Saturday, December 31, 2022

The Wrap Up

There’s no point in denying that 2022 was a rotten year in many ways, but there’s also no point in dwelling on that. So let’s turn our attention to more pleasant endeavors, such as writing, reading, editing, and publishing.

To take those things in reverse order, for most of this year I was the editor of Rough Edges Press, the mystery/thriller/men’s adventure imprint of Wolfpack Publishing. It was a wonderful job, as I got to work with Mike Bray, Jake Bray, Patience Bramlett, and all the other great people at Wolfpack, in addition to all the authors involved. While there, I was privileged to edit some really excellent books, and I’m proud of what the line accomplished. However, I stepped down at the end of October because I discovered that I couldn’t both edit and write at the level I wanted to, and although I didn’t mind slowing down some on my page production (more about that in the next paragraph) I just wasn’t ready to stop writing full-time. There are still too many books in my head clamoring to get out.

As I mentioned a few posts back, 2022 was the first year since 2004 that I didn’t write at least a million words of fiction. So the streak ends at 17 years, and while I might have preferred an even number (yes, I am a little OCD), I’m absolutely fine with that. I wrote approximately 900,000 words this year. That’s plenty. I think 750,000 would be a good total for 2023. I wrote at that level for many years before I started hitting a million, and I think I can continue producing at that level for a while yet. My plan for next year is to keep up with my regular ghost-writing job (I’m committed to approximately half a million words there) and devote the rest of the wordage to a few books of my own. We’ll see.

On the reading front, it was a good year, not at all rotten. I read 138 books. Here are my top ten favorites, in the order in which I read them:


GUNS OF THE DAMNED, Stone Cody (Thomas E. Mount)





FROM THE FILES OF . . . MIKE HAMMER, Mickey Spillane


JANE FURY, James Robert Daniels

CALICO, Lee Goldberg

I’m aware that’s a pretty odd mix. Two of them I edited (the Levinson memoir and the Spillane prose collection; the other Spillane book is a collection of the Mike Hammer comic strip I had nothing to do with). Two of them aren’t out yet because I read them in manuscript, JANE FURY and CALICO, but they’ll be out next year and you should remember those titles because they’re great. The pulp influence is there in GUNS OF THE DAMNED, the first novel in the Silver Trent series originally published in THE WESTERN RAIDER and STAR WESTERN, and in the Hopson novel because he got his start in the Western pulps, and in the new Spider novel by Will Murray since the Spider is one of the iconic pulp hero characters. My study of Stoic philosophy kind of petered out as the year went on, but the lessons I learned from it came in handy more than once and I still plan to get back to it.

There were at least two dozen other books right on the verge of making this list, including quite a few I edited, starting with Jamie Mason’s Father Barrett series and Ryan Fowler’s Father Tag Nolan series. Both of those feature priests/detectives and both are absolutely excellent, but beyond that, they couldn’t be more different. You should check them out if you haven’t already. Chuck Dixon’s Levon Cade series continued this year with several great entries. Brent Towns added another top-notch action/adventure series to his tireless output with TALON and also gave us some fine hardboiled private eye novels set in Australia. Nik Morton’s Leon Cazador books are fast-paced international thrillers with a great protagonist. Stephen Mertz’s latest Cody’s War novel demonstrates that he hasn’t lost a step and is still a legend in the action/adventure field. And these are just Rough Edges Press books. I also read some great pulp reprints from Altus Press/Steeger Books and several superb hardboiled/noir novels from Stark House/Black Gat Books/Staccato Crime. I swear, if you can’t find plenty of great books to read these days, you’re just not looking hard enough!

Finally, this blog suffered a bit in 2022 because I just didn’t have enough time to devote to it. As a result, there were fewer posts than any year since I started it in 2004—and since I started it in July, that was only half a year. I hope to post more in 2023, including more book reviews, the return of movie reviews, and maybe an occasional post about what else is going on in my life, although generally, that stuff is pretty boring. My thanks to all of you reading this, whether you’ve been a regular reader since 2004 or just found the blog. Like the WesternPulps email group (which will celebrate its 24th anniversary this spring), I intend to keep this going for a good long while yet.

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Street & Smith's Western Story Magazine, September 19, 1936

We close out the year with a moody, evocative Sidney Riesenberg cover on the granddaddy of Western pulps, WESTERN STORY. I'm not a big Riesenberg fan, but I really like this one. You can feel that cold, rainy wind, and the blonde is impressive, no hat despite the weather and packing iron. The line-up of authors in this issue is, well, an undistinguished one. The best known are probably Art Lawson and Arthur Hawthorne Carhart, and neither of those guys are much remembered these days. Other authors on hand are John Dudley Phelps, Lloyd Eric Reeves, Eugene R. Dutcher, W.H.B. Kent, and Ray Humphreys. Lawson was usually worth reading, and I'll bet some of the other stories are good, too.

Friday, December 30, 2022

Chuck Ryan, Logger - Frank Richardson Pierce

Frank Richardson Pierce was a prolific pulpster, writing close to a thousand stories in a career that lasted more than 40 years, from the late Teens to the early Sixties, with quite a few credits in the slicks, too. He wrote mostly Westerns and Northerns, with a detective or sports yarn mixed in here and there, publishing under his own name or his most common pseudonym, Seth Ranger. He used the names Roy Ford and Francis Bragg Middleton, as well. But he wrote only a handful of novels, one of which was CHUCK RYAN, LOGGER, published under his own name by Doubleday, Doran & Company in 1928. (As the old saying goes, whatever happened to Doran, anyway?)

CHUCK RYAN, LOGGER is a contemporary story and opens with a college football game in which our hero Chuck and his friends Brick Winslow, Shanks Emerson, and others are participating. Then Chuck gets word that his father is missing and presumed dead from a mishap during an Arctic expedition. Chuck and Brick leave school and head for Seattle, where they meet with a lawyer and discover that Chuck has inherited a big stand of valuable timber. Chuck decides that he’s going to try logging, especially when he finds out that a villainous timber tycoon named Crandall wants to get his hands on the trees.

