Friday, September 24, 2021

Rimrock Raiders - Bradford Scott (A. Leslie Scott)


As I’ve mentioned before, the Walt Slade novels by A. Leslie Scott (writing as Bradford Scott) are comfort reading for me. I know exactly what I’ll get because the plots are almost always the same: Texas Ranger Walt Slade, who sometimes pretends to be an outlaw known as El Halcon, rides into an area bent on breaking up an outlaw gang and discovering the identity of the hidden mastermind behind all the hell-raising that’s caused the locals to ask the Rangers for help. For approximately three-fourths of the book, Slade will break up various plots by the gang and kill off quite a few of the owlhoots, while picking up a few clues as to who the big boss is and what’s behind it all. He may even be captured and escape a time or two. Then, in the final fourth of the novel, things become clearer, Slade closes in on the main villain and his henchmen, reveals the true motive behind the scheme, and wraps things up in a huge blaze of gunfire or, more rarely, a hand-to-hand battle to the death.

RIMROCK RAIDERS, originally published by Pyramid Books in 1957, sticks pretty closely to this formula. Slade is in the Big Bend this time, operating in and around a silver mining boomtown. The mines and the surrounding ranches in the Espantosa Hills are being plagued by a gang known as the Rimrock Raiders. (By the way, according to Scott, there are numerous different ranges of Espantosa Hills and Espantosa Mountains in Texas. It means “Haunted”, and he really loved the name.) Slade befriends a saloonkeeper who has gotten on the wrong side of the outlaws. He lets the townspeople believe he’s an outlaw, too, but the sheriff is an old acquaintance and knows that Slade is really a Ranger. He breaks up bushwhackings, trails rustlers, thwarts a payroll robbery, and explores the countryside, looking for the reason the Rimrock Raiders are really up to no good. When the identity of the evil mastermind is revealed, it won’t come as a surprise to anybody who’s ever read one of these books.

So, if they’re all the same (and they pretty much are, as I realized even when I was buying them new and reading them more than fifty years ago when I was in high school), why read them? I’m glad you asked. Because Scott writes great, breakneck, over-the-top action scenes. Because he writes descriptive passages in sometimes flowery but very effective prose. Because he usually comes up with some oddball twist regarding the bad guys’ method of operation and/or the motivation behind their villainy. All of these things are true in RIMROCK RAIDERS, although the description is a little more toned-down than in some of Scott’s books. The discovery he makes in the Espantosa Hills is a good one, though, and a little on the macabre side. I don’t know if it’s realistically possible, but I don’t care, either.

I never read Walt Slade novels back to back, or even too close together. But taken sparingly, I still enjoy them very much. There’s an ebook version of RIMROCK RAIDERS available, and if you’ve never read any of the series and would like to try one, it’s a pretty good example.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Detective Novels Magazine, December 1939


It's safe to say that Norman A. Daniels wrote more than half of this issue of DETECTIVE NOVELS MAGAZINE, since he has two novellas in it, one under his own name and an entry in his excellent Candid Camera Kid series as John L. Benton. In addition, there's a story by house-name J.S. Endicott, which might well be Daniels, too, and a story by an author named Temple Franklin who has only one credit in the Fictionmags Index, so that might be a Daniels pseudonym, too. We'll probably never know. The other author in this issue is the little known but apparently real Arthur W. Phillips. I don't know who did the cover art, but the scene has a lot going on and I like it.

Saturday, September 18, 2021

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Big-Book Western Magazine, April 1947


Injury to a hat alert! And considering where that bullet is headed, it might just put a hole in the BIG-BOOK WESTERN MAGAZINE logo, too. This issue has the usual sterling line-up of authors often found in a Popular Publications Western pulp: Harry F. Olmsted, Stone Cody (Thomas Mount), D.B. Newton, Tom Roan, Roe Richmond, James P. Olsen, W.F. Bragg, and Lee E. Wells. Prolific and well-regarded pulpsters, all. 

