Sunday, July 03, 2022

18 Years Ago Today

On July 3, 2004, in the first ever post on this blog, I wrote:

Following the example of my friends Bill Crider and Ed Gorman, I've decided to start a blog. I may not post every day, and what gets posted here may be pretty haphazard sometimes, but I intend to talk mostly about what I'm reading and sometimes writing, as well as the events in my life I don't deem too boring. (Whether the readers find it too boring is, of course, up to them.) Don't expect anything about politics or religion.

Well, Bill and Ed are gone, and I miss them and always will. The rest of that paragraph has aged fairly well, I think. I've posted haphazardly about reading and writing and the occasional bit of personal news, good and bad. Still nothing about politics or religion, and there won't be.

Later in that post, after some of that personal stuff, I wrote:

For those of you who don't know, I'm a professional writer and have been since 1976. Yesterday I finished my 165th novel, so I'm sort of between projects at the moment. I have to do some research and come up with a proposal for a historical novel, and then the next thing on the schedule is a house-name Western novel. I have work lined up through the spring of '05, which in the world of freelance fiction writing is considered pretty good job security. Of course, it could all come to a crashing halt after that.

Clearly, the writing career didn't come to a crashing halt, since I've more than doubled the number of novels I've written since then. And I still have work lined up, the only question being whether I can find the time and mental capability to do it. (I probably will, but these days I'm less sure than I used to be.)

I should have waited until the 20th anniversary of the blog to post this, but I'm learning not to take too many things for granted. When I started the thing, 'way back in 2004, I gave no thought to how long I'd keep doing it. I wouldn't have guessed that I'd still be at it 18 years later, though. I've had a wonderful time writing the blog, though. Every couple of weeks, I get overwhelmed and say, "That's it, something's gotta go, and it's going to have to be the blog." And then I start hunting for pulp covers to post, or read something I like and want to recommend, and somehow it keeps going. I hope it will for a while yet.

Thank you to all of you who have stuck with me. Blogs are prehistoric now, we all know that. But I've always felt a little more comfortable in the past, and I hope you enjoy visiting it with me.

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Popular Detective, March 1937

Look behind you, lady! (That's actually the title of a mystery novel by A.S. Fleischman that has absolutely nothing to do with this post, but it's an exclamation that's appropriate here, too, I think.) At any rate, I like the bright colors on this cover. POPULAR DETECTIVE was no BLACK MASK or DIME DETECTIVE, but there are some very good authors in this issue, including Frank Gruber, G.T. Fleming-Roberts, Lawrence Blochman, Frederick C. Painton, and Ray Cummings.

Saturday, July 02, 2022

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: 10 Story Western Magazine, June 1942

The cover on this issue of 10 STORY WESTERN MAGAZINE has an unusual but very effective perspective. I don't know the artist. 10 STORY WESTERN was considered a second-string Western pulp from Popular Publications, but I've always thought it was consistently good to very good, with a lot of excellent authors appearing in its pages. In this issue, for example, are stories by Tom W. Blackburn, L.L. Foreman, Philip Ketchum, Tom Roan, Robert E. Mahaffey, John G. Pearsol, M. Howard Lane, Rolland Lynch, and George Armin Shaftel. Some of those are better remembered than others, but they were all prolific, well-regarded pulpsters.

Friday, July 01, 2022

The Devil's Sink Hole - Albert Richard Wetjen

The novelette "The Devil's Sink Hole", published in the December 1940 issue of ACTION STORIES, is the longest of the Stinger Seave stories by Albert Richard Wetjen. It's set late in Seave's career as a somewhat shady trading ship captain in the South Seas. Tired of pursuing Seave for his criminous past, the governor of New Guinea decides to try a new tack: he recruits Seave to be a magistrate and sweetens the deal by offering to assign Seave to the job of cleaning up the most lawless island in the Pacific. There's no way the Stinger can turn down the promise of that much action, so he reluctantly becomes a force for law and order.

The fact that his old nemesis, Larsen of Singapore, is behind most of the trouble on the island is an added bonus. Maybe this will be the final showdown between these two old enemies!

You'll have to read the story to find out, though, which you can because the issue of ACTION STORIES in which it appears is available on the Internet Archive. I continue to enjoy this series a lot. Wetjen does a great job of capturing the tropic setting, and the overall tone is very hardboiled. There are two stories to go, and I expect I'll be getting to them soon. 

Thursday, June 30, 2022

The Paperback Fantastic, Volume Two: Fantasy

Following up on the success of THE PAPERBACK FANTASTIC, VOLUME ONE: SCIENCE FICTION, editor and publisher Justin Marriott switches his emphasis to fantasy in the second volume. THE PAPERBACK FANTASTIC, VOLUME TWO: FANTASY also features dozens of reviews of various novels and comic books, with great cover art from those books and top-notch production by Marriott and Bill Cunningham. The reviewers in this volume are Steve Carroll, S. Clayton Rhodes, Andreas Decker, James Doig, Ian Millsted, Roy Nugen, John Peel, Scott Ranalli, Penny Tesarek, Tom Tesarek, and Benjamin Thomas.

Most of the reviews are of heroic fantasy/sword-and-sorcery novels and story collections, with a few side ventures into sword-and-planet and more literary fantasy. Given that, it’s not surprising that books by Robert E. Howard, Karl Edward Wagner, Michael Moorcock, and Fritz Leiber dominate the table of contents. Howard is one of my all-time favorite authors, of course, so that’s fine with me, and I read all of Leiber’s stories about Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser back in the day, as well. I’m less familiar with Moorcock and Wager, although I’ve read and enjoyed both. There are also reviews of books by John Jakes and Lin Carter that I recall reading with great fondness, and a couple of reviews of books by an author I want to read, C.L. Werner, although I haven’t gotten around his work yet. Two of Kenneth Bulmer’s heroic fantasy novels are reviewed, including the first book in his long-running Dray Prescot series, and although I’ve read and enjoyed several of Bulmer’s historical novels, I’ve never read his fantasy. I need to get around to those books, as well.

I enjoyed Volume Two of this series every bit as much as I did Volume One, and for the same reason: it’s well-done, very informative, and highly entertaining. If you’re a long-time reader of heroic fantasy like I am, you really should pick it up, because I think you’ll have a fine time reading it.

