Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Trent #1: The Dead Man - Rodolphe and Leo

If you’ve been reading this blog for very long, you know I enjoy Mountie stories. A friend of mine on Facebook recently mentioned a series of graphic novels about a Mountie sergeant named Trent, so I had to check them out. Written by French author Rodolphe Jacquette, with art by Brazilian artist Leo (Luiz Eduardo de Oliviera), they’ve been translated into English and are available on Amazon and as part of Kindle Unlimited.

The first volume, THE DEAD MAN, finds Sergeant Trent and his canine companion, known only as Dog, on the trail of a wanted murderer. In the snowy wasteland, they come across a lone traveler who turns out to be a beautiful young woman on a mission of her own. Trent saves her from a blizzard and reluctantly agrees to help her on her quest before returning to his own assignment.

The big plot twist in this one is pretty obvious, and there’s a lot of brooding and not much action, but danged if I didn’t get caught up in the story and enjoy it a lot anyway. The art is great, Sergeant Trent is a good protagonist, and I think there’s a lot of potential in this series. Originally published during the Nineties, there are eight volumes in all, and I definitely plan to read the others. This isn’t the sort of two-fisted, action-packed Mountie yarn that I love so much in the pulps, but I give THE DEAD MAN a high recommendation anyway.

Monday, August 30, 2021

The Shadowed Circle #1 - Steve Donoso, ed.

Regular readers of this blog know that I’m a long-time fan of The Shadow and have reviewed a number of the pulp novels over the years. I recently had a chance to read THE SHADOWED CIRCLE #1, an old-fashioned fanzine devoted to the character, and I had a great time with it.

Edited and published by Steve Donoso, with art and design by John Sies and assistance from deputy editor Rebecca Robinson, THE SHADOWED CIRCLE #1 is an impressive publication, starting off with a fine cover by John Jamilkowski. The contents include an essay by Will Murray about some of the female villains faced by The Shadow; this piece was squeezed out of the reprints from Sanctum Publications by a lack of space, and it’s great to have it available. As the leading expert on The Shadow, Murray’s work is always informative and entertaining.

John L. French takes a look at the Shadow novels by Bruce Elliott, who replaced longtime author Walter B. Gibson for a while late in the pulp’s run. These stories by Elliott are almost universally reviled, with a common criticism being that the character doesn’t even seem like himself. French comes up with an intriguing theory to explain that. I’ve never read one of Elliott’s Shadow novels, and I really ought to. I’ve read some of his other mystery novels that I liked quite a bit.

Craig McDonald contributes an article about the only villains who faced The Shadow in four separate novels, Shiwan Khan (created by Walter B. Gibson) and Benedict Stark (created by Theodore Tinsley, who backed up Gibson on the series for several years). I’ve read at least one of the Shiwan Khan novels, but I don’t think I’ve read all of them. I’ve never read any of the novels featuring Benedict Stark, and McDonald’s excellent article makes me think I need to do that, too. Ah, if only there was more time in the day!

There’s also an interview with James Patterson, co-author of the recent Shadow novel that puts a whole new spin on the character, and a lengthy review of that book by Henry Lopez. I’ve never met Patterson, although I’m acquainted with some of his co-authors, but everyone I know who has met him seems to think he’s a wonderful guy. That’s certainly the way he comes across in this interview, very affable, whether I agree with his take on The Shadow or not. (Brief personal story: I have been in the same room with Patterson several times without actually meeting him. At a mystery convention a few years ago, I happened to be in the hotel lobby at six o’clock in the morning, and there he was, sitting in a chair by himself reading a newspaper. I started to go up and introduce myself to him, but then I thought, no, he looked so grateful to be just sitting there with nobody bothering him, I couldn’t bring myself to do it. So I went on my way.)

Rounding out this issue are articles about Gibson’s work on a Batman story (his last published work), being a young fan of a pulp hero, short films featuring The Shadow from the early Thirties (I’d never even heard of these!), cover artwork from the pulp, and zombies in the radio show. It’s a very nice variety of material and all well-written and interesting.

Fanzines such as this have really fallen by the wayside with the rise of the Internet, but I read a bunch of them over the years, especially during the Seventies, Eighties, and Nineties. Reading THE SHADOWED CIRCLE #1 was a wonderful reminder of that time, as well as being an excellent publication in its own right. I had an absolutely wonderful time with it. It’s available on Amazon, or you can subscribe to it. All the details are available on the magazine’s Facebook page. If you’re a Shadow fan or a fan of pulp fiction in general, I give it a very high recommendation.