Chuck and Brick run into all sorts of mysterious doings when they investigate Chuck’s inheritance, as well as making a staunch friend in Bud Tuttle, a massive young woodsman who becomes a valuable ally. As soon as it’s summer and school is out, Chuck brings in his entire college football team to work as loggers, except for one rich young man who owns his own airplane and goes to work for the Forest Service. Sabotage abounds, a sinister recluse known as String Bean Titus lurks around, mysterious lights flash on Fir Island, there are fights and airplane crashes and finally a forest fire that threatens everything.

CHUCK RYAN, LOGGER is a boy’s adventure book that plays like a slightly more grown-up Hardy Boys novel, with Chuck and Brick standing in for Frank and Joe. But it also reminded me of a good 1930s adventure movie, with John Wayne as Chuck, Ward Bond as Brick, Guinn “Big Boy” Williams as Bud, and Eugene Pallette as the bad guy Crandall. Would’ve made a fine film. Although they would have had to add a female character, since the entire cast of characters is male except for a few nameless secretaries and stenographers.

I had a fine time reading CHUCK RYAN, LOGGER and learned a few things about the timber industry, to boot. It’s a very old-fashioned book, but what would you expect since it was published nearly 100 years ago. And most of the time, I’m more than happy to retreat to that era in my mind. (Thanks and a tip o' the hat to Jack Cullers.)

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

The Annual December 27th Post

Regular readers of this blog may recall that today is the anniversary of my first fiction sale. 46 years ago today, on December 27, 1976, I became a professional fictioneer. I told the story here, in the first year of the blog, and I can't sum it up better, so if you haven't read about how I broke into this business, you can check out that post if you're of a mind to. Almost half a century later, I'm still at it and intend to keep going for a while yet. I think 500 books is out of reach (I just started novel #414) but I ought to be able to make it to a full 50 years as a professional writer.

In related news, there will be no "A Million Words and Counting" post this year. As I've threatened for a long time, I slowed down some this year (not entirely voluntarily) and will finish with about 900,000 words. So the streak comes to an end after 17 consecutive years. I'm fine with that.

My sincere thanks to everyone who's helped make it possible for me to keep spinning yarns all these years.

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: New Love Magazine, January 1953

I know very little about the love pulps, but this one from Popular Publications has a very nice cover. None of the authors in this issue are familiar to me, either. But I don't care. That's a beautiful woman, and the art is very evocative of the Fifties. Good enough for me. Merry Christmas to all of you. I hope the day is wonderful.

Saturday, December 24, 2022

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Ranch Romances, Second December Number, 1930

Merry Christmas Eve to all of you! RANCH ROMANCES had many Christmas-themed covers over the years. This is a sweet one, which was common when the magazine was still published by Clayton. Inside are stories by E.B. Mann, Ray Nafziger (writing as Robert Dale Denver), James W. Routh, William Freeman Hough, Marion Castle (writing as Monte Castle), Howard E. Morgan (who wrote a bunch of stories for WILD WEST WEEKLY under numerous house-names), and a writer I'm unfamiliar with, Appleton Wayne. I know Mann, Nafziger, and Routh are worth reading, and I'll bet the others are, too. 

Friday, December 23, 2022

Warhammer 40K: Gaunt's Ghosts #1: First and Only - Dan Abnett

Some years ago, I read several novels and anthologies set in the Warhammer 40K universe and enjoyed them. But as often happens with me (because I have the attention span of a six-week-old puppy) I moved on to other things and didn’t read any more of those books. Now, since there’s talk of a Warhammer 40K TV series being in development, and because I still have a bunch of the books on my shelves and on my Kindle, I thought I ought to give another one a try. So I read FIRST AND ONLY, the first novel in the Gaunt’s Ghosts mini-series, by Dan Abnett, who’s one of the most prolific and influential Warhammer 40K authors.

I probably should back up here for a minute, for those of you unfamiliar with Warhammer 40K. It started out as a tabletop role-playing game in the Eighties and expanded into a novel franchise, the same way Dungeons and Dragons and a lot of other role-playing games did. I don’t know how many Warhammer 40K novels and anthologies have been published, but there are a lot. Set 40,000 years in the future, hence the title, the basic storyline is that the Imperium of Earth is engaged in a galaxy-wide war with the forces of Chaos, an occult threat from somewhere beyond the galaxy. This mixture of high-tech military science fiction with supernatural horror is something I haven’t encountered anywhere else, and it allows for a variety of story types, although, boiled down, all of them have to do with the war and are pretty grim and bleak. The Imperium forces are the nominal good guys, and some of the individual characters are pretty noble and heroic, but mostly they’re just not as bad as the forces of Chaos.

FIRST AND ONLY is the first novel in a long-running series-within-the-series called Gaunt’s Ghosts, after its protagonist Ibram Gaunt. He leads an Imperial Guard regiment from the planet Tanith, the only survivors from that planet, in fact, which makes it the First Tanith, and the only one there’ll ever be. The Imperial Guard are the regular soldiers in the Imperium’s military, the equivalent of our armed forces. (There are a lot of other types of combatants we won’t go into here.)

Tanith was a wooded, frontier planet, so Gaunt’s Ghosts are trackers and hunters, which makes them perfect for commando missions. In this novel, Gaunt comes into possession of some vital information that reveals the hiding place of a secret so big and important that it could change the course of the war. To get his hands on it, he and his men have to contend not only with their usual bloodthirsty enemies but also some supposed allies who are plotting against them. A lot of political intrigue and double-crosses ensue, along with plenty of gritty action scenes and some epic battles. Occasional flashbacks fill in some of Gaunt’s history, but not all of it.

This was Abnett’s first published novel and the first book I’ve read by him. He did some comic book scripting for Marvel many years ago that I read and remember enjoying. In FIRST AND ONLY, he does a fine job of balancing all the plot elements and creates some compelling characters. It's still available as an e-book. I enjoyed this one quite a bit and want to read more in the series, as well as sampling some of the other Warhammer 40K authors. Maybe I’ll actually do that this time, instead of getting distracted.

Monday, December 19, 2022

The Dan Cushman Reader - Brent D. McCann

Yesterday’s post mentioned that Dan Cushman’s first story, “Girl of the Golden Lode”, was published in the Winter 1943 issue of the pulp NORTH-WEST ROMANCES. Today’s post is about Cushman as well. With a title like THE DAN CUSHMAN READER, you’d think this was a collection of his stories, right? Well, it’s not. Instead, THE DAN CUSHMAN READER is a book-length master’s thesis about Cushman and his work, written in 2001 by Brent D. McCann, a graduate student at the University of Montana who was able to interview Cushman numerous times before the author passed away. It's posted online here. I downloaded it several years ago and finally got around to reading it.

