Saturday, July 31, 2021

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Double-Action Western, July 1953

This is a pulp that I own and read recently. That’s my copy in the scan. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a big fan of Lee Floren’s work, despite him being both prolific and popular for a long time. I picked up this pulp to read anyway, even though he’s the author of the featured novel, “Smoky River Gunsmoke”. And for a change, unlike most pulp “novels”, this one probably is close to actual novel length. Ace Double length, anyway.

And for another change, I enjoyed it quite a bit. Yes, the writing is clumsy at times. Floren’s attempts at humor usually fall flat. The plot, a standard cattlemen vs. homesteaders yarn, is nothing we haven’t read and seen a thousand times before. But the characters have unexpected depth to them, even the bad guys. The main villain does some things that make him a poignant, almost tragic figure. He’s still evil, mind you, but there’s more to him than that. Also, the action scenes are great. I think I’m coming to the realization that Floren was just one of those writers who had a distinctive style, for better or worse (and sometimes it’s both), and I appreciate that. After reading this one, I may actually seek out more of his work.

Richard Deming was a top-notch mystery author whose work I’ve long admired, so I was a little surprised that his short story in this issue, “Reluctant Killer”, isn’t very good. This tale of a deadly gunman’s quest for a normal life is well-written, but it’s pretty slow and talky and not much happens.

I’m not that familiar with Charles D. Richardson Jr. I think I’ve seen his name in Western pulps, but that’s all I know about him. “Ride ’Em, Cowgirl” is a horse race story, with the cowgirl of the title trying to replace her injured beau in an important race. There’s nothing really wrong with this one, but it never caught my interest.

I’ve read several stories by Lloyd Kevin and the only novel he published, a hardboiled sleaze novel from Monarch Books. His novelette in this issue, “Schoolmaster From the East”, could well be a reject from RANCH ROMANCES. The title character comes to a Western town and finds himself in the middle of a conflict over water rights, as well as falling for the beautiful daughter of the rancher who controls the source of that water. Although I think it could have used a more dramatic title, I enjoyed this story. The author doesn’t fall into the trap of making his protagonist more competent than he logically should be, and the mystery element is worked out fairly well. This is the second-best story in the issue, after the Floren yarn.

Richard Brister, another author whose name is familiar to me, rounds out things with the short story “No Whiskey on Hobnail”, in which a rancher attempts to rehabilitate a young criminal from the big city. This is also a pretty good, effective story and makes me want to read more by Brister.

So, overall, this isn’t an outstanding issue of DOUBLE-ACTION WESTERN, but it’s a good one. Surprisingly good in the case of the Floren novel. That’s happened to me on occasion before, not being a fan of a writer’s work and then coming to appreciate and enjoy it. We’ll see if that comes about again.

Friday, July 30, 2021

Forgotten Books: Cheyenne and the Lost Gold of Lion Park - Steve Frazee

When I was growing up, I loved the TV show CHEYENNE, and I also read a bunch of the juvenile novels published by Whitman and based on different TV series, so how come I never read this one until now? Basically, I never knew it existed until recently, but once I found out about it, and that it was written by well-respected Western author Steve Frazee, I had to hunt up a copy. That's it in the scan above.

As I’m willing to bet that most of you know, Cheyenne Bodie, played by the great Clint Walker, was a drifting cowboy/army scout/stagecoach guard, or whatever else that week’s story required him to be. In CHEYENNE AND THE LOST GOLD OF LION PARK, he’s working for the railroad, trying to locate a fortune in gold stolen in a train robbery twenty years earlier. The outlaws, a trio of brothers, had a hideout in a high mountain basin called Lion Park. Supposedly, they cached the loot somewhere in the basin and then disappeared. Nobody knows what happened to them or where the missing gold is.

Since these Whitman novels were marketed to kids, the protagonists always had to a young sidekick, except in those books where the actual protagonist was a kid. In this novel, there’s a young man living in a nearby town who has done some hunting and exploring in Lion Park, and he volunteers to help Cheyenne as a guide. His father, a former lawman, allows him to go along with Cheyenne. They’re searching for a mysterious old-timer who may have some connection to the missing outlaws. Unfortunately, they’re not the only ones on the trail of the gold. A couple of hardcases follow them into the basin, and then it’s a race to see who can locate the gold first . . . and if they can survive.