Sunday, August 29, 2021

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Detective Tales, December 1936

DETECTIVE TALES is another pretty solid detective pulp from Popular Publications. This issue features an action-packed cover by Tom Lovell and stories by Arthur Leo Zagat, George Bruce, Fred MacIsaac, Franklin H. Martin, and a pulpster better remembered for his Westerns, Tom Roan. Roan's yarn is called "Satan Covers the Waterfront", and I'll bet it's a good one.

A Middle of the Night Music Post: Saloon Showdown - Antti Martikainen

As the saying goes, Spaghetti Western Metal is the musical genre I didn't know I needed . . . until now. Recently I've been listening to this and other songs by Finnish musician Antti Martikainen, and they're all great writing music.

Saturday, August 28, 2021

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Novel and Short Stories, October 1938

We have three characters in the J.W. Scott cover on this issue of WESTERN NOVEL AND SHORT STORIES, but it's not the usual trio of Stalwart Cowboy, Wounded Old-timer, and Angry, Gun-Totin' Redhead. Even so, this is a pretty effective cover. I like the jodhpurs on the blonde. Inside are stories by Ed Earl Repp, as himself and as Brad Buckner, Rolland Lynch, Carmony Gove, and Ken Jason, a house-name used by, among others, D.B. Newton, Jonathan Glidden (better known as Peter Dawson), Bennie Gardner (better known as Gunnison Steele), Victor H. White, and editor Robert O. Erisman. So there's really no telling who wrote the Ken Jason story in this issue. I like the story's title, though: "Gun Raiders of Silver City". "Last Notch in a Killer's Colt" and "Satan's Gun-Ghost" are also good titles.

Friday, August 27, 2021

Forgotten Books: Arrow in the Dust - L.L. Foreman

Art by Ron Lesser

Bart Laish is not your typical stalwart Western hero. He’s a gambler, a gunfighter, and when ARROW IN THE DUST, L.L. Foreman’s novel from 1954 opens, an army deserter, having enlisted in order to hide out from the law only to take off for the tall and uncut rather than being thrown in the guardhouse for brawling. Not a nice guy.

And yet, through a series of frankly far-fetched coincidences, Laish finds himself wearing a general’s uniform, inheriting command of a bunch of inexperienced soldiers, and called upon to protect a wagon train bound for Fort Laramie from an Indian horde composed of warriors from several rival tribes who have banded together for some unknown reason. Oh, and with that wagon train is the dead general’s wife, who also happens to be one of Laish’s old flames.

Despite my long-windedness in describing it, the plot in ARROW IN THE DUST plays out pretty simply: make it to Fort Laramie without the whole wagon train being massacred. Throw in some romantic complications along the way. Does all this adversity offer Bart Laish a chance at redemption? I think you know the answer to that.

Original 1954 edition, art by Robert Stanley

While the elements that make up ARROW IN THE DUST may be pretty standard, L.L. Foreman does an absolutely superb job of blending them into a compelling, suspenseful Western yarn. This novel doesn’t have as much action as some—a lot of it is kind of a slow burn—but when violence does erupt, it’s very effective, and the final battle with the Indians is spectacular. Foreman devotes a lot of time to characterization and also writes very well about the landscape. His prose is nothing fancy, but it moves along in fine fashion.

L.L. Foreman was an Englishman, born in London and spending the first twenty years of his life there before moving to the United States. He started writing for the Western pulps in 1934 and continued for more than twenty years, expanding his career into novels in the Forties and writing until his death in the Sixties. ARROW IN THE DUST is an expansion of the novella “Platte River Gamble”, published in the June 1953 issue of ZANE GREY’S WESTERN MAGAZINE. It’s a really fine novel, and if you’re a fan of traditional Westerns, I give it a high recommendation.