Despite being written as an academic paper, complete with footnotes and a bibliography, THE DAN CUSHMAN READER is very readable and entertaining. McCann does an excellent job with the biographical information, providing a clear, interesting overview of Cushman’s life. He covers Cushman’s career as a writer in-depth, too, and provides a detailed analysis of several of Cushman’s novels, most notably STAY AWAY, JOE, a controversial novel about life on an Indian reservation that was adapted into a Broadway play and then later into a movie starring Elvis Presley.

McCann seems to think, understandably so, that any lasting reputation Cushman has will be because of STAY AWAY, JOE. But despite its early popularity and success, over the ensuing years the novel has been criticized and memory-holed because of the controversy around it, and it doesn’t appear to be in print today, although used copies of it are readily available. On the other hand, at least eight volumes of Cushman’s pulp and paperback work are in print, and used copies of his other books are just as easily found as STAY AWAY, JOE. My personal favorites of his work are his Armless O’Neil stories from JUNGLE STORIES and ACTION STORIES, but his pulp Westerns and Northerns are consistently very good, too. (In the spirit of full disclosure, I haven’t read STAY AWAY, JOE, and I wrote the introduction to one of the volumes of collected Armless O’Neil stories published by Altus Press.)

I’ve mentioned before that it took me a while to warm up to Cushman’s style, but once I did, he became one of my favorite pulp writers. Because of that, I really enjoyed THE DAN CUSHMAN READER. I don’t have any idea what became of its author, Brent McCann, but I appreciate the work he did on this. If you’re a Cushman fan or a fan of pulp and paperback fiction in general, it’s well worth reading.  

Sunday, December 18, 2022

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: North-West Romances, Winter 1943

RODEO ROMANCES yesterday, NORTH-WEST ROMANCES today. This is actually a fairly significant issue of the iconic "Northern" pulp because it features Dan Cushman's first published story, "Girl of the Golden Lode". And it's featured prominently on the cover, to boot. Also on hand in this issue are Tom W. Blackburn, Victor Rousseau, Chart Pitt, and lesser-known writers Ralph Cunningham, Glenn Vernam, and Douglas Durkin.

Saturday, December 17, 2022

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Rodeo Romances, October 1948

This cowgirl looks a little clean and unmussed to have just bulldogged that dogie, but hey, artistic license, right? I'm not going to complain about a pretty girl painted by Sam Cherry and a beautiful use of red and yellow on a Western pulp cover. Inside this issue of RODEO ROMANCES are stories by Stephen Payne, Johnston McCulley, Chuck Martin, Clinton Dangerfield, and house-name Jackson Cole. Had I been standing in front of a newsstand in 1948 with an extra dime and nickel in my pocket, I probably wouldn't have bought it (it has romance in the title, so I likely would've thought it was full o' that dang mushy stuff), but I might well have taken a closer look at that cover. And given those authors, I probably would have enjoyed the stories, too, to be honest.

Friday, December 16, 2022

The Devil's Dooryard - W.C. Tuttle

I've mentioned before that W.C. Tuttle's stories and novels featuring range detectives Hashknife Hartley and Sleepy Stevens are some of my favorite Western yarns. I recently read "The Devil's Dooryard", a Hashknife and Sleepy novelette from the May 3, 1921 issue of ADVENTURE.

In this one, our two heroes have drifted into a cowtown called Sundown, where they quickly find themselves in the middle of a gun battle. This gets them involved in a feud between two local ranches, one of which is ramrodded by an old friend of Hashknife's. The ranch's owner was killed in the shootout in town, so the foreman, with help from Hashknife and Sleepy, is determined to keep the spread going until the owner's only living relative arrives to claim it.

From there, accusations of rustling, bushwhackings, and plot twists (most of them predictable if you've ever read or watched many Westerns) move along at a fast pace until the final showdown in the desolate wasteland of an extinct volcano known as the Devil's Dooryard.

This is a very early Hashknife story, the third overall, and is narrated by Sleepy in a very dialect-heavy style. That can make it fairly hard going for modern readers, but I've read enough of that stuff that I didn't have any trouble with it. It also leans heavily toward comedy, although there's action and mystery as well. Tuttle employs the same formula in the later third person stories and novels, although it's more balanced there and I think those later entries in the series are considerably better.

Which isn't to say that I didn't enjoy "The Devil's Dooryard". I had a fine time reading it. The ending is a little abrupt for my taste, but other than that I really enjoyed it. You can find it on-line and read it for yourself, if you're of a mind to.

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: G-Men Detective, Winter 1946

I don’t own a copy of this pulp, but the Dan Fowler lead novel, “Diamonds Across the Atlantic” by Edward Churchill, used to be available as an inexpensive e-book. It appears to be gone from Amazon now, but it's still on my Kindle, so I read it recently. I’m going to be writing a Dan Fowler story myself in a few months, so I have to get in the proper frame of mind. Not to mention, I always enjoy the Fowler yarns that appeared in G-MEN and G-MEN DETECTIVE.

This story finds Inspector Dan Fowler of the F.B.I. on the trail of a gang that robbed a train traveling between New York and Detroit. Assisted as usual by fellow agents Larry Kendal and Sally Vane (Fowler’s girlfriend, but they can’t really get serious because they have jobs to do; you know how that goes), he soon discovers that the robbery is connected to a bunch of Nazi saboteurs smuggled into the country on a fishing boat that docked in Boston. The object of the robbery is a secret at first, but I don’t think it’s too much of a spoiler (it’s right there in the title) to reveal that what everybody’s after is a bunch of industrial diamonds that the failing German war machine desperately needs. (By the time this issue was published, the war had been over for almost a year, but clearly, this Fowler novel was written much earlier.)

The trail of the Nazis and the diamonds leads from Detroit back to New York and then on to Miami and ultimately Brazil. Our heroes get shot at, knocked out, and thrown off speeding trains. There’s plenty of action, as well as some actual detective work by Fowler. The Fowler novels were never actually police procedurals, but they came close at times. Everything wraps up in a satisfying, high-flying climax.