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

The Paperback Fantastic, Volume One: Science Fiction - Justin Marriott, ed.

You can count on Justin Marriott to produce some excellent fanzines. The creator and editor of BATTLING BRITONS, MEN OF VIOLENCE, THE PAPERBACK FANATIC, HOT LEAD, and others recently launched THE PAPERBACK FANTASTIC. Volume One covers science fiction and features dozens of reviews of science fiction novels (and a few comic books and graphic novels), along with several features about science fiction paperbacks and, as usual in Marriott’s publications, plenty of great artwork on all the cover reproductions. Bill Cunningham deserves a lot of credit for the great design work on this trade paperback.

The reviews themselves are by Marriott, Tim Deforest, Andreas Decker, Dave Karlen, John Peel, Jeff Popple, Scott Ranalli, Penny Tesarek, Tom Tesarek, and Benjamin Thomas. They cover a wide variety of books and authors, ranging from the early Edgar Rice Burroughs/scientific romance years through the pulp era to the New Wave and beyond. Books by Robert Silverberg, Harlan Ellison, Poul Anderson, and many other classic SF authors are reviewed. Some are books I’ve read, and for the most part I agree with those reviews. Some are books I’d like to read, if I can ever get around to it. All of them are well-written and entertaining. I even learned a few things, such as the fact that David Grinnell was actually a pseudonym of Donald A. Wollheim. I’m not sure how I never ran across that so far, but it was news to me. And it might prompt me to read some of the books under the Grinnell name, although the one reviewed in this volume doesn’t get very high marks.

Overall, I had a great time reading THE PAPERBACK FANTASTIC, VOLUME ONE: SCIENCE FICTION. It concentrates mostly on the sort of SF that I grew up reading and enjoying, and if you’re a fan of that genre, I give it a high recommendation.

Monday, June 27, 2022

Ghost of the Hardy Boys - Leslie McFarlane

When I was a kid, my older brother owned a book called THE SHORT-WAVE MYSTERY. Although I never really discussed the matter with him, I assume he had the book because he was a ham radio operator and was interested in all things connected to short-wave radio. I wasn’t interested in short-wave radio (I tried for a while to learn Morse code but was an abysmal failure at it), but the book had the word “Mystery” in the title and promised action and adventure, so I read it.

That was my introduction to the Hardy Boys.

I thoroughly enjoyed the book and quickly realized there were dozens more entries in the series to be found on the shelves of the school library, as well as in the local public library. I read them all and enjoyed them and bought some of the new volumes coming out then with their bright blue covers. It didn’t take me long to figure out that I didn’t like the new ones nearly as much as the older ones. Even the ones that were supposed to be older, some of the first in the series, in fact, were missing something, and a close reading of the copyright page told me what it was. These were rewritten books, not the originals at all. Not fair! I wanted the real thing. I wanted the chums and the roadsters. Even at that relatively early age, my tastes in fiction already tended toward the older stuff. So I refused to read the rewritten versions and sought out the originals, although I grudgingly read the new ones currently being written in the mid-Sixties. All this made me pretty sure that the author, Franklin W. Dixon, maybe wasn’t a real guy. I already had a tenuous grasp on the concepts of pseudonyms and house-names. But I never really wondered who the actual author was.

By the Seventies, it began to be generally known that the author of those early Hardy Boys books was a man named Leslie McFarlane. He even wrote a memoir about those days called GHOST OF THE HARDY BOYS. I had a copy of that original edition, published in 1976, but never got around to reading it before it was lost in the Fire of ’08. I thought about replacing it from time to time and checked to see what used copies were going for on-line, but they were all more than I wanted to pay. Then I discovered that it was reprinted earlier this year, and that edition was much more affordable. So I got a copy and finally read GHOST OF THE HARDY BOYS.

It’s a wonderful book. McFarlane’s style is fast and funny and very readable, which is no surprise considering how I devoured those Hardy Boys books he wrote. He starts with a little personal background and then launches right into the tale of how he started working for the Edward Stratemeyer Syndicate in the first place and eventually got the assignment of launching the Hardy Boys series. The middle section of the book does sag a little as McFarlane flashes back to his childhood and adolescence and tells us probably more than we need to know about the little town in Canada where he grew up, but it’s still pretty interesting because he was a good writer and does a fine job of recapturing that time and place.

Then he finishes strong with more chapters on the Hardy Boys and the rest of his career. There are plenty of insightful comments about the life of a writer, especially the life of a writer who spends a lot of his career turning out popular fiction under other names. I had to nod in agreement with him a lot of times, especially when he talks about how, if you’re going to take the money to do a job, you ought to do the best job you can. I get really annoyed when I read a house-name book and can tell that the writer thinks he’s slumming and can just slap something out. The limits of my talent may keep from accomplishing what I’m trying to do at times, but I’m still going to try.

I’m wandering off into the weeds here when what I really want to do is tell you how much I enjoyed GHOST OF THE HARDY BOYS. If you’re a fan of that series or just like to read about writers, I give it a very high recommendation and I’m glad it’s back in print.

By the way, my brother had another book I read that had an influence on me, an edition of THE LONE RANGER by Fran Striker (although we know now it was actually written by and first published under the author’s real name, Gaylord Dubois). But that’s a whole other story. 

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: G-Men, May 1937

The red and yellow color scheme that was so common on Western pulps made it onto covers in other pulp genres as well, for example this issue of G-MEN. I don't know the artist, but I want to say it might be Richard Lyon. I've really enjoyed the Dan Fowler stories I've read over the years and ought to read more of them. The one in this issue of probably by Charles Greenberg, who wrote some Phantom Detective novels that I liked. Tom Curry, Steve Fisher, and Westmoreland Gray have short stories in this issue. Curry's Westerns are long-time favorites of mine.