Original novella version, cover art by Robert Stanley

There’s a personal story that goes with this one, too. In the Sixties, some of my relatives lived in the tiny, West Texas oilfield town of Goldsmith, northwest of Odessa. Every couple of years we would drive out there to visit them, usually in the summer, and would spend two or three weeks with them. My uncle was a hunter and taught me how to shoot and reload ammo. (I’ve long since lost my reloading skills, but I’m still a decent shot.) He was also an avid reader of Western novels, and during one trip, I read a Western paperback he had on hand. For years I didn’t recall the author or title, but for some reason the cover illustration stuck in my head: it was a painting of a cavalryman in a long coat, no hat, sitting with his legs stuck out in front of him. I had a feeling that it might be STEEL TO THE SOUTH by Wayne D. Overholser, but when I finally got curious enough to look up that book a few years ago, I couldn’t find any editions of it with a cover like that.

Well, that got my curiosity up even more. I knew the book was published by Dell. The size of it and the blue-edged pages were enough to tell me that. So I looked through listings of Dell Westerns and didn’t find it. I looked up other Overholser books, with still no luck. I was starting to think maybe my memory was playing tricks on me (believe it or not, that’s been known to happen). But one day, I got the idea of asking about it and describing the cover I remembered on the Men’s Adventure Paperbacks group on Facebook. Less than an hour later, I had the answer, complete with a picture of the book: ARROW IN THE DUST by L.L. Foreman. I never would have guessed that.

Not only did I now know what the book was, my friend on Facebook even offered to send me the copy he had. I traded him a couple of my books for it, and that’s the copy you see up at the top of this post, complete with cover art by Ron Lesser featuring model Steve Holland—neither of whom I knew anything at all about when I first read this book more than fifty years ago. I’ve finally gotten around to rereading, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I had no memory of the plot from reading it all those years ago, so it was like a new book to me. And now you know . . . the rest of the story, as Paul Harvey used to say.

(Hmm. Why did I think it was STEEL TO THE SOUTH by Wayne D. Overholser, a book that, as far as I know, I’ve never read? I wonder if I should find a copy and read it . . .)

Thursday, August 26, 2021

A Middle of the Night Music Post: Grazing in the Grass - Hugh Masekala

They play this song on an insurance commercial (I think) that's running on TV these days. When I listened to it on the radio and liked it more than 50 years ago, I never dreamed I'd still be hearing it all these years later.

Wednesday, August 25, 2021

Three Novellas by Jeffery Deaver

I've read and enjoyed some of Jeffery Deaver's novels in the past, so when he started writing novellas and publishing them as e-books, I picked up a few and have been reading them. I really like the novella length, both as a writer and a reader. So here are some quick thoughts on three of Deaver's novellas, in the order in which I read them.

CAUSE OF DEATH is about a history professor whose wife dies in a car accident, but he thinks the wreck is suspicious and sets out to find the truth. Deaver is famous for big twists in his stories, and this yarn certainly has one. Trouble is, it's so over-the-top and hard to believe that it just comes off as silly. This one didn't work for me at all. Your mileage, as they say, may vary.

TURNING POINT follows a law enforcement task force on the trail of a serial killer. This one is tons better than CAUSE OF DEATH. I figured out the twist, but not until I was well into the novella, and I thought it was very clever and effective. One of the characters is really interesting. This is a good one and I recommend it to mystery fans.

BURIED is about an old-fashioned reporter on the verge of retirement who's after a serial kidnapper who buries his victims alive and torments the authorities with riddles about where to find them. I liked the characters in this one quite a bit. The big twist seemed to be lacking a little, though, like it needed one more sting in the tail. Still, it's a pretty good story and worth reading. Deaver has several more novellas available as e-books, and I'm almost certainly going to read them. 

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Battling Britons, Volume Two, Issue One - Justin Marriott, ed.

The fanzine for collectors and readers of vintage British war comics such as Battle Picture Weekly, Commando, Air Ace Picture Library and more. 90 pages of interviews, reviews, features and articles. The first issue includes -

60+ reviews of vintage pocketbook titles

Garth Ennis and Keith Burns discuss their 2015 reboot of the Johnny Red character

Brent Towns talks about his work as a Commando scriptwriter

Columns on aerial combat in comics, Marvel goes to Vietnam, master artist Cam Kennedy, eccentric British war strips and historical adventure titles

And much more!

(I'm proud to have a regular column of COMMANDO reviews in this fanzine. This is a great issue with a wide variety of material from some excellent contributors. As usual, in going through it I've already found a number of books I want to buy and read! If you're interested in war comics or war fiction in general, I give it a high recommendation.)