Edward Churchill wrote ten Dan Fowler novels, some under his own name and some under the house-name C.K.M. Scanlon. He also wrote several dozen other stories for various detective, sports, and aviation pulps. He’s not much remembered these days, probably because his writing style was a little flat and bland at times. But on the other hand, he could put together an exciting, interesting plot, as he does in “Diamonds Across the Atlantic”. I wouldn’t put this one in the top rank of Dan Fowler stories, but I enjoyed it quite a bit and it probably won’t be long before I read the other Churchill entry I have, “Escape From Alcatraz”.

The rest of this issue, according to the Fictionmags Index, features stories by Norman A. Daniels (writing as Wayland Rice), Johnston McCulley, David X. Manners, and Curtiss T. Gardner. Daniels and McCulley are always worth reading. I haven’t sampled any work from the other two. But it looks like a good issue overall, with a nice cover.

Saturday, December 10, 2022

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Ace-High Western Stories, May 1945

Another dramatic, action-packed cover on this issue of ACE-HIGH WESTERN STORIES. I don't know the artist. As always with Western pulps from Popular Publications, the lineup of authors is a good one and the story titles are great. On hard are prolific Western pulpsters Thomas Thompson, Wayne D. Overholser, Archie Joscelyn, and M. Howard Lane, but the lead-off story in this issue is by science fiction legend Clifford D. Simak. Simak was a solid enough Western writer that I think he could have made a bigger name for himself in that genre if he'd wanted to, but of course his main interests lay elsewhere.

Friday, December 09, 2022

The Man-Eater - Edgar Rice Burroughs

THE MAN-EATER is a short novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs that was serialized in the newspaper The New York Evening World in November 1915. Based on an unsold movie treatment, it never appeared in book form during Burroughs’ lifetime but eventually was reprinted in a double volume with another short novel, BEYOND THIRTY. Since then it’s appeared in numerous e-book versions, one of which I just read.

As you might guess from the title, THE MAN-EATER features a lion as one of the central characters. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that the lion is one of the co-protagonists in this book, along with Richard Gordon, a bored, wealthy young playboy (but a good, decent, courageous sort, for all that) who travels to Africa on an impulsive quest to help a beautiful young woman he’s never met recover a missing will that’s the key to a fortune she stands to inherit. Opposing Gordon is the young woman’s cousin, one of the most dastardly villains you’ll ever hope to encounter. The fast-paced action shifts from Africa to Virginia, back to Africa, and then finally concludes with an exciting return to Virginia.

Burroughs’ tendency toward coincidence-driven fiction rises to a whole new level in this volume. One tiny chink in the vast wall of coincidence probably would bring the whole plot crashing down. And to this I say a resounding “Who cares?” I raced through the story with great enjoyment. The hero and the heroine are both stalwart, the villain and his henchmen are thoroughly despicable, and the vengeance-seeking lion is a great character.

As I’ve probably mentioned before, Burroughs is one of those writers I loved as a kid whose work doesn’t always hold up great when I read it now. THE MAN-EATER is a little creaky, but I had a lot of fun reading it. I can understand why some contemporary readers wouldn’t care for it, but while reading it I was fourteen years old again . . . and that’s one of the main reasons I read old books, and new ones that make me feel the same way.

Wednesday, December 07, 2022

Traitor! - W. Howard Baker

I was a freshman in high school when Lancer Books published TRAITOR! by W. Howard Baker, a novel that had been published two years earlier in England by Zenith Books under the title DESTINATION DIEPPE. As a World War II espionage novel, the first in a series starring British intelligence agent Richard Quintain, it would have been right in my wheelhouse at the time, and I’m sure I’d have grabbed a copy if I’d ever seen it. As it was, more than fifty years went by before I was even aware of this book’s existence, although I vaguely remember seeing some of the later books in the Quintain series. I didn’t realize they were set during World War II, though.

It’s the summer of 1942 as this book opens. The war has been going on for three years, and Quintain has already undertaken several hazardous missions operating behind enemy lines. He’s just been presented with a medal from the king for one of them when he’s summoned by his boss, Felix Fenner, and given a new assignment. The British army is planning an invasion of the Nazi-occupied French coastal town of Dieppe, and Quintain’s job is to parachute in first, make contact with a local group of resistance fighters, and blow up a bunch of German E-boats that would otherwise be used to help repel the invasion. Quintain has a partner in this effort, a beautiful female agent who’s already been behind the lines in France and knows the members of the resistance cell they’re supposed to link up with.

There’s a twist, however, as Fenner reveals to Quintain in private. He believes that one of the group is a traitor and is working with the Germans . . . and it could easily be Quintain’s beautiful partner.

This novel reminded me a great deal of mid-Sixties TV shows such as GARRISON’S GORILLAS and BLUE LIGHT, wartime espionage dramas that are mostly forgotten these days (but I’ll bet quite a few of you reading this remember them). It’s a little talky and sparse on the action in the first half but then picks up a lot of steam in the second half before bogging down in the history of the raid on Dieppe. Other than Quintain’s involvement and the traitor storyline, the history is portrayed with considerable accuracy, if not much flair.

That said, overall the prose is slick enough that I raced through the book pretty quickly and with quite a bit of enjoyment. We don’t learn much about Richard Quintain in this one, but he seems to be a likable enough protagonist and is both smart and tough when he needs to be. The scene where he’s interrogated by a beautiful blond Gestapo she-wolf (an actual historical character, according to a footnote) is very suspenseful and well done. The book could have used a little more of such things.

W. Howard Baker was as much an editor and publisher as he was a writer, and it’s known that many of the books with his name on them were either ghosted or had uncredited collaborators. For what it’s worth, the style in this one is very similar to the Sexton Blake novel credited to Baker that I read not long ago. Whoever actually wrote TRAITOR!, I liked it enough despite its occasional shortcomings to want to read more of the Richard Quintain series. I’m glad I have several more of them on hand.

Tuesday, December 06, 2022

The Big Bundle - Max Allan Collins

Max Allan Collins’ Nathan Heller series began in 1983 with TRUE DETECTIVE. (Almost 40 years ago? How is that possible?) TRUE DETECTIVE is one of the best private detective novels I’ve ever read. Through 18 more novels and story collections since then, Collins has maintained an incredibly lofty standard on this series and kept it alive through several different publishers, a pretty impressive feat in itself.