Frazee was an excellent author of hardboiled Westerns, so it’s a bit of a surprise that the main flaw in this novel is a lack of action. Most of it is Cheyenne and Rory, the kid sidekick, puttering around the canyon and trying to avoid the two hardcases. But Frazee does a great job with the setting, and when violence does erupt occasionally, it’s quite effective. Also, he captures Cheyenne’s personality pretty well. Sometimes in these Whitman novels, the characters have the same names as their TV counterparts but don’t really act or sound like them. That’s not the case here. Plus Rory is a good sidekick, only occasionally doing dumb stuff.

Overall, CHEYENNE AND THE LOST GOLD OF LION PARK is just too blasted mild to reach the top ranks of Whitman TV tie-ins. But it’s well-written and a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours. It also made me want to watch some episodes of CHEYENNE. I have the first season on DVD. May have to dig out those discs and revisit it.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Two Complete Science-Adventure Books, Winter 1952

Eagle-eyed commenter b.t. spotted the similarities between this cover by Allen Anderson and yesterday's Western pulp cover that doesn't have any artist attribution. The pose and the gun make me believe that Anderson did indeed do at least half of yesterday's cover. With split covers like this, it's always hard for me to tell if the same artist did both parts. Anyway, this issue of TWO COMPLETE SCIENCE-ADVENTURE BOOKS features a reprint of a novella that was a classic already, despite being only ten years old: "Beyond This Horizon" by "Anson MacDonald" originally published in ASTOUNDING SCIENCE-FICTION in April 1942. By 1952, were there any science fiction fans who didn't know that Anson MacDonald was really Robert A. Heinlein? I suppose there could have been. The other story in this issue, "The Magellanics" by Alfred Coppel, is new. I don't think I've ever read anything by Coppel, or if I have, I don't remember it. Maybe I should, if his stories have sexy redheads in towels in them.

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Two Western Romances, Winter 1950

Sometimes I like these split covers, and sometimes I don't. I think this one from TWO WESTERN ROMANCES works pretty well. I don't know the artist for either picture. Given the pulp's title, it's not surprising that there are only two stories in this issue, both by popular authors: Norman A. Fox and Lee Floren. I'd say that Fox had the more successful career, with a number of his novels being made in movies and staying in print for a long time, but Floren was more prolific and was a steady seller in paperback for an even longer time. I haven't read a great deal by either author, but from what I have read, I prefer Fox. I plan to read more by both of them, however.

Friday, July 23, 2021

Forgotten Books: Hell is My Destination - John Conway (Joseph Chadwick)

Joseph Chadwick was a prolific contributor to the Western pulps, writing dozens of stories under his own name and also turning out novels featuring Jim Hatfield (under the Jackson Cole house-name), the Rio Kid, and the Range Riders. As the pulps faded away in the Fifties, he turned to writing original paperbacks, mostly Westerns, but he also wrote soft-core sleaze, plantation novels, and crime novels under the names John Creighton and John Conway.

One of those John Conway novels is HELL IS MY DESTINATION, published by Monarch Books in 1959 with a great cover. The art may be by Ray Johnson; I’m not enough of an expert on Johnson’s work to be sure about that. But it promises a lurid, noirish yarn, just the sort of thing I enjoy. However, that’s not exactly what this novel delivers.

Instead, HELL IS MY DESTINATION is a rather slow-paced police procedural. The protagonist, Tom Matthews, is a police detective who is warned off from investigating a gas station stick-up in which the proprietor was shot and killed. Despite that tragic death, it seems like a fairly minor case, not worth threatening a cop over, especially when the primary suspect is a petty criminal. But then the stakes get higher as Matthews’ crippled son is struck and killed by a car in what is clearly not a typical hit-and-run. Unless he lays off the case, his wife and daughter are next, he’s told.