Monday, August 23, 2021

Classic Space Opera Pulp: The Rebel of Valkyr - Alfred Coppel

There was some discussion on this blog and on Facebook a while back about Alfred Coppel and his work, and this novella sounded particularly intriguing, so I hunted up a copy and read it. "The Rebel of Valkyr" is set during the era of the Second Galactic Empire, following the collapse of the First Empire and the thousand-year-long Dark Age that resulted. Space travel still exists, but only a very select few--shamans, sorcerers, warlocks--know how to operate the ships. Technology of other sorts is banished and feared. So the galaxy is ruled by star-kings and warlords and an emperor. In the past, that leader has been benevolent, but his son, backed by the late emperor's consort, has taken over even though the crown should have gone to his older sister. And the Imperial Consort and her corrupt lackeys are plotting to solidify their hold on power, even if it means murder. The true empress's only hope is a young rebel star-king who is part of a fledgling rebellion bent on overthrowing those who have seized power illegally.

I swear, George R.R. Martin must have read this story at some point. This is a space opera version of GAME OF THRONES, or maybe I should say GAME OF THRONES is a fantasy version of "The Rebel of Valkyr", since the novella was published in the Fall 1950 issue of PLANET STORIES, with the usual great Allen Anderson cover. I don't know, of course, whether or not Martin ever read this story, and most of his inspiration came from English history, but still, there are some striking similarities. "The Rebel of Valkyr" is definitely science fiction, though, despite the swords and the armies mounted on horseback. The big twist at the end involving one of the villains is very much SF in nature.

Mostly, "The Rebel of Valkyr" is just great fun. Fast-paced, with lots of action and epic sweep and colorful settings, I would have raced through it in one sitting if I'd read it back in the Sixties on my parents' front porch on a lazy summer morning. It's the first thing I've read by Coppel, but it won't be the last. He expanded this story into a three-novel series published by Harcourt in the late Sixties under the pseudonym Robert Cham Gilman, then added a prequel novel in the Eighties. I have all four of those volumes on hand and look forward to reading them.

Sunday, August 22, 2021

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Dime Detective, June 1936

With the exception of BLACK MASK in the Twenties, I'm not sure there was ever a better detective pulp than DIME DETECTIVE in the Thirties. And DIME DETECTIVE runs BLACK MASK a pretty close second! With Walter Baumhofer as the regular cover artist, you know the magazine was going to look great. This issue has a pretty typical line-up of authors inside: a Cardigan story by Frederick Nebel, a Needle Mike story by William E. Barrett, a Carter Cole story by Frederick C. Davis, a Kip Lacey story by Robert Sidney Bowen, and a stand-alone yarn by Hugh B. Cave. You might find a better bunch of writers than that in some other detective pulp, but not often.

Saturday, August 21, 2021

45 Years Ago Today


Time is going by pretty fast these days. Five more years will be 50. Hard to believe. But still the best thing I've ever done.

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Best Western, June 1955

Like the Columbia pulps, the ones from Stadium Publishing Corporation edited by Robert O. Erisman were considered pretty far down on the ladder, but they featured a lot of good authors anyway. This issue of BEST WESTERN has stories by H.A. DeRosso, John K. Butler, Noel Loomis, and Lauran Paine, as well as reprints by Peter Dawson (Jonathan Glidden) and Gunnison Steele (Bennie Gardner). And one of the half-dozen stories by an author named Les Reasoner, no relation as far as I know.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Forgotten Books: Lust Grave - John Dexter

You never know what you’re going to get when you start one of these books, especially when it was published under a house-name. There’s no telling who “John Dexter” was on this book. It hasn’t been attributed to any of the usual stable: Block, Westlake, Silverberg, etc. And based on the quality of the prose, it wasn’t any of those guys. But that doesn’t mean it’s bad.

Also with these books, you could get almost any sort of story, from the darkest noir to screwball comedies (although most of them lean toward the hardboiled/noir side). All you can really count on is that there’ll be a number of lengthy, highly euphemistic sex scenes.