Saturday, June 25, 2022

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Lariat Story Magazine, May 1940

The cover on this issue of LARIAT STORY MAGAZINE has a lot going on, and I like it. I don't know the artist, but if I had to venture a guess, I'd say A. Leslie Ross or H.W. Scott. But I could be completely wrong about that. I know I'm right about there being some good authors in this issue, starting with Walt Coburn, Harry F. Olmsted, James P. Olsen, and Art Lawson. There's a Bart Cassidy story, and that's probably Olmsted, too, as well as one by house-name John Starr, who could be almost anybody. Frank H. Richey, who has one of the cover-featured stories, wrote only half a dozen stories in the late Thirties and into 1940; this appears to be his last one. I don't know anything about him. The other story in this issue is by the more prolific but equally obscure Don Stuart. All I know about him is that he's not "Don A. Stuart", the pseudonym of legendary science fiction editor/author John W. Campbell.

Friday, June 24, 2022

The Devil's Ransom - Albert Richard Wetjen

“The Devil’s Ransom”, a novelette from the October 1939 issue of ACTION STORIES, is considered the third story in the Stinger Seave series, but actually, Seave is more of a supporting character in this one. It’s an epic tale in which author Albert Richard Wetjen brings together several of his series heroes. Seave, Typhoon Bradley, Jack Barrett (Captain Hi-Jack), and Big Bill Gunther join forces to rescue an old friend and mentor of theirs who has discovered gold on a remote island in the South Seas. (I didn’t know there was gold in the South Seas, but okay, I can go along with that.) That old friend has been double-crossed and taken prisoner by a group of villains who have plagued our heroes in the past, and they’ve even brought in the German government and involved a German battleship in their evil scheme.

It takes an action-packed, Dirty Dozen-like mission to set things right. Typhoon Bradley is in command, and this is more his story than Seave’s. Bradley is an excellent protagonist, too. I’m going to have to see if I can hunt up more of the stories featuring him. In this case, everything works out quite satisfactorily, and I like the way Wetjen establishes connections between his various series. Someone needs to do a big reprint collection of these connected stories.

I’m halfway through the Stinger Seave stories now and plan to read the next one soon. They’re great for working in between bigger books and projects.

Tuesday, June 21, 2022

The Shadowed Circle #3 - Steve Donoso. ed.

THE SHADOWED CIRCLE #3 more than lives up to the high standard set by the first two issues of this journal devoted to the iconic character The Shadow. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been a fan of The Shadow for close to sixty years now, and I never tire of reading not only his adventures, but also reading about the character in his many incarnations.

This issue starts off with a great cover by legendary comic book artist Steve Rude, with some modifications by Steve Novak. The first article, by Albert J. Emery, delves into The Shadow’s involvement with World War II and asks a simple but compelling question: Why didn’t The Shadow just kill Adolf Hitler? Emery does a fine job of exploring this subject. (This article also mentions novelist E.L. Doctorow, who, as a editor at Signet in the early Sixties, was the editor on the American editions of some of the Carter Brown mystery novels, a completely irrelevant fact that’s always interested me, anyway.)

Todd Severin and Keith Holt give us Part Two of their history of The Shadow’s pulp magazine, which covers that publication all the way to its end. It’s interesting and well-written and features an illustration by the late Frank Hamilton, whose great artwork has graced so many pulp fanzines over the decades. I’m always happy to see his work again.

Will Murray contributes an article about his experiences as a writer for Starlog covering the filming of the Shadow movie starring Alec Baldwin. I remember enjoying the movie overall, despite having some real problems with the script. The look of it was almost perfect in some respects, though, and Murray’s recollections are a lot of fun.

Tim King writes about one of the supporting characters in the pulp series, the communications expert Burbank, and speculates on how Walter B. Gibson came up with that name. King makes an excellent case, too, and I strongly suspect that he’s right.

There’s a fine interview with writer and producer Michael Uslan, conducted by Darby Kern, that sheds some light on the DC comic book series from the Seventies that featured The Shadow, a series that I bought, read, and enjoyed a great deal. Uslan seems like a really nice guy, as well as a top-notch writer.

It's hard to review a book of reviews, but Steve Donoso does so with his review of John Olsen’s THE SHADOW IN REVIEW. I was a fan of Olsen’s website where some of this material ran originally, and Donoso’s review of the book prompted me to order a copy.

Tim Hewitt rounds out the issue with a look at the Canadian issues of The Shadow’s pulp magazine, including some similar but different covers. I knew nothing about this part of the magazine’s history, so I was both educated and entertained.

All in all, editor Steve Donoso and his crew have produced the best issue so far of THE SHADOWED CIRCLE. I have a feeling they’re just getting started. You can subscribe on the journal’s website or buy individual issues on Amazon, and be sure to check out their Facebook page, as well.

Monday, June 20, 2022

Davy Jones' Loot - Albert Richard Wetjen

“Davy Jones’ Loot”, the second Stinger Seave story from Albert Richard Wetjen, appeared in the December 1938 issue of ACTION STORIES. This is a flashback to the early days of Seave’s career as the fast-shooting skipper of a trading ship in the South Seas. While stealing some pearls from an island lagoon under Japanese jurisdiction, Seave encounters another sea captain who will become a long-running enemy of his. The clash between the two of them, which goes back and forth in this tale, finally resolves in a particularly satisfying manner.

The plot in this story isn’t as complex as in the previous entry in the series, “Terror Island”, but once again Wetjen hints at a much larger story going on. It reads as if the tale of Stinger Seave’s career might turn into a real South Seas epic. Whether or not Wetjen actually gets around to spinning those yarns, or just continues to drop tantalizing hints at them, we’ll just have to wait and see, I suppose. While “Davy Jones’ Loot” isn’t as good as “Terror Island”, I enjoyed it a great deal and will keep reading. You can find this one at the Pulpgen Archive, too.

Sunday, June 19, 2022

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Dime Mystery, July 1942

By the middle of 1942, DIME MYSTERY wasn't really a Weird Menace pulp anymore, but some influences still remained. Some of the Weird Menace authors moved right on over into writing more traditional mystery yarns, although judging by the titles, some bizarre elements remained. Wyatt Blassingame is an example in this issue, with a story called "Death Doesn't Care". Another story, "Satan Rocks the Casket", sounds even more like a Weird Menace story, but since the author is Francis K. Allan (not known as a Weird Menace guy) writing as Joe Kent, it's unlikely this story strays too far from the usual detective pulp fare. Allan has another story in this issue under his own name. Also on hand are Day Keene, William R. Cox, and William Campbell Gault, and that's a great trio of authors right there. I don't know the cover artist, but he (or she) turned in a dramatic image. Mummy cases always mean trouble.