The Heller series moves to Hard Case Crime, a match that seems well-nigh perfect to me, with THE BIG BUNDLE. The Heller novels always involve real-life crimes, and in this one, it’s a high-profile kidnapping in Kansas City in which the six-year-old son of a wealthy Cadillac distributor is abducted. The kidnappers want $600,000 in ransom money. There’s something off about the whole deal, however, and Heller is called in to try to help recover the boy before it’s too late.

A lot of twists and turns and violence and tragedy ensue. The kidnappers are caught, but only half of the ransom money is recovered. What happened to the other half? That’s the question that brings Heller back to Missouri five years later, in a high-stakes mystery involving not only many low-level criminals but also Bobby Kennedy and Jimmy Hoffa.

As always, the research is thorough and meticulous, the background is fascinating, and the pace is great. Collins had me staying up later than usual and flipping the pages to find out what was going to happen. And of course, Nathan Heller is a great protagonist, smart, stubborn, plenty tough when he needs to be. THE BIG BUNDLE is classic private-eye fiction, just like the rest of the Heller series. I had a great time reading it and give it a high recommendation. It’s available in e-book and audio editions now, and a hardcover is on the way.

Monday, December 05, 2022

Sexton Blake: The Devil to Pay - Rex Dolphin

This is the first Sexton Blake novel I’ve been privileged to read in its original form, a slim, digest-sized paperback published in January 1961. Not only does it have an excellent cover, but the story inside is also probably the best Blake yarn I’ve read so far.

THE DEVIL TO PAY (Sexton Blake Library 4th Series, Number 467) is from the era when Blake is a private detective, complete with a beautiful blond secretary in Paula Dane. As it opens, Blake is meeting with movie writer/director Sam Waxman, who wants Blake to find the leading lady of the film he’s currently making in England. Sandra Kennedy is an English actress who moved to the States and found stardom in American films, but she’s gone missing from Waxman’s latest project. He thinks her disappearance has something to do with Sandra’s twin sister, who was murdered five years earlier in a castle-like tower on an isolated English estate, due to her involvement with a cult of wealthy devil worshippers, most of whom were killed in a fiery car crash while being pursued by a policeman after the ritualistic murder is discovered. But some of the cultists get away, including—maybe—the leader and owner of the estate, who’s descended from another aristocrat of the same name, who led a similar devil cult two hundred years earlier.

Got all that? Author Rex Dolphin really throws in the plot elements at a furious pace. Most of the previous paragraph is just back-story that gets Blake and Paula to sinister Deville Manor in the middle of the night, where a dangerous wild dog roams the grounds (it’s a German Shepherd, not a hound, in case you were wondering). Before you know it, there’s another murder, this one of the locked room variety, secret passages, corpses crumbling to dust, business and financial shenanigans, a hardboiled cop who also believes in ghosts, and a considerable amount of chasing around the estate and Blake getting knocked out.

I had a wonderful time reading this novel. Rex Dolphin (and that’s his real name, not a pseudonym or a house-name) could really spin a fast-moving tale, and the plot, while complicated, all ties together nicely. As with the last Blake novel from this era I read, DARK MAMBO, move the setting from England to Florida and this would have made an excellent Mike Shayne caper in MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE. This story has never been reprinted or scanned and posted online, so you’re not likely to come across a copy, but if you ever do, it’s well worth reading.

Sunday, December 04, 2022

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Astounding Stories, August 1936

I'm not sure what's going on in this cover by Howard V. Brown, but that looks like a mosh pit in the background. Well, they do say that science fiction can predict the future. Inside this issue of ASTOUNDING STORIES are stories by some great writers: Jack Williamson, Murray Leinster, Stanley G. Weinbaum, Nat Schachner, Raymond Z. Gallun, Ralph Milne Farley, and Wallace West. F. Orlin Tremaine was still the editor at this point, but John W. Campbell has an article in this issue. The whole issue is on-line at the Internet Archive, so I guess if I'm curious enough about that cover, I can find out. 

Saturday, December 03, 2022

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Action-Packed Western, September 1954

Action-packed, indeed. ACTION-PACKED WESTERN was one of the Columbia Publications pulps edited by Robert A.W. Lowndes on a very low budget. But he always got good writers despite the pay rates. This issue includes stories by Gordon D. Shirreffs, Seven Anderton, A.A. Baker, Gene Rodgers, and Lowndes himself writing under the name John Lackland. 

Friday, December 02, 2022

Battle at Rattlesnake Pass - Tom West (Fred East)

Tom West was actually an Englishman named Fred East who moved to the United States after being wounded in World War I, and after knocking around in various jobs, including journalism, he broke in as a Western novelist in the early 1940s, publishing books under the Tom West name as well as the pseudonym Roy Manning. He also wrote several novels under the Peter Field house-name in the Powder Valley series. I’ve found his work to be a little inconsistent, but generally I like his books quite a bit and really ought to read more of them. Here’s an excellent blog post about him with reviews of some of his books.

Many of the Tom West books were published originally as half of Ace Double Westerns. BATTLE AT RATTLESNAKE PASS was published in 1965 with TRAIL OF THE VANISHING RANCHERS by Stephen Payne on the other side of Ace Double M-124. It was reprinted by Ace sometime in the Seventies by itself, and that’s the edition I read recently. That’s my copy in the scan at the top of this post.

As this novel opens, hardbitten young cowboy and ex-convict Mike O’Brien is on a stagecoach heading back to his hometown in Arizona. He’s just served five years in Yuma Territorial Prison for shooting (but not killing) the man who killed his father in a shootout. O’Brien’s father was a hardscrabble rancher suspected of being a rustler, and he was gunned by the foreman of a rival cattleman after being caught with some cattle with blotted brands. Of course, O’Brien believes his father was framed. He intends to go back and take over the family ranch, but he knows everybody in the valley hates him and will try to run him out. On the stagecoach, he meets a beautiful young blonde, but he discovers that she’s the daughter of a sheepherder who’s trying to extend his grazing land.

