTERN ACTION NOVELS MAGAZINE was one of what came to be known as the Columbia pulps, as you can tell from the presence of house-names Cliff Campbell and Mat Rand in the Table of Contents. Also on hand in this issue (the first in the magazine's run) are E.B. Mann (twice, with a reprint from RANCH ROMANCES under his own name and a new yarn under his Zachary Strong pseudonym), Oscar Schisgall, and William Patterson White. Looks like a pretty good issue to me, with those authors.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Forgotten Books: El Hombre - Walt Coburn

Walt Coburn is one of my favorite Western writers, but I hadn’t read anything by him in a while and was in the mood to, so I picked up his short novel EL HOMBRE. That's my copy in the scan. Where this yarn came from is something of a mystery. At approximately 30,000 words, it’s half of a paperback volume published by Belmont in 1967, along with E.B. Mann’s RUSTLERS’ WARNING. I suspected both of these are reprints of pulp stories, but no stories by those titles, by those authors, appear in the Fictionmags Index.

However, having read EL HOMBRE now, I know that neither the protagonist nor anyone else is referred to that way in the story. But the hero is known part of the time as El Caballero, and what do we find in the pages of the June 1, 1928 issue of ADVENTURE? You guessed it, a Walt Coburn yarn called “El Caballero” that runs 46 pages in the magazine, easily long enough to be the same story as in this Belmont paperback. I don’t have that issue of ADVENTURE, so I can’t confirm my hunch, but I’m pretty convinced that’s where it came from.

No matter what its origin, EL HOMBRE is a mighty good traditional Western. Coburn makes use of a plot that he used in other stories: the son of an outlaw sets out on the vengeance trail to track down the men who killed his pa. In this case, the button is young Clay Saunders, son of the notorious Zeke Saunders, who used to ride with Johnny Ringo and Curly Bill Brocious. Contrary to what you might expect, though, Coburn disposes of that plotline pretty quickly and has Clay embark on a journey to manhood that’s pretty epic in scope despite the novel’s short length. Clay goes on a trail drive to Montana, rescues a pretty girl, battles Indians and rustlers, outwits a crooked gambler at his own game, makes amends for his father’s misdeeds, and finds himself in Tombstone, smack-dab in the middle of the Earp-Clanton feud. And that’s before he sets off on a five-year-long quest into Mexico to find the murderer of a rancher’s young brother and clear his father’s name of that crime. Of course, the rancher also has a beautiful daughter who falls for Clay. Coburn really knew how to pack a great deal of story into his yarns. There’s enough in this short novel that it could have easily been a book three times as long.

I’ve also referred to Coburn as the Ross Macdonald of Westerns, because even though his protagonists don’t solve murders like Lew Archer, I’ve never encountered another Western author who makes such extensive use of the past rising up to impact the present, for both good and evil. In a Coburn story there are almost always old crimes that come to light, hidden identities, dark secrets that threaten the protagonist and everything he holds dear. The past almost becomes a character as it looms over the present. Sometimes Coburn got carried away with this, piling revelation upon revelation until the stories don’t make much sense. Thankfully, this isn’t the case with El HOMBRE, where everything holds together all the way to the gun-blazing, emotionally satisfying end.

There’s also a sense of gritty realism in a Coburn tale, no matter how far-fetched and pulpish the plot may be, since he was an authentic cowboy himself as a young man. Maybe things weren’t really that way, as the old saying goes, but they should’ve been.

I’m glad I read EL HOMBRE. It’s great fun, and if E.B. Mann’s RUSTLERS’ WARNING is as entertaining, then this Belmont Double Western is a real find. I’ll report back on that once I’ve read Mann’s story. Maybe I’ll figure out where it was published originally, too, but I make no guarantees.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Classic Noir Novels: So Young, So Wicked - Jonathan Craig (Frank Smith)


Jonathan Craig (whose real name was Frank Smith) is one of those writers whose work I’ve seen around for many years, but I’ve read very little by him. That may be something I have to remedy, because I recently read his 1957 Gold Medal novel SO YOUNG, SO WICKED and really liked it, although “liked” is kind of an odd word to use about a book where the protagonist is a thoroughly despicable human being.