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Thrilling Western, August 1935

I think that's a roulette wheel behind the cowboy in this cover by R.G. Harris, adding to our list of unsafe activities in the Old West. I've heard of losing your shirt while gambling, but I think he's carrying it to an extreme. This issue of THRILLING WESTERN includes stories by Ray Nafziger (writing as Grant Taylor), Syl MacDowell, Allan K. Echols, Claude Rister, Cliff Walters, Wilton West, Frank Carl Young, and house-name Jackson Cole. With the exception of Nafziger, MacDowell, and Echols, none of those are remembered much today, but I'm sure it was an entertaining issue.  

Friday, June 17, 2022

Homicide's Their Headache - Carl G. Hodges

As you know, I'm a longtime fan of private eye stories and don't mind a bit if they make use of elements that have become clich├ęs in the eyes of some readers. In the novelette "Homicide's Their Headache" (THRILLING DETECTIVE, August 1948), author Carl G. Hodges does exactly that. The narrator is a private detective with the unlikely name Bill Starch, who operates in a small midwestern city, cracks wise and banters with almost everybody he encounters, has a beautiful secretary, gets knocked out while investigating a case (twice in the space of 20 pages!), has a nemesis on the police force (a homicide detective with the even more unlikely name Flemming Morf) as well as a sympathetic cop who helps him out, and gets involved in complicated cases involving multiple murders and a slew of suspects, who he gathers at the end to expose the killer after explaining how he figured it all out. For a novelette, Hodges crams a lot into this tale!

The story starts out with Starch trying to get paid for a case where his wealthy client stiffed him on the fee after Starch located a missing man for him. Of course, when Starch goes to confront the client, the guy has been murdered. (The victim's name is Elsberry Dilweg, continuing the trend of odd names in this story.) The killing leads to a matrimonial agency con game, a fortune in oil-rich land, disabled World War II vets, a beautiful but probably crooked dame, and a second murder. Starch untangles the whole mess, of course.

I don't know much about Carl G. Hodges. He wrote a mystery novel, MURDER BY THE PACK, that was the other half of an Ace Double with Frank Kane's Johnny Liddell novel ABOUT FACE. I had a copy of that book years ago, but I don't think I ever read Hodges' novel. He also wrote some historical non-fiction books for the juvenile market, as well as a couple of dozen mystery and Western stories for assorted pulps in a career that lasted from the Twenties to the Fifties. Several of his mystery stories published in THRILLING DETECTIVE were about a crime-solving sports reporter, his only series character that I know of. "Homicide's Their Headache" is the only appearance of Bill Starch.

Hodges' style seems to have been influenced by Robert Leslie Bellem's Dan Turner stories, with its fast pace, complicated plot, and colorful slang, but Hodges lacks Bellem's inspired goofiness. Even so, I enjoyed this story quite a bit. It's no lost masterpiece, by any means, but still fun if you don't mind the stereotypes. And let's be honest: sometimes that's exactly what I want.

Also, in a bit of synchronicity, the issue of THRILLING DETECTIVE in which "Homicide's Their Headache" appears also features a Nick Ransom story by Robert Leslie Bellem, Nick being a sort of toned down Dan Turner himself.

If this story sounds like it might appeal to you, you can check it out on the Pulpgen Archive, along with several more stories by Hodges and hundreds of other pulp stories.

Monday, June 13, 2022

Terror Island - Albert Richard Wetjen

Albert Richard Wetjen was a prolific author of mostly nautical and South Seas adventure yarns for the pulps. Several different series characters appeared in his stories, including the wonderfully named Shark Gotch and Typhoon Bradley. “Terror Island”, in the October 1938 issue of ACTION STORIES, introduces another Wetjen series character, Stinger Seave, the ultrahardboiled skipper of a trading ship in the South Seas.

In “Terror Island”, Seave, his first mate Big Bill Gunther, and the rest of the crew have put ashore in a cove at an isolated island to scrape barnacles off the hull and make other repairs. While they’re there, two more ships show up, one in pursuit of the other, and in one of those coincidences that drive the plots of so many pulp stories, the two people on the ship being chased are known to Seave, and they bring up dark, tragic memories from his past when they beg for his help against their ruthless pursuers.

Coincidence or not, Wetjen makes the plot work just fine, and he also throws in one angle that makes this story really stand out from the usual pulp adventure fare. He sets up a dilemma that isn’t really resolved in this story, and that makes me eager to read the other five stories in this series, to see whether or not he can pull off this unique twist. The Stinger Seave series has never been collected, as far as I know, but all six stories are available at various places on line. If you’re a pulp adventure fan, you should give “Terror Island” a try and see if you enjoy it as much as I did. You can find it here, along with hundreds of other pulp stories.

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: The Magic Carpet Magazine, July 1933

This pulp also contains a Robert E. Howard story, his historical novelette "The Lion of Tiberias". But also behind that J. Allen St. John cover, you'll find a superb novella by H. Bedford-Jones, "Pearls From Macao" (which Tom Roberts reprinted as an early entry in his Black Dog Books line, many years ago, the edition I read and remember fondly), as well as stories by E. Hoffmann Price, Seabury Quinn, Clark Ashton Smith, Warren Hastings Miller, and Geoffrey Vace, who was actually Hugh B. Cave's brother Geoffrey. This is just a spectacular issue of THE MAGIC CARPET MAGAZINE, a great example of why the pulps were so wonderful, and if you want to read it for yourself, Adventure House has reprinted the whole thing. High recommended.

Saturday, June 11, 2022

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Cowboy Stories, July 1937

Since Robert E. Howard Days is going on in Cross Plains this weekend, I thought it appropriate to post the cover of one of the Western pulps in which Howard's work appeared. In this case it's the July 1937 issue of COWBOY STORIES, which includes Howard's Buckner J. Grimes story "Knife-River Prodigal". This is one of the stories that sold after Howard's death and appeared almost exactly a year later. I don't know the cover artist, but it's certainly a great example of how red and yellow dominated Western pulp covers. Also in this issue are Samuel Taylor, Bruce Douglas, W.D. Hoffman, and an author billed as Chief Henry Red Eagle, with a story called "Wampum Swamp 'Em", which makes me think it's probably not a serious examination of Indian life in the Old West.