Not surprisingly, trouble comes at O’Brien from all sides, and his only ally is a crippled gunfighter he befriends. He winds up being framed not only as a rustler but also as a murderer and has to go on the run to try to clear his name and uncover the mastermind behind all the trouble plaguing the valley.

As you can tell, the basic plot of this novel is pretty standard stuff, but West takes it in directions that I didn’t really expect. Honestly, I didn’t know what was going to happen or who the real villain was until the end, and that’s very unusual. There’s a lot of great action along the way, some humor, and colorful characters who speak in colorful dialogue that never quite reaches “Why, yuh mangy polecat!” levels. Mike O’Brien is a good protagonist, stubborn as all get-out, not quite likable some of the time, but always sympathetic.

Now, this is a book that sure could have used some better editing. There are quite a few typos, some awkward writing that could have been fixed pretty easily, and despite the title, there is no Rattlesnake Pass in this book. The only pass that’s ever mentioned is Sidewinder Pass. Somebody should have done something about that.

All that said, I really enjoyed BATTLE AT RATTLESNAKE PASS. It’s just a good, old-fashioned action Western, the kind of book I never tire of. I had a fine time reading it and I’m glad I have quite a few more Tom West books on my shelves. I need to get to some of them soon.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Clues, November 1931

This cover is by H.W. Wessolowski, best remembered for his science fiction pulp covers, usually billed as Wesso or H.W. Wesso. But he did a number of covers for pulps in other genres, such as this issue of CLUES. Oddly enough, a number of the authors in this issue are probably best known as Western writers: T.T. Flynn, Tom Curry, Edward Parrish Ware, Oscar Schisgall, and Johnston McCulley. Although to be fair, all of those guys were very prolific in the detective pulps as well. Also on hand are John Wilstach, Richard Howells Watkins, Eric Taylor, and Lemuel de Bra, none of whom I actually think of as mystery writers. But they were good writers, and being good pulpsters, they could do a lot of different things in order to make a sale. Which makes me think this would be an entertaining issue.

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Western Novel and Short Stories, August 1934

Here's a Sidney Riesenberg cover I like a little more than the one on last Saturday's Western pulp. This issue of WESTERN NOVEL AND SHORT STORIES lives up to its name. Most of the pages are occupied by Clarence E. Mulford's Hopalong Cassidy novel "Black Buttes". I don't know if it was abridged for this pulp appearance. Even at 98 pages of double-columned small print, it probably was. Backing it up are two stories, one by Raymond W. Porter (who I've heard of but never read, as far as I recall) and James Corson (who I've never heard of). 

Friday, November 25, 2022

The Deadly Pay-Off - William H. Duhart

I had a copy of the original Gold Medal edition of THE DEADLY PAY-OFF by William H. Duhart on my shelves for more than 30 years and never got around to reading it. That copy was lost in the Fire of ’08, and I never replaced it. But Black Gat Books is about to reprint the novel next month and I was fortunate enough to get an ARC. I know when the universe is telling me to read something. And I’m very glad I did.

The protagonist of THE DEADLY PAY-OFF is professional gambler Tank Tabor, whose younger brother Bill is a private detective. Bill is poking around in a case and annoys Arky Calahan, the crime boss of Milwaukee, where this novel takes place. Calahan puts pressure on Tank to get his brother to back off, and when Bill refuses to do so, Tank finds himself framed for several crimes, including hooking an underage girl on drugs. Bill still refuses to drop the case and winds up dead. And Tank is framed for that killing, too, and has to go on the run to clear his name, solve several other murders, and keep himself and his friends alive.

Boiled down, this is a pretty standard hardboiled crime novel plot, but Duhart puts a number of interesting and unexpected spins on it. He also keeps things moving at a good clip, provides some swift and effective dialogue, and really heaps problem after problem on his hero. I had no idea how Tabor was going to get out from under the sheer weight of everything stacked against him. THE DEADLY PAY-OFF is a good book, not the same level as those from Gold Medal stalwarts such as Harry Whittington, Day Keene, Charles Williams, and John D. MacDonald, but for a first novel it’s really solid and very much worth reading.

And the author is just about as interesting as the book, as we discover from the fine introduction to the Black Gat edition by Bill Kelly. William H. Duhart was a black ex-convict with literary ambitions who started this novel in prison and finished it while attending a prestigious writer’s colony in Illinois. You can’t tell that from the writing. Like Frank Yerby and John B. West, Duhart seems to have been a black author writing for a primarily white audience. However, probably the most sympathetic character in the book is Jock Adams, a black former numbers runner who’s had a falling out with the crime boss. He meets Tabor while both are in jail and teams up with him to bring Arky Calahan down. Jock is an excellent character, and I wish Duhart had given us some novels featuring him as the protagonist.

However, after his debut with THE DEADLY PAY-OFF, Duhart published only 11 short stories in the lower-rung crime fiction digests of the late Fifties and early Sixties, and then the novel RAVISHING SEDUCTRESS, which came out from Merit Books in 1962. That seems to be the end of his writing career, although he didn’t pass away until 2003. There are some great titles among the short stories: “Fear Stacks the Deck!”, “Lust of the Damned!”, “Never Con a Killer!”, “Passion Swamp!”, and more. I realize it would really be a niche market item, but a reprint of RAVISHING SEDUCTRESS, along with those short stories, would be a great thing to have. I know I’d want a copy. Maybe one of these days.

In the meantime, the Black Cat edition of THE DEADLY PAY-OFF will be out in a couple of weeks, and you can pre-order it on Amazon. I had a fine time reading it, and if you’re a hardboiled crime fiction fan, you should check it out.

Thursday, November 24, 2022

Monday, November 21, 2022

Riders of Fortune - Walt Coburn

Walt Coburn remains one of my favorite Western authors. RIDERS OF FORTUNE, published by Five Star in 2007, reprints two of Coburn’s novellas and one of his novelettes from the pulp ACTION STORIES that originally appeared in 1925, during an era in which Coburn was writing exclusively for Fiction House.