You see, Steve Garrity is a hitman for the mob, one who was forced into the job out of self-preservation but who has discovered it doesn’t bother him in the least to kill people, even innocents. Even Garrity, though, is a little taken aback when he gets his latest assignment: to kill a beautiful 15-year-old girl in a small town in upstate New York. He doesn’t know why the mob wants her dead, but his own life is on the line if he doesn’t carry out the assignment. Complicating matters even more is the fact that her death has to look like an accident, and Garrity has only a few days to complete the job.

Craig manages to pull off something very tricky: making the reader sympathize with about as cold-blooded a protagonist as I’ve ever encountered in a novel. Every time it looks like a crack might be developing in Garrity’s armor, it disappears in his calm contemplation of the best way to murder his target. Naturally, since this is a noir novel, things don’t go as planned, especially after Garrity discovers that 15-year-old Leda is living with her aunt, a beautiful redhead in her twenties. Craig piles several other obstacles in his way, until the reader has to wonder if Garrity will have any chance to carry out his grim mission.

Then everything gets upended in a couple of neat twists that really had me flipping the pages to see how everything was going to work out.

I’ve never read extensively in the hitman subgenre in hardboiled and noir fiction. I’ve read and enjoyed most of Lawrence Block’s Keller yarns, and I liked the one Quarry novel I read by Max Allan Collins and need to read more of that series. While Craig’s writing isn’t as smooth as Block’s or Collins’, SO YOUNG, SO WICKED is still right up in their league as a hitman novel. It’s well-paced and a fine example of pure storytelling. Black Gat Books is reprinting it soon. That edition is up for pre-order, and if you’re a fan of noir novels, it’s well worth reading.

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

The Forever Mountain - Wayne D. Dundee


Wayne D. Dundee is one of the best Western writers in the business today. THE FOREVER MOUNTAIN is his third novel featuring former army scout Lone McGantry, who is probably my favorite of Dundee’s series characters. (And let’s face it, Lone McGantry is one of the all-time great Western hero names.)

This one begins with Lone returning to the town where his partner in a small ranch, a former mountain man, lies dying after a raid on their range. The old-timer has hung on to life until Lone can get back, because he wants Lone to take his body up in the Rockies to lay him to rest next to his Indian wife, who died many years earlier. Lone agrees to do that, but once he has fulfilled that promise, he intends to track whoever raided the ranch and caused the old man’s death.

That’s easier said than done, because a young Chinese woman has moved into the ruins of the ranch house. She has troubles of her own and needs to get to the mountains, too, so Lone agrees to let her come along. They pick up another stray along the way, an old saloon swamper, and trouble in the form of hardcases seeking vengeance dogs their heels. Dundee piles up the problems and then adds a neat, unexpected twist near the end.

As always in a Dundee novel, THE FOREVER MOUNTAIN has interesting, well-drawn characters, plenty of action, and a sense of compassion and wry understanding of the human condition that marks all of his work. It’s a thoroughly entertaining yarn, and a sequel is on its way. You can bet I’ll be reading it, too.

Monday, February 08, 2021

Coming Soon: Bullets and Other Hurting Things: A Tribute to Bill Crider - Rick Ollerman, ed.

From the Down & Out Books website:

In a career spanning nearly four decades, Bill Crider published more than sixty crime fiction, westerns, horror, men’s adventure and YA novels. In this collection 20 of today’s best and brightest, all friends and fans of Bill’s, come together with original stories to pay tribute to his memory. Authors include: William Kent Krueger, Bill Pronzini, Joe R. Lansdale, Patricia Abbott, Ben Boulden, Michael Bracken, Jen Conley, Brendan DuBois, Charlaine Harris, David Housewright, Kasey Lansdale, Angela Crider Neary, James Reasoner, James Sallis, Terry Shames, S. A. Solomon, Sara Paretsky, Robert J. Randisi, SJ Rozan, and Eryk Pruitt.