LUST GRAVE, published in 1964, is one of the dark, noirish books. Corrupt, sociopathic Bull Chapman, who works as a cop in the small city of Adamsville, Missouri, prowls the local Lover’s Lane looking for couples he can prey on. He intimidates the young men into abandoning their dates, then rapes the girls and frightens them into keeping quiet about it. He sniffs out cheating wives and blackmails them into having sex with him. It’s a good life for a monster like Bull, but then he makes the mistake of targeting the wrong couple: pre-med student Richard Bristol, who just wants to settle down and marry his high school sweetheart Laura Dale. Although they intend to wait for marriage to sleep together, they get carried away one night in the woods, but before they can finish, Bull catches them and proceeds with his usual brutal assault. He figures he’ll get away with it the way he always has.

But in this case, Richard and Laura decide to get even with him. And the best way to do that is to kill him . . .

Of course, being a couple of typical small-town, mid-century American youth, planning and committing a murder isn’t necessarily easy for them. And in this type of novel, things always go wrong.

Whoever John Dexter was in this case, LUST GRAVE really moves. Like most of the books from this publisher, it has the narrative drive of a rocket. I was really flipping the pages to find out what was going to happen. The prose is kind of unpolished at times, and the author drags in some sub-plots that are there mostly to pad out the wordage and provide an excuse for more sex scenes, but there are long stretches of the book that read like a second-or-third tier Gold Medal novel. The plot doesn’t play out exactly like I thought it would, either, which is always a bonus. And as is also usual with books like this, LUST GRAVE provides a nice window into everyday life for the middle and lower class in the late Fifties/early Sixties era. You can almost imagine a slightly older Wally Cleaver or Bud Anderson getting into the sort of trouble that Richard Bristol does.

As I often say about books like this, LUST GRAVE is no lost masterpiece, but it is a highly readable, entertaining yarn that I raced through in a day. If you ever come across a copy for a reasonable price, it’s worth reading.

Thursday, August 19, 2021

Maneaters: Killer Sharks in Men's Adventure Magazines -- Robert Deis and Wyatt Doyle, eds.

I've never been a big fan of the ocean. I like sitting on the beach and looking at it, but that's about the extent of the appeal for me. I'm as big a landlubber as you're going to find. And the stories in the latest volume from the Men's Adventure Library Journal do a good job of explaining why I feel this way: there are things out there under the waves. Dangerous things.

Like all the books from editors Robert Deis and Wyatt Doyle, MANEATERS: KILLER SHARKS IN MEN'S ADVENTURE MAGAZINES, is a beautiful production featuring dozens of great pieces of artwork, including covers and interior art from some of the best artists in the genre.

The stories, mostly fictional, are also highly entertaining. The situations vary widely, but all feature perilous, usually bloody encounters between humans and sharks. My favorites were "The Giant Shark That Guarded Rommel's Treasure" (FURY, January 1961) by Peter Fall (probably a pseudonym), which reads like an early Jack Higgins adventure novel in miniature; "E Mao Ariki" (ARGOSY, July 1968) a South Seas adventure yarn by the consistently excellent author Robert Edmond Alter; and "The Madman Who Ruled a Killer-Shark Pack" (MAN'S WORLD, January 1976) by Bret Harper, also likely a pseudonym, about a husband who finds a unique way of taking revenge on his cheating wife.

In addition, each story is followed by comments from a variety of shark experts, explaining what the author got right, got wrong, or made up entirely. These commentaries are informative and a lot of fun.

Overall, MANEATERS is a great collection. Reading it isn't going to make me more likely to go in the water--just the opposite, in fact--but I had a fine time with it anyway. You know, it would be a pretty good book to read while sitting on the beach. Well up on the beach, away from the water . . .

Monday, August 16, 2021

Master of Mystery: The Rise of the Shadow - Will Murray

This is the book that prompted me to read a Shadow novel, as I mentioned a few days ago. Will Murray has written a great deal about the character over the years, and MASTER OF MYSTERY: THE RISE OF THE SHADOW collects some of the best of it, including some updated material. Two lengthy interviews with Walter B. Gibson, a history of The Shadow radio show, interviews with Theodore Tinsley, who ghosted more than two dozen of the novels, John Nanovic, who edited the series for ten years, and Graves Gladney, one of the best known cover artists for the pulp. That’s a wealth of great Shadow-related material right there. Murray rounds out the volume with articles about illustrator Edd Cartier, Gibson’s involvement with the world of magic, and The Shadow’s influence on the creation of The Batman. I’d read some of this before but had a great time reading it again. MASTER OF MYSTERY: THE RISE OF THE SHADOW is not only informative but very entertaining, and I give it a very high recommendation.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Ten Detective Aces, November 1945