The first novella, “Ride ‘Im, Cowboy”, is from the January 1925 issue of ACTION STORIES. Young cowboy Tom Rawlins, who rides for the Circle C ranch in Montana (a spread owned by Coburn’s father in real life, and where he grew up), gets word that he’s inherited a ranch in Arizona from a long-estranged uncle. Tom heads south to claim that legacy, but along the way he’s drugged and robbed of the papers that prove his identity, and then later, when the train he’s riding on is held up, he’s taken for one of the robbers and winds up in jail in the town near the ranch he means to claim. As it turns out, somebody claiming to be Tom Rawlins has already shown up to take over the ranch. Tom’s uncle was murdered, there’s a lynch mob figuring to string Tom up, and his only ally is the sheriff’s beautiful redheaded daughter . . .

That’s a pretty standard plot, but remember, this story was first published almost a hundred years ago. Coburn does an excellent job of juggling all the elements, there are several villains and they’re all suitably despicable, and as usual, the heroine is a strong character. Coburn based most of his female leads on his wife Pat, in both appearance and personality. This yarn is a little more straightforward than some of Coburn’s work, which often relies heavily on the characters’ back-stories and features some psychological angst to go along with the ridin’ and shootin’ and fightin’.

Next up is the novelette “The Sun Dance Kid”, from the July 1925 issue of ACTION STORIES, which finds the title character, a hot-headed, fast-shootin’ young cowboy, fleeing from Arizona across the border into Mexico after he robs a crooked gambler who cheated him. Once there, he’s captured by a gang of Mexican revolutionaries and by a twist of fate becomes their leader, eventually known as Colonel Sun Dance Kid. Evidently he was demoted by the time the story was reprinted under the title “Captain Gringo” in the Fall 1940 issue of FRONTIER STORIES. I have to wonder if Lou Cameron read that version of the story and remembered the name, using it as the name of the protagonist in his long-running paperback series RENEGADE, published by Warner Books under the pseudonym Ramsey Thorne.

But to get back to the story, Coburn soon introduces another character, an American showgirl stranded below the border, and despite the action that breaks out occasionally, “The Sun Dance Kid” becomes a screwball romantic comedy. It works pretty well, too, with a lot of fast-paced, slangy dialogue that’s reminiscent of Ben Hecht and Howard Hawks. The thing is, Coburn’s yarn predates the movies for which those two are famous, so this was just Coburn being Coburn. I’ve found the same sort of dialogue in his more traditional action Westerns, too. Comedy, romance, and action all come together in “The Sun Dance Kid” to make it one of the best stories I’ve read by him so far.

The title story of this volume, “Riders of Fortune”, is from the September 1928 issue of ACTION STORIES. Like the other two stories, it’s set along and on both sides of the Arizona/Mexico border and concerns a line of rugged, desolate hills called the Devil’s Bend that serves as a hideout for a horde of American and Mexican outlaws. Coburn really packs a lot into this short novel. There’s a fortune in gold and gems hidden by a Mexican revolutionary, a mysterious, badly scarred rancher, a millionaire who’s also a secret agent (shades of Amos Burke, for those of you with long memories!), a couple of Border Patrol agents, a beautiful girl who sings in a cantina, and a band of dastardly villains including a German, an Italian, and a Russian Cossack! Many of these characters aren’t who they seem to be at first. Most of them have secrets (finally, this is a Coburn yarn with one of his trademarks: tons and tons of back-story).

In fact, with all these characters and sub-plots, “Riders of Fortune” winds up being a little too busy and muddled. It all makes sense, but it takes time and a lot of explaining to untangle everything. Because of that, I found it to be the weakest of the three tales in this collection. But the fast-paced dialogue, the epic action scenes, and the vivid setting are all great, as usual, so I still found it fun to read.

In addition to the border setting, all three of these stories are also contemporary Westerns, or at least contemporary to the time Coburn wrote them, meaning that there are cars around and several of the characters in “Riders of Fortune” fought together in World War I. Having grown up on Roy Rogers and Gene Autry movies, I have a real fondness for this sort of tale.

Overall, I found RIDERS OF FORTUNE well worth reading and it maintains Coburn’s standing as one of my favorite Western writers. My copy is a discard from the Rochester Public Library in Rochester, New Hampshire. I’m glad it found its way to Texas so I could read it.

Sunday, November 20, 2022

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Adventure, May 1934

Here's another pith helmet cover, this one by Duncan McMillan. I like the colors on this one. This issue of ADVENTURE has some excellent writers in it, including Gordon MacCreagh with a Kingi Bwana story. Also on hand are W.C. Tuttle, Albert Richard Wetjen, Gordon Young (with a serial installment), and a couple of lesser-known writers, Andrew McCaffrey and James Stevens.

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Saturday Morning Western Pulp: Frontier Stories, Winter 1944

I'm not crazy about this Sidney Riesenberg cover, but inside this issue of FRONTIER STORIES are yarns by Dan Cushman, Les Savage Jr., Tom W. Blackburn, Curtis Bishop, and Harold Preece. That's an excellent bunch of writers, so I'll bet this is an entertaining issue.

Friday, November 18, 2022

The Angel of Terror - Edgar Wallace

Over the past few days, I’ve been discussing various aspects of British thriller fiction with a friend of mine, which made me think about the fact that I’d never read anything by Edgar Wallace, despite being aware of his work for at least 50 years. Since I have several e-book editions of his novels, I decided to remedy that and picked one at random to read: THE ANGEL OF TERROR, originally published in 1922.

Set in London and on the French Riviera, this is the story of a beautiful young heiress, the lawyer who wants to protect her, the retired British soldier hired to be her bodyguard, and the despicable villains who want to murder her so they can inherit a fortune. Plus a few assorted con artists and an escaped lunatic.

This isn’t a mystery at all; the reader is fully aware the whole time of who the villains are and is privy to all their sinister plans, which get really sinister at times, including a plot to infect the poor girl with smallpox. Despite the grisly nature of some of the goings-on, the writing is, for the most part, fairly genteel and restrained. Thankfully, there are a few welcome moments of blood and thunder.

My reaction to this one was really mixed. A lot is going on, and the book is well-paced. There’s a nice sense of “one damned thing after another”. The dialogue is top-notch. The villains are thoroughly evil, the hero stalwart.

But the heiress is annoyingly dense, even for 1922. Even though there’s no real mystery, there is a big plot twist near the end, but unfortunately, it was obvious as soon as Wallace laid the groundwork for it early on. And the ending is, well, pretty unsatisfying, to the point that I looked at the Kindle and said, “Wait. What?”