William Kent Krueger (Ordinary Grace, the Cork O’Connor series) brings us a story of romance and grift. Bill Pronzini (the Nameless Detective and Carpenter & Quincannon series) offers a taut episode of a midnight raid. Joe R. Lansdale (The Bottoms, the Hap and Leonard series) tells a tale of two hit men working through their differences. James Sallis (Drive, the Lew Griffin series) shows us how a deadly figure once helped out a man called Bill. Charlaine Harris (the Sookie Stackhouse and Midnight, Texas series) reminds us to be careful of what we wish for. Sara Paretsky (the V.I. Warshawski series) shows how truly deadly a terrible storm can be.

These and fourteen more stories are offered here in the appreciation of our friend and colleague, Bill Crider. These stories were written for him.

I'm so happy this book is coming out. Bill was one of my best friends for more than 40 years, and I still find myself thinking nearly every day, "I need to ask Bill about that" or "I have to tell Bill about that." The story I wrote for this anthology is a sequel to "Comingor", the first story ever published under my name, and my second published story overall, 43 years ago. It's set in the same part of Texas as Bill's Dan Rhodes novels, in the next county to the east, in fact. I also think it's one of the best stories I've written. I'm looking forward to seeing what all the other authors came up with. The book is available for pre-order on the Down & Out Books website and will be showing up in all the other usual places later on.

Sunday, February 07, 2021

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Private Detective Stories, September 1942

This Allen Anderson cover is a good example of a picture that tells a story. Since it's 1942, I'll bet those are black market tires, and the blond shutterbug is either a private eye or works for one, and she was trying to get some photos as evidence of the black-marketeering when those two yeggs caught her . . . yeah, I could write that. But in this case, Howard Wandrei, as Robert A. Garron, probably did. Other authors in this issue of PRIVATE DETECTIVE STORIES are Laurence Donovan (twice, as himself and as Larry Dunn), Roger Torrey, and house-names Paul Hanna and R.T. Maynard, who might be any of those other three guys, or somebody else entirely. With Trojan Publishing Corp., you just never know.

Saturday, February 06, 2021

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Thrilling Ranch Stories, Summer 1950

THRILLING RANCH STORIES was the Thrilling Group's second-string Western romance pulp, but you can't really tell that from the covers and authors, which seem to me just as good as those in RANCH ROMANCES. Take the Summer 1950 issue, for example, which sports an excellent Kirk Wilson cover and includes stories by Leslie Scott (as A. Leslie), Johnston McCulley, Chuck Martin, Frank P. Castle, Walt Sheldon, Ben Frank, and Eugene A. Clancy. Those are all solid, prolific Western pulpsters, and one of them (Scott) is a favorite of mine. Sounds like a good issue to me.

Friday, February 05, 2021

Forgotten Books: Legion of the Lawless - Lynn Westland (Archie Joscelyn)

Archie Joscelyn’s writing career lasted for more than fifty years, starting in the pulps in 1921 and continuing until the late Seventies. He wrote hundreds of stories, mostly for the Western pulps, but he’s best remembered for the Western novels (at least two hundred of them) he wrote under his name and the pseudonyms Al Cody, Lynn Westland, and Tex Holt.

I’ve read a number of Joscelyn’s novels and have found him to be a consistently entertaining author of traditional Westerns, with his books ranging from good to excellent, other than the novels from very late in his career, which are not good. Recently, I read his Lynn Westland novel LEGION OF THE LAWLESS, published by Harlequin in 1953, back when Harlequin published other genres besides romances. That’s my copy in the scan.