Well, that’s not going to happen. Matthews promptly quits the force so he can conduct his own investigation without playing by the rules. At least, that’s what he says, but even though it’s not official, his investigation is as plodding and dogged as if he were still carrying a badge. Oh, other than sleeping with his former mistress to get information, I guess. Got to get the racy scenes in there somewhere. This is a Monarch book, after all.

The whole thing is told in plain, flat, almost DRAGNET-like prose, but lest you think I’m damning with faint praise, let me make it clear that I enjoyed HELL IS MY DESTINATION quite a bit. It’s just not what I expected from the cover. It takes a while to get going good, but I’m glad I stuck with it. The second half generates considerable suspense, and while the solution isn’t unexpected, it works pretty well. Chadwick has never been one of my favorite Western writers, but his work is always competent and sometimes very good to excellent. This is the first crime novel by him that I’ve read, and I liked it enough that I’ll read more. Don’t run out and start looking for HELL IS MY DESTINATION, but if you come across a copy, it’s worth reading.

Monday, July 19, 2021

Classic Private Detective Pulp: A Shot in the Arm (Manville Moon #3) - Richard Deming

It's taken me a while, but I've read the third novella in Richard Deming's series about private detective Manville Moon, who lost his right leg from the knee down fighting in World War II but doesn't let that slow him down when it comes to solving murders and fighting with mobsters and killers. In "A Shot in the Arm", published originally in the July 1948 issue of BLACK MASK, Moon is hired to help a rich, beautiful young woman kick her morphine habit. (Didn't something similar to this happen to the Continental Op in THE DAIN CURSE? It's been a long time since I read that book.)

Unfortunately, there's been a murder before the story even opens, and there's another one soon after, and Moon is left trying to sort out the killings as Deming fills in the background with a lengthy flashback. Sometimes I'm not a fan of that technique, but it works pretty well here and Deming is such a good writer that he keeps things racing along in a swift, smooth manner. The dialogue is good, Moon is a great character, and the mystery is fairly clued and seems to hold together pretty well. I enjoyed this yarn quite a bit. It's available as an inexpensive e-book, if you don't have that issue of BLACK MASK in your collection. 

Sunday, July 18, 2021

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Top-Notch, April 1933

I really like this cover by Karl Godwin. It fairly shouts "Adventure!" at a potential reader. TOP-NOTCH is a pulp you don't hear much about anymore, but it had some good stories, most notably several by Robert E. Howard and the Ozar the Aztec series by Walker A. Tompkins writing as Valentine Wood. This issue has an Ozar story in it, as well as a novella by the always dependable J. Allan Dunn, a Western by Lee Bond writing as Tex Bradley, and several stories by authors I'm not familiar with: F.N. Litten, James Edward Hungerford, Paul H. Salomon, Erik W. Modean, and Alan Grey Mayne. They must have been decent writers to sell to Street & Smith.

Saturday, July 17, 2021

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Adventures, August 1941

WESTERN ADVENTURES was Street & Smith's third-string Western pulp after WESTERN STORY and WILD WEST WEEKLY, but it had plenty of good authors and stories in it. This issue features yarns from Brad Buckner (really Ed Earl Repp) and Rolland C. Lynch (rumored to have ghosted for Ed Earl Repp), plus William R. Cox, Nels Leroy Jorgensen, Jim Kjelgaard, M. Howard Lane, and Kenneth L. Sinclair, none of whom have anything to do with Ed Earl Repp, as far as I know.

Friday, July 16, 2021

Forgotten Books: The Hungry Gun - Steve Thurman (Frank Castle)

Will Cade is a horse rancher in Arizona who’s trying to put his past as an outlaw behind him. You know how that usually turns out in Western novels, so what happens next in THE HUNGRY GUN won’t surprise many veteran Western readers. Cade’s old partner shows up, stagecoaches start getting robbed, Cade’s secrets come out and the townspeople believe he’s part of the wave of lawlessness. To complicate things even more, the saloon girl he used to love shows up, and the citizens start talking about vigilance committees. And what Cade’s old partner from the owlhoot days really wants is Will Cade dead.