Friday, June 10, 2022

The Shadow 1941: Hitler's Astrologer - Denny O'Neil and Michael Kaluta

Regular readers of this blog know that I’m a big fan of The Shadow (mostly the pulp version) and have been for more than fifty years now. So it’s not surprising that I picked up a hardcover of this graphic novel when it first came out in 1988. THE SHADOW 1941: HITLER’S ASTROLOGER is by the writer/artist team of Denny O’Neil and Michael Kaluta, who produced quite a few excellent issues of The Shadow comic book series in the Seventies.

It's also not too surprising that I never got around to reading that copy I bought back then. I have the attention span of a six-week-old puppy, after all. However, I discovered a while back that Dynamite Comics has reissued HITLER’S ASTROLOGER in hardback, and there’s even an ebook edition that’s available on Kindle Unlimited. (Back in 1988 when the book first came out, none of that would have made any sense at all.) Anyway, I figured it was finally time for me to read it.

I’m glad I did. The script by O’Neil and Kaluta, which has The Shadow and his agents manipulating real-world events involving the Nazi Bund, Rudolf Hess, Joseph Goebbels, Operation Barbarossa, and Adolph Hitler himself, of course, is action-packed, intriguing, and moves along very nicely. It doesn’t quite capture the same feeling as Walter B. Gibson’s magnificent pulp creation, but as pastiche goes, it’s pretty darned good. Kaluta’s art, though, with inks by Russ Heath (a comic book legend in his own right) is just outstanding, a superb job of creating a blend between precarious events in the real world and the breakneck machinations of The Shadow and his crew of helpers. I had a great time reading this graphic novel, which, ultimately, is the most important thing to me. In the unlikely event that you’re a fan of The Shadow but haven’t read it, like me until recently, I give it a high recommendation.

Wednesday, June 08, 2022

Scheme - Jeffery Deaver

I’ve read only one novel by Jeffery Deaver (THE BONE COLLECTOR), but I’ve read a couple of collections of his short stories and several of the novellas he’s written in recent years. The latest of those novellas is SCHEME, a police procedural in which a detective is on the trail of a domestic terrorist organization planting bombs. The terrorists communicate with each other about where the bombs are to be placed by using a bizarre code involving poems. Which (naturally enough if you’ve read enough stories like this) means that our cop protagonist has to recruit a beautiful female English professor to help him crack the code.

Of course, this being a Jeffery Deaver yarn, nothing is quite what it seems at first glance, and that predictable unpredictability actually works a little against the story’s effectiveness, if you know what I mean. When it's a given that some enormous twist will be coming along later, you start thinking early on about what it might be. And in the case of SCHEME, I’m not sure it really works that well.

Luckily, Deaver has a nice touch with characters and his prose is smooth and enjoyable to read. SCHEME flies by and is entertaining enough, but I wouldn’t rank it near the top of Deaver’s novellas. I’d still rather read something like this than some 600-page doorstop with not nearly enough plot, like you get in some modern thrillers.

Sunday, June 05, 2022

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Startling Stories, November 1951

Not a space babe in sight, so you know this isn't an Earle Bergey cover. In fact, it's by the great Alex Schomberg, who painted some of the best rocket ships you'll ever find. This issue of STARTLING STORIES also has a very strong group of writers, with a lead novel by Eric Frank Russell and short stories by Mack Reynolds and Fredric Brown, William Morrison, and my old mentor Sam Merwin Jr. If you want to check it out, the whole issue is on-line here.

Saturday, June 04, 2022

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Mammoth Western, March 1950

Another dramatic cover by Arnold Kohn graces this issue of MAMMOTH WESTERN. The most well-known author inside is probably H.A. DeRosso, although there's also a Richard Brister story. The lead novel, "The Heiress of Copper Butte", was published under the name Guy Archette, normally a pseudonym for Ziff-Davis regular Chester S. Geier, but this one was actually written by Paul W. Fairman, then expanded and reprinted under his name in paperback at least twice, first by Handi-Books (an edition I own but haven't read) and then Lancer. Also in this issue are stories by Dupree Poe, Francis M. Deegan, Bill Kirk, W.P. Brothers, and Clint Young. I've never considered MAMMOTH WESTERN one of the top Western pulps, but there are still some good stories in its pages.

Sunday, May 29, 2022

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Double-Action Gang Magazine, May 1936

Here's an odd pulp cover for you, on the first issue of DOUBLE-ACTION GANG MAGAZINE, a short-lived gangster pulp. I have a feeling that they took a Western cover they had in their files (I'd swear I've seen that cowboy somewhere else) and added the guy with the Tommy gun to it. "Killer Lightnin'" by Andor de Soos sounds like a story I'd like to read. "Gangdom Invades the West" has a nice ring to it. Luckily, Adventure House has reprinted this issue, so I can read it. Also on hand in this issue are Margie Harris, a regular contributor to the gang pulps, and Abner J. Sundell, writing under his pseudonym Cliff Campbell, which later on became a house-name, as well as Harold Ward, probably best remembered for writing the Dr. Death stories under the name Zorro.

Saturday, May 28, 2022

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Dime Western, May 1946

We already know that it wasn't safe to play poker or go to the barber shop in the Old West, but now we realize that you couldn't even sit down to tickle the ivories without winding up in the middle of a gunfight, thanks to this cover on DIME WESTERN, Popular Publications' leading Western pulp. This issue features a couple of the magazine's most prolific authors, Harry F. Olmsted (twice, once with a Friar Robusto story under his own name and again with a Tensleep Maxon story as by Bart Cassidy) and Walt Coburn. Also on hand are Thomas Thompson (famous for being the story editor on BONANZA for many years), William R. Cox, Harold De Vries, and Charles W. Tyler. The only thing I can play on the piano is "Chopsticks", and I'm not sure I could manage that with bullets whistling around me.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Cold as Hell - Rhett C. Bruno and Jaime Castle

The Weird Western is an odd subgenre, and I don’t just mean the subject matter. Robert E. Howard invented what we think of as the Weird Western in stories such as “The Horror From the Mound”, “Old Garfield’s Heart”, “For the Love of Barbara Allan”, and “The Man on the Ground”. Adding horror elements to traditional Western tales can be very appealing to writers. You’re getting to play in two different sandboxes at the same time. However, they’re tough sells to many Western readers, who don’t want even a hint of the supernatural in what they read. That’s why a lot of Westerns that seem to have supernatural elements wind up explaining all that away in Scooby-Doo endings. I’ve done that several times myself. My hunch is that Weird Westerns are more likely, overall, to find their audience among horror and fantasy readers . . . who, in turn, may be put off by the Western stuff.