Friday, September 17, 2021

Interface - Joe Gores


I really enjoyed Joe Gores’ novels HAMMETT, featuring the famous author as the protagonist, and SPADE AND ARCHER, his prequel to THE MALTESE FALCON. I also recall liking his early novels about private detective Dan Kearney and the agency Kearney runs. So I expected to like INTERFACE. For one thing, it was highly recommended to me by both Bill Crider and Ed Gorman. Somehow, though, I never got around to reading it in the past four decades I’ve known about it. Until now.

INTERFACE starts with a drug deal gone bad. A mysterious man named Docker kills one of the men involved in the deal and takes off with a briefcase filled with a quarter of a million dollars worth of heroin and $175,000 in cash. For the next twenty-four hours, he leads various people on a not-so-merry chase through San Francisco and its environs. Among the people involved in this pursuit are Neal Fargo, a private detective who’s no better than he has to be; a couple of crooked businessmen; a wealthy industrialist whose daughter has disappeared; a sadistic, knife-wielding chauffeur; a drug-addicted prostitute; assorted cops; and a network of lowlifes who work for the various criminals. Gores keeps things moving so fast and throws in so many different angles that this is almost a book where it would pay to keep character lists and draw diagrams.

I didn’t go to that much trouble, of course, and maybe as a result I figured there was no way Gores could tie all this up into a plot that made sense. He not only did that, but he also threw in a late twist that I didn’t see coming at all, although when I look back at everything that happened in the book, I can see that it was set up fair and square. And it's really effective, raising the book, in my opinion, from one that’s very good to one that’s excellent.

The gimmick, if you can call it that, in INTERFACE is that we never get into any of the characters’ thoughts. Gores gives us their dialogue and actions, and that’s it. Anything else, we have to interpolate ourselves. That really adds to the hardboiled tone and helps make the complicated plot work.

I don’t think INTERFACE is as good as HAMMETT and SPADE AND ARCHER, and I’m not quite sure that it lives up to its reputation as one of the best hardboiled crime novels ever written. But it is very much worth reading, and I’m glad I finally got around to doing that. There are a few other Gores stand-alones I’ve never read. I’m thinking I ought to.

Monday, September 13, 2021

American Mercenary #1: Greatest Enemy - Jason Kasper


I'd heard some good things about this author, so I decided to give one of his books a try. I don't know if GREATEST ENEMY is Jason Kasper's first novel, but it's the first book in his American Mercenary series, so I figured that might be a good place to start.

The narrator/protagonist, David Rivers, is a former soldier, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, who, after going through West Point to become an officer, abruptly finds himself out of the army due to a medical condition he didn't even know he had. At loose ends, Rivers retreats into drinking and extreme activities like BASE jumping to fill the sudden void in his life. As it turns out, Rivers isn't really very stable, mentally. But he is really good at what he does, as he finds out when he's recruited to be part of an elite special operations team.

No, he doesn't go to work for the government, as you might be thinking right now. Instead, he works for some shadowy organization that's at war with a group of other shadowy organizations. That's right. These are bad guys. In fact, there are no real heroes in GREATEST ENEMY, just bad guys . . . and worse guys.

I'm not normally a fan of novels with criminal protagonists, although in the past I've really enjoyed Donald Westlake's Parker novels and the two most famous hitman series, Lawrence Block's Keller and Max Allan Collins' Quarry. It's hard to write about unsympathetic characters and make the reader root for and care about them. Jason Kasper walks that fine line here, and for the most part, he succeeds quite well. David Rivers may not be a very likable guy, but he is a very complex and well-realized character. There are also plenty of really well-written and exciting action scenes, the book is fast-paced, and as an added bonus, it's a good length, not one of the bloated doorstops that often pass for thrillers these days.

One word of warning, however: GREATEST ENEMY ends on a semi-cliffhanger, which actually works pretty well because it's obvious that this is just part one of a larger story. There's enough resolution that I didn't feel unsatisfied, and enough still to come that I'm eager to read the next book. Which I already have on my Kindle, by the way.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Amazing Stories, July 1943


Okay, I may be nuts, but the guy in this cover by Harold W. Macauley looks to me an awful lot like Ray Palmer, the editor of AMAZING STORIES. It wouldn't surprise me if Macauley used Palmer as his inspiration for this one. Many of the usual Ziff-Davis writers are on hand in this issue, including Alexander Blade (in this case, Howard Browne), P.F. Costello (in this case, William P. McGivern), Don Wilcox, Robert Moore Williams, and Festus Pragnell. I love this era of science-fiction, although admittedly AMAZING STORIES is on a slightly lower rung for me than PLANET STORIES, THRILLING WONDER STORIES, and STARTLING STORIES.