THE HUNGRY GUN is a very traditional hardboiled Western published in 1967 by Paperback Library. The author, Steve Thurman, was actually the veteran pulpster, paperbacker, and tie-in writer Frank Castle. A few weeks ago, I read and posted about one of his juvenile novels written under the name Cole Fannin and featuring Roy Rogers and Dale Evans. Castle is writing for adults in THE HUNGRY GUN, so it features a lot of brutal violence, sexually charged situations, and a protagonist who spends a lot of time brooding when he’s not engaged in fistfights or shootouts.

Castle got his start in the writing business by working as assistant to and ghostwriter for Western novelist Tom W. Blackburn in the same sort of set-up that Blackburn, years earlier, had with Ed Earl Repp. With that background, it’s no surprise that he knew how to spin a yarn and keep a story moving along at a good pace. THE HUNGRY GUN may not break any new ground, but it has some excellent scenes in it and I really enjoyed reading it. It’s never been reprinted, as far as I know, but if you’re a Western fan and come across a copy, it’s worth picking up.

Wednesday, July 14, 2021

Levon's Trade - Chuck Dixon


Levon Cade left his profession behind to work construction. He just wants to live an anonymous life and be a good dad to his daughter. But when a local girl vanishes, he’s asked to return to the skills that made him a mythic figure in the shadowy world of counterterrorism.

Follow Levon and his daughter while they go on the run from the Feds and a growing army of enemies that Levon makes along the way.

(Chuck Dixon is one of my all-time favorite comic book writers, and over the past few years he's become one of my favorite novelists, as well. I'm a little behind on his work, but I recently read LEVON'S TRADE, the first book in his Levon Cade series, and it's great. Full of gritty action, a likable protagonist, well-developed villains and supporting characters, and quite a bit of wry, dark humor. This book read very fast and I really enjoyed it. The first six books in the series are available in one giant, inexpensive omnibus, and I'm eager to read the others. So far the Levon Cade series gets a high recommendation from me.)

Saturday, July 10, 2021

Saturday Afternoon Western Pulp: Thrilling Western, September 1944

More proof, as if we needed it, that sitting down to a "friendly" game of cards was just about the most dangerous thing you could do in the Old West. This is a Sam Cherry cover and quite a dynamic one. As usual in THRILLING WESTERN during the Forties, there's a Walt Slade yarn by Bradford Scott (A. Leslie Scott) and another appearance by Syl MacDowell's Swap and Whopper, plus stories by the great W.C. Tuttle, Gunnison Steele (Bennie Gardner), Dixon Wells (author/editor Samuel Mines), and a couple of prolific but lesser-known pulpsters, Hal White and John A. Thompson. (Sorry I'm running late today.)

Friday, July 09, 2021

Forgotten Books: The Monster Men - Edgar Rice Burroughs

This is another of the Edgar Rice Burroughs novels I never got around to reading back in the days when I was a big Burroughs fan. THE MONSTER MEN is one of his earlier efforts, his sixth novel, published complete under the title “A Man Without a Soul”, in the November 1913 issue of the pulp THE ALL-STORY.

It’s a Mad Scientist yarn, as eccentric Professor Arthur Maxon seeks to discover the secret of life and create it in a laboratory. After several failures, he gives up the effort, only to find himself drawn irresistably back to it. For his new experiments, he travels to an isolated island off the coast of Borneo, along with his beautiful daughter Virginia and his sinister, ambitious assistant, Dr. von Horn. The professor is successful, but only to a certain extent. He’s able to create living, human-like creatures in his lab, but they turn out to be misshapen monsters almost incapable of human thought. After a dozen of these misbegotten failures—which, still living, he keeps penned up in a compound—he has high hopes for Number Thirteen (that being the original title of this novel when Burroughs wrote it, I believe). Number Thirteen is going to be different.