All that said, it is indeed possible to write a novel that’s both an excellent horror/fantasy story and a solid Western yarn. That’s exactly what Rhett C. Bruno and Jaime Castle have done in COLD AS HELL, the first novel in their new Black Badge series, that mixes truly creepy horror and fantasy elements with a well-done, believable Western setting and characters.

Former outlaw and gunfighter James Crowley is a Black Badge, an undead avenger working for Heaven with an angel who sends him on missions to battle demons and monsters plaguing the frontier. As COLD AS HELL opens, he takes up the trail of a trio of bank robbers who seemingly have supernatural abilities. He runs into plenty of other dangers before he tracks them down, and there’s no Scooby-Doo ending to any of this. Crowley and his enemies and allies are the real deal.

He’s also a very good protagonist, tough and smart and not without flaws even though he’s basically unkillable, already being dead and all. Bruno and Castle aren’t afraid to pile up trouble on him, and then, in the end . . . there’s a very nice twist that sets up the next book in the series, which I’m already looking forward to. If you’re a Weird Western fan, COLD AS HELL is one of the best I’ve read in a long time, and if you’ve never tried one before, I think it would be a fine place to start. It's available in ebook and hardback editions. Highly recommended.

Monday, May 23, 2022

The Spider: Scourge of the Scorpion - Will Murray

Will Murray is back with his third novel featuring the iconic pulp hero character The Spider, following THE DOOM LEGION and FURY IN STEEL. As in those earlier novels, in SCOURGE OF THE SCORPION Murray brings in some heroes and villains used in other Popular Publications pulps, making it clear that all of Popular’s characters existed in the same universe. This time he teams up The Spider with one of most obscure pulp heroes, The Skull Killer. The Skull Killer is obscure for two reasons: he was never the star of his own pulp but rather functioned as the hero in a couple of pulps that spotlighted the villains, THE OCTOPUS and THE SCORPION. There was only one issue of each, and it’s a common belief in pulp fandom that the lead novel in THE SCORPION was a rewritten yarn that was intended for the second issue of THE OCTOPUS, except the first issue sold so badly that the publisher thought a title change might be helpful. In fact, that may well be what happened.

But regardless of that, Murray comes up with a very clever way to tie together the mystery of The Octopus and The Scorpion and make something totally new out of their history without retconning anything. It’s an audacious approach that succeeds extremely well. I know something about working with other people’s characters and trying to find ways to make sense out of apparent contradictions, and it’s not always an easy thing to do. Murray pulls it off and does a great job.

And of course, he also captures the characters of Richard Wentworth (The Spider), Nita Van Sloan, Ram Singh, and the rest of the supporting cast perfectly. As for the story itself, it races along at a breakneck pace as you’d expect. The Cult of the Purple Eyes, led previously by both The Octopus and The Scorpion, is back, with The Scorpion still in command, and once again he’s turning innocent people into his mindless minions by a method that causes their eyes to change color and become a bright purple. He’s also infecting hundreds, if not thousands, of innocent New Yorkers with a deadly combination of scorpion venom and tetanus that causes them to come down with lockjaw. Wentworth’s faithful assistants Ram Singh and Jackson fall victim to this plague, and Nita Van Sloan is converted into one of The Scorpion’s purple-eyed zombies. Wentworth is left alone to battle against this horrible menace . . .

Oh, wait, he’s not, because The Skull Killer, who defeated The Octopus and The Scorpion the first time, is still around and teams up with The Spider to save New York City. But just when you think they’ve succeeded . . . things get worse.

SCOURGE OF THE SCORPION is a great pulp adventure novel with a very nice blend of shuddery horror and over-the-top action. At one point The Spider, being pursued by bad guys, hides out in a morgue, climbs into an empty drawer, closes it behind him, rolls over, and calmly goes to sleep. You don’t get much more badass than that. As I said, Murray’s plotting is excellent, and everything comes to a very satisfactory conclusion. I had a wonderful time reading this book, and if you’re a pulp fan in general, or a fan of The Spider (I have been for close to sixty years now, since the first paperback reprints), I give it my highest recommendation.

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Short Stories, October 25, 1934

This cover by William Reusswig provides further proof, as if we needed it, that pith helmets just attract trouble. You don't even have to be wearing one. Just having it on your raft is enough. Just as knowing that this is an issue of SHORT STORIES is enough to tell you there are some great authors inside. In this case, H. Bedford-Jones ("Tiger Blood" is a great title!), Jackson Gregory, Bennett Foster, Bob du Soe, and Bertrand W. Sinclair, along with a few lesser-known writers. Any time you see a blood-red sun on the cover of a pulp, you know you're in for excitement.

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Short Stories, March 1957

A Western pulp from very late in the pulp era, but judging by the authors inside, this issue of WESTERN SHORT STORIES was still pretty good: H.A. DeRosso, S. Omar Barker, Edwin Booth, Clayton Fox, William Vance, and reprints by Tom W. Blackburn, D.B. Newton, John G. Pearsol, Giles A. Lutz, and Glenn H. Wichman. That's a fine bunch of Western pulpsters no matter what the era.

UPDATE: My friend Bob Deis has identified this cover artist as Jim Bentley and tells us that the cover was used originally on the January 1956 issue of MALE. Thanks, Bob.


Sunday, May 15, 2022

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Adventure, March 1939

An abundance of work and some real-life issues have caused me to neglect the blog in recent days, but I hope to get that squared away soon. In the meantime, here's a great cover by Raphael DeSoto. The diving suit, the treasure chest, and the revolver all promise us adventure, and I'm sure this issue of, what else, ADVENTURE delivers on that promise. Inside are stories by Erle Stanley Gardner, Frank Gruber, William E. Barrett, Anthony Rud, Gordon MacCreagh, and Robert E. Pinkerton, top pulpsters, every one. The Gruber story is an installment of the serial "Peace Marshal", and I remember reading one of the paperback reprints of that novel when I was in junior high. Little did I dream I'd be writing about its pulp incarnation more than fifty years later. There's a certain appealing continuity that good fiction provides in a person's life . . .