Raymond A. Palmer, editor of AMAZING STORIES

UPDATE: It is indeed Palmer on the cover. Here's the editorial from that issue, in which he talks about it. Many thanks to Dwight Decker for providing this. You can click on the image to read it.



Saturday, September 11, 2021

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: 5 Western Novels Magazine, April 1952


Well, you know this "friendly" game of cards isn't going to end well. I like this atmospheric cover by Sam Cherry. 5 WESTERN NOVELS MAGAZINE was primarily a reprint pulp, but this issue features new stories by H.A. DeRosso and Allan K. Echols. The reprints, all novelettes, are by Joseph Chadwick, Chuck Martin, B.M. Bower, Norrell Gregory, and Cliff Walters.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Fright - Cornell Woolrich


(This post originally appeared in somewhat different form on September 22, 2007.)

I’ve been a Cornell Woolrich fan ever since I encountered reprints of some of his pulp stories in EQMM and THE SAINT MYSTERY MAGAZINE during the Sixties. I’ve read many of his short stories and novelettes and enjoyed them all, but only a couple of his novels, the justly-famous THE BRIDE WORE BLACK and DEADLINE AT DAWN, which I also enjoyed. Until now. I’ve just read the recent Hard Case Crime reprint of Woolrich’s novel FRIGHT, originally published in 1950 under the pseudonym George Hopley.


FRIGHT is one of Woolrich’s historical suspense novels, set in 1915 and 1916, and he does a fine job of recreating that era without going overboard on the historical details. The very strait-laced attitudes of the time period play a part in the plot, too, helping to drive the protagonist to do the things he does. It’s difficult to go into detail about that plot without giving away too much, but let’s just say there’s blackmail, murder, paranoia, more murder, doomed love, more murder, and tragedy galore. Pretty much the essence of noir, in other words, and all told in smooth, if slightly old-fashioned prose that keeps the reader turning the pages. Yes, the coincidences and lapses in logic that Woolrich is notorious for can be found in FRIGHT, but as usual the writing and the raw emotional torment he inflicts on his characters more than make up for any flaws. There are passages in this book that I found genuinely disturbing, and I’m usually not easily disturbed by fiction. FRIGHT is one of the bleakest books I’ve read in a long time.

It’s also one of the best, and I have a feeling that it just might start me on a Woolrich binge. I don’t know if my heart can take it, though.

(Update: There was no Woolrich binge. In the almost fourteen years since this post first appeared, I've read one of Woolrich's novels, THE BLACK ANGEL, and a few of his short stories. That's it. I still really like his work and plan to read more of it, but you know how it is. Road to hell, good intentions, etc., etc. . . .)

Monday, September 06, 2021

Trent #2: The Kid - Rodolphe and Leo


I enjoyed the first Trent graphic novel, THE DEAD MAN, and I'm still a fan of Mountie stories, so I recently read the second volume in the series, THE KID.

This one finds Sergeant Trent of the RCMP and his faithful companion Dog on the trail of The Kid, an American outlaw who has crossed the border into Canada after a botched bank robbery that cost the outlaw the life of his girlfriend, who had been traveling and robbing banks with him. The Kid has killed numerous men during this spree, and Trent expects him to be a brutal, callous, hardened criminal.

Well, as it turns out, he kind of is, but he's also an actual kid, still a teenager, and something of a sensitive soul who reads Rimbaud's poetry and writes passages from it on the walls of buildings as he flees across Canada. There's never much doubt in the reader's mind that Trent will catch up to him, but everything doesn't play out as might be expected.

I liked this one even more than THE DEAD MAN. THE KID has a lot more action, along with a good script by Rodolphe and excellent art by Leo. Trent is a fine protagonist with layers that are only slowly being uncovered. I plan to read the rest of this series and probably will do so in fairly short order.