This novel takes place soon after the Civil War and concerns the Army’s effort to control the bands of former guerrillas who have turned outlaw and are preying on the cattle drives that have started up the trails from Texas to the railhead in Missouri. Captain Phil Lansing is in command of the cavalrymen sent to track down the mysterious leader of the renegades known as Texas Red. Lansing and his men encounter a cattle drive up from the San Saba country in Texas, being led by a beautiful young woman named Joan Ellis. Lansing falls for her, of course, never realizing that her brother is actually the infamous Texas Red, who has promised the herd safe passage through the region controlled by the renegades.

With some writers, that would be enough plot for a book right there, but Joscelyn often has some oddball twist in his tales, and that’s true here. Stalwart cavalry officer Phil Lansing is the nominal protagonist of the book, but it’s none other than Texas Red Ellis, the notorious outlaw his own self, who turns out to be the hero. Like an owlhoot GAME OF THRONES, there are others vying for power among the renegades, plus the threat of Indians, so Joscelyn has plenty going on as the action stampedes toward an epic showdown in an Indian burial ground. (Yes, there is an actual stampede. Of course there is.)

LEGION OF THE LAWLESS isn’t in the top rank of the Joscelyn books I’ve read (DOOMROCK and THE THUNDERING HILLS are the best I’ve encountered so far), but it’s a good solid traditional Western with just enough interesting angles to set it apart. Joscelyn is one of those writers whose prose can range from slightly awkward to vivid and poetic, sometimes on the same page. If he’d been a little more consistent in his writing, I think he would be better remembered than he is. I enjoyed this book and I’m glad I have probably two dozen more of Archie Joscelyn’s novels on my shelves. If you’re a fan of traditional Westerns, he’s worth reading.

Thursday, February 04, 2021

The Digest Enthusiast, Book Thirteen - Richard Krauss, ed.

The latest issue of THE DIGEST ENTHUSIAST is out, and even by the usual high standards, it's just packed with good stuff. Check out this line-up.

Interview with Analog and Asimov's Managing Editor: Emily Hockaday.
Peter Enfantino reviews Manhunt-1955 part one.
Jack Seabrook investigates the mysterious true crime reports of Leo Marr for Mystery Book Magazine. Gary Lovisi reveals the highly collectible digest paperbacks from Falcon Books.
Steve Carper uncovers the genre giants of Fantasy & Science Fiction Classics.
Vince Nowell, Sr. shines the spotlight on Robert A.W. Lowndes' reign of digests.
Catch up on breaking industry news-with cover previews-from the digest world's favorite editors, publishers, and writers.
New fiction by Richard Krauss, Robert Snashall, and Joe Wehrle, Jr. with artwork by Rick McCollum and Marc Myers.
Reviews of Switchblade No. 12, Sword & Sorcery Annual, Rock and a Hard Place No. 3, and Marilyn Monroe's digest cover trading cards.
Plus over 100 digest magazine covers in full color, first issue factoids, cartoons by Bob Vojtko, and more. Cover by Brian Buniak, 160 pages, published in full color by Larque Press.

I read it from cover to cover and enjoyed it, also as usual, but my favorites this time around are Peter Infantino's MANHUNT reviews, a great article by Gary Lovisi about Falcon Books (I used to have some of those books!), and Vince Nowell, Sr.'s article about Robert A.W. Lowndes. I find Lowndes' work very interesting, especially his long run as the editor of various pulp magazines (SF, mystery, and Western) where he had to work with very low budgets but consistently made something out of almost nothing. This article is about his equally impressive work as a digest magazine editor. I don't recall ever reading any of Lowndes' fiction, and I probably should remedy that. In the meantime, this latest issue of THE DIGEST ENTHUSIAST gets a very high recommendation from me. I really enjoyed it.

Wednesday, February 03, 2021

Now Available: The Bill Kellaway Quartet - Gwyn Evans

From my friend Steve Holland and the Bear Alley Books website

“You have heard of a man who, for a wager, offered to sell genuine sovereigns—in the days of sovereigns—at sixpence a time on London Bridge, and not a soul would buy them.”

“Yes,” said Kellaway. “But you don’t surely mean that—that your offer is on a par with that?”

Dr. Lenoir nodded.