If not for the fact that this issue of TEN DETECTIVE ACES was published in 1945, I'd say the blonde in this cover by Albert Drake looks like Marilyn Monroe. The authors inside are an odd mix, the best known of them remembered mostly for things other than mysteries. Emil Petaja was a science fiction author, Joe Archibald made his name with aviation stories, Gunnison Steele (Bennie Gardner) is on hand with a rare non-Western, and Glenn Low, despite writing quite a few Western and detective yarns for the pulps, achieved his greatest success as an author of soft-core sleaze novels in the Fifties and Sixties. If you want to check it out for yourself, the whole issue is available to read on-line.

Saturday, August 14, 2021

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Ace-High Western Stories, March 1944

Now there's a cover with some punch to it! I'm not sure of the artist, but I think it may be Robert Stanley. The biggest names inside this issue are Wayne D. Overholser, Joseph Chadwick, C. William Harrison, and Ralph Berard, who was really Victor H. White. The authors rounding out the Table of Contents are Cliff Bisbee, Ralph Yergen, Le Roy Boyd, Melvin W. Holt, and James P. Webb, prolific but little-remembered pulpsters. As usual with a Western pulp from Popular Publications, there are some great story titles, including "Guardian of Satan's Range", "Gun-Prodigal's Homecoming", and my favorite "There's Hell in Thunder Valley!" I think I'm going to have to steal that and use it as a line of dialogue in a book.

Friday, August 13, 2021

Forgotten Books: The Black Falcon - Maxwell Grant (Walter B. Gibson)

I was in the mood to read a Shadow novel, so I went for one of the early ones, “The Black Falcon”, from the February 1, 1934 issue of the iconic pulp. As the story opens, the mastermind who calls himself The Black Falcon has opened his campaign of crime already. He has kidnapped a wealthy banker, and plans are underway to kidnap another of New York City’s wealthy socialites. The Black Falcon is so arrogant that he informs Police Commissioner Ralph Weston of his plans and includes a dyed-black falcon feather with his missive.

But unknown to The Black Falcon, The Shadow is already on his trail, and even though the crime boss may pull off another kidnapping and murder or two, we know that eventually justice, in the form of The Shadow, will catch up to him.

Like many of the early Shadow novels, “The Black Falcon” has a fairly mundane crime plot at its heart. The true identity of the masked mastermind calling himself The Black Falcon is so obvious that author Walter B. Gibson doesn’t even try to maintain that mystery past the middle of the book, revealing that secret and explaining everything else about the plot in a rather awkward conversation between The Black Falcon and his chief henchman that serves as an info-dump for the reader.

However, I don’t think many readers then or now enjoy the Shadow novels solely because of the mystery angles. It seems to me that the two primary elements in the series’ appeal are action and atmosphere, and Gibson delivers on those quite well in “The Black Falcon”. There are several scenes where The Shadow appears unexpectedly, and Gibson always does a great job on those. The same is true of the shootouts between The Shadow and various hordes of gangsters. The bullets really fly in those, and I always enjoy them.

“The Black Falcon” is notable for a couple of other reasons: the actual Lamont Cranston makes one of his infrequent appearances and plays a role in the plot; and The Shadow reveals his true face to The Black Falcon, who is so horrified and stunned that for a vital few moments he falls apart like the narrator of an H.P. Lovecraft story. This story takes place well before The Shadow’s true identity was revealed to be that of aviator Kent Allard. The consensus among Shadow scholars is that Allard’s face was hideously scarred during World War I and still displayed those scars during the early days of his crusade against crime, but later plastic surgery repaired the damage. That seems plenty feasible to me.

While “The Black Falcon” isn’t in the top rank of Shadow novels as far as I’m concerned, I had a great time reading it. I enjoy Gibson’s style, I like The Shadow’s agents (Harry Vincent appears in this one), and the action scenes are very effective. If you’re a Shadow fan, it’s well worth reading.

Sunday, August 08, 2021

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Argosy, February 13, 1937

Since it's August and hot, how about a nice snowy Mountie cover? Here's one on this issue of ARGOSY, courtesy of artist V.E. Pyles. Inside is the usual all-star lineup of authors often found in ARGOSY: H. Bedford-Jones, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Theodore Roscoe, Donald Barr Chidsey, Bennett Foster, and Frank Richardson Pierce. That featured serial, "The Redcoat Renegade" (good title), is by an author I'm not familiar with, Patrick Lee. The Fictionmags Index credits him with only five stories and doesn't mention the name being a pseudonym. If anyone has any further information about him, I'd be glad to see it.