And so he is, not only a magnificent physical specimen but also capable of learning at a rapid rate, so that within weeks he’s almost as well educated as a normal man. But then trouble erupts due to the scheming of the evil Dr. von Horn, as well as a Malay pirate with a yen for the professor’s beautiful daughter and various ne’er-do-wells who have their eye on a mysterious chest they believe to be full of gold. Before you know it, everybody is galloping around the island fighting each other, and the pirate kidnaps Virginia and takes off for the jungles of Borneo with her. However, Number Thirteen, now calling himself Bulan, goes after them, aided by a bizarre little army of his own. Bulan, you see, has also fallen in love with Virginia . . .

THE MONSTER MEN certainly isn’t lacking for action. I’ve seen it described as “Tarzan Meets Dr. Moreau”, and while that’s not exactly accurate, it does somewhat capture the feel of this novel. One of Burroughs’ trademarks is having a lot of characters doing different things at once, in a relatively small area and period of time, and at this stage of his career, I don’t think he was as in control of the technique as he was later on. As a result, the plot is a little hard to follow at times and is overloaded with coincidences. That’s forgivable, though, because THE MONSTER MEN has such a great feeling of fun and enthusiasm about it. The big twist at the end is blatantly telegraphed early on, but again, it doesn’t really matter. The appeal of this book is that it’s an action-packed romp with some nice, eerie scenes to break up the running around and fighting.

I had a fine time reading THE MONSTER MEN. I’m glad that proved to be the case, because I found the last two Burroughs stories I read a little disappointing and had begun to wonder if he was one of those authors from my early years whose work wasn’t going to hold up for me. Now I know that’s not the case, so I’m glad I have quite a few unread ERB novels to get to. Some of them, I may not like, but I’ll bet many of them are going to be enjoyable. THE MONSTER MEN certainly was.

Tuesday, July 06, 2021

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

The Digest Enthusiast
continues to be a clear labor of love for editor Richard Krauss and one of the most beautifully put together publications around. What will you find in the most recent issue, you ask? How's this sound?

Reviews of Ed McBain's Mystery Book No. 3, Startling Mystery Stories No. 1, Vanguard Science Fiction (the one and only issue), The Dark City Oct. 2020, 20 Million Miles to Earth, Wonder Stories, The Haunt of Horror, Terror Detective Story Magazine No. 1-4, and Peter Infantino's continuing coverage of Manhunt. Plus industry news and cover previews from the digest world's favorite editors, publishers, and creators. New fiction from John Kuharik, Jack Seabrook, and Robert Snashall with art by Michael Neno. Nearly 100 digest magazine covers in full color, cartoons by Bob Vojtko, and more. 160 pages, published in full color by Larque Press.

There's sort of a tradition around there that when a new issue of The Digest Enthusiast comes in, it's read from cover to cover within a day or two, and that was the case here. My favorite feature this time around is the in-depth look at The Haunt of Horror, because I remember buying and reading those two issues when they came out. I had at least one issue of Ed McBain's Mystery Book, but I don't recall if it was the one reviewed here. I don't think I ever got around to reading it. Startling Mystery Stories came out when I was already avidly buying genre magazines, but I never saw a copy of it, or any of the other Health Knowledge publications, for that matter. I guess they just didn't get any distribution around here.

But I know one thing: every time I read an issue of The Digest Enthusiast, it takes me back to a fondly remembered era and provides a great deal of entertainment and information. I highly recommend Book Fourteen and all the earlier issues, too.

Monday, July 05, 2021

Homicide: Saigon - Stephen Mertz

SAIGON, 1970.

Meet Cord McGavin, lone wolf investigator assigned to a special operations unit of the US Army’s Criminal Investigation Division. McGavin’s beat: the mean streets of this sprawling, violent metropolis ravaged by war. From its wealthy bastions of power, paid for by corruption and profiteering, to the alleys and waterfront shadows where human souls are bartered, deception is the name of the game. The threat of death is never more than a heartbeat away.