Saturday, May 07, 2022

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Mammoth Western, August 1950

That's a dramatic cover on this issue of MAMMOTH WESTERN, painted by Arnold Kohn, an artist I'm not familiar with. I'm very familiar with some of the authors inside this issue, though, which include Harry Whittington, Les Savage Jr., and (here's a name you don't normally associate with Westerns) Robert Bloch. Also on hand are Ziff-Davis regular Berkeley Livingston and house-name Mallory Storm. This issue doesn't seem to be on-line anywhere I can find.

Friday, May 06, 2022

Wolf Dog Range - Will Watson (Lee Floren)

First of all, there are no wolf dogs in this book. There’s a town called Wolf Dog, as well as a river and a mountain range, but no actual wolf dogs. The novel was published originally in hardback by lending library publisher Phoenix Press in 1946. Then it appeared in the October 1947 issue of COMPLETE COWBOY NOVELS MAGAZINE with a great cover that I posted here on the blog a while back. I liked that cover enough that it inspired me to seek out a copy of the book. What I wound up with is the 1951 Lion Books paperback edition. That's my copy in the scan above. But like the pulp version, this cover is misleading, too, as no fight between a hatchet-wielding hombre and a fella shooting at him ever takes place in the book’s pages.

Now that we’ve covered that, what’s WOLF DOG RANGE actually about? It’s a range war story, as tough cowboy Pete Manly travels from Texas to Montana to answer a summons for help from Jeff Ring, the old-timer who raised him. Ring has relocated his ranch to Montana, and now the owner of the neighboring spread is trying to force him out. Ring is in financial trouble, too, because the local banker absconded with the deposits and left the old rancher almost broke. Pete figures something shady is going on, especially when some badmen hold up the train he’s coming in on, for the express purpose of murdering him. He survives that attempt, of course, and also makes the acquaintance of a beautiful young woman who’s also traveling to the town of Wolf Dog. (Why is everything in the area called Wolf Dog? Unfortunately, the author never tells us.) When he arrives, Pete sets out to get to the bottom of several suspicious happenings and prevent his old friend’s ranch from being taken over.

You can tell from that brief description that WOLF DOG RANGE is a very traditional Western novel. That’s not surprising, because the author, “Will Watson”, was really Lee Floren, who made a living for several decades by writing very traditional Western yarns for the pulps and for a variety of paperback publishers. Floren is a maddeningly inconsister writer. I don’t know much about his background, but when he’s writing about cattle and ranch life, his work has a ring of authenticity that at times rivals Walt Coburn. The long sequence in this book about a roundup carried out during an unexpectedly early snowstorm is excellent, as is the aftermath of a chinook wind that melts the snow. Floren’s action scenes are generally good to very good, too. Where his writing gets clunky is in dialogue and in the scenes were the characters are interacting without any gunplay or fisticuffs. Some of that is so perfunctory that it reads like scenes he outlined but forgot to flesh out. There’s too much of that in WOLF DOG RANGE.

And yet . . . there are some great characters in this book, including the old rancher’s Apache sidekick and a Chinese range cook who reminded me of Connie from Milton Caniff’s classic TERRY AND THE PIRATES. There are also some poignant moments that work really well. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve never been a fan of Floren’s work and so I haven’t read that much by him, but without a doubt, WOLF DOG RANGE is the best of his novels that I’ve read so far, and I’m not saying that to damn with faint praise. It’s not without its flaws, but I found it to be a solidly entertaining traditional Western.

It could’ve used some wolf dogs, though.

Monday, May 02, 2022

The Deathly Island - H. Bedford-Jones

This action-packed novelette by H. Bedford-Jones, originally published in the October 20, 1934 issue of ARGOSY might just be the perfect mental palette-cleanser between novels. “The Deathly Island” refers to an island off the tip of Madagascar where a beautiful young woman is being held prisoner at her late father’s palatial estate. Sea captain Charles Stuart, our stalwart hero, discovers not only her plight but also the fact that his estranged brother is mixed up in the scheme that’s caught the girl in its snare. What’s a pulp hero to do but set out to put things right?

Not content to leave it at that, Bedford-Jones also mixes into the plot a truly despicable villain, a fortune in rare pearls, and a looming hurricane. The result is five chapters of action, suspense, and excitement rendered in the author’s usual clean prose with a cool, tough, hardboiled tone. The novelette length of “The Deathly Island” keeps Bedford-Jones from bringing in too many complications or going into too much depth with his characters, but the whole thing races along with such zest that it’s pure fun to read. If you’ve never sampled HB-J’s work, it wouldn’t be a bad place to start. And if you’re already a fan, I can almost guarantee that you’ll enjoy it. You can find it on-line, and I give it a high recommendation.

Sunday, May 01, 2022

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Argosy, March 26, 1938

That's a nice circus cover by Emmett Watson on this issue of ARGOSY. The story it illustrates is a serial called "You're in the Circus Now" by Richard Wormser, a fine author who also wrote at least one serial for ARGOSY about a traveling carnival. The Tarzan story mentioned on the cover is a serial installment of "The Red Star of Tarzan", published in book form as TARZAN AND THE FORBIDDEN CITY. There's also an installment of a Horatio Hornblower novel by C.S. Forester, "Ship of the Line", and that didn't even make the cover. Plus stories by Frank Richardson Pierce and Bennett Foster. I know the serials make ARGOSY daunting for collectors, but man, there was a lot of great fiction published in its pages!

Saturday, April 30, 2022

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Street & Smith's Western Story Magazine, March 26, 1932

Here's more proof, as if we needed it, of just how dangerous it was to sit down at a poker table in the Old West. I don't know the artist on this cover, but I think it's a good one. The fellow being choked reminds me a little of Randolph Scott. (I don't know about you, but whenever I see or hear his name, I have this urge to put my hand over my heart and say, "Randolph Scott!" I don't actually do that, but the thought does cross my mind.) This is one of those issues of WESTERN STORY that's dominated by Frederick Faust. He has a novella under his Max Brand name in it, plus serial installments as by David Manning and Peter Henry Morland. I've wondered how many of WESTERN STORY's readers ever figured out that all of Faust's pseudonyms were the same guy. Also on hand in this issue are prolific and well-regarded pulpsters Frank Richardson Pierce, Hugh Grinstead, and Austin Hall.