Saturday, August 07, 2021

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Spicy Western Stories, May 1940

Many of the usual suspects are on hand for this issue of SPICY WESTERN STORIES. The cover is by H.J. Ward. Inside are stories by Laurence Donovan (twice, once under his own name and once as Larry Dunn), Edwin Truett Long (also twice, as Luke Terry and Dale Boyd), James P. Olsen as James A. Lawson, and a couple of little-known authors who might or might not have been pseudonyms or house-names, George Vail and Carson West.

Friday, August 06, 2021

Forgotten Books: The Barbed Wire Noose - Harold Adams

(This post originally appeared in slightly different form on August 24, 2007.)

This is a Depression-era mystery set in the small town of Corden, South Dakota, featuring ne’er-do-well detective Carl Wilcox. This time around, while continuing to help his parents run the hotel they own, Carl is also called on to temporarily replace the town’s one-man police force when the local cop falls sick. Naturally a murder coincides with this development, as one of the town’s more enigmatic citizens is hanged with a length of barbed wire. This results in several relatives and associates of the murdered man showing up in Corden, and one of them winds up dead, too. Throw in a blizzard on top of these crimes, and Carl has his hands full sorting everything out.

That’s one of the drawbacks in this book: the plot is pretty complicated, and while Carl eventually uncovers the murderer, I’m not sure everything really hangs together. There are some continuity glitches, too, as a character changes hair color not once but twice, and the timing of a mysterious death in the past is given as five years earlier in one reference and ten years in another. Whether those are minor quibbles or major problems pretty much depends on the reader, I suppose. They bothered me, but I still enjoyed the book quite a bit. Adams has a wonderful way with characters and dialogue, and I love the dry wit with which Carl narrates these books, as well as the convincing but not overdone sense of time and place to be found in them. I’m sure I’ll read more entries in this series, not right away, but fairly soon.

UPDATE: I don't think I ever did read any more. I had a hard time finding the next book in the series and wound up forgetting about it. Maybe I should hunt it up now.

Monday, August 02, 2021

Five Decembers - James Kestrel

FIVE DECEMBERS is an epic, ambitious novel that combines several genres and does so with impressive skill. First and foremost, it’s a hardboiled mystery yarn, and one of the best that I’ve read in years. Protagonist Tom McGrady is a Honolulu police detective who catches a gruesome double murder case in late November, 1941. A young man and woman have been killed, and one of them has a connection to a high-ranking naval officer, so the pressure is on McGrady to solve the case and catch the murderer. That investigation takes him west from Hawaii, to Wake Island and on to Hong Kong, on the trail of a clever, absolutely ruthless killer.

But yeah, I’m sure you noticed the date up there. December 7, 1941 is not a good time to be in the Far East chasing a murderer. And at that point in the story, FIVE DECEMBERS becomes a war novel, depicting with intensity and power the early days of World War II as Tom McGrady is swept up in the chaos. As time passes, however, FIVE DECEMBERS evolves into a love story, as well, and it’s a poignant and effective one.

There’s still a murder to be solved, however, and a killer to be caught, and Tom McGrady never loses sight of that as he’s determined to finish the job, whatever it may cost him. So for its final third, this novel turns back into a hardboiled thriller, with great action scenes, plot twist after plot twist, and a very satisfactory climax.

James Kestrel is a pseudonym for an author who has written several other critically acclaimed mystery novels. In FIVE DECEMBERS, he’s produced a potential classic. It’s the best book I’ve read this year and one of the best I’ve read in a long time. Great writing, characters, and plot. I give it my highest recommendation.

Sunday, August 01, 2021

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Mystery Book Magazine, Fall 1948

I don't care much for falling covers. They give me the creeps. But I'll admit, this one by Rudolph Belarski is pretty effective. And there's an excellent group of writers in this issue of MYSTERY BOOK MAGAZINE, too: Fredric Brown, Patrick Quentin, Helen Reilly, Norman A. Daniels, Robert C. Dennis, and house-name Robert Wallace, who, if I had to guess, in this instance was probably Daniels, as well.