Sunday, September 05, 2021

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Strange Detective Mysteries, September 1940


You don't get much more lurid than this cover for STRANGE DETECTIVE MYSTERIES. I don't know who the artist is, but he's just crammed the action and menace into this one. Inside are stories by Emile C. Tepperman, Donald G. Cormack, R.S. Lerch, Raymond Whetstone (sounds like a pseudonym, but apparently his real name), and Donald Dale, who was really Mary Dale Buckner, one of the few female authors to write Weird Menace yarns. I don't see how the contents could live up to that cover, but you never know.

Saturday, September 04, 2021

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Smashing Western, March 1937


Thanks to David Lee Smith for this scan of one of the most unusual Western pulp covers I've seen. The artist is George Gross, and he came up with a striking way to illustrate Forrest Brown's novella "Range Hog". In the Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies, Brown wrote numerous Western novels under the name Ford Bowne. I've read one of them, MASTER OF THE LASH, and while it wasn't very good, it was eccentric enough to be interesting. Judging by this cover, "Range Hog" probably falls into the same category. I may have to read more of Brown's work. Also in this issue are stories by Andor de Soos (not a typical Western author name), Cliff Campbell (in this case, really Abner J. Sundell, originator of the Campbell pseudonym which later became a house-name), and an author I'm not familiar with, Russell Hays.

Friday, September 03, 2021

The Girl With No Place to Hide - Nick Quarry (Marvin Albert)


Marvin Albert was both prolific and talented and turned out a steady stream of very good to excellent mystery, adventure, and Western novels for more than three decades. In the late Fifties and early Sixties, he wrote six novels featuring New York City private eye Jake Barrow, using the pseudonym Nick Quarry. I've known about these books for many years but have never gotten around to reading any of them until now. The great Black Gat Books line is reprinting THE GIRL WITH NO PLACE TO HIDE, widely regarded as one of the best Jake Barrow books.

It gets off to a promising start with Jake, our narrator/protagonist, watched a very provocative dance act in a nightclub. He's in the company of a friend of his, a prizefight manager whose boxer has an important bout coming up. A short time later, Jake runs into a beautiful dame who has a thug trying to kill her. Jake rescues the woman, of course, and lets her hide out in his apartment while he tries to get the story of her trouble out of her. But before he can do so, he's decoyed out of the place on what sounds like an important case, and when he gets back after finding he's been tricked, the gal is gone. Jake, you really should have seen that coming.


In classic private eye fashion, of course, Jake's not going to the woman's disappearance go uninvestigated, and so, over the course of the next few days and 180 or so pages, Albert really pours on the complications. You've got a murder involving a garment district tycoon, the death of a photographer, some brutal, corrupt cops, several beautiful women, and a bunch of gangsters and thugs and gamblers. Jake gets beaten up, tortured, and knocked out numerous times. But he always bounces back from whatever punishment the bad guys dish out and keeps digging for the truth.

There's nothing in this book you haven't read before in plenty of other Fifties private eye novels. In fact, at times it almost seems like Albert has overloaded it with plot elements. But he juggles them all very skillfully and, in the end, weaves everything together in a pretty clever solution. Jake Barrow is a good protagonist, smart and reasonably tough. He reminded me of a somewhat less intense Mike Hammer, and in fact, this could have been a Mickey Spillane yarn. There are some brutal but very effective action scenes along the way.

THE GIRL WITH NO PLACE TO HIDE is a front porch book, and as you know, that's a pretty high rating for me. If I'd read it back in the Sixties, sitting on my parents' front porch, I really would've been flipping the pages to find out who was going to try to kill Jake next and how far he was going to get with the luscious dames he keeps running into. It was just great fun, and if you're a fan of private eye novels, it's well worth reading. The Black Gat edition is available for pre-order.

Thursday, September 02, 2021

#400


Earlier today I sent my 400th novel to my editor. It turned out to be a house-name book. I had thought I might be able to do one of my own for #400, but the schedule wants what the schedule wants. And honestly, I'm fine with it. House-name work has been largely responsible for keeping me in this business for almost 45 years, so I'm just grateful for the opportunities I've had. I might reach 450 books, but I think 500 is unlikely unless I start writing books that are considerably shorter. 400 is a pretty good milestone, though, and I'm proud of it.