McGavin has his hands full. The brass thinks he’s too damn cowboy. Viet Cong assassin teams are operating openly across the city. He’s taken on a deadly coalition about to flood the streets of America with heroin. And oh yeah, there’s McGavin’s beautiful wife Kelly, a Pulitzer-class photo journalist newly arrived under an assumed name to document her husband’s war…

“Stephen Mertz writes a hard edged, fast paced thriller for those who like their tales straight and sharp!” – Joe R. Lansdale

(I've known Stephen Mertz and been reading his books for more years than I like to think about. This is his most recent novel, and it belongs in the top rank of his books. Mertz really knows how to spin a yarn, and HOMICIDE: SAIGON moves incredibly quickly, with a tough, smart protagonist in Cord McGavin. Plenty of action, some well-done romantic scenes between McGavin and his wife Kelly, and the occasional touch of dry humor all make this a really enjoyable novel. A couple of very good short stories featuring the same characters round out this volume. Steve Mertz is one of the legends of men's adventure fiction, and for good reason. I give HOMICIDE: SAIGON a high recommendation.)

Sunday, July 04, 2021

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Argosy, July 4, 1931

Yesterday's pulp was dated July 4, 1931, and so is today's. This is an All-Star Number of ARGOSY, according to the cover, and I can't argue with that claim. The cover is by Paul Stahr, who painted many great ones for ARGOSY, and inside are stories by H. Bedford-Jones, Theodore Roscoe, George F. Worts, Robert Carse, Ray Cummings, J.E. Grinstead, William Merriam Rouse, and Lt. John Hopper. You won't find a lineup of pulp authors much better than that one.

Happy Fourth of July


Saturday, July 03, 2021

Saturday Morning Bonus Pulp: Wild West Weekly, July 4, 1931

This issue of WILD WEST WEEKLY may not have a patriotic cover, but it is dated July 4, 1931. The art is by H.W. Reusswig, and I think it's a pretty good cover. As usual for WILD WEST WEEKLY, the contents lean heavily toward series stories and house names. Lee Bond, William F. Bragg, Clee Woods, and Samuel H. Nickels have stories under the own names. There's a Circle J story by Norman Hay writing as Cleve Endicott, a Whistlin' Kid story by Guy L. Maynard writing as Emery Jackson, and entries in other series I'm not familiar with by Galen C. Colin, Reginald C. Barker, and Houston Irvine. (I'm not familiar with Barker and Irvine, either.) But overall, it looks like an entertaining issue and a good way to pass the time in the summer of 1931, if you had an extra dime and nickel in your pocket. Which a lot of people didn't in those days. But I'm glad the pulps were able to survive.

Friday, July 02, 2021

Forgotten Books: Sex Dancer - Clayton Matthews

You can’t get much more blatant about the title of a book than SEX DANCER, a novel by Clayton Matthews published by Beacon Books in 1961. The protagonist, Jean Winters, is a beautiful young blonde who dances in the girlie show at a traveling carnival. A year earlier, she left her hometown in New Mexico to go to Hollywood and become a big star. Well, we all know how that works out, so now to survive Jean travels with the carnival from one town to another and carries on a desultory affair with the sleazy concessionaire who runs the girlie show. But then she meets Mace, a motorcycle rider who used to be the star attraction of the motordrome show (where guys race motorcycles around the inside of a cylinder, held up by centrifugal force) until he cracked up in an accident and lost his nerve. Jean and Mace fall for each other, but there are all kinds of obstacles in the way, of course. Will their love survive?

I tend to like carny novels, and this one is okay. Like Fredric Brown’s MADBALL, it’s full of carny lingo and lore and colorful characters, but it lacks any real mystery or noir plot and is more of a soap opera than anything else. But it’s a pretty fast-moving and well-written soap opera, so I enjoyed it. It’s not the sweaty, desperate, naturalistic art of Orrie Hitt, and it doesn’t have the narrative drive of Ben Haas, but it’s still worth reading because Clayton Matthews was a good storyteller.

Matthews is an interesting author. He wrote quite a few of these soft-core sleaze novels for various publishers under his real name, and later he did a number of big, family saga type novels, also under his name, as well as a lot of books under other names. Rumor has it that in the Eighties he actually wrote dozens of bestselling historical romances published under another name. I never met him, but we had some mutual friends and he was also the cousin of my good friend, pulp fan and publisher Tom Johnson. I have some of his other novels published by Beacon and will be getting around to them in due course, I suspect.