All that said, I actually did enjoy the book and found myself wanting to get back to it to find out what was going to happen. There’s something to be said for sheer storytelling ability, and Wallace seems to have had it. I have no idea how THE ANGEL OF TERROR is regarded among his body of work, but I liked it enough that I want to read more. I hope whichever book I try next will be a little better, though.

Since I read an e-book version, I looked online for a cover scan. The one above is the best I found. Most were pretty sedate or didn’t fit the book at all.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022

Hell on the Bottom - Carl Jacobi

Carl Jacobi is best remembered as an author of weird fiction, of course, but he also wrote a lot of straight adventure yarns for the pulps. HELL ON THE BOTTOM is a 2001 chapbook from Black Dog Books that reprints two of those adventure stories and features the first-ever publication of another one that went unsold when Jacobi wrote it in the late Thirties.

The first of these, a novelette called “Captain Jinx”, appeared in the August 1940 issue of RED STAR ADVENTURES. It was bought by the Frank Munsey Company for ARGOSY but wound up in another Munsey pulp, as sometimes happens. The protagonist is a down-on-his-luck sea captain (the South Seas and the Far East were just full of down-on-their-luck sea captains during the pulp era) who is hired to take command of a ship owned by a rather disreputable line, and in addition to the regular cargo, he's supposed to deliver six bottles of heliotrope perfume to a certain lady. (Jacobi’s original title for the story was “Heliotrope Cruise”.) Could there possibly be something shady about this deal? Our hero thinks so, especially when somebody tries to kill him and a beautiful blonde shows up on a Chinese junk . . . and she wants the perfume, even though she’s not the lady for which it was intended. This is a well-written, really enjoyable story. The plot twists are pretty predictable, but that doesn’t take away from its entertainment value.

“The Caves of Malo-Oa” is the never-before-published story, sent by Jacobi’s agent Lurton Blassingame to the pulp SOUTH SEAS STORIES, which promptly lost it for several months before finding the manuscript, only to reject it. A great treasure is hidden on an uncharted island in the caves of the title, and after it are a beautiful girl, a ship’s captain who can’t be trusted, and a down-on-his-luck wireless operator (this during a time when being a ship’s wireless operator was still a romantic, two-fisted occupation). Honestly, I don’t know why this story didn’t sell to some adventure pulp. It’s well-written, moves right along, has interesting characters, and I had a good time reading it.

The third story, “Hell on the Bottom”, appeared originally as “Drowned Destiny” in the May 1939 issue of the Ace pulp 12 ADVENTURE STORIES. This is a deep sea diving yarn set in the Caribbean, as the protagonist attempts to recover from a sunken ship half a million dollars in gold that was intended to finance a Central American revolution. But since Jacobi wrote this intending to sell it to THRILLING MYSTERY, it’s actually a Weird Menace story and the treasure is supposed to be protected by monsters and evil spirits. The explanation for all the apparently supernatural menaces is rushed and pretty lame (as often happened in Weird Menace stories), which may explain why Margulies rejected it and it wound up over at Ace. But the actual deep sea diving scenes are excellent and the story is still fun.

I don’t know how many of these Black Dog Books chapbooks there were, but I bought most of them directly from the publisher, Tom Roberts, and really enjoyed them. Tom went on to do many beautiful trade paperback pulp collections under the Black Dog Books imprint, but I have a special fondness for these early chapbooks. They have a lot of charm and reprinted some great material. I’m glad I've finally gotten around to reading this one. I have EAST OF SAMARINDA, the other collection of Jacobi’s pulp adventure stories, and plan to get around to it fairly soon. It would be all right with me if someone reprinted even more of them.

Monday, November 14, 2022

The Shadowed Circle #4 - Steve Donoso, ed.

THE SHADOWED CIRCLE #4 is out and is available from the publisher and Amazon. This publication continues to be a very welcome return to the classic days of pulp fanzines. The issue starts out strongly with a great Rozen-like cover with art by Kevin Duncan and color and design by Steve Novak. This is my favorite cover so far and perfectly captures the feel of The Shadow.

Editor Steve Donoso has put together an exceptional array of articles, leading off with the first installment of a three-part article by long-time pulp fan Dick Myers, who passed away in 2005. This never-before-published article, written probably in the early Seventies, was found among his papers and deals with just how The Shadow went about financing his vast organization of agents and assistants. It’s clear that Myers put a lot of thought into this and the article makes for fascinating reading.

Will Murray muses about mysteries concerning The Shadow to which Walter B. Gibson never revealed the answers. Tim King tackles one of those mysteries with some very interesting speculation and makes a strong case for his conclusion, as far as I’m concerned. Todd D. Severin begins a series covering The Shadow’s appearances in comic books and concentrates on the Forties in this part. Since that’s an area of The Shadow's history which I’ve seldom read about in detail, I learned a lot and really enjoyed this article, as I did the following article by Daryl Morrisey that covers the comic book meetings between The Shadow and Doc Savage. John Olsen, the only person I can think of who’s read every single Shadow pulp novel, writes about the radio show this time around, in particular the final broadcast, and his article is both informative and poignant.

This issue also features the second part of a lengthy interview with writer and producer Michael Uslan, who has written several comic book stories and graphic novels featuring The Shadow. Uslan discusses several mini-series I’d never even heard of, so of course I had to go to Amazon and pick up copies of them. I’m looking forward to reading them.

The back cover features the two novels written by Will Murray that feature meetings between Doc Savage and The Shadow, THE SINISTER SHADOW and EMPIRE OF DOOM, with beautiful artwork by Joe DeVito. It’s a fitting wrap-up for what is, in my opinion, the finest issue of THE SHADOWED CIRCLE so far. If you’re a fan of the character, I give it my highest recommendation . . . and I suspect the next issue will continue that trajectory.

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp: Detective Fiction Weekly, June 22, 1940

The Emmett Watson cover on this issue of DETECTIVE FICTION WEEKLY depicts a guy in a straitjacket surrounded by accusing fingers pointing at him. Of course it illustrates a story by Cornell Woolrich! What author would be more fitting for such a cover? Other authors on hand in this issue are Richard Sale, Lawrence Treat, Walt Sheldon, William Gray Beyer, and C.V. Tench. That's a pretty solid line-up.