“My question is perfectly genuine,” he answered.

“Would you like a million pounds—and if so, are you prepared to fulfil the necessary conditions?”

Kellaway glanced sharply at his companion’s pale, impassive face. It was as expressionless as the bronze Sphinx itself.

“Of course I could do with a million quid—who couldn’t?” he said. “The point is, who’s going to give it me, and what have I got to do to get it?”

Hercules, Esq. by Gwyn Evans introduces Bill Kellaway, a brash, bright young ex-reporter who had spent years in Africa, returning to England when Egypt regained its sovereignty. When readers first meet Bill he is at his lowest. Penniless, he stands by Cleopatra's Needle on Victoria Embankment, wondering where he can find the money to pay for a cigarette... and then he feels a hand touch his sleeve and a voice asks: "Would you like a million pounds, my friend?"

A born venturer, Kellaway follows the stranger and finds himself at the whim of a group of millionaires who challenge him to complete six tasks that will acquaint him well with the underworld. On condition that his agreement remains a secret and that he makes no attempt to identify his employers, or seek their help if arrested, Kellaway receives the first of his six "labours" in a note attached to a dead body.

Following his first adventure, Kellaway surfaced again in The Homicide Club to face the strange, exclusive Q Club, its membership limited to five, all millionaires and men of vicious character. To relieve the tedium of their wealth, they devise a contest in which each attempts to commit the perfect crime. Symphony Sam becomes their unwilling agent and Bill Kellaway a potential member. Bill joins, but on learning of their criminal activities, determines to wage a secret war against them…

In Satan Ltd., Quentin Steele, the leader of the Shadow Club, is on the verge of collapse through an overstrained heart, when Bill Kellaway finds him and takes him to his rooms. Here he is urged to take the place of Steele as leader of the Club. Partly because of his love of adventure, and partly because of his whole-hearted approval of the aims of the Club, Kellaway agrees. His adventures thereafter make absorbing reading.

And, finally, in The Return of "Hercules, Esq.", Sam Hicks, better known as ‘Symphony Sam’ has turned detective and stars in three thrilling stories—“The Man from Abyssinia,” “The Secret of All Baba's Jars,” and “The Man with the Diamond Mask.” With the aid of ex-Fleet Street newspaperman and eccentric millionaire Bill Kellaway, the pluperfect Henry Henry, and the calmly efficient Miss Candy Lee, he sets up the S.S. Detective Bureau opens its office directly opposite Scotland Yard—to the intense fury of Detective-Inspector Barker, who wants nothing more than to put Sam back in clink.

Created in 1928, the first Bill Kellaway novel, Hercules, Esq., was a great success, serialised in the pages of Union Jack before appearing in hardcovers in both UK and USA. Even as a sequel appeared, the film rights to the debut novel sold for a then-staggering £3,000 —the equivalent of over £130,000 today. Evans reputedly spent his share within a fortnight, hosting some of the brightest, booziest parties Chelsea had ever seen, and not one of his creditors saw a penny from his payout.

About the author

Gwyn Evans (1898-1938) was born in Bangor, North Wales, the son of a Weslyan minister. He turned to writing fiction after a brief career as a journalist in Egypt. He is best known for his tales of Sexton Blake, written in the Golden Age of the detective. His slick, racy style, colourful characters and bizarre plots led one editor to exclaim: “He turned out stuff like a factory, nearly all of it superlatively clever.”

The mercurial Evans lived in the heart of Bohemia and was a heavy smoker and a heavy drinker, which eventually led to his early death at the age of 39.

For much more on Evans, read Gwyn Evans: The Lunatic, the Lover and the Poet, written by Steve Holland, which is now available in a similar 6" x 9" format to the four Bill Kellaway novels, with a portrait of Evans on the front cover. The earlier, larger (A4), heavily illustrated version is also still available from Bear Alley Books.

All of these books are available in the U.S. from Lulu, and you can find them here. I love a good British thriller, and I'm looking forward to reading them.