Friday, April 29, 2022

Seven Faces - Max Brand (Frederick Faust)

(This post originally appeared in somewhat different form on May 2, 2008.)

Most of you who are familiar with Max Brand’s work know him as a Western writer, but Brand, whose real name was Frederick Faust, was also a prolific mystery author. During the Thirties his work appeared regularly in the pulp magazine DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY, among others, and DFW was where SEVEN FACES originally appeared as a serial in October and November of 1936.

The protagonists of this novel are a couple of New York City cops, Angus Campbell and Patrick O’Rourke, who make a formidable team despite the fact that they can’t stand each other. When a wealthy man named John Cobb appeals to the police department because he’s been receiving threats on his life, Campbell and O’Rourke are assigned to the case. Cobb has to go to Chicago on business, and the two detectives also have to travel to Chicago to present some evidence in a court case, so their superior decides they should take the train with Cobb and guard him from whoever wants to kill him.

Unfortunately, Cobb disappears on the way to Chicago, and Campbell and O’Rourke have to split up in their attempts to track him down and find out what happened to him. From there the story is a fast-paced yarn featuring torture, murder, greed, and evil coming back from the past to haunt the present. Sure, the characters are a little stereotypical – Campbell is a dour Scotsman, O’Rourke a fat, cigar-smoking, heavy-drinking Irishman – but the plot has some clever twists and Faust keeps things perking so nicely that the reader is drawn along effortlessly by the story.

While this book is obscure, it’s not that hard to lay your hands on a copy. It’s been reprinted twice, first by the University of Nebraska Press in their series of Max Brand reissues, and then in large print by Chivers/G.K. Hall. Faust wrote at least one more novel featuring Campbell and O’Rourke, MURDER ME!, and I intend to track it down and read it, too.

(UPDATE: So, in the almost exactly 14 years since this post first appeared, do you think I've actually read Faust's other Campbell and O'Rourke novel, MURDER ME? That's right, I have not. I'm pretty sure I own a copy, but now I can't find it. There are ebook editions of it and SEVEN FACES that weren't available back in 2008, so maybe I'll go that route.)

Monday, April 25, 2022

James Bama, R.I.P.

There's been an abundance of social media posts marking the passing of artist James Bama. He was a great favorite of mine as well, first for his covers on Bantam's Doc Savage reprints and then later for his many excellent covers on Western paperbacks, including the Nevada Jim series by Marshall McCoy (actually the great Australian author Leonard F. Meares, but that's another post). I loved those books. Some of the Nevada Jim covers were reused on Louis L'Amour novels, too.

While there are dozens, maybe scores, of authors who have influenced me, I think there are only a handful of artists who made me who I am today. James Bama was certainly one of them. My discovery of the Doc Savage series really made me aware of the pulps for the first time and started my on-going love affair with them. I'm grateful to him for that and for all the other great work he did. Rest in peace, Mr. Bama.

Sunday, April 24, 2022

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Black Mask, August 1940

BLACK MASK was past its glory days by 1940 but still producing good issues like this one, with an eye-catching Rafael DeSoto cover and some excellent authors inside: George Harmon Coxe with a Flashgun Casey story, Roger Torrey, Stewart Sterling, Wyatt Blassingame, G.T. Fleming-Roberts, and the lesser-known Eaton K. Goldthwaite. If you want to read this issue, it's available on-line.

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Ranch Romances, First May Number 1957

This cowgirl's got a good-sized problem in that big cat. I don't know the artist, but whoever it was provided a nice dramatic cover for this issue of RANCH ROMANCES. W.T. Ballard appears twice inside, with a serial installment under his Todhunter Ballard name and a novella as Parker Bonner, plus stories by J.L. Bouma and the almost forgotten Art Kercheval, Margery Bradshaw, and Ted Escott.

Friday, April 22, 2022

Brand Rider - Ed La Vanway

Ed La Vanway’s name was only vaguely familiar to me, but I came across this Dell paperback by him, with a nice cover by John Leone, and was intrigued enough to pick it up and read it. Further investigation into the author reveals that he published a couple of dozen stories in the Western pulps from the late Forties to the late Fifties, when that market was drying up, and also wrote five or six Western novels, most of them from library publisher Avalon Books.

BRAND RIDER appears to have been La Vanway’s first novel, published by Dodd, Mead in 1958 and reprinted by Dell in 1961. It’s a save-the-ranch yarn, and also a cattlemen-versus-sodbusters yarn, as gunman John Lane is hired by a cattle baron to take over a ranch in which the cattle baron has a financial interest. The ranch actually belongs to a beautiful young woman, the daughter of the cattle baron’s recently deceased partner. In a nice twist, she’s the one who wants to go after the sodbusters and run them out by force if necessary, and the gunman/protagonist who’s reluctant to do so, because in this case he believes the farmers may be within their rights.

In addition to this, there’s a banker who may or may not be crooked, a deputy sheriff who’s definitely crooked (he’s an old enemy of the protagonist), a couple of different romantic triangles, a murder for which our hero is framed, and a stampede. Plenty of elements for a solid traditional Western.

Is that what La Vanway delivers? Well . . . sort of. The plot is good, the characters are interesting, and La Vanway does a fine job with the Texas setting, which makes me think he probably was a Texan. I couldn’t find any biographical info about him on-line. The action scenes, when they eventually break out, are handled well. But the book is very slow-paced and John Lane spends a lot more time thinking and brooding than he does riding and shooting. Call me shallow, but I like plenty of powder-burning in my Westerns.

Overall, I’d say BRAND RIDER is a slightly below average traditional Western, but there was enough I liked that I don’t consider the time spent reading it wasted. And La Vanway’s Texas feels authentic enough that I’m tempted to read something else by him, although I won’t rush right out to do so. If any of you have read his work and have any recommendations, I’d be glad to hear them.